wo hundred years ago, the primary commodity in interpersonal and international relations was the information itself. The ability to possess and provide information was of significant influence. Knowledgeable people were respected for the information they obtained and were able to use. However, the storage of data has shifted towards digitalized instruments. The amounts of data available are so significant that the commodity is not the information itself, but the ability to navigate through it and choose the right one to serve the purpose in decision-making.
The equation from the past, when information was scarce, has shifted to the state where the amount of data is abundant, sometimes monstrous in size. People have started to store information and thus ceased to carry it along. The future includes the ability to analyze the piles of data and to decide what is relevant and vital and truthful. This new paradigm enables confusion, the undermining and spreading of information to either manipulate or to obfuscate the critical information. Decision-makers need information in order to conduct conscious decisions, and there are many ways to disrupt that process. If the aim is to minimize or cripple the ability to command and control, there are varieties of techniques for how to achieve that aim.
Although the former Soviet Union was considered a military superpower, it sought alternatives to conventional military power. Years of underfunding during the Cold War and at the beginning of 1990s led to the advancement of theoretical and strategically essential concepts such as reflexive control. The imperative was not only to search for alternatives to physical and kinetic capabilities and conventional military might, but to address the changing environment in which the Soviet Union, and later Russia, found itself.
The emergence of a single information space threatened the dominance of the state and security apparatus over the flow of information and its availability to the people, ordinary decision makers. It was true not only domestically, where competing information could have severe ramifications for the stability of the regime, but also internationally. Russian strategists soon realized that—as was the case in the past, on a much smaller scale, when the controller of the situation held the key to achieving its strategic aim—the global information space or unified information sphere was a threat to the worldwide balance of power. Whoever controls perception controls reality with definitive impact on the assessment of the importance of information warfare.
Russian military theorists and strategists have reached the conclusion that information has become a national or strategic resource. With the dawn of information technologies and the free spread of information in the somewhat anarchic nature of the information sphere, people have unprecedented access to information, a fact which affords everyone—ordinary people to top decision makers—a variety of choices when searching for information and creating their perception of reality. The informatization of society has penetrated all levels of existence and organizational aspects of the community. Because this includes economic, social regulatory systems, and the military itself, this informatization leads to the conclusion that, by influencing the channels, the filters and the content, the controlling subject can achieve information superiority.
Information superiority leads to attaining strategic goals without exclusive reliance on conventional power assets. Russian strategists believe that countries that have obtained information superiority will be predisposed to employ military force subsequently. This is likely due to their belief that the controlling subject has control of the perception of reality, and thus is able to form a perceived forcible outcome. Also, military objectives may seem easier to achieve with the support of a complex influence operation. Although this is a position where influence operations are complementary to military activities, the theoretical approach followed in Russia illustrates the dynamic by stating that the convergence between nonmilitary and military is desirable and should be employed.
Other characteristics of cyberspace which make it suitable for applying information operations for reflexive control are—absent international legislature—fewer legal restraints, less attribution to attacks and less enforceability. With a virtually nonexistent code of conduct combined with the features of the physical world, where hard evidence is obtained quickly in comparison to cyberspace, cyberspace has become a preferred avenue for influence operations—not only because of its amplification features, but also because of the numerous ways to mask the identity and source of the attack.
Where there is no crime, there is no prosecution. National legal frameworks differ in dealing with cybercrime, critical information infrastructure protection and cyber terrorism. In the vacancy of binding IHL for cyberspace with states only now trying to create rules of engagement, it is no wonder that cyberspace has become a lawless place ripe for exploitation and information attacks. The examples of individuals indicted for crimes in cyberspace are so few, and too personal—data-theft and illegal contraband-oriented—that pursuing tradecraft relocated to cyberspace is almost too difficult to describe; it is becoming more political with every successful information attack.
Along with the other advantages of cyberspace such as reflexive control and influence operations, low cost of entry pays a significant role. The resource investment requirement here differs from those in conventional military procurement and is an order of magnitude less expensive.
Another facet is the use of proxies to conduct the influence operations, information attacks with hostile code and hostile content on behalf of the controlling subject. These proxies are affiliated indirectly or directly with the control subject. However, a whole market-based economy, reliant on supply and demand exists, which is ironic given the Marx-Leninist roots of the driving theories behind Soviet information operations. In this market, human skills not only can be bought, acquired or rented, but information is for sale, personal data troves useful for creating the profile of an opposing decision maker, stolen information about consumer behavior is available. Also, vulnerabilities and exploits are for sale for malicious code attacks and other computer network operations. Everyone can rent or buy the infrastructure, meaning computational power, for malicious activities. It is a significant shift from the conventional perspective of conducting intelligence operations, where private proxies and unknowing subjects were also utilized, but never on such a scale including all aspects of the action. Even in comparison with the conventional military power, it is hardly imaginable that a control subject would turn to a private citizen to ask for assets of firepower that the citizen is offering on the black market. Nevertheless, it is happening in cyberspace. The privatization and monetization of enabling assets for influencing whole societal systems is a few clicks away.
In April 2015, when the international community, including the United States and the European Union, were increasingly worried about the ongoing military campaign of Russia in Ukraine, pressure on the regime in Moscow was increasing.
In April 2015, when the international community, including the United States and the European Union, were increasingly worried about the ongoing military campaign of Russia in Ukraine, pressure on the regime in Moscow was increasing. Diverting the international interest and lessening the pressure of potential countermeasures aiming at the administration in Moscow, a threat of higher significance emerged in the arena of international security agenda.
Based on the correct perception that populations in the U.S. and Europe are more receptive to the threat of terrorism than a paramilitary operation in Ukraine, an attack was allegedly conducted by the Islamic state, Daesh, as an information operation in cyberspace. Cybercaliphate, a group affiliated as a proxy to Daesh, attacked the French television TV5Monde, affecting it by taking down all 11 channels, taking over social media accounts, website and the infrastructure of TV5Monde itself. The attack, among other vectors, resulted in displaying Daesh's flag. Or at least that was supposed to be the perception, to alter people’s interest and to create pressure on political representation, diverting their attention towards more immediate issues such as Daesh. The reality of Daesh attacking Europe would lead to lessening the burden on Russia regarding their military operations in Ukraine. Several expert groups and media outlets attributed the attack to the proxy group APT28 aka Fancy Bear (aka Sofacy group, aka Pawn Storm), through means of circumstantial evidence regarding the technical infrastructure used for the attack. Tools, techniques, and procedures assigned to this group served as evidence. This was one of the first, and best, examples of how a previously military-oriented approach had a civilian application to meet the same ends. By nurturing fear, and creating a real or imaginary threat to the society, it was demonstrably easy to shift the focus of decision makers away from the issue at hand.
Undisrupted decision-making being done on the strategic level or on citizen level is a key component to governance, political choices and future activities undertaken by individuals and state and non-state actors. By disrupting the ability to collect, analyze and decide, one is lost in today´s complex world, sometimes with assets unavailable to be utilized, because the decision-making algorithm has been compromised.
This article is an excerpt from the book “Unmasking Maskirovka” by Daniel Bagge and published by Defense Press, NY. "Unmasking Maskirovka" details the perceptions of Russian strategic and military leaders and their thought processes for employing cyber warfare capabilities. Daniel Bagge contrasts national strategic approaches in cyberspace to enable a better understanding of the long-term goals behind Russia's cyber warfare campaigns. This book provides an in-depth and up-to-date examination of the importance of cyberspace operations, why such activities are so often successful, and how influence operations span the spectrum of conventional and digital statecraft.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington