Wake-up Call: India's cyberspace is under attack

10 Jul, 1999    ·   223

Maj. Gen. Yashwant Deva (Retd) cautions that cyber war is as important an agenda for Pakistan's ISI as crossing the LoC, and it is time that India took notice of this threat

The blocking and spoofing of National Informatics Centre (NIC) Web site is another proof of our chronic habit of Kumbhakaran slumber. Oblivious of the dirty doings of the ISI, this time it is the NIC, which has been taken for a ride. It should be no surprise to any Indian that cyber war is an important agenda of the ISI as much as infiltration across the LOC.



Earlier, two incidents of hacking took place, viz that of www.barc.ernet.in, and www.indarmyinj&k.com. Whereas MilWorm claimed credit for the former, the latter was certainly a handiwork of the ISI. Even in the case of BARC, all circumstantial evidence hinted at involvement of the CIA and NSA. The path hackers took was via the US jpl.nasa.com either in connivance with the Clinton Administration, or their crass ignorance. Not long ago, the media front-paged the immense loss suffered by banks and corporate sector in India through attacks by Chernobyl virus (WIN-CIH). A week after that, it was business as usual, belying the expectation that Indians would sit up and take notice of chinks in their cyber security.



The story appearing in the Newsweek of May 23 confirms a widely held view that the Clinton Administration is not averse to destabilizing legitimate governments through cyber attacks by intelligence agencies and to use hackers. The would-be target was Yugoslavia and its President, Slobodan Milosevic. It could well have been India and its leader Atal Behari Vajpayee for daring to enter the nuclear club, an act no less "wicked and punishable" than that of "ethnic cleansing". No doubt, the intent has since changed, but the threats are assessed by capabilities and not inclinations, an aphorism that we have often been guilty of ignoring.



There is no such thing as innocent hacking. All hacking is motivated, either at the behest of the multinationals out to make a buck through sale of new security products, or in the service of intelligence agencies, and their front organizations. Then there are international swindlers, terrorists and social deviants, who have scores to settle with the society.



The threat to Indian cyberspace, primarily comes from foreign intelligence agencies like NSA, ISI and Goujia Anquan Bu. They have the capability to mount a well-structured attack, while making it appear as a random event of cyber crime. The NSA has a lead role in a Top Secret plan called Project Echelon with a cabal of the SIGINT agencies of four white Commonwealth countries. It targets the rest of the world in wiretapping and cracking codes. Lately, the Subcontinent has become a focus of its attention, after indictment of US intelligence agencies by the Admiral Jeremiah Committee, in the wake of the Pokhran II goof-up.



The Cox Report chronicles the exploits of Goujia Anquan Bu. Its professionalism is unrivalled in the underworld, proof of which lies in its anonymity. Data pilferage at Los Alamos lab is the acme of cyber spying, involving the insider Wen Ho Lee. A matter of concern to us is the Chinese quantum jump in High Power Computing (HPC) technologies as a result of pilfering. Super computers are an invaluable asset in cryptography, cryptanalysis and processing of intercepts.



Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being one of the five top virus-exporting countries of the world. The exploits of Amjad Brothers in inventing and propagating the deadly Brain Virus, commonly called Pakistani Virus, are well known. Amongst all hackers they are the only exception, who openly flaunt their address and telephone number in Lahore . Most of hackers in Pakistan have been given lucrative employment by the ISI. Osama Bin Laden is reportedly financing projects that would strike the US National Information Infrastructure and the ISI is its willing partner in cyber terrorism and crime. We may well be the victims of these viruses, Trojan Horses and back-door attacks.



Although illicit penetration of cyberspace is a familiar occurrence, one marvels at the gullibility we patently exhibit. Being surprised and deceived is our national trait. How else do we explain Kargil?



In cyberspace, a worse fate awaits us, unless we wake up.