Disinformation and Political Warfare: Rising Challenges

The Brookings Institution recently released a report titled “The Future of Political Warfare: Russia, the West, and the Coming Age of Global Digital Competition.” The research addresses the evolution of Russian election interference, from the November 2004 Ukrainian election to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Analysis of Russian tactics and methods of interference over time provides valuable insight regarding the threat such meddling poses to homeland security.

While this is critical in understanding specific threats from Russia alone, it also points to broader challenges that are beginning to arise in the international community as technology improves and cyber threats pose greater risks. The report claims: “The political warfare threat extends beyond Russia. While the Kremlin has been a key actor in developing the toolkit, these tools are appealing to other malicious state and non-state actors seeking to undermine democracies. The evolution  of  technology—and  Russia’s and China’s stated desire to lead on artificial intelligence (AI) research—signals that Western democracies will face increasing threats in the cyber and information domain.”

The report includes a primer on the “Russian Toolkit” for waging political warfare and disinformation campaigns, highlighting the key actors, goals, examples, and methods for each type of interference. Interference methods covered include disinformation and cyberattacks.

The report concludes by positing: “Russia may present a template for political warfare today, but it is already yesterday’s game. As existing tools and methods are exposed and countered, and technology continues to advance and become more financially accessible, malicious actors will continue to evolve their tactics.”

The suggested reactive policy approach includes information sharing, improvements in information security and transparency, and investments in research and development on AI and computational propaganda.

Registered users may access the report here, and non-registered users may access it here. The HSDL offers many related resources. Visit the Featured Topics for more on Cyber Crime & National Security, Cyber Infrastructure Protection, and Cyber Policy.