Influence operations and other conflict trends – Center for Security Studies | ETH Zurich – CSS Resources

With the rise of cyber capabilities over the last few decades, many scholars have warned about the dangers of cyber wars. However, in actuality it has been shown that the majority of cyber operations take place below the threshold of armed conflicts, in an area called the “Gray Zone”. In this chapter Marie Baezner and CSS’ Sean Cordey focus on the socio-technological logics behind the emergence of gray zone conflicts and the use of cyber operations within them.
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Geopolitical competition is increasingly being played out in the Gray Zone – i.e., the space beyond conventional diplomacy and short of war – through the large use, in parts, of cyber operations (CO). At the macro level, this trend seems to be due to the overarching political fragmentation, intensification of international rivalries, costly and complex interdependences, relative imbalance in military power/capabilities, and socio-technological vulnerabilities arising from the past years’ transformations. At the micro and operational-technical level, it seems and is assumed to be due to the relative availability and accessibility of cyber-tools and cyber operation’s apparent operational characteristics, such as their flexibility, customizability, rapidity, scalability, and limited escalation potential. Cyber-enabled influence operation (CIO), meanwhile, suit Gray zone conflicts particularly well, if not better than traditional sabotage and is now widely and tentatively leveraged. Supported by a study of a set of various Gray zone conflicts, it becomes apparent that CO are in some cases a novel, efficient, and effective tool for disruption while an enhancer and transformer of traditional Gray zone activities, such as espionage and influence. Accordingly, it can be reasonably expected that actors operating in the Gray zone will continue using, developing, and investing in CO.
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