Hanna Smith, Hybrid CoE’s Director of Research and Analysis, and Ruben Arcos, lecturer and researcher of communication sciences at Rey Juan Carlos University co-edited vol. 19 no 1. (2021) issue of the ICONO 14 journal: “Digital Communication and Hybrid Threats”. The special issue supported the EU-HYBNET project’s research component. Among the contributions were submissions from ICDS (Estonia), University of Tromsö (Norway) and National Institute for Intelligence Studies (Romania) – all EU-HYBNET partners. The special issue aims to address hybrid threats from a digital communication perspective, understanding the strengths and the vulnerabilities to hybrid threats of our digital ecosystems and societies, the processes, methods, and tools by which they can be exploited in coordinated campaigns and activities, and how to counter malicious strategic communications and influence.
Malicious information activities by state, non-state and state-backed actors are an essential part of hybrid threats and operations. Political warfare, proactive measures and covert action are not new, but ICTs and digital communication tools and channels offer unprecedented opportunities for coordinated hostile activities that exploit the vulnerabilities of our democratic societies for different purposes.
Cyberspace is recognized as a domain of operations in which digital communication channels can be exploited in campaigns directed against individuals, institutions and societies through information and influence in decision-making. While the content of the communication of symbolic interactions on social media platforms has varying degrees of visibility, coordinated inauthentic behaviors and the use of cyberproxies challenge detection and attribution. The militarization of information by hybrid threat actors can take multiple forms and raises the question of how to prevent, counter and respond to it without undermining the democratic rights and freedoms of our societies.
This special issue of ICONO 14 aims to address hybrid threats from a digital communication perspective, understanding the strengths and vulnerabilities to hybrid threats of our digital ecosystems and societies, the processes, methods and instruments by which they can be exploited in campaigns and coordinated activities, and how to counter malicious strategic influences and communications.
TNO and HCSS have worked together to draft a background document for cross-domain strategies against hybrid threats.
Authors Tim Sweijs, Samuel Zilincik, Frank Bekkers and Rick Meessen present a strategic framework that describes and explains relations between strategies and counter-strategies in dealing with hybrid threats and offer considerations to select those dominant strategies that are to be part of the Dutch strategic posture.
The framework presented in the report consists of two escalation axes. The vertical axis consists of five general strategies: (1) cooperation, (2) persuasion, (3) protection, (4) coercion, and (5) control.
The horizontal escalation is comprised of the well-know DIMEL categorization of instruments and measures of state power.
The above-mentioned five strategies can be employed simultaneously or sequentially in order to counter hybrid threats. Additionality, these strategies can be exercised through and across the six DIMEL-domains of diplomacy, information, cyber, economy, military, and legal.
These theoretical propositions however, need to be further developed and tested. In light of this, these insights will be refined in a simulation environment in the form of a table-top game. By doing this, further light will be shed on how the strategies presented in this report function in a (simulated) competitive setting and subsequently help refine and inform the crafting of effective cross-domain strategies in real world scenarios.
The European Commission, by means of its Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE) in Helsinki have joined forces to develop a conceptual model for characterizing Hybrid Threats accompanied by a framework for analysis. The proposed conceptual model’s analytical framework is developed around four main pillars:
Actors (and their strategic objectives)
This structure enables us to grasp the time variable of Hybrid Threats and identify the way in which an actor can employ a series of tools to affect the targeted country in order to achieve a series of objectives.
The proposed framework is not the mere listing of the above-mentioned pillars, but aims at identifying the links between them as well as providing a flexible framework, a blueprint, that can be adapted to the needs of each EU and NATO member state.
The proposed conceptual model’s analytical framework is validated against a number of real case studies in order to assess its validity and its analytical value. Although it would be convenient to establish the analytical framework on the basis of past experience, we refrained from doing so in order to deliver a concept for Hybrid Threats and analytical framework that is future-proof, handles the test of time and that describes the concept of Hybrid Threats against the background of current security environment dynamics, while taking into consideration the evolving nature of the threat.
In particular, the conceptual model puts much emphasis on actors. It aims at understanding their drivers by studying their motives, doctrines, open source intelligence and literature, which duly provide pieces of evidence for their objectives and strategic culture. A deep understanding of actors’ objectives is an excellent proxy for forecasting possible future activities. The conceptual model focuses on state and non-state actors and the case studies demonstrate the diversified nature of their activities and modii operandi.
We hope that this holiday message finds you all healthy and thriving. Indeed, it has been a challenging year. Along with the start of EU-HYBNET’s activities, 2020 brought unprecedented change to everyone’s daily lives with the COVID-19 global pandemic. For this reason, we are even more proud of the project’s accomplishments thus far and know that the results achieved would not have been possible without the efforts of our consortium members and all of you who have been working with the EU-HYBNET project.
On behalf of the EU-HYBNET consortium, I want to warmly thank you for supporting us in our first year of activities. Also, I would like to express our sincerest appreciation for the trust you have placed in us and to convey our best wishes for the upcoming holiday season and a prosperous and healthy New Year!
We look forward to working together in the New Year with our ever-expanding EU-HYBNET network countering hybrid threats.
Dr. Päivi Mattila, the Director of Security Research Program Laurea, EU-HYBNET Coordinator
Mark your calendars, because you are cordially invited to the 1st EU-HYBNET Annual Workshop that will be held on 13 April 2021! The EU-HYBNET Pan European Network to Counter Hybrid Threats Annual Workshop aims at highlighting the results and findings of the EU-HYBNET project gained during the first project year.
As part of the event, EU-HYBENT isinviting organizations that work with security-related topics to present research and/or innovations which could contribute to countering hybrid threats.
EU-HYBNET is interested to hearing about a wide array of issues such as:
Ideas in organizational change.
Public policy measures and experiences.
Solutions to increase security in and resilience of critical infrastructures, cyber domain, local and national government.
Information and strategic communication systems.
If you are interested in presenting your solution or innovative idea during the 1st EU-HYBNET Annual Workshop, please fill out the accompanied template.
Hybrid threats are one of the main security challenges Western democracies currently struggle with. Hybrid threats are in the news, mostly framed or wrapped in specific ‘hybrid’ phenomena like disinformation, foreign meddling in elections and cyber hacks. Countering these threats remains a demanding task as they evolve due to technological advances and new ways of hybrid campaigning.
It is for this reason that, Drs. W.R.F. Meessen (TNO), Drs. F.F. Bekkers (HCSS), B. Torossian, MSC (HCSS) have written an article that collects some of the most relevant trends and developments that shape hybrid threats, now and in the years to come, and that pose huge challenges for countering these threats.
Are you a Security Practitioner? A stakeholder? An Academic? An Industry Player? Or a SME? Are you interested in countering hybrid threats? Then, have a look to the first EU-HYBNET Newsletter.
This first edition will provide you an overview of EU-HYBNET Network and vision; and Project Partners. It then provides and update on the present status of the project by showing the latest developments related to the Innovation Arena; Gaps and Needs activities. Finally it covers past and upcoming EU-HYBNET related events.
If you are interested in knowing more, have a look at the newsletter.
The SPARTA Project (Grant agreement ID: 830892) is responsible for executing four research programmes that tackle ambitious challenges in cybersecurity, representing major opportunities for enhancing Europe’s strategic autonomy and the Digital Single Market. These programmes account for more than half of the efforts deployed in SPARTA. Although programme leaders have different profiles, all are nevertheless experienced senior experts.
One of the four research programmes, T-Shark (Full Spectrum Situational Awareness), is coordinated by the Lithuanian Cyber Crime Center of Excellence for Training, Research and Education (L3CE).
The cyber threat landscape in today’s world is changing dramatically. Most organisations face rising demands to employ new approaches, operational models and innovative technologies to ensure national and international stability and security.
The key objective of the T-Shark programme is to develop and validate methodological, organisational, and technological solutions that would enhance cybersecurity through the comprehensive organisation of cybersecurity functions, focusing more on threat prediction and full-spectrum cybersecurity awareness. Given the need to validate the T-Shark platform under real-world conditions, all technology solutions were tested using a realistic „Election Interference“ scenario and evaluated by an independent group of experts, which we have called the “Arbitrage Group”.
Despite the great achievements of T-Shark to address complex, sophisticated, full-spectrum threats, a lack of innovative solutions and essential capacities preparing EU for future cybersecurity challenges continue to persist. T-Shark’s experts exerted significant effort into examining the latest developments in EU and national research projects, especially those that could be used as valuable inputs and incorporated into its research results. At the same time, T-Shark facilitated the collaboration among the huge variety of experts and researchers who despite the different fields of interest and research objectives, are able and willing to work together to address the most serious issues.
Today SPARTA succeed to unite the community on the issues surrounding cybersecurity, however, the question how to establish long term, sustainable collaboration links between the ecosystems that contain a huge portfolio of knowledge, practical experience and niche competencies required for the new creations is still open.
As a first step, L3CE initiated discussions with EU-HYBNET network aimed to find new collaboration models that are based on similar goals and objectives.
New arenas for collaboration: EU-HYBNET
SPARTA T-Shark and EU-HYBNET have strong synergies in terms of activities that are related through the technological aspects of hybrid threats and complexity of the relevant phenomena. By combining these two initiatives, especially in areas that are in line with that which was already achieved in the cybersecurity context, we hope to expand the scope of adoption and usability of suitable innovations.
The fields that could be considered for further clustering of EU-HYBNET – SPARTA activities are:
Methodological and technological synchronisation between cybersecurity, prevention, defence operations.
Introduction, testing and validation of the T-Shark Threats Intelligence platform by EU-HYBNET stakeholders
Cyber Professionals competence structure, changes and new demands, new learning methods, new career paths
Extension of SPARTA Cybersecurity Skills Framework adding new professional profiles linked to the new Hybrid Threats phenomena
Innovations exploitation strategies while delivering continuous improvement for end-user’s organisations
Introduction of T-SHARK innovations governance framework and evaluation methodology; involvement of EU-HYBNET stakeholders in Arbitrage Group activities
Alignment of roadmaps and consolidation of prioritised development resources
Introduction of SPARTA Research and Innovation roadmap to the unique EU-HYBNET ecosystem
Integration of new trends and patterns of information to build stronger and aligned awareness
Engagement of SPARTA community in EU-HYBNET activities seeking a deeper understanding of Hybrid Threats phenomena, new trends and integration links with SPARTA research programmes.
As a step towards collaboration, an L3CE initiated workshop between EU-HYBNET and T-SHARK teams aimed to kick-off discussions on how to strengthen synergies between the networks, reduce unnecessary overlapping activities, and maximise achieved results.
In this context, EU-HYBNET has preliminary interest to contribute to the evaluation of innovative solutions based on the “Election Interference” hybrid threats model referred to above.
Moreover, it was agreed that the collaboration model will be tested and piloted, as well as being validated by the T-Shark Arbitrage Group. In this way, T-Shark will benefit from enhanced competence of external experts, and EU-HYBNET is interested in learning from T-SHARK Arbitrage Group validation in order to gain a deeper understanding of innovations that might be considered as a relevant solution to meet the needs of EU-HYBNET stakeholders.
Assuming favourable outcomes over the longer term, the cross-network collaboration tested and piloted by the Arbitrage Group might be transformed into a permanent EU body with independent professional assistance for end-users and make innovations uptake more effective.
In summary, we anticipate that the SPARTA/ T-Shark and EU-HYBNET collaboration will embrace these new approaches, operational models and innovative technologies in ways that will significantly enhance national and international stability and security.
SPARTA and T-SHARK actors are welcomed to get familiar with EU-HYBNET activities and to apply to become a member in the EU-HYBNET Network/ Pan-European Network to Counter Hybrid Threats. The EU-HYBNET has four core themes: I) Future Trends of Hybrid Threats; II) Cyber and Future Technologies; III) Resilient Civilians, Local Level and National Administration; IV) Information and Strategic Communication). Especially the core the “Cyber and Future Technologies” is strongly linked to SPARTA and hence highlights the possibilities for future synergies between SPARTA and EU-HYBNET. More information how to join the network, please see EU-HYBNET webpage.