The United States Needs a Public Strategy for Deterring Disinformation

The United States Needs a Public Strategy for Deterring Disinformation

Cyberwarfare will continue to matter but Washington must focus on countering disinformation in addition to more traditional computer-related threats.

Involving allies and partners will be critical to deterring disinformation by denial. The Biden administration’s executive order smartly outlines a global cybersecurity approach, which includes educating policymakers worldwide on the “policy and technical aspects of publicly attributing cyber incidents,” as well as involving additional allies in the CYBER FLAG 21-1 exercise, focused on bolstering “defensive capabilities and resiliency in cyberspace.” These are positive developments in improving collective defense in cyberspace; however, they do not address the disinformation threat outlined in the very same executive order. Similar capacity-building measures are necessary to deter harmful adversary information operations.

In cyberspace, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) can play an important role in disrupting adversary disinformation campaigns. Operations such as USCYBERCOM’s campaign against the TrickBot botnet in the lead up to the 2020 general election and its paralysis of Russia’s Internet Research Agency on the day of the 2018 midterms must continue for effective deterrence by denial.

Information conflict is reshaping the future of cyber conflict. If the U.S. national security community continues to focus just on the 1s and 0s, it will doom the United States to continually suffer successful attacks against its democracy and security. Similarly, to the extent that the government continues to pursue cyber conflict as a purely government problem, as opposed to part of a broader contest involving the likes of media outlets and internet platforms, the United States will fail to mount the society-wide response needed to effectively deter harmful foreign activities and better compete in this contest for information.

Simon Handler (@SimonPHandler) is the assistant director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative under the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, focused on the nexus of geopolitics and international security with cyberspace. He is a former special assistant in the United States Senate, where he worked on foreign policy issues.

Justin Sherman (@jshermcyber) is a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

Image: Reuters.