Cyber warfare is a growing threat

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Context:

  • Coming from a country which is today the best prepared to deal with all aspects of cyber warfare, this statement should serve as a grim reminder of the seriousness of this threat. As “Digital India” grows, vulnerabilities will only increase. A 2017 study conducted by Symantec found that India ranked fourth in online security breaches, accounting for over 5 per cent of global threat detections.

Cyber threats:

  • Cyber threats can manifest in many ways but what is visible on an almost daily basis are cyber crimes, cyber theft, cyber espionage, cyber intrusions etc.
  • These are relatively low-end threats but seem to occupy all our attention. It is for this reason that we hear official statements about how initiatives like the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) and the appointment of a National Cyber Security Coordinator have improved our ability to deal with cyber attacks. This is only the tip of the iceberg and is lulling us into a false sense of complacency.

The real danger to India:

  • The real danger to India lies in targeted cyber attacks coming from adversarial nation states.
  • Countries like China can bring immense assets to bear in carrying out sophisticated cyber attacks.
  • The success of Stuxnet, which damaged the Iranian centrifuge facility at Natanz, lay in the fact that it was an international operation involving the CIA, NSA and Israel’s Unit 8200.
  • The highly sophisticated malware used an unprecedented five zero-day exploits and was tested on a dummy set of centrifuges built for this purpose. Such capability is not available with groups of hackers.
  • cyber warfare is going to become a regular part of the arsenal of nations

National strategy to counter cyber threats

The three main components of any national strategy to counter cyber threats are defence, deterrence and exploitation

  1. Critical cyberinfrastructure needs to be defended and the establishment of the NCIIPC is a good step in this direction
  2. Deterrence in cyberspace is a hugely complex issue. Cyber warfare is characterized by an absence of clarity
  3. Cyber operations cannot be a standalone activity but integrated with land, sea and air operations, and a part of information warfare 

The need of Defence Cyber Agency:

  1. India is one of the few countries which still does not have a dedicated cyber component in its military
  2. The setting up of a Defence Cyber Agency has been announced but this is a typical half-hearted step which characterizes our strategic planning process
  3. India will never achieve the full capability of fighting and defending in the cyberspace if this agency is hobbled by limited mandates and roles
  4. It would be instructive to take a leaf out of the US Cyber Command, which has one of its focus areas as “strengthening (the) nation’s ability to withstand and respond to cyber attack

Way forward:

  • We are still unclear about how a future cyber war will play out but capabilities definitely exist, particularly with China. It would be absurd not to prepare, and the military must be at the forefront of this preparation.