This scenario concerns information warfare. It notes that the nature of warfare has changed and so have the instruments of warfare and even the soldiers. Until the advent of the Internet, combatants in warfare were generally states or their proxies. The instruments of warfare – weapons with projectiles – were well known before the Internet, but ineffective in cyberspace. The pre-Internet soldiers were trained and wore uniforms. Today’s warrior could take down an energy grid from her bedroom – without firing a shot – simply by pressing some keys on her laptop. If a bomber from one country dropped a bomb on another’s country nuclear power plant, it would likely provoke an outbreak of physical war. But in cyber space, a country can disable the power plant with little fear of physical retaliation. The enemy state can deny having been the source of the attack.
In 2025, many states are engaged in information warfare. They have been joined by other “enemy combatants”, including criminal gangs, terrorists, rich people with an agenda, political parties, rogue employees, etc., many of whom have become very skilful in covering their digital tracks. It becomes increasingly difficult to unravel what little forensic evidence exists.
In the cyber age, the nature of attacks has changed too. Information warfare takes many more forms than simply disabling a power plant. Today’s attackers are disrupting and undermining political processes, to persuade people by purveying fake news and calling into question legitimate news, by gathering huge amounts of personal data of all kinds on whole populations, by holding utilities and vital services, such as the national health services to ransom, by espionage and the theft of all kinds of intellectual property.
Attackers can use AI to manufacture videos of events that never took place or of politicians recorded as saying things they never said. The vignette tells the story of a digital attack on a nuclear power plant. Public opinion presses for retaliation, but it is not clear who is responsible – at least, not yet. Defenders have made advances too – they have algorithmic hunters that search the Internet, including the dark net, for traces of terrorists and criminals. As cyber attackers are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence for unleashing bots, so defenders depend on AI to detect and fend off attacks. Human decision-making is not fast enough, hence, defenders are relying on AI-powered, real-time, automated decision-making to defend their assets in both cyber space and on the ground.