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International security: hybrid threats, fake news, and grey zones.

The hybrid threat concept includes those coordinated and synchronized actions (usually coming from States or actors sponsored by them), which deliberately attack systemic vulnerabilities of other States through a wide range of means and in different target sectors: political, economic, military, social, informational, infrastructure and legal; using cyberspace as the most versatile tool.


The various actors who conduct hybrid attacks, exploit lawful loopholes, operate across legal boundaries and unregulated spaces, exploit permitted thresholds, and are poised to commit substantial violations of the law taking refuge in legal and factual ambiguity. These perpetrators deny hybrid operations to create a legal gray area within which they can operate freely. Identifying the hybrid adversary and attributing responsibility for hybrid threats is not always possible.

Disinformation and post-truth

In terms of international security, the cognitive area is another space in which to extend influence in addition to the traditional physical spheres (land, sea and air). Disinformation campaigns aim to generate confusion, undermine general cohesion, use different media for the creation and dissemination of content aimed at large audiences and discredit or influence the target of the attack. These actions can pose a threat to electoral processes, as illustrated by the example of the 2016 US presidential elections.


The evolution of disinformation and post-truth have eroded trust in institutions as they generate uncertainty. Social networks have helped to spread a pernicious relativism disguised as legitimate skepticism.

The so-called fake news supported by the ubiquity of technology contaminates all the spheres of our arena: communication, politics, economics, thinking and decisions, even in our private lives. Falsehood created with tactical intent includes fabricated, manipulated information, spoofing, misinformation, false context, satire, and parody.


Social networks incorporate new models in relation to the dissemination of information: the content production is no longer a monopoly of the media and the personalization of it is accessible based on the interests of the users. This scenario has allowed the emergence of collecting large data business (big data), where the erosion of the institutional role of traditional media together with the news circulation space that social networks have become, has meant the spreading of previously manipulated information.

Connected world



With globalization, the transformation of production chains and the creation of global supply lines through intra-industry trade, any outbreak of war affects third parties in an overwhelming way. Thus, the costs of starting a conventional war are increasingly high, with which still the conflict maintaining a more ambiguous position (limiting the intensity to the existing space between peace and open war) brings out what is known as grey areas.


Grey areas are intermediate spaces on the spectrum of political conflict that separate competition according to the conventional guidelines of doing politics (white) from direct and ongoing armed confrontation (black).

The conflict in the grey zone revolves around an incompatibility relevant to at least one of the actors and the multidimensional strategies used (also known as hybrid) of gradual implementation and with long-term goals. Thus, the term grey zone describes a state of tension alternative to war, which functions in a formal stage of peace.


There are three basic characteristics of grey areas.

First, it involves some level of aggression and operates at the edge of international legality, although it is situated in the first instance below the shadow of open war.

On the other hand, whether they are still classified as war or not depends on the perspective and therefore there is enormous ambiguity regarding the nature of the conflict.

And finally, the strategies or grey tactics have a term for countries that challenge the established powers.


Cyberspace and technology


Cyber-attacks are cheaper than traditional attacks, guarantee anonymity easily, have geographic capacity, high number of potential targets, high media coverage, can affect physical infrastructures and can be combined with physical attacks.


New technologies offer new possibilities in the field of hybrid threats and one of the characteristic factors of these is that they are difficult to attribute, making it difficult to generate a response, although this type of attack is used by various actors to justify and articulate their future, which can lead to what is known as hybrid hysteria.


Hybrid threats pursue, among others, the following objectives: to erode citizens' confidence in their institutions; generate distrust in the democratic system; undermine social cohesion or social models of States, political communities (as in the EU) or international organizations (as NATO, for example); weaken the system of government of its victims; and convince of the decay of a system.

In summary, given that hybrid threats seek to achieve strategic goals influencing decision-makings, undermine values, social structures, and trust of the population; and since we are fully in the information society, it can be determined that the use of technologies plays a primary role in this area.


We are facing a phenomenon that has proliferated at a time of erosion of international norms since hybrid conflicts are identified based on three characteristics: uncertainty, tactics and objectives, elements that have been evolving.




  1. Hybrid threats have become a considerable challenge, as they imply significant changes in international security.

  2. As has been pointed out, they have consequences for society as a whole and produce effects that can reach a global scope, because they can cause the psychological collapse of a State, among others.

  3. The use of disinformation, fake news and the post-truth that generate mistrust in citizens and institutions, make it necessary to establish rules at the international level to guarantee peace and security without forgetting to avoid hybrid hysteria.

  4. The changing nature of hybrid threats contributes to creating a generalized feeling of instability and uncertainty, making it essential to enhance the response capacity of societies to reduce vulnerabilities.

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