Connect with us

Intelligence

Advanced Persistent Threats: The Mysterious New Ground for Cyber Danger

Avatar photo

Published

on

As the world continues on a path of increased connectivity, control over the cyber domain has become a matter of state security. The sustained loss of wealth in the form of intellectual property theft and financial shenanigans has reached critical mass. As a warning to America, General Keith Alexander, while serving as the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), stated: “What we need to worry about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks…” He goes on to say: “The conflict is growing, the probability for crisis is mounting.” (Rogin, 2012). In this context, the main danger the “special operations teams” of cyberspace in America is called the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT).

As the APT has evolved into the construct of cyberspace, the prevalent working assumption has been to simply apply technical countermeasures. This techno-centric approach has done little to thwart cyber threats, as the average dwell time to discovery is 206 days (Irwin, 2018). To this end, “technology itself is not a threat – it is the usage made of it that poses a danger.” (Ventre, 2012). In other words, cybersecurity is still a people problem, as much, if not more than, a technical one. Therefore, a more holistic approach is required to understand and mitigate the APT.

The study of cyber-based adversaries, specifically those categorized as APT, is not a well-researched discipline, especially compared to other more popular threats, like terrorism. These two threat actors, APT and terrorism, represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in that APTs are defined by their technology-centric methodologies, whereas terrorists are still largely seen as only slowly embracing technology while still being in favor of “common man” approaches that are predominantly low-tech. However, these groups have more in common when examined with more subtle nuance.

There are significant differences between a terrorist threat and an APT at the tactical level. For example, the manner and type of technology used to conduct an attack, the desired impact of an attack, and their respective stances on attribution. Terrorists tend to quickly claim responsibility while APTs avoid it. That said, at the important strategic level, terrorist and APT groups do have some remarkable similarity. For example, there are six characteristics attributed to terrorism that are shared by the APT. Specifically: asymmetry, cost effectiveness, contributions of loose associations, will to succeed, impossibility to completely defend, and contagion. Interestingly, as terrorists and APTs share characteristics, the non-technical strategies to counter each represent two sides of the same coin. These non-technical strategies to counter consist of: collaboration, partnerships, support of the people/leadership, education, and a better return on investment (ROI).

Collaboration

Collaborative engagement at the state level, designed to solve human issues such as disease control, global water supply, and traffic congestion through cyber means, can reveal insights for counter-threat strategy. The ability to change one’s image of another is, in part, based on familiarity. Further, in working through collaboration, the barriers between in-group and out-group can be broken down by the unified cause of helping the greater good. This shared mission can create a bond and work toward changing the group dynamics that currently seem too often adversarial.

Partnerships

“Alliance requires more meaningful interaction as opposed to mere verbal support or ideological affinity.” (Horowitz and Potter, 2014, p. 201). The identification of partnerships is critical in expanding a sphere of influence to thwart the efforts of APTs and terrorists. Making headway against the problem increases exponentially with substantial partnerships. Partnerships dedicated to combat these threats can enable Social Network Mapping as a means to identify threat group relationships. (Johnston, 2005) Insight into these groups and their associative relationships can change dynamics and “predict the type of attacks groups are likely to launch”. (Horowitz and Potter, 2014).

Support of the People / Leadership

One way to help gain trust of the people is through outreach and counter-messaging following a successful attack. “Pervasive messages, therefore, by politicians, the mass media, or other individuals could emphasize value similarities or differences between the ingroup and the outgroup and consequently influence peoples’ threat perception.” (Garcia-Retamero, et al., 2012) Similarly, the establishment of trust is fundamental for change. “We argue that trust is essential in intergroup behavior because unlike attitudes, trust implies a willingness to engage in behavior that has potential costs.” (Kenworthy et al., 2016) This is equally true for recruitment into criminal enterprises as it is for obtaining the support of the people. It is imperative to create trust, while creating distrust for the threat group. “The challenge of effective intergroup leadership is a microcosm of the wider problems of reconciling intergroup differences and building social harmony from group conflict.” (Hohman et al., 2009) This can serve to change the image of the counter-threat group and the self-image of its members amongst the people at large, which can increase overall strategic effectiveness and societal acceptance.

Education

The presentation of a counter-message is important in creating doubt and changing minds. An often overlooked aspect of counter-messaging is ensuring that the messaging is targeting the same people that the APT and terror groups are focusing on themselves and understanding why those messages might be attractive to those groups. The counter-message must use this baseline to provide meaningful alternatives that resonate with target audiences.

Social media is critical in combating both types of threat groups, as it is the only medium that can effectively but indirectly trigger relevant emotions and feelings. Notably, not only the imminence of an event may be predicted through this analysis but something as subtle as the willingness of an individual to join a threat group as well. The biggest potential power of social media then is to model behavior, predict outcomes, and intercede with the appropriate messaging to alter the course of action.

Economic Well-Being

There is at least some evidence that economy disparity sets the conditions for increased cybercrime. (Watters, et al., 2012) In this context, economic disparity can be a driver for political action, leading to cyber espionage as a means to counter-balance market competition, military prowess, and offset research and development costs. That said, there are conditions in which the economics of committing a crime can be such that it can serve as a deterrent. In the case of APTs and terrorists, given their relationship with the state and anti-state ideologies, deterrence will not stop them. It can, however, make it costlier and slow their pace.

In a world of increasing complexity and unparalleled connectivity, APTsstands at the top of the threat list. As an extension of technology, they cannot be mitigated by technical measures alone. But through non-technical factors that provide a greater understanding of the leaders and people that control and comprise an APT and by encouraging collaborative innovation across multiple national security agencies/disciplines, a more holistic approach can be made apparent and more effective deterrence strategies can emerge. Failing to do this simply means states will always be playing catch-up against persistent adversaries like terrorists and APTs.

Al Lewis is currently a doctoral candidate in Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. He currently oversees the Cybersecurity Operations Center of Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace and defense company. Before that he served the United States of America as a Special Agent in the Secret Service.

Continue Reading
Comments

Intelligence

Russia points to evidence exposing Kiev’s intentions to use biological weapons

Avatar photo

Published

on

Documents uncovered in the special military operation in Ukraine corroborate the evidence exposing the Kiev regime’s intentions to use biological weapons, Head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Research Center for Chemical and Biological Threats Dmitry Poklonsky said in the run-up to the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. “In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” he said – informs TASS.

“We have obtained reports of investigations into a collection of microorganisms that indicate the accumulation of pathogens in unsubstantiated amounts. There are documents confirming the intentions to acquire unmanned delivery vehicles that could be used for employing biological weapons. Considering the non-transparent nature of this work and the absence of any substantiated responses from the United States and Ukraine, we, of course, regard the documents obtained as proof that Article 1.4 of the Convention was violated,” the defense official said.

The documents obtained in the special military operation in Ukraine, including reports by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense, corroborate that the nature of work carried out there frequently ran counter to pressing healthcare problems, he stressed.

“In some cases, the study focused on infectious disease agents that had never been registered on Ukrainian soil,” Poklonsky pointed out.

Neither Washington nor Kiev deny the fact of the existence of biological labs in Ukraine bankrolled by the Pentagon, he pointed out.

“It was confirmed by the 2005 agreement between the US Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Health Ministry. Far more questions arise from the nature of the studies being carried out in these biological laboratories and how this work complies with the Convention’s requirements,” the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Chemical and Biological Threats said.

International Affairs

Continue Reading

Intelligence

Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)- The Pandora’s Box of Security Issues

Avatar photo

Published

on

The world, functioning in its numerous forms and dimensions, is primarily perceived and misperceived by individuals through the faculty of the human Mind. A factor that creates a significant difference vis-a-vis human beings and other species is the complex cognitive ability possessed by humans. The mind is fundamentally an expression of thoughts circulated and imbibed through various means of communication. Deconstructing it further, thoughts portray the information consumed by an individual. In other words, this complex combination of the human mind, thoughts, and information shapes and reshapes our psychology.

Psychological war, in this context, can be perceived as a strategically orchestrated arrangement of information derived from variables like history, polity, religion, culture, literature, and philosophy broadly to channel propaganda with the prime objective of influencing and manipulating the behavior of the enemy to further one own interest. The term Psychological war is believed to be coined by a British Historian and military analyst, J.F.C Fuller, in 1920. One can observe that psychological war as an instrument of strategic importance is not of recent origin. Instead, the evolution of this tactic can be traced long back in history since the emergence of the State. It is considered one of the fundamental tools of statecraft and quite often has been put into the application as an instrument of state policy. Drawing a logical parallel, it can be advocated that psychological war has a close resemblance with the ancient notion of the allegory of the cave when applied in the present context.

Relevance of Psychological War

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  With the gradual progress of human intelligentsia, the world is and will be shaped and reshaped through the use of technology. The hyperconnected nature of a modern globalized world broadly portrays the image of a collective human consciousness deeply engrossed in the overwhelming nature of technology that reverberates with every emerging aspect of human life. When viewed from the prism of the State as a governing body in the international forum, technology will be the emerging axis of geopolitics since no state and its citizen can exist in silos devoid of the influence of other states. This is primarily due to the free flow of data. In this context, due to the free flow of data, the power of propaganda as a significant dimension of psychological war would prove to be an effective instrument used by the State to further its national interest.

In this contextual framework, the role of conscious manufacturing of narratives under the larger ambit of the idea of psychological war must be given due consideration. In his famous book,The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs  How Nations and Intelligence Agency Construct Narratives, Vikram Sood unfolds the idea of how narratives are created, propagated, sustained, and refined in domestic countries and abroad to further the national interest. He emphasizes not only the power of information but also the power of disinformation to de-track and mislead the collective consciousness of the nation. Therefore, it is of critical significance for a nation to enhance its understanding of psychological war, considering it a major security issue.

The cost and the expense of war are also major concerns for the State. In this regard, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval establishes the viewpoint that wars are gradually becoming ineffective in achieving political and military objectives and that they are also highly expensive and are gradually becoming unaffordable. He further puts forward the idea of the 4th generation warfare where the operational target of the objective would be civil society. A fair understanding of the 4th generation warfare is of critical importance due to the fact that the modus operandi to target civil society would primarily be through the perpetual use of psychological war. The cost of psychological war, when compared with other forms of war, is abysmally low and also highly effective in manipulating the behaviour of the State. The cost-effectiveness helps it be more sustainable, which can be continued for an extended period of time.

Materialisation of Psychological War

China

Psychological war is applied by many States as an instrument of state policy. China, in this regard, can be considered a prominent player that has materialized this idea. In the strategic book on statecraft, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu states that “All warfare is based on deception.” China has consciously tried to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of psychological war. The Dhoklam issue in 2017 substantiates how the Chinese government used psychological war as an instrument of state policy to further its national interest.

Pakistan

The hostile approach of Pakistan towards India is not of recent origin. Instead, it is a phenomenon that can be traced back in history during the early germination of the idea of Pakistan when the Muslin League was formed in 1906. After the materialization of this idea by a painful partition of India in 1947, Kashmir became the bone of contention right after Pakistan’s inception as a nation-state. Pakistan, over the years, has become cognizant of the conventional asymmetry between the two nations. Therefore, it has operationalized the path of psychological war in the Kashmir region with a more pinpointed approach of using Twitter as an operational instrument to create misperceptions at a low cost to achieve its objectives.

Psychological War and the Indian Perspective

Taking a momentary glance at the historical evolution of India as a civilizational State, it can be rightly stated that understanding the nature of the mind has been a perpetual theme in the philosophical construct of India. The use of psychological war is not a new phenomenon. The references to it can be prominently found in Indian mythology. In this regard, the epic story of The Mahabharatha is a prominent example.

In one of the instances, Krishna applied this idea of psychological war by disclosing a fact to Karna, which hitherto was kept secret and hidden from him. Krishna, just before the war, unfolded the fact to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, his father is the Sun God, and the Pandavas his brothers. This very fact and the timing of the disclosure of this fact put Karna in a deep psychological trauma that depletes his mental strength. It was at this moment that Krishna offered Karna to join the battle from the side of Pandavas. A similar instance of psychological war used by India was found during The Bangladesh liberation war.

In the context of psychological war, Arthashstra is also a relevant text. It mentions the art of Kutayuddha. In Sanskrit, the word Kuta implies the application of deception, the creation of misperception, and misleading the enemy state; Yudh means war. Kautilya is a staunch advocate of establishing a network of espionage to initiate intelligence and counterintelligence measures as a major security initiative for a state. Therefore, it can be rightly perceived that India has a history of psychological war, which it has implemented to maintain security and stability.

Conclusion

Taking an analogical perspective, if the mechanism of psychological war is like a gun, then information is the potential bullets that are fired from it to target the enemy. The flow of Information can be considered the most important factor that makes psychological war lethal, precise, and effective. Therefore, there exists an urgent need for the establishment of an ‘Information Operations Command’ to tackle the issue of psychological war that is rapidly maturing and enhancing in its nature and methodology, fusing with the 5th generation warfare. 

Another area of critical importance in this regard is the pressing need for a ‘National Security Doctrine.’ A national security doctrine is primarily a broad vision of a nation in the domain of its security from an inclusive perspective. Strong inter-agency coordination and refined analysis of security issues are needed.

Psychological war, as a rapidly evolving tool of statecraft in the security domain, acts as a linchpin vis-a-vis the 4th and 5th generation warfare where civil society and citizens are targeted with a perfect blend of technology and information. This makes it a war that doesn’t have a start or an end date. It is fought every minute, and progress can be achieved, even though at a minuscule level, but on a daily basis. Therefore, India as a major player in international politics with two hostile neighbors on its eastern and western border, must hold into perspective the scope, significance, and emerging dynamics of psychological war to keep herself abreast with other states at the international level on the security front.

Continue Reading

Intelligence

Growing India Israel Relations: A Threat to Sovereignty of Gulf States

Avatar photo

Published

on

netanyahu modi

India has developed remarkable ties with the Gulf nations, particularly the GCC, over the past few decades. The significant trade between GCC nations and India and Israel are the main cause.  This gradualist approach and efforts on part of India is to include Israel in a broader Middle East policy. Under the Namenda Modi administration, since 2017 Israel is “special and normal” because India has avoided the negative repercussions and no longer have fears opened relations with the Jewish state.  

However, the point of concern is that India and Israel’s growing ties must not result in a coalition against Muslims. Modi and Netanyahu have many good reasons to rejoice over their thawing ties. But the gulf countries must discredit them if they use that proximity to advance a common narrative of extreme nationalism, exclusion, and labeling Muslims as the enemy.

Since October 25th, 2022, news reports have been making the rounds in the media revealing India’s involvement in global terrorism. Eight former Indian Navy officers have recently been detained in Qatar on suspicion of espionage and terrorism supported by the Indian government. These spy-officers were arrested in August 2022 for their involvement in international terrorism, espionage, and spying while working in Qatar for a private company and providing training and other services to the Qatari Emiri Navy.

Purnendu Tiwari, a retired (Naval commander) who received the Pravasi Samman 2019 (Highest Indian Award Abroad), was the brains behind the transfer of data from a major Gulf Muslim nation to Israel and India. It has been reported in the media that these Indian officers had access to sensitive information while working with Qatar’s enemies and the Defense, Security, and other government agencies. This is not the first time; India has been involved in espionage operations that violate foreign governments’ sovereignty, though it continues to deny it. International terrorism perpetrated by India has also frequently targeted Pakistan in the past. One such instance is the Kalbushan Yadav case.

The relationship between India and Israel is frequently described as a result of a natural convergence of ideologies between their respective ruling BJP and Liked parties. The BJP’s Hindutva and right-wing Zionism are two ethno-nationalist political movements that naturally discriminate against other races and religions because they are based on the majority populations they serve. In comparison to earlier, more liberal iterations of Hindutva and Zionism, both parties have become more racist. Therefore, by all means, India’s continued close strategic, economic, and security ties with Israel are more ideological than pragmatic.

India should make an effort to protect itself ideologically from the threat of Hindutva becoming the state’s guiding principle and a vehicle for incitement both domestically and abroad. Its exclusivist and discriminatory belief that India is only the property of Hindus is dangerous, especially at a time when Muslim minorities are increasingly being lynched in the name of cow vigilantism.

Today, the Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighborhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence. However, as a result of escalating anti-Muslim sentiment and the Hindutva movement’s flawed ideology, the BJP, government is arguably facing its most difficult diplomatic challenge in its nine years in office. A few years ago in 2020, Muslim nations were outraged by Nupur Sharma’s (a BJP official) insulting comments made during a TV debate about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islamic-majority nations voiced their opposition through tweets, official statements, and by summoning Indian diplomats. The BJP was compelled to take action against the party officials for posting a screenshot of offensive tweet.

Subsequently, Princess Hend al-Qassimi of the UAE then made a rare public statement in response to the rising Islamophobia among Indians, saying in a tweet, “I miss the peaceful India.” She did this after she specifically called out a tweet from an Indian resident of the UAE as being “openly racist and discriminatory,” reminding her followers that the penalty for hate speech could be a fine or even expulsion. These statements come after the Islamic world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, urged India to act quickly to defend the rights of its Muslim minority and expressed concern about how the BJP treats Indian Muslims.

This suggests that the relationships New Delhi has worked so hard to build over the past few years drawing on the efforts of the previous administration is now seriously in jeopardy. India’s diplomatic achievement is starting to fall apart due to domestic developments that target its 200 million Muslims. The flagrant mistreatment of India’s Muslim communities now jeopardizes New Delhi’s carefully crafted Middle Eastern diplomacy, particularly with regard to the Gulf States.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending