ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the distribution rate of information around the globe continues to increase, the quantity of misleading information that is used to alter public perception and inherently disrupt a population's thought process is a significant concern, officials said.
The idea of "weaponizing" real or false information is not a new concept, said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, cyber capabilities and conflict studies advisor at Arizona State University.
During World War II, Nazi Germany would often skew factual information to shape public opinion, Schmidle said, adding the big difference today is information flows exponentially faster. He spoke Nov. 20 during a panel session about information warfare at the 2019 International Conference on Cyber Conflict U.S., known as CyCon.
Today, countries like China, Iran, North Korea and Russia continue to maintain control over their digital realms. They have restricted the flow of information, both inside and outside of their respected nations.
By controlling the flow of information, a near-peer competitor can effectively take over a country or force a state to change its policies without ever firing a shot, Schmidle said.
"The term 'information warfare' is complicated. It has become a code for … something we don't know how to explain in the 21st century," said Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Arizona State University.
The increase in cyber capabilities by non-state actors and near-peer competitors means the U.S. military must prepare for conflict within the physical, cognitive, and digital domains, Johnson said.
"When you start to think about what conflict looks like in the 21st century, it [becomes] this very liquid and active world that moves between those three domains constantly," Johnson said. "We don't have the ability from a U.S. military standpoint … to understand this [type of conflict]."
To remain competitive within the digital realm, the Army looks to fully synchronize its cyber capabilities and expand its persistent engagement throughout the information environment, said Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty, Army Cyber Command's commanding general. He discussed the Army's role in the cyber realm during an Association of the U.S. Army hot topic seminar Sept. 18.
Both state and non-state actors have shown proficiency within the cyber environment, according to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, Fogarty said. These actors have found new ways to wage campaigns from outside the U.S., against American political, economic, and security interests.
With the growing threat within the cyber and information domains, the Army is already looking into better ways to leverage its signal, cyber, information and psychological operations, electronic warfare, intelligence, and public affairs capabilities, Fogarty said.
The Army's network has become a "foundational weapon system," Fogarty said. About 90% of ARCYBER's capability is used to maintain and defend the force's network, he added.
With the proper layering of capabilities, the Army looks to improve operational awareness for its commands, allowing them to see both friendly and enemy forces and effects within the cyber domain and information environments, Fogarty said.
"If our commanders don't have functional networks, then you don't have functional and persistent [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,] long-range precision fires, or mission command [capabilities]," he said.
"The Army's ability to operate on the battlefield," he added, "is predicated upon that [Soldier's] … ability to bring the entire power of the United States to his place on the battlefield in a time of his choosing by simply depressing a handset and calling for support, or by hitting that send button."