Will India go offensive in response to looming cyberwar threats?
Advancements in technology have brought the world closer together but have simultaneously opened up new fronts for global conflicts. Countries are increasingly adopting aggressive stances against critical networked systems that belong to other nations. Recent threats like Stuxnet, Duqu and Flamer have shown us the extent that such attacks can go to. This has led the Indian Government to define defense mechanisms and set in place procedures to launch offensive operations.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the National Security Council (NSC) is designating operations to select agencies under the pretext of intelligence gathering. Other appointments include the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO). The NTRO is entrusted with the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Center (NCIPC), a command & control center to monitor crucial infrastructure. Real-time responses to critical threats will be provided by them. Agencies other than those mentioned, will be entrusted with overseas intelligence gathering tasks, but will not be permitted to take up offensive strategies.
Many nations have actively been using advanced techniques for surveillance and information gathering. The nature of these activities however, remains unknown. Seemingly, India does not wish to be left out and is aiming to partake in the cyber spy-games as well. The NSC will undertake all such operations. It will target countries whose acts, either intentionally or unintentionally, seem threatening or are seen as perpetrating cyberwar. Needless to say, the best virus protection software may also prove to be inadequate while dealing with such state-level threats.
According to a recent Times of India article, these agencies will focus on defending critical Government networks. However, under untoward circumstances the possibility of an offensive initiative will not be ruled out. Sectoral CERTs (Computer Emergency Response Teams) with the responsibility of responding immediately to threats, as and when they arise have been recommended. This would include threats focused on power distribution networks, air traffic controls, traffic networks and other areas that are heavily dependent on networked systems.
With the rapid evolution of technology, cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage are concepts that are bound to take center stage. Will this be the latest war front that consumes the world? Instead of battles on the field are we doomed to see preemptive strikes by Governments in the cyber world that disable defenses and offensive strategies of their counterparts? In the midst of all this we can only speculate what the Indian Government aims to achieve through various agencies. Are they in place to defend our cyberspace or do they intend to launch intelligence gathering espionage operations or is there a grander but yet unknown purpose to them?
While these plans seem intriguing, the key lies in their execution. India is far behind when it comes to dealing with cyber threats. It is a steep learning curve for Government agencies to understand and respond to the current generation of such threats. As of now, we can only wait and watch for the events to unfold. You can also read more here.