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The Code War

Krish Kothari

Deception is a sort of seduction. In love and war, adultery and espionage, deceit can only succeed if the deceived party is willing, in some way to be deceived. - Ben Macintyre


A country with an estimated 730 million internet users and most prone to cyber attacks; India stands in a global arena surrounded by geo-political turmoil fending off threats from foreign state actors trying to subvert her democracy and economic growth and thrash any future claims of being a global leader. Here comes a time where war is now being fought in a digital realm and in the electromagnetic spectrum where conflict does not necessarily mean a clash between soldiers on land, air and sea. Even the paralysis of a country’s economic infrastructure by embedding malware or social engineering to disrupt peace and security of a state are forms of modern warfare.

Have you heard of India’s first digital money heist? The Cosmo Co-operative Bank with headquarters in Pune, had 94 crore rupees stolen in August 2019. Hackers embedded malware in the system servers and were able to clone multiple debit cards across ATMs in 28 countries. The perpetrators were part of North Korea’s elite hacker group “Lazarus”. Upon being caught, one of the members threatened, “This is only the beginning.” India is known as the ‘King of Consumers’ because consumers are all we can offer to the world in the data technology sector globally. USA and China are known as the Kings of software and hardware respectively. Creating a chink in India’s cyber armour, where does this leave us ? Do you still feel your digital identity is protected ?

India’s Cyber Security Apparatus

Awareness about the evolving threat in the cyber realm exists within the boundaries of the Indian Subcontinent. But the execution of a doctrine to effectively safeguard the interest of all entities that persist on the world wide web is lacking. The Defense Cyber Agency (DCA) was recently activated to fight wars in the cyber dimension and to help formulate a cyber doctrine. This agency will work with the Chief of Defence Staff and the heads of the Army, Airforce and Navy to coordinate and integrate intelligence and cyber security apparatuses to ensure efficient operational preparedness and readiness. It should be noted that this agency’s structure could be shrouded in secrecy due to its jurisdiction on classified and privileged information and security of important financial and economic networks. This agency’s key mission objective is to foresee and terminate any kind of threat that could subvert India’s Internal and External Security.

Attempts at Cyber Threat Termination

One theatre of cyberwarfare we don’t talk about in mainstream media is the one waged by Pakistan in the state of Kashmir, flooding social media with hate propaganda and an

attempt towards social engineering and perception management to rapidly increase unrest within the state. The Directorate General of Inter Service Public Relations (DGISPR) wing of the Pakistan army, and its agents in India and elsewhere spearhead all information operations against the citizens of India. Using old videos and information to manipulate and instigate violence against forces. The popular tactic is to use misdemeanors of the forces on a citizen

and run hate narratives in the background to systematically control the perception and command the youth to do their bidding by ways of promotion of radical extremist groups and how fruitful it would be to be part of them.

India’s only response to such narratives is a clampdown on the internet services. The longest internet lockdown was six months in 2016. The current mobile internet lockdown during this pandemic has still not curtailed radical extremism as whole and it still flourishes through offline means. In fact an internet lockdown is counter intuitive and creates greater hatred towards the Indian government.

Countering: The Digital Dragon

Why did we ban 59 apps with Chinese ties? Social media is the key to one’s mind. It opens a Pandora’s box of perceptions, thoughts, emotions and control over the same. TikTok with 611 million downloads as of December 2019 alone, is a popular platform that showcases control over content creation just as it does with its press and media. The app known for its 15 second videos with a soundtrack is popular for curating feeds for its target audiences to disseminate fake news and communist propaganda. TikTok is one of China’s weapons of choice for behavioural and social engineering.

We live in an age where the role of sleeper cells aren’t only restricted to human agents. What we see now is the future of espionage and political subterfuge. Your phones, laptops, WiFi routers and satellites are agents of espionage. But does banning these 59 apps help mitigate China’s boa constrictor like control over India’s digital sovereignty ?

China still has deep pockets in the smartphones segment in India with brands like OnePlus, Vivo, Xiaomi, Oppo, and RealMe that hold 80% of market share in this segment. With Huawei routers used for WiFi still rolling out, China still hangs on like a cyber leech sucking away digital sovereignty and breaking away the security of our networks.

Protecting India’s Digital Borders

All in all we are being attacked from all fronts and in all dimensions. India needs to take a leap in the race towards cyber defensive weaponization. A doctrine of cyberwarfare must be created to have a systematic approach towards counter narratives and the blockade of digital espionage. There are multiple ways to fight this self inflicting dependency that comprises our national security.

First, to support and invest in the cyber movement within India so as to make the data localization dream a reality. In a way to recruit cyber warriors and prevent brain drain that would be a key tactical security investment to fend off cyber threats and prevent the outsourcing of threat mitigation.

Secondly to create legislation to show the importance and set a precedence for any sort future command set up or legislation to safeguard all the cyber rights of Indian Citizens.

Lastly, to up India’s diplomatic game by mustering alliance and setting up a coalition with nations that perceive China’s hegemonic intention as a threat in all theatres of war. Using the already existing resistance of the Trump administration to set up economic embargoes across various data driven digital value chains. Keeping in mind as the US now perceives Huawei and 5G technologies with Chinese origin a national security threat alongside the EU, who are pulling out of commitments and looking for other facets to utilise the same technology. India should continue to court multinationals to tip the scales of investment from China and bring back dynamism to the Indian economy in a post Covid World.

India has a choice to rise up to the technological and political challenges of the 21st century. To counter narratives, prevent the modification of our society by the whims and fantasies of our enemies and to show the world as a growing power and state one must think twice before crossing us.

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