the-case-of-chinese-cyber-attack

Context- Accepting that there is a capability differential between India and China, India’s Chief of Defense Staff (CDS)  made a statement that China is capable of launching cyber attacks on India that can disrupt a large number of systems. 

Background 

  • A new study found out that the power outage last year in Mumbai, which was said to be the worst power failure in decades, may have its links to the India and China border tensions in Ladakh.
  • The study 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 on the borders. 
  • According to the CDS, India may not be fully able to catch up with China and hence trying to develop relationships with the Western nations in this regard, which will help us overcome this deficiency. 
  • According to the Union Ministry of Power, state sponsored Chinese hacker groups targeted various Indian power centers including Mumbai.  
  • The Ministry also said that these groups have been thwarted after government cyber agencies wondered about their activities. 
  • NCIIPC Report stated that a Chinese state-sponsored threat Actor group known as Red Echo is targeting Indian Power sector’s Regional Load Dispatch Centres (RLDCs) along with State Load Dispatch Centres (SLDCs)

Chinese Cyber Attacks on India 

  • The maximum number of cyber attacks on official Indian websites are by China followed by the US and Russia. The cyber attacks from China make up 35% of the total number of cyber attacks on official Indian websites, followed by the US (17%), Russia (15%), Pakistan (9%), Canada (7%) and Germany (5%). 
  • Such incidents where a State is involved in cyber attacks are not new for India. These are often referred to as state sponsored cyber attacks which are a part of cyber warfare. 
  • In 2009, a suspected cyber espionage network dubbed as 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.  

Cyber Warfare 

  • It involves units which are organised along nation state boundaries, in offensive and defensive operations and uses computers to attack other computers or networks through electronic means. 
  • Hackers and other individuals who are trained in software programming and exploiting the intricacies of computer networks are primarily executed for such attacks. 
  • These individuals operate under the auspices and possibly the support of nation state actors. 
  • In a nutshell, cyber warfare simply involves those actions by a nation state or an international organisation that attack and attempt two damage and other nations’ computers or information networks through means such as computer viruses or denial of service attacks. 

Methods of Cyber Warfare 

  • Sabotage- Military and financial computer systems are at risk for the disruption of normal operations and equipment like communications, power, fuel and transportation infrastructures. 
  • Espionage- These are the illegal exploitation methods which are used to disable networks, software, computers or the Internet to steal or acquire critical or classified information from rival institutions/ nations/ individuals either for military, political or financial gains. 

India’s Measures to strengthen Cybersecurity  

  • National Security Council- It is usually chaired by the National Security Adviser (NSA), and plays a key role in shaping India’s cyber policy ecosystem. It is the executive agency that is responsible for advising the Prime Minister’s Office on issues of national security and strategic interest
  • National Information Board- It is the apex body that is responsible for coordination among the different ministries on cybersecurity policymaking. 
  • National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC)- It was established under the National Technical Research Organisation in January 2014 and mandated to facilitate the protection of critical information infrastructure in India. 
  • National Cyber Security Coordinator- It advises the National Security Council Secretariat in overseeing and compliance of all the cyber security aspects including implementation of action plans in cyber security by the nodal agencies, evaluation and analysis of incidents, then forming incident response monitoring teams. 
  • India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT­-IN)- It is the nodal entity responding to various cyber security threats like hacking and phishing to non­critical infrastructure. It provides Incident Prevention and Response Services as well as Security Quality Management Services. It collects, analyses and disseminates information on cyber incidents, and also issues alerts on cybersecurity incidents. 
  • 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. 
  • Ministry of Home Affairs oversees multiple “coordination centres” that focus on law enforcement efforts to address cybercrime, espionage and terrorism. 
  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C)- It is established to deal with all types of cybercrimes in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. 
  • National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal- It is a citizen centric initiative that enables citizens to report cybercrimes online and the complaints are assessed by the concerned law enforcement agencies and actions are taken as per law. 
  • National cyber security policy, 2013- It is aimed at building a secure and resilient cyberspace for citizens, businesses and the government and has a mission to protect cyberspace information and infrastructure, build capabilities to prevent and respond to cyber attacks and minimise damages through coordinated efforts of institutional structures, people, processes and technology. 
  • Cyber Swachhta Kendra (Botnet Cleaning and malware Analysis Centre)- It is a new desktop and mobile security solution for cyber security in India and was launched in 2017 by CERT-IN. 
  • The Ministry of External Affairs coordinates India’s cyber diplomacy push — both bilaterally with other countries, and at international fora like the United Nations and persuades initiatives of cyber security of the countries.

Remaining Concerns

  • Presence of multiple agencies with overlapping functions has resulted in lack of cooperation and effective coordination.  
  • This also is a major cause of lack of institutional boundaries and accountability. 
  • 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 e.g. the ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine.  
  • 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, cybercrime, and even the disruption of critical information infrastructure.  

Conclusion

Clearer strategy and greater transparency is the need of the hour to improve India’s cybersecurity posture. To better detect and counter threats from bothstate actors and their proxies as well as online criminals, improved coordination is needed at different levels like between the government and the private sector, within the government itself —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. 

Source- The Hindu