Cyberspace threats are serious and much more needs to be done to address them
Lt Gen. Satish Dua
Indians are the second largest user of cyberspace with 400 million internet users and one billion mobile users. While it gives us a great advantage, it also exposes us to great vulnerabilities and threats. Today’s cyberspace has become increasingly complex and requires an innovative mindset with comprehensive and holistic solutions.
Technological advancements, digital economies and e-governance with 24x7 movements are spinning our nation into the future. This visualised cyberspace of future is, however, not free from frictions of advanced threats and vulnerabilities. A new form and dimension of cyber warfare emerge from the on-going technological revolutions, posing new challenges to the nation’s digital infrastructure. The fifth dimension targets our preparedness, responsiveness, intelligence and resolves in strengthening our digital progress. The new dimension also brings the need of changing defence strategies to make them more aligned to combating catastrophic effects of cyber warfare on a nation’s digital infrastructure. If we recognise this as a threat, then we must build the capability to safeguard our resources. For this, and for reacting, in which various instruments of power could be employed, the involvement of military may be prime.
Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Internet of Things, Blockchain technology etc., have tremendous potential to transform the quality of life of people around the world, but others like perception management through fake news, propaganda, hacktivism, drone technologies etc. carry great risks and dangers to the nation’s security. We, therefore, have progressed towards a world where technology has been used to tackle problems that once seemed insurmountable and on the contrary, cyber weapons and cyber warfare, which were once a matter of theoretical discussion, are becoming real threats.
Today, cyber weapons are nearly as synonymous with military power as fighter jets and can easily transform into offensive attacks that deliver real-world destruction. These attacks have been used to shut down an air defence radar networks prior to the bombing, impact public utility services as well as financial systems, knock out a power grid, cause mass destructions in multiple forms, disrupt opponents’ information resources including critical information infrastructures, disrupt elections, and cause much more collateral damages.
The foremost threat that I visualise is to our information infrastructure from our adversaries and their proxies; the non-state actors, quasi-state actors and individuals. Computers, especially those belonging to the government and the armed forces, are the ones, most aggressively targeted, with attacks increasing in severity, frequency and sophistication each year. These attacks threaten our nation’s economy, public utility services, power generation system and communication and computer networks. Internet of Thing may soon become a critical component of digital transformation and further add to the attack surface thus making our cyberspace more vulnerable.
The other critical threat is of cyber-terrorism leading to radicalisation. We are seeing more groups and individuals engaged in terrorism move their propaganda online, achieve greater cooperation with other terrorist groups and continued evolution and adaption in online tactics and communication. These online individuals are highly capable operationally and sometimes operate from a different geographic Zone.
Radicalisation remains the most potent by-product of the spread of the Internet. It has become a key platform for spreading extremist propaganda and has been used as a tool for terrorist recruiting, training, and planning. It also serves as a means of social networking for like-minded extremists. The importance of social media can be gauged by studying the example of Burhan Wani, who created a Robin Hood kind of image by skilful use of social media. The huge unrest after his death and the exodus of Northeast people from Bangalore a couple of years ago are a testimony to the dangers posed by fake news.
Cyber espionage and data theft are further manifestations of threats in the cyber domain with tools and technologies like Ransomware, Phishing, Cryptocurrencies etc. in rampant use. The activities on the Dark Net pose real challenges in cyberspace to which there are no easy answers.
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