Hybrid threats and disinformation: the COVID-19 Pandemic

Produced By Dorian Farrugia , Date: Jul 21, 2020
 

Hybrid threats and disinformation are by no means a new phenomenon in today’s security domain. However, with the unexpected outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid evolution of the world around us, a series of invisible threats began taking a centre stage in the domain of security. Hybrid threats and disinformation are such two examples, along with cyber malicious activities.

Briefly, hybrid threats are broad and complex attacks on governance, where a wide range of measures, such as cyber attacks and disinformation, are applied to hybrid campaigns aimed to disrupt critical services, undermine public trust in governmental institutions and to exploit social vulnerabilities. On the other hand, disinformation, which is a key component of the hybrid threat landscape, is the spread of fake news that targets users that are vulnerable or receptive to perceived lack of trustworthy sources of news. These untrustworthy news sources then tend to reinforce some of the users’ preconceived notions and beliefs which could contribute to potential destabilisation of societies.

Today, we are surrounded by incomplete information, misleading information, disinformation and, in fact, too much information. During the current COVID-19 crisis, the world did not only experience the outbreak of a global pandemic, but it also experienced an outbreak in the overabundance of information, where both accurate and fake news, proliferated around the globe in a bid to share information about the virus, its origin and effects, as well as about the action of authorities being used to tackle the pandemic. In turn, this has made it difficult for people to find reliable sources and the guidance they need. This proliferation of information led to the coining of the term ‘infodemic’, by the World Health Organisation.

Within the European Union (EU), many Member States have been reporting problems with respect to the spread of disinformation, as coordinated disinformation and hybrid threat campaigns that originated from state and state-backed actors, sought to exploit the public health crisis to advance their geopolitical interest, often by directly challenging the credibility of the EU and its partners.

In Malta, the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs has acknowledged and endorsed the threat posed by disinformation and hybrid threats, and has been participating in coordinated and comprehensive cross-administrative discussions on hybrid threats in order to ensure that EU Member States benefit from cooperation within the Union as much as possible and to improve their capacity to combat hybrid threats and disinformation.

Undoubtedly, the spread of disinformation around COVID-19 has led to the potential harmful consequences that could contribute to potential destabilisation, if not cripple, whole societies. Understanding threats, developing responses and sharing insights, are now key to find comprehensive approaches to tackle hybrid threats and disinformation.

False information, mistrust, and panic will undoubtedly keep increasing, unless proper counter measures are enacted. The responsibility is on us citizens, to counter further proliferation of disinformation, by simply thinking before clicking and reflecting on possible consequences before sharing information on today’s social media platforms.

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