IWS - The Information Warfare Site
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How Did We Get Here?

Module 1

The Lesson

Go back to intro. Go back to intro. Go to module 2.

The module learning objectives:

  • To explore the concept of the Information Revolution by looking to the period of the 1950's to present.
  • Present the user with enough information to answer the question, How did we get here? in the context of Information Warfare.
  • To answer the questions: What is Information Warfare? And, why is it an issue?

The Beginning

We can recall images of the ancient courier with a message written on his scalp.

Most of us have seen movies where the medieval king applies the royal seal that verifies the message to be his own.

Looking to the American Civil War, we can recall the use of signal towers on which communicators relayed the commander's message via flags.

As time marches on, leaders need faster and more efficient means to communicate.

Both speed and distance were overcome by the use of electronic communications. Advances were made in the speed by which information could flow, travel far distances, and be encoded.

Navajo RTOs The pace of communications development during the early 20th century was nearly linear. Advances in one trade motivated advances in another. During WW II all aspects of communication were utilized by both the military and civilian sectors. President Roosevelt, the Great Communicator, used the air waves to rally the American people and government.

Introduction of the Atomic Age, 1945

Mushroom cloud The spark that started the information flame that is now burning was struck by the atom bomb. This flame is known as the Information Revolution.

The concept of immediate and complete destruction induced leaders to reconsider every aspect of government operations. America responded by preparing both the government and civilian infrastructure for the what-if Scenario. The strike from the blue nuclear threat forced our government into an unprecedented level of inter-agency cooperation. Communications technology played a major role in not only providing indicators and warning of an impending threat, but also made effective command and control possible. As a result, communications research and development became a pivotal technology in securing our nation. Now one could argue that the emerging threat posed by the information revolution calls for our nation's leaders to pull together and consider an Information Civil Defense policy, i.e., Information Assurance.

It is important to realize just how frightened America became during those years. You may recall the term duck and cover?

Images of total destruction generated a national fear that supported the massive build-up of the defense infrastructure.

THE TRUTH: Barring the instantaneous collapse of the Russian government, a contingency I do not foresee under present circumstances, war is inevitable. When the leaders in the Kremlin are convinced that their superiority in nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them are superior to ours by a proportion sufficient to enable Russians to destroy Americans with acceptable damage in retaliation, they will not hesitate to use them. Although the carnage will be horrible, civilization will not be wiped out -- Russian civilization, that is.

2. There can be no defense against atomic weapons; we are doomed to destruction and can only despair....

Kenneth D. Barrett, The Deception of Civil Defense, 1964, Independence Press, Inc.

The Network

After 1945, the communications user base grew by several orders of magnitude. Our nation's leadership needed the capability to know within minutes of an impending Soviet attack.

Each of these national efforts had a voracious appetite for communications bandwidth.

Further, the traditional point-to-point communications concept became obsolete. The network concept was born.

The birth of ARPANET from the original DARPA requirement soon evolved into the INTERNET most of us use today. What started as a government initiative soon became essential to computer-equipped commercial organizations; similar to the current adoption/transition of the Global Positioning System (GPS) by the civilian sector is another example.

In 1960 DoD leveraged more than 90% of the telecommunications research. Today, DoD contributes less 10%. This is an important point to consider as DARPA would not have been able to encourage the American industrial base to adopt the computer-to-computer communication protocol (TCP\IP) without such influence.

For the past ten years, enhanced communications capabilities have been shrinking the world. The futurist, Alvin Toffler refers to a Third Wave, information revolution which started in the mid 1980's and is guiding us toward an information-based society. He claims that Information has power and that an information-based evolution will significantly change our political, economic, industrial, and domestic systems.

The Public Trust (Then and Now)

Our nation has experienced another change since the early days of the Cold War - the erosion of public trust. The American people expected their government to protect them from the Cold War threat. It was understood that security meant secrecy. The WW II jingle loose lips sink ships was still in the minds of most Americans. The Rosenburg trials and convictions publicly confirmed that the Soviet Bear was out and about.

However, events such as Watergate and the Pentagon Papers forced many Americans to question the activities of their leadership. This growing concern motivated Congress to act in the mid 1970's. Reacting to a public call for greater control and openness, Congress dramatically changed the way it processed legislation. Americans could now examine their government's specific actions as role calls and voting activities were open to public record.

It is important to recognize the magnitude of change in public trust over the past six decades. In the early days of the cold war people would not have questioned our government's actions to provide security. The classification of key technologies and export control was accepted. Cryptographical advances were considered national treasures worth protecting.

Today Americans demand tight controls to prevent any abuse of power by government officials. Further, the balance of individual privacy vs. national security has shifted toward the individual. Once a national technology, cryptography is now considered an intellectual novelty for public use and discussion.

As our nation's policy makers develop information age legislation, the degree of public trust will greatly influence their decisions. Policy makers will find it increasingly more difficult to tell the public that legislation is motivated on a classified portrayal of threat. The people will demand an explanation. This will challenge many departments and agencies to develop new methods of operation. Political inertia from behind government's closed doors will resist the transition to new policy, but change is unavoidable. Departments and agencies will learn to adopt a widely accepted academic term, publish or perish.

What is Information Warfare?

The term information warfare is misleading and is often shunned by high level policy makers. The concern is that information warfare implies some sinister plot by government to control the information realm often called cyberspace. This is not the case. Unfortunately, changing the term now may derail a movement within government and industry focused on defending America in the new information age.

Our nation is becoming a network of networks (system of systems). For the past twenty years operations once performed by humans are now handled by computers; consider the modernization of the auto assembly line. Our nation's power grids, natural gas pipe lines, and transportation systems are all managed by computer networks. Both Federal Express and United Parcel Service critically depend upon their computer networks to get the package there on-time, as do our nation's railways and shipping industries. Consider what havoc a hacker could create in those data bases. Looking deeper into our nation's dependence on computer networks we find that our nation's industry designs and manufactures its products on Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems. For example, the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company completely designed and manufactured the new 777 airliner in virtual space, i.e. a paperless design. Further, the 777 is the first commercial airliner to use Fly-By-Wire technology - when the pilot moves the control yoke he has no direct connection to the flight surfaces. He is simply sending signals to a computer that in turn sends commands to powered actuators. Sensors on the various flight control surfaces send periodic data to the computer as to their configuration. What would a computer virus do to one of these systems?

Until recently the aforementioned networks were protected by isolation, i.e. they were not connected to outside data networks. However, as we enter the information revolution these networks will become part of the networks-of-networks. The connection of these networks make their operation better as the systems are able to communicate. However, the same interconnection introduces the possibility that an unauthorized intruder may enter and corrupt the system.

Note: during the early days of the Cold War, DoD maintained dedicated, redundant, and survivable communications. Today, 95% of DoD communications ride on the public switch network. America has witnessed hackers who easily penetrated and manipulated the public switch network. Can our nation's communications net withstand a coordinated attack from a hostile nation state? Should DoD be concerned for the security of the public switched network?

America's economic, political, and industrial infrastructure are now open to attack via the net; this is the essence of Information Warfare (IW). IW offers hostile entities the capability to exploit, disrupt, and/or destroy our nation's ability to operate.

Why are hostile forces looking to information warfare?

  1. No other nation, political group, or crime cartel has the ability to challenge the U.S. in a traditional force-on-force engagement. Consider the early days of our Revolutionary War and the way British troops were trained to fight. They lined up in columns and marched head-on into battle. Our patriots challenged this conventional method of warfare and took cover. America's adversaries, like our revolutionary ancestors, are now posturing for a new form of warfare fought within the information sphere. This new type of warfare can make it possible for them to exert their will on America.
  2. War fighters have always considered an adversary's political, economic, and industrial infrastructure as strategic targets. The information revolution now offers them the ability to strike America by non-lethal means, many times, without attribution. The ability to exploit, disrupt, and or destroy our nation's infrastructure by attacking its computer based operation, makes information warfare a very cost effective weapon to our adversaries.


The challenges facing America's future are not unlike those of the early 1950's. The difference is that the nuclear threat is replaced by a new threat. IW effects may weigh heavily on the future of our nation. Over the next decade our nation will have to adopt some type of Information Policy, that establishes a means of coordinating the defense of America's infrastructure. Likewise, DoD and the Intelligence Community need to develop methods of providing critical technology and information to the public and commercial sectors.

Here are the important points of this module:

  • Then: DoD leveraged the majority of research. Now: Commercial demands drive development.
  • ARPANET's utility has evolved into a basic requirement.
  • The public trust of government has been severely degraded.
  • Information Warfare = a new way for hostile forces to exert their influence on America's economic, political, and industrial infrastructure.
  • Why IW? America has virtually eliminated other nation state's ability to project classic force-on-force, i.e., our nation's military capabilities so dominate those of other nations, few can challenge America militarily; therefore, most nations of the world have effectively lost their element of military power when dealing with America policy.
  • During the Cold War DoD maintained separate, dedicated, hardened communications. Today, 95% of DoD communications ride on the public switched network.

Note: You must have Netscape version 2.0 or higher to run the post test.

Go back to intro. Go back to intro. Go to post test. Go to module 2.