• MOOC coordinators Manuel Gertrudix Barrio & Rubén Arcos Martín
  • Content written by Mihaela Theodor
  • Multimedia design by Alejandro Carbonell Alcocer
  • Visual Identity by Juan Romero Luis

Hybrid threats dimensions, actors, channels and tools

Characterization of the 21st Century security threat landscape

Hybrid threats, such as propaganda, deception, sabotage and other non-military tactics have long been used, since the Cold War and even before. What is new about attacks seen in recent years is their speed, scale and intensity, facilitated by rapid technological change and global interconnectivity and as such they require swift response. (See more info).

Hybrid threats expands the battlefield across the political, economic and social dimension that extends far beyond the mere military realm.

  1. Political dimension: elections, key decision makers, legislations and regulations, image of the state, the role of the state internationally, foreign investments climate.
  2. Social dimension: state stability, trust towards the government, potential for mobilizing protesters, radicalization, deepening of social/ethnic conflicts.
  3. Economic dimension: limiting investor’s choice, influence on company’s leadership and decisions, reputation, foreign cooperation, market value of companies, brand.

The relative novelty of hybrid threats lays in the ability of an actor to synchronize multiple instruments of power (political, military, economic, informational) simultaneously and intentionally exploit creativity, ambiguity, non-linearity and the cognitive elements of warfare, targeting vulnerabilities across societies in ways that we do not think about. The reach is far greater and the consequences far more severe due to the globalization and interconnectedness of the societies and countries around the world, through the internet, media and social media being main channels and tools of influence (see the figure below).

Actors, channels and tools. Source:

Methodology and Resources

  • The Brief: Hybrid threats and Europe's vulnerability (actors)
  • Finland programme from 2019 EU Precedency - Common action to counter hybrid threats - (actions)
  • Ukraine case or (means and channels)
  • Examples of hybrid threats.
  • Terrorism: terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL/Da’esh operate across the territories of many countries, and employ a variety of economic, military and technological tools to achieve their political goals.
  • Cybersecurity: the operations of state-affiliated hackers from Russia and China and the use of cyber-weapons are facilitated by difficulties with the attribution and the absence of norms of state behavior in cyberspace.
  • The technology can be exploited by those with criminal and malicious intent, including terrorists, with potentially extensive and catastrophic consequences, as the 2017 WannaCry cyber-attack with global reach, which nearly brought the United Kingdom’s National Health Service to its knees, illustrated.
  • Organized crime: armed criminal groups and drug cartels in Mexico resort to violence in the fight over territory and economic profits. Erosion of security, in turn, has a negative impact on the Mexican economy.
  • Maritime disputes: China is pursuing its aims in the South China Sea by combining economic and military pressure with extensive land reclamation projects in the Spratly archipelago.
  • Space: constraints on use of orbital space (and access to satellites) resulting from space debris – created, among other things, by anti-satellite missile tests.
  • Resource scarcity: resource-dependency between countries is increasingly used for political purposes. In 2010, China blocked exports of raw materials to Japan in response to the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat. In 2011, India’s refusal to adopt a water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh put additional pressure on bilateral relations.
  • Acttive Measures/Covert operations: Russia’s strategic use of special forces (i.e. ‘green men’) and information in Ukraine.
  • Economic espionage: While Chinese influence operations are less visible than Russian ones, Chinese economic espionage is very active; China sees Europe as a softer target than the US. It concentrates on launching skilled cyber attacks against industries and research facilities, but its programme also encompasses strategic investments in key technology industries.
  • Hybrid Threats: A Strategic Communications Perspective, NATO Strategic Communications, Centre of Excellence (NATO StratCom COE), 2019.
  • Deep dive: Hybrid Warfare, Digital Forensic Centre, October 29, 2018.
  • NATO’s response to hybrid threats, August 2019.