Cohesive action: India and US to jointly fight cyber war

India and US are now seriously gearing up to jointly fight the invisible war, which can prove to be much more disastrous than a conventional war.

Since strategic partnership between them are less than a decade old and both are coordinating and cooperating on strategic and defence front, it is very natural that the two superpowers in the Software sector come together and jointly evolve strategies, technologies and tactics to fight this newly emerging menace of cyber attacks which will prove worse than the terrorist attacks or even an attack by conventional ballistic missile.

It is feared that gun wielding terrorists will be replaced by cyber terrorists who may be used by certain transnational criminal or terror groups or even states with extremist ideologies.

Certain states are being directly accused of indulging in cyber attacks. The latest report released in August by Internet security company McAfee has indirectly accused China of systematically hacking the governmental and other important public sites in the last two years.

Strategic partnership

This is why, to counter a state power, software superpowers like India and US have to jointly tackle this menace jointly. The two countries have been working under a task force since many years and have now entered into a formal agreement during the visit of the US Secretary of State to India.

Before July visit of Hilary Clinton, the cyber experts of the two counties met on July 18, under the aegis of the top officials of their National Security Councils, during which they exchanged views on broad range of cyberspace aspects and coordinated bilateral cooperation on cyber issues.

As a strategic partner, the two countries rightfully decided to cooperate for mutual security and safety. With this aim the US Secretary of State and the Indian External Affairs Minister supervised a memorandum of understanding between the Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERT-IN and US-CERT) of the two countries.

This will enable the experts of the two countries to exchange information on cyber attacks and mutual response to cyber security incidents, to cooperate on cyber security technology and to exchange information on cyber security policy and best practices and capacity building and exchange of experts.

Officials pointed out that the pact helps fulfill the joint commitment to advance global security and countering terrorism. Through this arrangement, the respective governments and cyber security communities in the US and India will be able to coordinate with their counterparts on a broad range of technical and operational aspects of the cyber world.

The cyber experts of the two countries have been meeting over this issue for devising a common strategy since last few years as they are increasingly facing the cyber attacks.

With growing bonhomie between the two countries in defence and strategic front it is very appropriate and natural that the two countries have come together to jointly fight this menace.

Cyber warfare is entirely a new frontier of war, in which a superpower like US can face a crippling attack from an individual who may or may not be sponsored by the state. With cyber attack capabilities the terrorist groups may also deploy a team of dedicated Jehadi software experts to launch a devastating attack on a country like US.

The superpower status and capabilities notwithstanding, a single individual can destroy their national infrastructure like airports, banks, railways, electricity supply grid etc. In view of these threats the latest revelation by the McAfee has caused widespread concern among nations.

According to McAfee, the hackers had broken into the networks of not only the United Nations and US Defence Companies but Indian government networks also. Security experts have directly accused Chinese agencies responsible for this campaign which ran for five years.

The targets included 72 major organizations around the world including the governments of India, US, South Korea, Vietnam, ASEAN etc. Non state actors, who sometimes are also aided by states, have posed serious threats to the information infrastructure of countries and its disruption may lead to widespread disturbance in the life of the nation and its public. Sometimes the states use the non-state actors to test their cyber capabilities.

The McAfee report has revealed that even states can directly indulge in capacity building to destroy the adversary’s economic life in times of conflict like situation without actually going to war.

New warfare

The Cyber attackers can cripple the industries and cause widespread damage affecting the normal life of the people. Recent spurt in cyber attacks have caused great concern among governments worldwide and nations with technical capacities are coming together like the Indo-US joint cooperation program.

The new dimension of war called Cyber Warfare is bothering the developed nations most whose economic and telecommunication infrastructures are prone to disruption by cyber warriors.

In fact, this capacity was first demonstrated by the Americans, who in 1982 destroyed the Russian Gas pipeline through an embedded software which caused a monumental disaster.

This was recently revealed by the former US Air Force Secretary Thomas C Reed in his book, At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War.

According to Reed, in 1982 the then US President Ronald Reagan had approved a plan to transfer software used to run pipeline pumps, turbines and valves to the Soviet Union that had embedded features designed to cause pump speeds and valve settings to malfunction.

“The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space,” The attack had an enormous economic and psychological impact in the Soviet Union and is credited with helping to end the Cold War, according to an US expert Jody Westley.

Though reports of cyber attacks are often heard since last one decade, the intensity and sophistication of these attacks in last two years have caused widespread concern among major governments.

It has raised doubts whether the nations would be able to secure and control their infrastructure, systems and information network. Cyber experts said that the 2007 attack on government and private sector network in Estonia was a watershed event and described as a wake up call for the international community.

Estonia blamed Russia for these attacks, who might be experimenting with their capabilities. After the Estonia attacks, NATO adopted a Cyber Defence Policy in 2008, which emphasized the need for NATO and other nations to protect key information systems in accordance with their respective responsibilities to share best practices and provide a capability to assist allied nations, upon request to counter attack.

The Estonian attacks demonstrated whether the rapid pace at which a cyber attack can become a serious development in national security which can also involve other nation states and thus become an issue of collective defence.

There is a big debate among NATO partners whether cyber attacks should be defined as a clear military action. At present, NATO does not define cyber attack as a military action by an adversary state.

Experts said that the time has come to treat cyber attack as a military attack and armed forces need to be ready for this new dimension of warfare, which is not fought with any weapons but soldiers tapping their fingers on the keyboards of their laptops.

Since India and US are common victims of the cyber attacks from the Chinese internet hackers and cyber warriors, it is very appropriate that both the nations have come together under the umbrella of a joint cooperation agreement.

Both nations must utilize their software expertise to devise effective defensive firewalls to defend themselves from any cyber attack. Bilateral cooperation apart, nations need to have a comprehensive dialogue on global cyber stability by addressing needs for international cooperation and strategies.