DOD’s Digital Threats Are Increasingly Interconnecting, Watchdog Warns

The new wave of major national security challenges stems from the digital information environment and the continued spread of misinformation and cyber threats over virtual networks, according to a new study by the Government Accountability Office.

Recognizing that the US Department of Defense’s warfare and intelligence operations rely largely on data collection and a connected information environment, GAO officials have profiled six areas that could benefit from increased data oversight and protection.

The specific six areas of the DOD’s digital environment that GAO researchers surveyed include: misinformation and disinformation; impact on DOD missions and functions; threat actors; threatening actions; institutional challenges; and new technologies.

Joseph Kirschbaum, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, said the combination of these six factors has increased over the years and will intensify threats against the DOD.

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“The confluence and interaction of cyber, information, electromagnetic spectrum and related issues is central to evaluating the information environment as a whole,” he said next gov.

These threat areas can be exploited to undermine DOD missions and operations, particularly through malicious cyber activity against federal networks, illicit data collection, and attacks on the electromagnetic spectrum that many DOD warfighters rely on.

The impact of enemy actions on the Department of Defense information environment ranges from technological consequences to negative effects on Department of Defense personnel.

One of the burgeoning themes highlighted by the report is the alignment with individuals’ cognitive bases — composed of beliefs, mental health, emotions and experiences — and their key role in spreading harmful disinformation that can undermine national security.

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“The proliferation of pervasive information, misinformation, disinformation, and misinformation has prompted defense professionals to begin examining the concept of cognitive security,” the report said.

While the concept of cognitive security is not technically new, its application to how military leaders—or anyone—perceives information and the resulting national security implications has been given a new focus. Kirschbaum said the impact of disinformation plays a “crucial” role in cognitive safety.

“It’s about a greater recognition of how information from so many sources can influence our decisions,” he said.

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In addition, the report notes that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, and a growing Internet of Things can both aid and hinder DOD operations as threats or opportunities.

Kirschbaum clarified that DOD officials primarily deal with foreign threat actors from opposing nations such as Russia and China. However, he also noted that domestic violent extremists use similar threat tactics.

“The DOD must continue to find ways to protect information, systems, and thought through distinct security domains such as information security, operational security, cybersecurity, physical security, and cognitive security,” the report said.

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