Defending Canada against cognitive warfare

November 22, 2021 - Defence Stories

Today’s hyper-connected digital age has re-oriented the rules of confrontation and rendered previously defensible borders vulnerable to incursions of a different kind. Interconnectedness facilitated by social media, social networking, social messaging, and mobile device technologies can be exploited to influence information, beliefs, values, and cultures. An adversary can attack below the threshold of armed conflict, shifting the ‘battlefield’ of a conventional war to a narrative war that is contested within the minds of a population.

Cognitive warfare goes beyond controlling the flow of information; it seeks to manipulate or control how people react to that information. “Technologies and the profusion of data combined make human behaviour the main vulnerability,” said Marie-Pierre Raymond, Defence Scientist at ADM(DRDC). In its extreme form, cognitive warfare can exacerbate domestic divisions, making a society vulnerable to friction, polarization and radicalization.

“Make no mistake,” Raymond added, “this new form of warfare is a deliberate strategy to weaken societies from within. Attacks against the cognitive domain involve the integration of cyber, disinformation/misinformation, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and psychological and social-engineering capabilities.”

This new operating environment means that decision-makers must possess a strong defensive capability to both detect, and protect from, attacks on the cognitive domain. An effective defence requires: the awareness that a cognitive warfare campaign is underway; the ability to observe and orient a defensive posture; and understanding the creators, origins, and aims of the campaign.

In recognition of this new reality, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created an Innovation Challenge: The Invisible Threat: Countering Cognitive Warfare. The intent of the challenge is to solicit ideas from non-traditional innovative thinkers from across all 30 NATO member nations to help commanders know when western populations are the subjects of a cognitive attack, and how they can defend against that attack.

The Fall 2021 NATO Innovation Challenge will hold its virtual pitch day for innovators on November 30, 2021, beginning at 9h00 ET on YouTube (you are now leaving the Government of Canada website). The challenge is being co-hosted by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command and ADM(DRDC)’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program on behalf of Canada’s Department of National Defence.

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