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February - 2010 - issue > Editor's Desk
Cyber-warfare Are we prepared?
Pradeep Shankar
Thursday, February 18, 2010
On December 15, the same day when several American companies, including Google faced cyber attacks from China, there were attempts to infiltrate the computers in the Indian Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Council secretariat in the Home Ministry. Even in 2008; there were similar low to medium intensity cyber intrusions into web servers maintained by the Indian government.

The attacks didn’t involve bombs, bullets, bloodbath, or death. But this is what ‘War’ in the 21st century is going to be like. As rightly said by David DeWalt, CEO of McAfee, ”Today, the weapons are not nuclear, but virtual, and everyone must adapt to these threats”. Indeed nation-states are actively developing cyber warfare capabilities and involved in the cyber arms race, targeting government networks and critical infrastructures.

The US, Russia, France, Israel and China are armed with cyberweapons, with the UK, Germany and North Korea preparing for a future in which conflict is partly conducted through the internet, according to the Virtual Criminology Report.

However, India is falling behind in technological defense capabilities and is largely unprepared for what is characterized as the start of a cyber-warfare arms race.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The attacks mentioned above were an act of war and it deserves much more of a response from the Indian government than it is getting now. Our lack of preparedness is despite our strength that we boast of in the IT field. Sometimes one has to wonder what national pride do our so-called “Indian techies” have. Or is it that several years of invasion and colonialism that has made us not to respond?

According to a report by McAfee, India is among the list of countries that are “least confident” of their preparedness against cyber attack or stealthy infiltrations by high-level adversaries.

The attacks give us hindsight into a new way of thinking about conflict and warfare. Cyber attacks are even more dangerous than physical ones because of our increasing dependence on computers, networks and technology. These computers control critical systems that run power plants, telecommunications infrastructure, air traffic amongst others. Cyber attacks on banks, stock markets and other financial institutions could have a devastating economic effect on any country.

We are in the early stages of a cyber arms race and need to respond accordingly by developing new cyber-warfare weapons and defense systems. We need to take action in order to boost our cyber-warfare preparedness.

The government should back the development of technologies that help those circumvent such cyber-attacks and all these should be backed by a stringent laws. It is not only the government but Indian businesses and media outfits should also respond in kind.

Such cyber-war fares speak of the emergence of a new balance of world power. A world where China would like to declare its superpower status—that’s simply too frightening for the Indian people to consider.

Please do share your thoughts with us.

Pradeep Shankar
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