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India in the Era of Cyber Wars

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India has a solid and well-deserved reputation as one of the leaders in the global IT industry. This makes it all the more surprising that, until recently, Indian authorities had paid relatively little attention to introducing cyber technologies in the country’s governance system and using them to combat cyber threats posed by hackers acting out of personal, economic, and political motives.

A lackadaisical cyberwar

There are several reasons for this. The main factor is that India’s leadership has underestimated the scale of confrontation in cyberspace, believing that other great powers limit themselves to negligible operations that aim to collect information at best.

Serious difficulties have emerged due to the specific features of Indian governance as such; it is characterized by an extreme abundance of red tape and inertia in areas that are not considered a priority. While India’s bureaucracy exhibits its best qualities in priority areas such as ensuring the rapid concentration of resources, personnel mobilization and motivation, minimizing expenses, and a high level of oversight, thus making it possible to achieve outstanding successes with minimal expenses (India’s space program is a prime example), areas believed to be of secondary importance are plagued by chronic problems.

Until recently, cybersecurity was not one of the Indian government’s top priorities, and consequently, the relevant departments in state agencies were, as a rule, staffed residually. Since work in this area was not considered important or prestigious, employees working in IT security were paid relatively little and their in-house status was lower than those of employees working in other departments. As a result, these positions were filled with underqualified and poorly motivated people. A positive discrimination system intended to advance members of lower castes had an adverse effect in this regard; underqualified employees hired to fill the quotas were placed with cybersecurity departments.

Consequently, many agencies outsourced their cybersecurity while hiring specialized organizations to handle those matters. Since India does not have enough specialized organizations, foreign organizations were brought in, in particular, American ones, which, for obvious reasons, was not conducive to strengthening cyber protection. Since Pakistan and China were traditionally considered to be India’s principal adversaries on the cyber front, this state of affairs was considered acceptable.

The American challenge

India’s first serious attempt to respond to challenges in cybersecurity date back to 2012. At the Munich Security Conference, Indian specialists stated they were working on creating their own microprocessors and planning to cut imports of military software, instead of channeling money into domestic R&D (the share of imported military software in India is currently about 70%). Additionally, in the same year, a proposal was made to create a command and control center to monitor critical infrastructure and eliminate breaches in cybersecurity.

The next year, the situation began to change significantly. The necessary impetus came from actions of the U.S., which had previously stated on multiple occasions that it wanted to cooperate with India in cybersecurity. After 2013, when Edward Snowden publicized documents demonstrating that U.S. secret services were surveilling foreign citizens around the world, politicians in New Delhi were amazed to find out that U.S. secret services had been waging cyber warfare not only against their country’s probable adversaries, but also against countries they believed to be allies or at least friendly powers, and that included India: the NSA conducted cyber ops against India to learn more about its principal strategic and commercial interests. This revelation generated public outrage, and India hastily adopted its National Cyber Security Policy, which was developed by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology. The policy provided a clear definition of cyberspace and formulated the ultimate objective: protecting the personal information of India’s citizens as well as financial and bank information and data that are of critical significance for state governance and security against theft and cyberattacks. It required the creation of a reliable cyber ecosystem in the country and reliable work among IT systems that were being introduced on a large scale in all economic sectors; this, in turn, required creating a consistent mechanism to assess threats and risks in cybersecurity and ensuring an appropriate response. To meet the demand for the necessary personnel, plans were made to train 500,000 professionals within the next 5 years.

However, this did not happen. This is partly attributable to the fact that a year later, the Indian National Congress lost the elections, Manmohan Singh’s government resigned, and Narendra Modi’s new government focused on handling internal economic objectives. It was also partly due to the fact that there were no mechanisms to implement the program and it was clearly not feasible in such a short period.

To date, the situation has not changed. The networks of both public and private organizations are extremely vulnerable, there are no DLP systems in place, and users and administrators themselves often turn off firewall and antivirus software. It is common for IT department employees to be absent from their work stations with doors to their rooms left open. It is quite a telling fact that only 8% of Indian IT managers consider their employees to be sufficiently competent to combat threats in cybersecurity. Overall, Indian IT specialists in relevant departments spend about one-third of their work time combating cyber threats; the results, however, are still quite modest due to insufficient funding as well as a lack of qualified personnel and cutting-edge technologies. About 81% of Indian IT department heads believe that the funds their organizations allocate to combat cyber threats are not sufficient.

The situation is somewhat more optimistic in cyber offensives. Nearly all Indian secret services, including foreign intelligence and domestic security agencies, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the executive office of the National Security Advisor, and the military intelligence have departments that engage in cyber ops. Their effectiveness is hard to assess; it is known, however, that they face the same problems in ensuring cybersecurity as do other governmental agencies. Moreover, high-ranking Indian officials in general mistrust new computer technologies, including work on artificial intelligence. In May 2018, Chair of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) S. Christopher said that particular caution should be taken when developing AI technologies since “the cure may be worse than the disease.”

The Indian defense

In July 2018, it was announced that a military agency on cybersecurity was being formed; the agency will be working in close cooperation with the executive office of the National Security Advisor (a position that was established in 2015). Plans for the agency call for over providing some 1,000 experts who will ensure the cybersecurity of the military, the navy and the air force as well as conducting offensive operations in cyberspace. In the future, this agency should be transformed into a full-fledged cyber command.

The newly-created body was called the Defence Cyber Agency (DCA). Rear Admiral Mohit Gupta was appointed as its commander. At present, its head and his executive office are working on developing a cyber ops doctrine. Thus far, it is hard to say how effective the DCA will be, given the traditional autonomy of the navy, the air force, and the military, which are reluctant to share operational information with each other and the difficulties of developing their own software. A previous attempt to introduce a specialized operating system called Bharat Operating System Solutions (BOSS), which was developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, ended in failure and the Indian military was forced to go back to using Windows OS.

Given the absence of the requisite products created by governmental organizations, the Indian authorities will have to turn to private firms. Back in 2018, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) signed a contract with Innefu, a start-up headquartered in New Delhi. This company’s products had previously passed a test of sorts: the company was given about 1,500 documents, including social media profiles of protesters and posts about planned actions. Based on this data, Innefu managed to trace connections between protesters, determine the nature of their interaction, and predict possible actions very soon.

Innefu now offers a complete set of ready-to-use solutions called Prophecy. It includes several tools that monitor social media, which provide big data analytics, facial recognition, and object identification, and detect faces and objects in real-time.

Thus, Indian IT specialists have created a product that may be used to process massive amounts of information for the purposes of intelligence and counter-intelligence. It has already been tested: according to the Indian media, police used it to successfully prevent several protests by analyzing the social media activity of certain individuals and to find roughly 3,000 children missing in New Delhi. There are plans to complete the development of a new cybersecurity strategy by 2020; it is intended to ensure the protection of important data given the introduction of 5G technology which, according to Lt. Gen. Rajesh Pant, the National Cyber Security Coordinator on the National Security Council, will radically change the state of affairs in this regard.

A war on three fronts

Now India’s leadership has acknowledged possible threats and is developing the necessary response means that take into account the realities of cyber warfare that is being conducted without regard for existing borders and for pacts and treaties regulating military action; cyber warfare also allows states to conceal their complicity in a cyberattack against another state. The Indian authorities are paying more and more attention to conducting defensive and offensive operations in cyberspace while striving to reduce the country’s dependence on tools developed aboard and giving preference to forward-looking India-made products.

At present, Pakistan, China, and the U.S. are India’s key adversaries in cyberspace. Pakistan’s capabilities for waging cyberwar are fairly limited: as a rule, Pakistani secret services either hack the websites of Indian agencies and companies connected with the government (such operations cause relatively little damage), or they pose on the Internet as young girls wishing to meet young officers in order to recruit current employees of Indian law enforcement, military, and secret services.

China is conducting large cyber operations against India which have reached such a scale that some analysts characterize them as a full-fledged cyberwar. This war takes on various forms: from hacking Indian networks to providing various rebel groups with hosting services on China’s servers; nonetheless, the large-scale cyber ops have not prevented Beijing and New Delhi from strengthening their political and military relations.

Relations with the U.S. are complex. On the one hand, Washington publicly calls India its key partner in the Indian Ocean region; on the other hand, U.S. secret services continue to conduct cyber ops that threaten India’s national security.

Russia is one of the few great powers that has interests in the region and does not attack India in cyberspace. This is due primarily to the fact that there is no conflict between the two countries as well as Russia’s general interest in establishing cooperation with Eurasian states to form a common trade space. Thus, Russia currently has a favorable opportunity to bolster its interaction with India in this regard and conclude a cyberspace non-aggression pact and, in the future, coordinate efforts with New Delhi to this end.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in History, Research fellow, The Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC Expert

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New strategy of U.S. counter-intelligence: Real and unreal threats

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The newly published US Counter-Intelligence Strategy for 2020-2022 puts Russia and China at the top of the list of countries that pose a threat to the USA. “Russia and China are operating throughout the world, using all power instruments at their disposal against the United States, resorting to a wide variety of modern intelligence methods”, – the document says.

The strategy formulates five objectives for the counter-intelligence service: to protect the critically important infrastructure, cut the number of threats to basic supply chains, counteract the exploitation of American economy, defend the American democracy against foreign influence, and repulse cyberattacks and technological disruptions that could come from foreign intelligence.

The US has made public only a brief 11-page version of the strategy, whereas its full, classified variant will be submitted to members of intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, to White House officials, heads of corresponding agencies and other officials with access to classified information. The mere list of goals for counter-intelligence gives rise to questions such as whether they are fully grounded or whether they are all but tribute to the current political trends in the USA.

As we read «protect the American democracy against foreign influence» we understand what they mean by ‘foreign’ – both Democrats and Republicans keep talking about Russian interference in American elections. Although this talk has long been dismissed by many as inconsistent with reality, it nevertheless, continues unabated.

The strategy, published on the website of the US National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center, is a renewed version of the 2015 document. The Center’s Director, William Ivanina, said as he presented the report that modern technology – artificial intelligence, encryption technology, internet of things – make the work of counter-intelligence more complicated. According to CBS, W. Ivanina has been saying since 2014 that China poses the most serious long-term threat to US security. In his words, the theft of American intellectual property, allegedly committed by the Chinese, cost the US 400 billion dollars annually.

Statements about stealing intellectual property are not new and are being exploited by the Americans to justify a trade war they are waging against China. It is not for the first time that the Trump administration is resorting to “banned methods” adding the country’s economic problems to the list of national security threats, which makes it possible to introduce restrictive measures against China.

The strategy in question is seeing light just as the debates on a new American budget are getting under way. This is not accidental given that documents of this kind can justify budgetary spending. In 2021 the US government is planning to spend $1.5 billion to counter “China’s influence” and another $596 million to establish “diplomatic cooperation for securing the strategy in regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A statement to this effect is part of the press release circulated by the US State Department and published after the White House submitted to the Congress a draft budget for the next fiscal year.

However, proposals on the budget, though reflecting the position of the US administration, do not always become law. In most cases, the US Congress approves the budget depending on the political situation at home. Now that they have sustained defeat on Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats have a good chance to take it out on the budget. Democratic minority leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer has described the draft budget submitted by the incumbent administration for the next year as “a plan to destroy America”.

Considering that these are all but domestic political games, it is not immediately clear what Russia and China have to do with them.

From our partner International Affairs

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Modi’s extremism: Implications for South Asia

Sonia Naz

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Hindutva is a main form of Hindu nationalism in India this term was popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the 20th century. It is reinforced by the Hindu extremist volunteer organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Hindu Sena. Hindutva movement has been expressed today as almost fascist in the classical sense (sticking to a disputed idea of homogenized majority and dominance of culture).  The Hindutva moment has gained enormous momentum under the government of Modi (Zaman A. , 2019). Under the Modi’s government dozens of Muslims have been killed for the protection of cows. Most of them are those who allegedly slaughtering cows. These attacks indicate that Hindu extremism has increased. Even, lower caste Hindus also faced violence from hardliner Hindu extremists. (Zaman A. , 2019) .

The prevailing extremism in India is no longer a national issue, but is spilling over to become a regional flashpoint and has worldwide implications. The regional stability is endangered due to the current situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) (Qureshi, 2019). Since the Modi’s extremist policies revoked article 370 of the constitution of India in which special and independent status had been given to the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK). This kind of extreme move of a fanatical ruler was expected, whereas, such kind of unconstitutional effort of a democratic government was not expected. Moreover, it is not only a violation of India’s constitution, but it is also a breach of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which confirmed Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Furthermore, Article 370 and 35-A cancellation changed the demographic structure of IoK. Article 35A prevented the outsiders from staying, buying properties, getting local government jobs or scholarships in IoK than it annulment permitted outsiders to buy properties there.  Hindutva forces are trying to conquer the IoK territory with its 800000 military crowd, which is making the situation more instable there. It would not have lasting consequences for India, but for the whole region (Jaspal, 2019). The Kashmir imbroglio should be the concern of the entire world because it is a perilous flashpoint that could lead to a catastrophic war between two nuclear powers. If this happens, it would not engulf the region, but the entire world. The International community is insensitive towards the recent brutal developments have taken place in IoK. The brutalities boldly committed by the more than 500,000 Indian troops in the occupied valley. There should be a strong response of big powers and the international community towards the atrocious changes in India (Elahi, 2019). 

It is not the first time, Narendra Modi’s administration has involved in many disputes with the regional countries which has put the regional security at risk. Like, the Modi government relationship is not just deteriorated with Pakistan, but other neighbouring states too. In 2015, Madhesi Crisis in Nepal and border issues tensed the India Nepal relations. However, India restricted the flow of trade at the check posts whereas; India did not accept this blame. India also has not good relation with Sri Lanka since 2014 as Sri Lanka has been more disposed towards China with the signing of the infrastructure projects of belt road and initiatives. Moreover, New Dehli was concerned about the harbouring of Chinese submarines in Colombo and ruler of Maldives Abdulla Yameen signed fee trade treaties with China, which was not digestible for India (Wong, 2017).

India’s offensive nuclear posture towards Pakistan and increased violation of the Line of Control (LoC) has made the situation more adverse. India holds Pakistan responsible for every attack on its territory and its attitude towards Pakistan is very hostile. The Pathankot attack in 2016 and Pulwama attack in 2019 increased the resentment as Modi government blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad. Pakistan asked India to provide evidence so that Pakistan can take action, but no evidence had been given. The Indian air force claimed launching air strikes on the camp of Jaish-e Mohammad mountainside in the Balakot region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa . While, following the attack international media and local media disgraced Indian claim of launching the attack and killing many militants. Next morning, Pakistan shot down an Indian MIG 21 fighter and captured the pilot who violated the Pakistan airspace. Still, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan showed peace gesture and released the captured pilot.  (Shoukat, 2019).

The Indian airstrike’s that were launched in response to Pulwama attack were clear a breach of Pakistan’s space sovereignty. It was a clear perspective of war, however; India has continued to justify its position by calling it non-military strike. It was extremely reckless behaviour of a nuclear state. Even, history shows that such events are very rare between nuclear weapons states while the US and Russia never engaged in direct airstrike’s (Jan, 2019). Afterward, an Indian submarine also detained by the Pakistani Navy, which tried to infringe Pakistani water.  India blames Pakistan for every attack and defies the Pakistan air, space and land territory itself. Besides, India is also responsible of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan through its spies as one of them is Kulbushan Yadav (Shoukat, 2019).

 India’s nuclear doctrine also changed from No First Use (NFU) to First use. The false description of surgical strikes and attacks on non-state base points has demonstrated the uncertain security environment in South Asia.  The Indian nuclear doctrinal change increases the security risks in the region, particularly for Pakistan and China. At Pulwama, Pakistan clearly exposed India’s long-held fable of conventional superiority. At the same time, it is obvious that India would keep its behaviour hawkish towards Pakistan under the radical Hindutva mindset (Nawaz, 2019).

Additionally, India took another major step against the Muslims as it passed a bill on December 9, 2019 that would give the nationality to those migrants who want to become citizens of India except Muslims. This step of Prime Minster would increase the Modi Hindu-nationalist agenda. It would modify the India secular status, preserve by its founders in 1947. The Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the lower house, the Lok Sabha with 311 votes. Now, it would be presented in the upper house and would become law soon. Hindu extremist agenda deeply unsettled the Muslims with this new law as they would make more than 200 million Muslims second class citizens and many of them stateless. It is not first extremist step of Modi, he also stripped away the autonomy of Kashmir, which was Muslim majority Indian occupied state.

 Furthermore, Hindu fundamentalist build a new temple over the remains of the demolished mosque in the Ayodhya. According to Modi this would protect the maltreated Hindus, Christians and Buddhists who want to migrate from Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, this brutal legislation would extradite innocent Muslim residents, even those whose families have been in India for generation, if they cannot provide evidence of citizenship. Under the Modi’s leadership, attacks and intimidation against Muslim community have augmented and anti Muslim sentiment has become deliberately more mainstream. The people of Assam are protesting in the streets and hoisting placards again the bill because it is against their rights and identity (Gettleman & Raj, 2019).

Besides, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cancelled his visit for two days Indian Ocean Dialogue and Delhi Dialogue XI, to India. He also rejected a statement by Indian home minister Amit Shah that the new citizenship law will provide safety to “persecuted minorities” from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.  An official visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been delayed due to the unrest in Assam. Following the protests began in Assam, a curfew was forced in four of the main cities in the state and the internet was shut down. Two paramilitary battalions were deployed to contain the demonstrations. (News, 2019).

In a nutshell, as evident from the aforementioned  brutal developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly showcase itself  hegemon and potential big power in the region. The Prime Minister Modi government is impressed by the Hindu extremist ideology and making IoK its integral part by forcefully. Its hawkish policies towards Muslims in India and IoK has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire region of South Asia. Indian government not only targeting Muslims everywhere, but it is also seizing their identities which is dismantling secularism foundations of India. Moreover, Indian hawkish nuclear posture increases arms race in the region and it is not only threat for Pakistan but the entire region.

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Emerging Cyber warfare threats to Pakistan

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The potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber-attack.” -Leon Panetta

In the modern era, war has been revolutionized due to rapid advancements in technology. As a result, cyber security along with its pros and cons is contributing increasingly to modern warfare. Pakistan, however, is still in the developmental phase of cyber security. Although Pakistan has passed its first law related to cyber-crimes, in the form of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, the overall legislation related to cyber security is still vague and not as strong to deal with the dynamic and broad-ranging nature of threats that emanate from the realms of cyber security.

In recent years, the government has taken some initiatives in order to build capacity amongst the general public such as through PAK-CERT, Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing (PIAIC), Skills for all Hunarmand Pakistan, Kamyab Jawan, and National Vocational & Technical Training (NAVTTC).Yet, as has been the case for quite some time, most of these initiatives are aimed simply at spreading greater awareness to help lay the foundations for a more robust cyber security architecture. Amidst such developments, the question that arises for Pakistani policymakers is thus where their country currently stands in the cyber domain and how cyber warfare is posing threats to its national security.

In this era of innovation and connectivity even major powers such as the U.S, Russia, China, Israel and the United Kingdom remain vulnerable to an evolving spectrum of cyber threats. Across the world, states are now increasingly dependent on cyber technology which has greatly increased their chances of vulnerability. The most known example is 2015 Stuxnet virus, whereby a devastating cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities wreaked havoc such as at the Nantaz Nuclear facility, significantly rolling back the Iranian nuclear program. Similarly, the WannaCry outbreak in 2017 caused mass disruption by shutting down vital computing systems in more than 80 NHS organizations in England alone. This resulted in almost 20,000 cancelled appointments, 600 GP surgeries having to return to pen and paper, and five hospitals simply diverting ambulances, unable to handle any more emergency cases. Widely attributed as being state sponsored, the attack set another devastating precedent testifying to the wide-ranging vulnerabilities that exist even in some of the world’s most advanced countries. 

Pakistan’s cyber space too is insecure for many reasons because Pakistan is dependent on others for technology. According to leading global cyber security firms such as Symantec, Pakistan is among the ten most targeted countries in the world. Main targets include Pakistan’s nuclear and other critical installations, with publicly revealed assaults on an assortment of media houses, as well as the communications networks, of key government departments including, transport and, basic utilities. Such threats for instance were further confirmed by the Snowden documents released between 2013-2014 that had showed how the NSA was keeping an eye on Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, utilizing a malware called SECONDATE.

Recently in the year 2019, Rising Security Research Institute has captured the attack launched by the internationally renowned Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) organization “Rattlesnake” through the Rising Threat Intelligence System. This time, the organization had targeted the Pakistani Navy via Target collision hijacking method. Specifically targeting the Pakistan Naval Public Relations Bureau, the attempt was aimed at stealing vital information from secure military networks while planting misleading documents masquerading as official statements from the Pakistan Navy regarding its regional neighbors such as China and India.  Based on such threats, Pakistan must be readily prepared for any kind of cyber espionage and take steps towards establishing a strong national cyber policy to protect its civilian and military infrastructure.

Therefore, at this stage it is imperative that Pakistan seriously focus on the development of a robust cyber war apparatus. This would especially help mitigate the numerous threats being posed to its banking system, as well as major government networks such as its ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other military networks that have been previously targeted such as in the case shown above. As such Pakistan can take a number of initial steps by developing strategies to prevent malwares and denial of service (DOS) attacks to reduce such threats at least to a certain level.

Yet, Pakistan has still not developed a cohesive Cyber Command or any National Cyber Policy to deal with the regional cyber threats being posed to Pakistan. Even though Pakistan has recently developed a cyber-security auditing and evaluation lab, it is still in its formative stages. There is still immense space to develop advanced tools and research technologies to protect Pakistan’s cyberspace, sensitive data, and local economy from cyber-attacks while restricting illegal penetrations in it. Especially such as the initiative taken by the newly setup National Centre for Cyber Security which aims increase the number of indigenously trained cyber security professionals within the public sector.

Keeping to this trajectory Pakistan should emphasize more on indigenously developing its own cyber security industry so that in the near future it could benefit both its civilian and military infrastructure in the long run. Hence, while Pakistan may be limited in its ability to wage a strong offensive campaign within the realm of cyber warfare at the moment, such steps would go a long way in helping lay the foundations to build something greater on.

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