By Maj Gen (Retd) Afsir Karim
Cyber warfare has emerged as an instrument of fifth generation warfare. It can take many forms now an enemy can target the systems or networks of a country stealthily and disrupt damage or destroy critical systems by invading the cyberspace. Military systems can be targeted at a critical phase of the war, specifically to disable the launching or delivery systems of missiles, disrupting command and control and information systems. Cyber attacks can also be used by governments to disrupt nuclear programmes of a country. There is, in a sense constantly a hidden war on in cyberspace that is invisible but gathering vital information from the computers controlling it. Few security alarm systems can detect such threats by conventional security measures.
Cyberspace is being used extensively by ISIL for extremist propaganda, recruiting and indoctrination: terrorists use it for directing attacks and spreading fear, panic or hatred. It is also used by non-state actors and their sponsoring countries for planning and directing terror attacks to destabilise states and governments. Cyber attacks have been used to spread panic and fear in many countries. Moreover, social networks are used extensively for spreading communal virus and violent agendas. Doctored pictures of violence against various ethnic and religious groups have been successfully used to incite violence in many parts of our country.
Cyber espionage aimed at stealing sensitive secrets of a state are extremely difficult to detect, and an adversary can gain access to most confidential information unknown to the targeted country. Cyber Crimes of several varieties that steal secrets can pose threats both to military and political organisations. China and Pakistan have been suspected of joining hands for launching cyber attacks on India. The attacks coming from these countries have so far been confined to steal military or industrial information and for propaganda purposes with various nefarious aim.
In view of increasing cyber threats, it is necessary for India to develop new specialised systems to counter such threats. We need systems like those developed in the U.S. such as special military command called CYBERCOM. We need to create similar command systems in India, presently our methods of countering cyber threats are not fully developed, and they are relatively new and not fully equipped to meet sophisticated threats as proved by frequent reports of successful intrusions in our cyberspace.
We lack a central organisation and several scattered organisations are supposed to be protecting our cyberspace, some of these are in the Home Ministry, others in National Disaster Management Authority and National Information Board besides a few other departments. These organisations together form the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team. However, this response team or the principal national agencies have no central working space that hampers a coordinated effort and effective functioning. We need a new central organisation to fight the fast changing norms of cyber warfare, an organisation that can ensure better coordination and respond quickly to counter diverse threats we are facing in our cyber space today.
We need to further develop Cyber-intelligence methods as this is the most effective instrument for constant and systematic monitoring of the cyberspace. Counter-intelligence is meant for prevention, detection and neutralisation of threats of penetration in our national security grids through the web. Counterintelligence cyber agencies must also be fully equipped to prevent enemy attempts at collection, detection and penetration in our cyber space for the collection of vital information about our security infrastructures, organisations and plans of our armed forces. There is a need for a course correction in the follow-up systems that have been developed for detection of various new threats, knee-jerk reactions must be avoided and an element of sophistication must be introduced in our cyber intelligence and counter-intelligence systems. We should be able to effectively target the adversaries of the country who have been using the Net and the social media sites for nefarious purposes.
The Naresh Chandra Task Force on national security in its report submitted to the Prime Minister had devoted a chapter to cyber security. This report that has important recommendations on intelligence revamp must be dusted off the shelf, and the lessons drew from it and our recent experience in handling cyber intelligence and counter-intelligence architecture and techniques should be revamped
NTRO has not been fully effective in systematically monitoring the Net and its Social Media Sites for cyber chatter; it must have the ability to prevent likely terror attacks and possible attempts at destabilisation, besides safeguarding our internal and external security cyberspace. Large number of websites disseminating exaggerated accounts of ethnic and communal violence with the help of morphed images seems to have succeeded in dodging the NTRO. If these websites and their extremist and provocative propaganda had been noticed well in time, we might have been able to take pre-emptive action to prevent ethnic and religious violence and panic on many occasions.
Reports indicate that the NTRO does not has the capability for the identification of those elements who have been misusing the Net and its social media sites for spreading fundamentalism in a segment of our population, the activities of Mehdi Masroor Biswas and his global digital footprint went undetected and came as a rude shock to our intelligence agencies, they learnt from a foreign agency that from his @ShamiWitness, a Twitter account, ominous messages were emanating that had the potential of influencing and radicalising large segments of youth in India.