Modern information war and attacks on democracy

In the military and in large corporations security experts have been preparing for many years for cyber warfare and handling security attacks on their information systems.

But since a couple of years, and with the advent of the internet and pervasive social media use, a new cyberthreat has arisen. And it is one that society is not prepared for. A cyberthreat that is particularly dangerous to democracy.

First article to share in this regard is:

The Digital Maginot Line

Digital Maginot Line

You could skip the Maginot Line comparison (which is not entirely accurate, as also mentioned in the Hacker News discussion). It gets relevant afterwards:

The Nature of Information Wars

In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics.

Tech is a real enabler of this, and we see the consequences every day in the news.

An influential scientific paper by Bruce Schneier (the well-respected force behind Schneier on Security) and Henry Farell (Professor of Political Science) was also just published:

Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy

Abstract (21-page PDF):

Existing approaches to cybersecurity emphasize either international state-to-state logics (such as deterrence theory) or the integrity of individual information systems. Neither provides a good understanding of new “soft cyber” attacks that involve the manipulation of expectations and common understandings. We argue that scaling up computer security arguments to the level of the state, so that the entire polity is treated as an information system with associated attack surfaces and threat models, provides the best immediate way to understand these attacks and how to mitigate them. We demonstrate systematic differences between how autocracies and democracies work as information systems, because they rely on different mixes of common and contested political knowledge. Stable autocracies will have common knowledge over who is in charge and their associated ideological or policy goals, but will generate contested knowledge over who the various political actors in society are, and how they might form coalitions and gain public support, so as to make it more difficult for coalitions to displace the regime. Stable democracies will have contested knowledge over who is in charge, but common knowledge over who the political actors are, and how they may form coalitions and gain public support. These differences are associated with notably different attack surfaces and threat models. Specifically, democracies are vulnerable to measures that “flood” public debate and disrupt shared decentralized understandings of actors and coalitions, in ways that autocracies are not.

One part freely translated, highlights the threat to democracy:

Modern tech favors stable autocracies, who know who is in charge and what their goals are, but they deliberately sow confusion, spread disinformation, to obfuscate that to the broader public, in order to protect themselves. In stable democracies the opposite is true, and while it is less clear who is in charge, there is clarity on who the political actors are. This way misinformation, fake news and the move to a post-truth era favors autocracies, while democracies are greatly disadvantaged.

There was a great Hacker News discussion on this paper, which I recommend you visit as well:

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