In an era where cyber attacks and cyber crime are a serious threat, India needs to establish a body that can become the focal point of all decisions related to cyber defence and offence capabilities. A panel that had former Northern Army Commander Lieutenant-General D S Hooda (retd), former R&AW chief Sanjeev Tripathi, senior IPS officer Abhinav Kumar and cyber security consultant with Synopsis Inc Sandesh Anand at The Indian Express Thinc on Thursday said India needs a “cyber czar” with a clearly defined role and better coordination between the existing agencies to tackle the threats emerging from cyber space. Lt Gen Hooda cited the example of Russia annexing Crimea from Ukraine as an example of the potential of cyber operations. Though, he said that by looking only at the technical side of such threats, “we are looking at half the story”. The human part, he said, is equally important. Stressing that private organisations are continuously collecting data about everyone, he said this can be a vulnerability which can be exploited by India’s “enemies”. He said that in this respect, individual security and national security intersect.
Kumar said he does not expect the cyber world to be “any less dysfunctional”. “It will be a mirror,” the senior IPS officer said. Substantiating his point, he said that throughout the Cold War, similar tactics were used by nations. Now, the tools had changed.
Giving the example of Burhan Wani, the Kashmiri militant, both Lt Gen Hooda and Kumar agreed that he was more of a social media construct, emphasising that he did not commit any crime. But the social media persona provided a challenge to the security forces. The response of the establishment, to clamp down on the Internet for over a month, Kumar said, “was an admission of failure” on the establishment’s part. He compared it to a curfew. Lt Gen Hooda agreed, and said that Internet shutdown was “poor strategy”. “You have terrorists competing for popularity with national leaders,” he said. Instead of a clampdown on the Internet, what the government needs to do is to produce a counter-narrative, he added. “Unfortunately, the narratives from Kashmir and Delhi are not cancelling each other.” Instead, “They are reinforcing each other.”
Former R&AW chief Tripathi said the technology is changing fast right now and this will help terrorist elements, “like for financing virtual currency will be used”. He also spoke of the need to take steps to prevent radicalisation in the real world.
When asked whether India was creating a glass house, which could be vulnerable to attacks, Lt Gen Hooda disagreed, but admitted that even if the house is not built of glass, “it has two glass walls”. The use of foreign software and hardware, and not creating the capacity to produce indigenous products, leaves the country vulnerable. “In times of crises,” the former Northern Army Commander said, India will not get the support of the foreign private companies. India needs a lot of skill building in cyber security, Sandesh Anand said. He said security is usually an afterthought in India, but in cyberspace, civil society needs to be more engaged with the government on regulations. The panel was in conversation with Sushant Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Express. The topic of the discussion was on national security and the growing threat from cyberspace.