Q) India needs to clearly articulate a doctrine that holistically captures its approach to cyber conflict, either for conducting offensive cyber operations, or the extent and scope of countermeasures against cyber attacks. Discuss.

Why this Question:

Important part of GS paper- III.

Key Demand of the Question:

Significance of a comprehensive policy addressing the cybersecurity concerns in India and measures needed to deal with state sponsored cyber attacks.


Discuss- back up the answer by carefully selected evidence to make a case for and against an argument, or point out the advantages and disadvantages of the given context and finally arrive at a conclusion.


Introduce by mentioning about the recent cyber attack on the website of Union Power Ministry. 


In the first part, explain about the state sponsored cyber attacks. Use examples of such attacks in India in the past. 

In the next part, highlight the measures taken by the government to strengthen the cybersecurity framework in the country. Also mention the concerns remaining.


Conclude with a way forward. 

Model Answer

A new study tips that the Mumbai power outage last year, which was said to the worst power failure in decades, may have its links to the India and China border tensions. The report adds that the mega Mumbai power outage may be the result of a cyber attack from China in an attempt to give a sign to India not to press too hard. 

Such incidents are not new for India where a State is involved in cyber attacks. This is often referred to as state sponsored cyber attack. In 2009, a suspected cyber espionage network dubbed GhostNet was found to be targeting the Tibetan government in exile in India, and many Indian embassies. By pursuing the leads from that discovery, researchers found what they dubbed the Shadow Network, a vast cyberespionage operation which extensively targeted Indian entities, including military establishments, news publications, and even the National Security Council Secretariat itself, with clear evidence that confidential documents had been accessed by the attackers. 

On the other hand, Chinese cybersecurity agencies have also helped the security community in dismantling the infrastructure behind some of these attacks. This makes it critical for India to have a policy that addresses such aspects of cyber security.

Measures in India to strengthen cybersecurity 

  1. National Security Council, usually chaired by the National Security Adviser (NSA), and plays a key role in shaping India’s cyber policy ecosystem.
  2. National Information Board- the apex body for cross ministry coordination on cybersecurity policymaking.
  3. National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre-  established under the National Technical Research Organisation in January 2014 was mandated to facilitate the protection of critical information infrastructure.
  4. National Cyber Security Coordinator- advises the Prime Minister on strategic cybersecurity issues.
  5. India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT­In)- the nodal entity responding to various cybersecurity threats to non­critical infrastructure.
  6. The Ministry of Defence has recently upgraded the Defence Information Assurance and Research Agency to establish the Defence Cyber Agency, a tri service command of the Indian armed forces to coordinate and control joint cyber operations, and craft India’s cyber doctrine.
  7. Ministry of Home Affairs oversees multiple “coordination centres” that focus on law enforcement efforts to address cybercrime, espionage and terrorism.
  8. The Ministry of External Affairs coordinates India’s cyber diplomacy push — both bilaterally with other countries, and at international fora like the United Nations.

Remaining Concerns 

  1. Presence of multiple agencies has resulted in lack of cooperation and effective coordination. 
  2. This also is a major cause of lack of institutional boundaries and accountability.
  3. Reports indicate that India too engages in targeted cyber­attacks, the rules of engagement for that too are unclear. This is unlike India’s approach to other global security regimes. For eg, the ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine. 
  4. The absence of a credible cyber deterrence strategy means that states and non­state actors alike remain incentivised to undertake low scale cyber operations for a variety of purposes — espionage, cyber crime, and even the disruption of critical information infrastructure. 

Clearer strategy and greater transparency are the need of the hour to improve India’s cybersecurity posture. To better detect and counter threats from both state actors and their proxies as well as online criminals, improved coordination is needed between the government and the private sector, as well as within the government itself — and at the national and State levels. A clear public posture on cyber defence and warfare boosts citizen confidence, helps build trust among allies, and clearly signals intent to potential adversaries, thus enabling a more stable and secure cyber ecosystem.