The U.S. military has numerous teams and major funding directed toward fighting cyber adversaries, with serious resources dedicated to protecting networks and delivering effects in the cyber domain. But what’s the military’s role when it comes to combating information warfare and the “fake news” that continues to evolve as a battlefront?

While not a primary mission for U.S. forces, understanding information warfare and how it impacts areas of responsibility is something that is taken into consideration in U.S. cyber training and operations, according to Department of Defense officials.

“I think there are two parts to get that,” said Col. Todd Stratton, director of Air Forces Cyber Forward. “One is the more traditional approach of cybersecurity, which evolved from information assurance, which is looking at the confidentiality, the integrity and the availability of your information. That is still a core responsibility for my component, and that continues to be very important to us.

“On the flip side, when you start talking about social media and fake news, it gets to … the key to cyberspace superiority or dominance, which is the people,” continued Stratton. “When it comes down to it, it’s the training you give your airmen and your population, frankly, to think critically.”

[Related: How CYBERCOM’s efforts against ISIS have changed]

It’s enough of a concern for the Army to send a team of researchers to Ukraine to participate in an international, three-year science and technology program aimed at understanding and fighting modern information warfare.

According to an Army release, the group will develop theoretical foundations, methods and approaches toward software tools for situational awareness that enable military forces to monitor for, detect and notify of malicious information injections and information attacks, said Dr. Alexander Kott, Army Research Laboratory chief scientist.

“Information attacks have emerged as a major concern of societies worldwide. They come under different names and in different flavors — fake news, disinformation, political astroturfing, influence operations, etc,” Kott said.

“And they may arrive as a component of hybrid warfare — in combination with traditional cyberattacks (use of malware), and with conventional military action or covert physical attacks.”

At U.S. Cyber Command, much of the information-warfare emphasis is on verifying the security of data and ensuring it’s safe and worthy of essentially being deemed actionable intelligence, according to Brig. Gen. Timothy Haugh, USCYBERCOM director of intelligence.

Speaking alongside Stratton at the Nov. 28 CyberCon event in Arlington, Virginia, Haugh said that idea applies to data whether it’s on military networks or intelligence from elsewhere being used for decision-making.

“Converting that into something that’s decision quality, and trusting in that, is critical. And that’s an area that we have to partner with all elements of the government and industry as we think about what does it mean in terms of trusting the information that’s in front of us to ensure it’s not [biased] in some way and that someone hasn’t manipulated that data,” Haugh said. “We have to ensure we’re making decisions off quality information.”

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