How can games help us deal with hybrid threats?

4 min reading time

We live in an open, democratic society and we want to keep it that way. TNO’s unit ‘Defence, Safety and Security’ mission is to make society and government authorities more aware of hybrid threats and to help them develop the resilience needed to deal with them. That is why we now have the Hybrid Strategies Lab.

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Would you like to find out how your organization might benefit from a gaming session in TNO’s HSLab? Then get in touch with Rick Meessen.

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In today’s world, everything is connected to everything else through the internet. This offers attackers the freedom of action and all the resources they need to achieve specific goals. These goals include undermining and destabilizing our society through the coordinated use of hacking, digital espionage, fake news on social media, economic pressure or by manipulating elections. Very often, it is difficult or impossible to trace the source of the attack. Rick Meessen, TNO’s Principal Defence and Security Advisor explains that “We see this as a threat to our open society, a danger lurking in the shadows. With the support of the Ministry of Defence, TNO has boosted a response to this challenge by establishing the Hybrid Strategies Lab (HSLab). There is nothing new about hybrid threats, but today’s far-reaching globalization, hyperconnectivity and digitization have vastly amplified their effectiveness and their impact. As a result, we are now living in a new twilight zone between war and peace.”

“Hybrid threats are nothing new, but globalization, hyperconnectivity and digitization have vastly amplified their effectiveness”

Experimenting with hybrid warfare

The Ministry of Defence, the police and other parties can use the HSLab to experiment with hybrid warfare, through game playing. The players use simulated situations, involving very realistic scenarios. This helps them identify the actual or potential nature of these hybrid threats. Aside from improved situational awareness, this gives players a better understanding of the available countermeasures – proactive, preventive, or repressive. TNO uses a strategy known as ‘connecting the dots’ to deal with any threats that are not immediately obvious. This involves detecting and monitoring relevant threats, and exposing their interconnections. The players in this lab are often decision‑makers at the Dutch Ministries of Defence, Justice & Security, and Foreign Affairs. Rick Meessen adds that “All the departments involved recently played a National Safety Game. With this game we investigated how a campaign of undermining actions (by the attacker) effected almost all institutions. The game showed us that virtually every ministry is vulnerable and that cooperation is essential. This awareness is totally unprecedented. The ministries are primarily focused on detecting and tackling any threats within their own organization. The challenge now is to identify the relevant interconnections. A follow-up gaming session on top-level is scheduled for July.” Later this year, TNO is doing a re-run of the Baltic Challenge game, in cooperation with the MoD, to spotlight hybrid threats from Russia. The HSLab is indispensable here.

“Playing in simulated situations, involving very realistic scenarios, helps players understand the nature of hybrid threats”

Hybrid war-gaming

Many potential attackers don’t feel bound to rules and regulations. Nor do they feel compelled to act harmoniously and effectively within an EU or NATO context. Yet open societies benefit enormously from sharing knowledge and from cooperation. The HSLab has a vital part to play here. Anja van der Hulst, TNO’s Senior Consultant Conflict Gaming, plays various scenarios at universities in Canada and the US. “Last week, in Montreal, we provided support facilities for a conflict game featuring East Asia. The North Korean, China-Taiwan and South China Sea issues are generating considerable tension in Canada. The point of playing this game was to gain a better understanding of these issues. Wargames like this are also very valuable in terms of analysis and policy-making. Take Syria, for example.” Ms Van der Hulst gazes far beyond the horizon “Together with Duke University students and Middle East experts, we used a game to explore ways in which the conflict situation in Syria might develop. That setting is extremely hybrid. Conventional warfare, often involving proxies (extremist and rebel groups), is certainly being waged in Syria. There is also plenty of high-level diplomacy, undermining, cyber, manipulation and deception going on in the background. At first sight, Russia and Iran seem to have the most to gain from this conflict, inasmuch as they will each become more significant players in the Middle East. The game’s scenario simulation shows the players the realistic chance that Israel might respond to the situation in Syria.”

 

Enhance resilience against hybrid threats

TNO’s aspiration is to raise awareness and enhance resilience. We can do this by learning from EU and NATO countries that traditionally lie within Russia’s sphere of influence, for example. Rick Meessen: “Is an immediate response the best course of action, or might it be better to investigate ways of making society more resilient in the long term? Finland, for example, has taken the latter approach.” In Finland, the government, the business community and various organizations are cooperating on a comprehensive security strategy. That TNO plays a major role in the area of hybrid warfare, is not coincidental: “We are an independent research institute and a flywheel for innovation, with a very extensive network of partners. As such, we can quickly bring all the relevant parties to the table. In addition, we do a lot of work for the Ministry of Defence, so we are used to dealing with classified and sensitive information. With more than 70 years of defence-related research under our belt, we have an in-depth knowledge of subjects like cyber, behavioural manipulation, and gaming.”

More information?

Would you like to find out how your organization might benefit from a gaming session in TNO’s HSLab? Then get in touch with Rick Meessen.

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Rick Meessen MA Locatie Leiden - Sch + Page 1 Location: Location The Hague - Oude Waalsdorperweg
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