• Floridi, Luciano (PI)
  • Taddeo, Mariarosaria (Researcher)

Project: Research

Project Details


Information warfare (IW) is a new form of conflict characterised by strategies designed to strike at communication nodes and infrastructures, through the deployment of artificial agents such as tools of offence (robotic weapons), and by the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for the management of strategic communications among fighting units. It has its roots in the military use of intelligence as a strategic means, but has developed thanks to the revolutionary transformations caused by the pervasive use of ICTs and Artificial Intelligence (AI) artefacts on the battlefield. This two-year research project was devoted to analysing the ethical implications of IW. The project is now successfully completed and has achieved its overarching objective of defining ethical principles for the waging of this kind of warfare. The project addressed three categories of ethical problems engendered by IW concerning the risks, rights and responsibilities in IW. In greater detail, the risks concern the potential increase in the number of conflicts and casualties. ICTs-based conflicts are virtually bloodless for the army that deploys them. This advantage has the drawback of making war less problematic for the force that can implement these technologies, and therefore making it easier, not only for governments, to engage in ICT-based conflicts around the world thereby increasing the risk of escalation and therefore for casualties
IW is pervasive for it not only targets civilian infrastructures but may be launched through civilian computers and websites as well. This may initiate a policy of higher levels of control enforced by governments in order to detect and defend their citizens from possible hidden forms of attacks. In this circumstance, the ethical rights of individual liberty, privacy and anonymity may come under sharp, devaluating pressure. Finally, the assessment of responsibilities is a highly problematic issue in IW. In the case of robotic weapons, it is becoming increasingly unclear who, or what, is accountable and responsible for the actions performed by complex, hybrid, man-machine systems on the battlefield. The assessment of responsibility becomes an even more pressing issue in the case of cyber attacks, as it is potentially impossible to track back the author of such attacks.
During the two-year research project, efforts were concentrated upon training the researcher beneficiary of the Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship, on the development of innovative research and on the dissemination of the research results.

Key findings

The project had three milestones; (i) acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the technologies deployed in cases of IW, (ii) developing a conceptual analysis of IW, which then provided the ground for (iii) investigating its ethical implications.
By the end of the second year, an innovative and effective ethical analysis of IW had been developed. Such an analysis unveiled the nature of this phenomenon by showing that IW is an ‘umbrella’ phenomenon, meaning that it has three kinds of occurrences ranging from cyber-attacks, to the deployment of robotic weapons on the battlefield, to the use of ICTs for the management of strategic communications among fighting units. The research also provided a new definition of IW, according to which IW is a ‘transversal kind of warfare’, which is reshaping the very concept of warfare. For IW radically changes the way in which war is waged by involving both human and artificial agents, physical and non-physical targets, military and civilians and finally by causing conflicts whose level of violence may vary upon circumstances.
These research findings provided the conceptual ground for the identification of normative theories that could generate ethical principles of decision-making within the context of IW. Such theories have been identified in Just War Theory and in Information Ethics. The research on these two ethical theories highlighted that when applied individually to IW none of them addresses properly and fully the ethical problems posed by this phenomenon. However, the research also showed that the two theories are compatible and that when merged together they provide all the necessary and sufficient elements for developing the required ethical principles for a just IW. Three ethical principles have been defined, prescribing the condition for declaring a just IW and the boundaries in which such warfare ought to be waged.
The ethical principles fill a much-needed vacuum of ethical guidance for IW and provide the foundation for developing ethically oriented policies and regulations for this phenomenon, which are currently amiss.
AcronymEthics of Information Warfare
Effective start/end date1/06/1031/05/12


  • European Commission (EC) - Horizon 2020: £113,222.00


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