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Cyber Warfare: GRAVE CONCERN FOR INDIA, By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd), 15 April, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 15 April 2013

Cyber Warfare


By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)


Cyber warfare refers to politically motivated hacking to conduct sabotage and espionage. It is a form of information warfare sometimes seen as analogous to conventional warfare although this analogy is controversial for both its accuracy and its political motivation.


US Government security expert Richard A. Clarke, in his book Cyber War (May 2010), defines “cyber warfare” as "actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” The Economist describes cyberspace as “the fifth domain of warfare,” and William J. Lynn, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, states that "as a doctrinal matter, the Pentagon has formally recognized cyberspace as a new domain in warfare . . . [which] has become just as critical to military operations as land, sea, air, and space.”


In 2009, President Barack Obama declared America's digital infrastructure to be a “strategic national asset,” and in May 2010 the Pentagon set up its new US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), headed by General Keith B Alexander, Director, National Security Agency (NSA), to defend American military networks and attack other countries' systems. The EU has set up European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), which is headed by Prof Udo Helmbrecht, and there are now further plans to significantly expand ENISA's capabilities. The UK has also set up a cyber-security and “operations centre” based in Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the NSA.


Iran is a recent entrant to the club, and is said to be slowly acquiring the prowess to cause damage to Israeli networks. Its might was revealed in an attack last year against what is described as the world's largest oil producer Saudi Aramco, when data on 30,000 computers was erased and substituted with the image of a burning American flag.


Reports of hacking of several Israeli government websites fit in with the analysis that the country's sworn enemies will continue to target its installations, both on land and in cyberspace. Pakistan is one of the lesser members of this infamous club. Its main objective is to annoy India. Because of its limited knowledge and resources its impact in this game has been minimal.


Dominant in the global cyber conflict scenario is the overwhelming suspicion against China. The latter has vehemently denied any involvement in episodes in which investigation by experts in cyber security had traced back sources of attack to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses belonging to some Chinese cities, especially Shanghai.


Cyber counter-intelligence are measures to identify, penetrate, or neutralize foreign operations that use cyber means as the primary tradecraft methodology, as well as foreign intelligence service collection efforts that use traditional methods to gauge cyber capabilities and intentions.


On 7 April 2009, The Pentagon announced they spent more than $100 million in the last six months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks and other computer network problems.


A government-private sector plan being overseen by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon began in October 2012, and intends to beef up India's cyber security capabilities in the light of a group of experts findings that India faces a 4.7-lakh shortfall of such experts despite the country's reputation of being an IT and software powerhouse.


On July 12, 2012, several high-level officials experienced a major cyber attack. This included officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). It is reported that several pieces of sensitive information had been compromised and there was also a breach in the main National Informatics Centre email server, which links all the departments in the Indian government. An investigation put the total number of accounts affected at roughly 12,000.


The responsibility of preventing cyber attacks had fallen under the jurisdiction of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), which was established in 2004 as a subsidiary of the Department of Information Technology. The number of reported cyber security breaches has grown from 23 in 2004 to 13,301 in 2011.


In July 2012, the Government split CERT-In in order to better distribute serious threats and minor issues. ‘CERT-In now protects cyber assets in non-critical areas while a new body called the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) protects assets in sensitive sectors such as energy, transport, banking, telecom, defence and space.’


On 30th June last, India woke up to Chinese hackers having broken into sensitive naval computer systems in and around Visakhapatnam, the Eastern Naval Command’s headquarters. Worse, they planted bugs (virus) that secretly collected and transmitted confidential files and documents to Chinese IP addresses.


This is significant given the fact that the Eastern Naval Command plans operations and deployments in the South China Sea, the theatre of recent muscle flexing by Beijing, and beyond. Also, India’s first nuclear missile submarine, INS Arihant, is currently undergoing trials at the Command.


In fact, there is nothing to stop China, unless India develops its own tools for cyber warfare, warns the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), the agency principally involved in investigating the damage caused by Chinese hackers. This outfit is directly under the Prime Minister.


Significantly, with a staggering $55 million annual budget pumped into its devious science of strategic hacking, nothing is sacred for Chinese hackers. Given that Beijing views India as its biggest enemy. According to Toronto University’s Munk Centre for International Studies, Chinese hackers are known to function as a covert arm of the Chinese navy. 


Furthermore, hacking is institutionalised in China wherein virus writing is taught in Chinese military schools. Alongside, the art of hacking is very much a part of the training imparted to a growing army of nearly 10,000 cyber soldiers.


In addition, the Red Hackers Alliance, the fifth largest hacker group in the world, is known to render services directly to the Chinese Government. With the Alliance at its disposal, Beijing enjoys supremacy in hacking techniques. The Chinese hacking force uses malware, spyware, key loggers, Trojans, bots and malicious code generators to break into Indian computers, copy documents, ex-filtrate sensitive material and bug classified correspondence. Basically, without a dedicated Indian cyber-security organisation, the country will remain a sitting duck.


All in all, despite efforts to ramp up a cyber army, the Government’s cyber defences are only as strong as their weakest link.  The NTRO, the apex group under the Prime Minister’s Office tasked with India’s cyber-security, responds to the attack and neutralizes it. But not before discovering that some of its machines have been under hostile control for over two years.


Therefore, India needs to urgently install a Cyber Command like the US under the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS)/Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee till CDS is appointed. The Government needs to wake up before it is too late.--INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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