Network security in the age of cyber-skirmishes is a relatively new challenge for India. When StratPost asked a senior official in New Delhi’s security setup as to what kind of systems the Indian military used, “Windows,” he said with a knowing grin.
Network security has become increasingly significant in light of the increased use of penetration and disruption operations in the cyber arena. “Russia did it to Estonia, when the Estonians removed a statue of a Soviet soldier who fought against Nazi Germany. Estonian was quite heavily networked so they were especially vulnerable. Everything went down,” he says.
The Chinese were recently alleged to have hacked into systems in the US and stolen data on the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter. A little before this, it was also revealed that Chinese hackers had penetrated computer systems of various governments around the world, including an Indian embassy computer and had especially been targeting systems for information on the Tibetan political movement. This was the result of an almost year-long study called Tracking Ghost Net.
The US Pentagon as well as a UK intelligence assessment reported a clear cyber threat from China a few months back. The Indian Army too was reported to have conducted a war game called Divine Matrix which speculated on a possible Sino-Indian conflict over the next decade that would be especially marked by the use of extensive cyber-attacks.
Does India have cause to worry?
“Militarily, no. I’m not going to explain how, but our systems are secure and you’re just going to have to take it from me,” he said quite finally, adding, “In terms of other strategic targets for penetration and disruption, India still isn’t that networked. But that doesn’t preclude the existence of targets. We need to work to identify our key vulnerabilities. The railways, airports, banking services, the stock exchanges are obvious targets,” he pointed out.
And how proficient is India in cyber warfare?
“One would naturally think we’d be good, with our IT and knowledge economy. The fact is, we haven’t identified, trained and nurtured talent on an institutional basis. India may have a lot of whiz kids but we still haven’t tapped them as a force-multiplying resource. We need to build cadres of these geniuses, the way the Chinese have been doing. But first we need to recognize that the so far distant threat will become very real very soon, with enhanced networking. And remember, the more you network systems and institutions, the faster you network them, and so more and more of them become vulnerable at an increasing rate,” he warned.
“We might see a real cyber-conflict if North Korea stops fooling around with nuclear missiles and tries to secure cyber-talent. South Korea and Japan are among the heaviest networked societies in the world. They can’t protect everything. That would be one way to bring a country down. Remember Die Hard 4.0?” he asks, referring to the Bruce Willis action movie.