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Millennium Post

Emerging era of cyber wars

The People’s Republic of China may have initially missed out on industrial revolution, but learning from the past, it is all set to become a front-runner in the virtual revolution. In fact, it has gone a step further to set off cyber warfare with other countries in the congested and tightly competitive virtual world. And this time, it won’t settle for being a laggard!

Undoubtedly, the modern warfare is no more about the number of casualties or destruction of physical property. The new doctrines of war is all about attacking a nation economically and paralysing it for years to come. An economically broken nation would not only destroy its human capital in the long-run but would be politically fragile too. China has unleashed muscle-flexing exercises through the cyber world and the focus is straight at its favourite enemy, US. Despite being a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a full-fledged nuclear power, China knows it well that it is still not at par with the western armament technology. The desperation to bridge the gap forms the cornerstone to China’s cyber warfare rationale. Time and again, it has attacked various military and intelligence websites – what we call espionage – to gain access to data, technologies, blueprints, strategies and geo-strategic coordinates. To a large extent it is successful too, as there are increasing concerns in the US and the UK establishments regarding the price they might have to pay as a result of this on-going cyber war. However, the cyber battle is not just confined to military espionage. It includes intelligence, economic and social espionage too. Back in 2010, computers at diplomatic posts of around 103 countries were intruded by China’s cyber-spies.

In this context, the red dragon’s attention has been drawn to India as well. The reason is obvious. India is touted as the next fast-growing power in Asia and is seen as a prospective silicon hub – apart from China – in the region. It’s not that China can learn a great deal from India’s defence technology and military preparedness, but it can certainly steal some knowledge from India and accordingly, frame strategies and counter-strategies at various levels. A political tussle is on for quite sometime in the South China Sea, where India and China are offering a quick sight of their respective naval might over issues related to oil exploration in Vietnam’s coast.  Consider this: On 30 June 2010, the computer system at India’s Eastern Naval Command headquartered at Visakhapatnam was hacked by unknown agents. Cyber forensic experts tracked the hacking route, and Beijing’s complicity was established. Portals ranging from MoF websites to that of the PMO have been hacked by Chinese virtual soldiers in the past. And being in the enemy radar of China there is every chance that the cyber-attacks will increase in future, with India being the sitting duck in the warfare.

It is indeed strange that despite a huge, talented pool of computer experts, India is staging such a poor show on this front. It is actually the weakness of our institutions – defence, defence production and defence R&D – in terms of their failure to optimally recruit and utilise intellectual capital in defending state secrets. Why can’t the incumbent government keep an army of hackers to defend the very nation and its state secrets? At least that is not being done on a priority basis, and earnestly so.

On the contrary, cyber hacking is a state-sponsored initiative in China. The government supposedly pumps-in a mammoth $55 million annually for this exercise. According to a Toronto University study, the Chinese Navy’s covert wing is directly responsible for the many acts of cyber espionage. Even terror outfits emanating from Pakistan and elsewhere, would have massive interests in gaining access to sensitive information that is delivered by Chinese hackers (state-sponsored or otherwise), that could come handy while plotting terror attacks on India. The need of the hour is for India to get stronger on the cyber defence front.   

A specialised cell for cyber security is of utmost importance and the PM and Co. should realise the gravity of the situation. With India getting more automated and most of its communication processes now becoming digitalised, the repercussions of a full-fledged cyber war would send ripples across the entire nation and the system that runs the nation. If Stuxnet-type worm or virus (that impaired Iran’s nuclear program in November 2007) were to attack servers across India’s stock markets, or those of the Indian Armed Forces or utility centres, the nation would come to a standstill. [Of course, the confusion, fear, distrust, anger, helplessness and desperation amongst the people would be complimentary!] In this information era, when safeguarding information is as important as safeguarding borders, what India needs is a comprehensive defence policy that integrates virtual and real warfare.

Formation of a centralised defence unit that has divisions capable of handling cyber and border security simultaneously is imperative. As of now, hacking into websites in India isn’t a tough ask. Actually it’s very easy if you ask a Chinese to do you a favour!

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank
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