Volume 23, Issue 1

Book Review by Mohammad Tasrif Khan

Authors: William J. Holstein and Michael G. McLaughlin
Publisher: Prometheus Books (The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.)
Print ISBN: 978-1-63388-901-9

In an era dominated by interconnected digital systems, the landscape of global conflict has expanded beyond conventional battlefields. The book Battlefield Cyber: How China and Russia Are Undermining Our Democracy and National Security, co-authored by William J. Holstein and Michael McLaughlin, provides a compelling exploration into the growing threats posed by cyber operations orchestrated by China and Russia. Through meticulous research and insightful analysis, the authors shed light on the multifaceted dimensions of cyber warfare, emphasizing its impact on democracy and national security.

The book commences with a stark assessment of the current state of cyber threats emanating from China and Russia. Holstein and McLaughlin draw on their collective expertise to present a detailed overview of the cyber capabilities wielded by these two nations. The authors examine the sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by state-sponsored cyber actors, highlighting the evolving nature of cyber warfare and its implications for democratic institutions and national security.

A notable strength of Battlefield Cyber lies in its ability to navigate the complex intersection of geopolitics, technology, and cybersecurity. The authors adeptly unravel the historical context that has shaped the cyber strategies of China and Russia, providing readers with a nuanced understanding of the motivations driving their actions. The narrative skillfully weaves together the geopolitical ambitions of these nations with the evolving landscape of cyber capabilities, creating a comprehensive framework for analyzing the contemporary threat environment.

Holstein and McLaughlin delve into the methods employed by China and Russia to exploit vulnerabilities in democracies and compromise national security. The book meticulously explores the diverse range of cyber operations, from disinformation campaigns and election interference to the targeting of critical infrastructure. Through a series of well-researched case studies, the authors illustrate how cyber activities orchestrated by these nations have not only undermined democratic processes but have also posted significant challenges to the integrity of national security apparatuses.

One of the book’s key contributions is its examination of the economic dimensions of cyber warfare. Holstein and McLaughlin delve into the strategies employed by China and Russia to engage in economic espionage, stealing intellectual property and trade secrets from Western as well as Latin American nations (Klinger 2018). The authors analyze the economic motivations behind these cyber activities, shedding light on the broader implications for global economic stability and competitiveness.
The narrative maintains a balanced approach, acknowledging the need for a nuanced understanding of the motivations behind China and Russia’s cyber operations. While the authors critically assess the actions of these nations, they also emphasize the importance of avoiding a simplistic and one-dimensional view of the geopolitical landscape. This balanced perspective adds depth to the analysis, encouraging readers to consider the broader context in which cyber operations unfold.

An intriguing aspect of Battlefield Cyber is its exploration of the psychological dimensions of cyber warfare. Holstein and McLaughlin delve into the use of disinformation and psychological operations as tools to sow discord, manipulate public opinion, and erode trust in democratic institutions. The authors argue that understanding the psychological impact of cyber operations is crucial for developing effective countermeasures and safeguarding the democratic fabric of nations (Beauchamp-Mustafaga 2021)The book also tackles the inadequacies of existing international frameworks in addressing the challenges posed by state-sponsored cyber threats. Holstein and McLaughlin critically examine the limitations of traditional diplomatic and legal avenues in deterring for responding to cyberattacks. The authors advocate for a reevaluation of international norms and the development of collaborative mechanisms to enhance the resilience of democracies against cyber threats.

As the narrative unfolds, Holstein and McLaughlin address the role of private sector entities in the battle against cyber threats. The authors underscore the symbiotic relationship between government agencies and private corporations, emphasizing the need for greater collaboration in defending against cyberattacks. Through real-world examples, they highlight instances where public-private partnerships have yielded positive outcomes and propose strategies for further strengthening these alliances.

A commendable feature of the book is its exploration of the technological arms race in cyberspace. Holstein and McLaughlin discuss the rapid advancements in cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies (Beauchamp-Mustafaga 2024) They analyze how these developments not only shape the offensive capabilities of China and Russia but also pose challenges for defenders in staying ahead of evolving cyber threats (Treyger, Cheraritch & Cohen 2022). This forward-looking perspective adds a layer of urgency to the book, urging policymakers and security practitioners to anticipate and adapt to the evolving nature of cyberwarfare.

Battlefield Cyber concludes with a reflection on the imperative for democracies to develop a comprehensive and adaptive approach to cybersecurity. Holstein and McLaughlin emphasize the need for a coordinated and multi-faceted strategy that encompasses technological innovation, policy reforms, international cooperation, and public awareness. The authors argue that only through a holistic and proactive approach can nations hope to safeguard their democracies and national security in the face of relentless cyber threats.

The Battlefield Cyber book has been released at a pivotal time where both China and Russia made their successful inroads toward building ties with long-term American allies in Latin America and other parts of the globe with strong American interests, thus representing a conflict of interest among the United States, China, and Russia. Cyberattacks have been escalating with great frequency and severity compared to the years between 2011 and 2019 leading up to the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic. As seasoned national security experts in the field of cyber and space operations, both Holstein and McLaughlin aim to bring forth extensive experience and meticulous research to construct a compelling narrative toward counterterrorism and reconnaissance efforts against cyber threats from adversarial powers in this ongoing global power competition (GPC). The authors further argue that both seek to undermine Western democracies, particularly the United States and its Western allies, through targeted cyber operations, to boost disinformation campaign efforts and to manipulate public opinion to weaken critical infrastructure systems that citizens heavily depend upon for their way of living (Roy 2022)This dual focus on technical tactics and strategic objectives from the Russian and Chinese angles have accelerated the overall interest an audience should be expecting to gather simply from reading this book.

Abstract threats become tangible through the authors’ inclusion of real-world examples because they recount cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 elections, and the Colonial Pipeline incidents from the late 2010s. These examples further demonstrate the potential scope and devastating impact of such operations politically, socially, and economically, thus capturing the urgency of the situation across all domains, not just in cyber or space fronts (Treyger & Cohen 2022).Beyond raising awareness with regards to these Chinese and Russian inroads toward neutralizing American cyber supremacy, the book offers a roadmap for strengthening national defenses (Steir et al. 2024). The authors could have also highlighted additional sets of contextualized examples that demonstrate the magnitude of cyberattacks impacting the financial, medical, or healthcare and tech sector industries, such as pharmacies losing consumer data access at the hands of hackers between 2019 and the present, which would have further strengthened their case of argument in their literature review. For example, the authors recommend increasing public-private partnerships, enhanced intelligence gathering, and improved cyber resilience across both government and private sectors. At the end of the day, these concrete recommendations empower readers to engage in solving the issues that are at stake rather than admitting the issues upfront and not doing much to solve these issues, as increased people are being connected with interface technology systems daily. (Steier et al. 2024).

While the book effectively highlights the dangers posed by China and Russia, it could benefit from further nuance. Oversimplified portrayals of complex geopolitical relationships could potentially risk hindering a deep understanding for the audience and do not help the authors’ arguments. Indeed, addressing internal vulnerabilities and acknowledging the multifaceted nature of cyberspace might enrich the analysis. The primary focus on the American experience potentially limits the book’s global appeal because of the book’s U.S.-centric perspective with regards to space warfare (Steier et al. 2024) Exploring cyber threats against other democracies and offering comparative insights could broaden the scope and help the arguments resonate with a wider audience, especially in middle-power and lower-power countries from Africa and Asia. Moreover, the authors’ backgrounds and the book’s focus on specific adversaries, confirmation bias, and reasoning bias are the major forms of biases one should look out for consideration from one’s experience with the literature review presented in the book. Thus, acknowledging alternative perspectives and engaging with the point of views (POVs) from other external sources would be beneficial in strengthening the objectivity of this vital work.

Overall, Battlefield Cyber: How China and Russia Are Undermining Our Democracy and National Security stands as a thought-provoking and timely exploration of the challenges posed by state-sponsored cyber operations. Holstein and McLaughlin’s collaboration results in a well-researched and comprehensive analysis of the geopolitical, economic, psychological, and technological dimensions of cyberwarfare. It undeniably serves as a powerful wake-up call to stop ignoring the red flags of adversaries trying to undermine the democratic system and the national security processes of the United States of America and indirectly calls for a long-term preparedness for a global cyber conflict against the U.S. as well as its supporters. Most importantly, the book serves as a valuable resource for policymakers, cybersecurity professionals, scholars, and the general public seeking a deeper understanding of the evolving threats to democracy and national security in the digital age.

Beauchamp-Mustafaga, N 2024, Chinese Next-Generation Psychological Warfare: The Military Applications of Emerging Technologies and Implications for the United States, RAND Corporation, viewed 15 February 2024, <https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA853-1.html>.
Klinger, JM 2018, ‘A brief history of outer space cooperation between Latin America and China’, Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 46-83, <https://doi.org/10.1353/lag.2018.0022>.
Harold, SW, Beauchamp-Mustafaga, N & Hornung, JW 2021, Chinese Disinformation Efforts on Social Media, RAND Corporation, viewed 25 February 2024, <https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4373z3.html>.
Roy, D 2023, China’s growing influence in Latin America, Council on Foreign Relations, viewed 12 August 2023, <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-influence-latin-america-argentina....
Steier, J, Hegewald, EV, Jacques, GA, Hartnett, S & Menthe, L 2024, Understanding the Limits of Artificial Intelligence for Warfighters: Volume 2, Distributional Shift in Cybersecurity Datasets, RAND Corporation, viewed 25 February 2024, <https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1722-2.html>.
Treyger, E, Cheravitch, J & Cohen, RS 2022, Russian Disinformation Efforts on Social Media, RAND Corporation, viewed 25 February 2024, <https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4373z2.html>.

Volume 23, Issue 1 Editorial

Styled image of the word Editoral

Winter 2024

The staff of the Journal of Information Warfare (JIW) are pleased to announce that we are collaborating with the Information Professionals Association (IPA) https://information-professionals.org/ to develop a new academic publication entitled, The Journal of Cognitive Security (JCS), https://cogsecjournal.com/. This is also an academic double-blind, peer-reviewed publication that will publish four editions per year of cutting-edge papers that cover all aspects of cognitive security. It will address the impact of the increasing volume of information available to anyone, the speed with which information is replicated, spread, and processed, and the ubiquity of telecommunications.

The Journal of Cognitive Security is concerned with influence and protection from influence of large groups of media users and consumers, both online and offline. Cognitive Security focuses on (1) the exploitation of cognitive biases in large public groups, (2) social influence as an end unto itself and (3) formality and quantitative measurement. The journal will include submissions that address the impact of the information environment on human decision making and on societal change and is a sister publication to The Journal of Information Warfare, where our staff will act as Executive Editors/Publishers.

‘No-one Likes a Cry-Baby’: The Effectiveness of Victimization Narratives in External Information Operations


This study investigates the extent to which victimization narratives in state information campaigns are an effective way to influence targeted external audiences. It focuses on two prolific users of information operations in opposition to the West, namely Russia and the People’s Republic of China. In order to test whether the use of a victimization narrative increases the effectiveness of messaging in disinformation campaigns, the authors conducted dual experimental simulations on two samples of proxy target audiences. The experiment did not reveal any clear advantages in the use of a victimization narrative; rather there were indications (some of them statistically significant), that a victimization narrative could backfire.

Aspectual Human Performance Variability in Social Engineering Attacks


Most of the influence and persuasion techniques used in social engineering have been documented across many domains, including cybersecurity, and have been shown to rely on similar effect mechanisms used in areas such as marketing, scams, and street cons. This paper shows that, while these attacks are explained in terms of the social and psychological effect mechanisms, the aspectual lens provides a more nuanced understanding of human performance variability implicated in social engineering. The aspectual lens provides a comprehensive analytical and ontological framing, and hints at aspectually informed measures for mitigating social engineering attacks and dampening the said human performance variability.

The Theory of Transitional Target Defence: A New Approach to Enhancing Cyber Deception


There have been many different approaches to implementing deceptive devices, but it is the contention of this paper that fundamentally every incarnation suffers from the same issue: it remains a deceptive device. As the use of deceptive devices has increased, attackers have become more aware of the threat they pose and have become more adept at detecting deceptive devices. This paper presents a new approach to enhancing cyber deception called Transitional Target Defence (TTD). TTD does not present a deceptive device for an attacker to reconnoitre but rather allows interaction with targets until the exploitation phase. Once the hostile traffic is detected, the attacker is redirected to a deceptive device. The authors discuss the utility of this technique in this paper and the increased complexity of the psychological theatre that comes with it.

A Case Study for Conceptually Modeling Alternative Exploratory Geopolitical Analysis: What if the REvil Ransomware FSB Arrest Video Was Authentic?


This paper introduces a novel, integrated conceptual model for exploratory geopolitical analysis. This case study reexamines a January 2022 YouTube video showing what appeared to be the arrests of REvil ransomware gang members responsible for victimizing American companies. The video appeared to have been filmed by the Federal Security Service (FSB), as proof of Moscow arresting REvil members at the request of Washington just before the war in Ukraine. While this video is believed by some within American intelligence communities to be staged, when applying signaling theory and warranting theory as foundational theories of communication reliability and content evaluation to this video, the findings suggest that the arrests in the video may have in fact been genuine and displayed an authentic Moscow gesture. This paper will conceptually model this integrated interpretation of both theories in a matrix. This practitioners’ alternative approach to exploratory geopolitical analysis may represent one of the only integrated signaling and warranting conceptual models in information warfare.

The Changing Face of Cybercrime as a Service: An Australian Perspective


Claims of unchecked sophisticated cyberattacks have raised important questions about the types of adversaries, the targets (victims), the changing nature of cybercrime, and the legal ramifications that lead to successful prosecutions. The ease of access to services, such as botnets that can be deployed on behalf of customers by third-party providers, has no doubt encouraged non-technical customers to engage in cyber warfare. As such, they could be legitimately prosecuted; such prosecutions are, however, rare, due to a range of limitations. This article examines the legal and practical issues arising from the evolution of Cybercrime as a Service from a technical to a business-driven model.

Hybrid Cyber Threats: Lithuanian Context


This academic paper conducts a comprehensive analysis of hybrid cyber threats within the Lithuanian context, focusing on the examination of national strategies formulated to address and mitigate these complex challenges. Hybrid cyber threats, characterized by the amalgamation of traditional cyber methods with elements of disinformation, psychological warfare, and geopolitical manipulation present unique challenges to national security. This study explores how Lithuania’s national strategies have evolved to counteract these multifaceted threats, offering insights into the effectiveness of current approaches, and identifying potential areas for improvement.

The research employs a comparative analysis of Lithuania’s historical and contemporary national cybersecurity strategies, examining their alignment with the evolving nature of hybrid cyber threats. By evaluating the integration of cybersecurity measures with broader national security policies, the study aims to uncover the strengths and weaknesses in Lithuania’s preparedness and response mechanisms.

Beyond Deepfakes: Synthetic Moving Images and the Future of History


This paper investigates the role of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools in the production of synthetic moving images—specifically, how these images could be used in online disinformation campaigns and could profoundly affect historical footage archives. AI-manipulated content, especially moving images, will have an impact far beyond the current information warfare (IW) environment and will bleed into the unconsidered terrain of visual historical archives with unknown consequences. The paper will also consider IW scenarios in which new types of long-term disinformation campaigns may emerge and will conclude with potential verification and containment strategies.

Journal of Information Warfare

The definitive publication for the best and latest research and analysis on information warfare, information operations, and cyber crime. Available in traditional hard copy or online.

Quick Links

View the latest issue of JIW.

Latest Edition

Purchase a subscription to JIW.
















Quill Logo

The definitive publication for the best and latest research and analysis on information warfare, information operations, and cyber crime. Available in traditional hard copy or online.


Get in touch

Registered Agent and Mailing Address

  • Journal of Information Warfare
  •  ArmisteadTEC
  • Dr Leigh Armistead, President
  • 1624 Wakefield Drive
  • Virginia Beach, VA 23455