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Activity title

Social Media Exploitation for Operations in the Information Environment

Activity Reference

IST-177 (IWA)


Information Systems Technology

Security Classification




Activity type


Start date


End date



Big Data, Counter Information, Deterrence, Forensics, High level Electronic Warfare, InfoOpsArchitecture, Misinformation, NWAnalysis, PSYOPS, Social Media


Traditionally Psychological Operations (PSYOPS), that is, ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of a population have been conducted using traditional information channels such as: radio stations, dropping leaflets, doing projects supporting the community such as building schools, distributing clothing, etc. However, with the proliferation of networks and technologies, including social media applications that have become part of the everyday life of a significant proportion of the world’s population, a new set of channels for PSYOPS has been created. Use of mobile phones and social media sites (from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, LinkedIn to Pokémon Go) make people susceptible to influence by advertisers, political activists and state actors, to name a few. NATO and Alliance Nations are also susceptible as parties may try to influence its military and civilian populations, Research is being conducted on the technical vulnerabilities within cyberspace; however, an emergent vector for viable attack is via the cognitive layer through social media. The social media arena provides a never before seen affordance: a. Attacks can occur on a global scale or target right down to an individual; b. Adversaries are able to attack from anywhere in the world; and, c. The amplification effect and speed of dissemination is staggering. d. counter argumentation doesn’t help – the wrong information lingers in memory This phenomenon poses many new challenges for military intelligence operators, such as detection of PSYOPS influence attacks (misinformation, propaganda, fake news), but also exploitation opportunities by PSYOPS operators to successfully influence target populations to understand the value of Western society and democratic values. We have seen how effective this channel can be. For example, social media has been used by ISIS for recruiting and radicalization of western fighters and by Russia for propaganda prior to and during kinetic operations in Ukraine. NATO needs to understand, how information and communication technology is dual use in the sense of serving benign and malign purposes on a national and global scale. The versatility und ubiquity greatly enhances their appeal for intelligence collection, military operations, covert actions, and clandestine signaling. Adversaries turning these capabilities into effective and dependable weapons present the major challenge we have to face. Developing and maintaining defensive countermeasure is critical for cutting down own vulnerabilities and weaknesses concerning these weapons. Quantitative and qualitative methods, and operational and strategic level analysis should be combined to develop a new framework to act in this domain. This activity can be seen as a follow-on study to RTG-IST-159 investigating the capabilities to manipulate the media landscape enabled by leveraging ever-evolving networked tools. Currently NATO has no equivalents to establish any deterrence or efficient protection against psychological warfare.


The goal of this research is to understand this space and investigate potentially relevant methods and technologies for use by intelligence analysts in order to provide situational awareness, indicators and warning, and intelligence to commanders as well as investigating potential tools for PSYOPS operators that might be used to augment traditional channels.


1. Exploration of attack vectors and effects of social media influence attacks 2. Intelligence opportunities in this layer 3. Fake News and Propaganda-Recognition 4. Analytics for segmenting target populations for maximum influence opportunity 5. Understand tools for injection of PSYOPS information into social media streams 6. Exploration of relevant technologies and tools 7. Understand the System Architecture for Operational InfoOps and effects evaluation. 8. Transfer Electronic Warfare means to the Information Warfare level 9. Develop counter measures and defence options and techniques, 10. Develop a concept for a reliable deterrence

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