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  1. Cyberspace: The fifth domain of warfare

Cyberspace: The fifth domain of warfare

Many countries, including India, are increasingly investing in improving their cyber-security protocols as the frequency of attacks rises

By: | Published: December 7, 2015 12:15 AM

Cyber warfare being considered as a legitimate mode of attrition between nations, a new spectrum of operations have opened up with the full panoply of instruments. India has recently inked cyber-security agreements with Malaysia and Singapore seeking to promote closer cooperation and the exchange of information pertaining to cyber-security incident management, technology cooperation, cyber-attacks, prevalent policies and best practices and mutual response to cyber-security incidents.

With cyberspace all set to become the fifth dimension of warfare, countries around the world are busy preparing to face the threat of cyber war where attackers remain incognito. Anonymity is perhaps the biggest advantage associated with cyber-attack. A cyber weapon is an intellectual property (IP) which can be used in peace time and during war time. These weapons largely depend upon Zero Day exploits and vulnerabilities, and have limited shelf life.

As per a report by Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), cyber attacks on India increased from about 13,000 in 2011 to 62,000 till mid-2014, with most originating from cyber space of a number of countries including the US, Europe, Brazil, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and the UAE. Over last 20 years, there has been a major change in the way in which threats have evolved in cyberspace, to an extent that strategists globally are recognising cyberspace as the fifth domain of warfare. This rapid evolution of threats, from non-state actors and at the behest or in some cases directly by state actors, has resulted in a global cyber pandemonium.
The scenario is further aggravated by the global incoherence of domestic and international cyber laws in relation to law enforcement model; attribution issues; international disharmony on cyber issues; and most importantly non-availability of a global treaty, especially for issues relating to law of war model.

Stating that the future wars might be fought in the cyberspace, defence minister Manohar Parrikar recently warned the Army against “information blackout” as he sought enhanced capabilities to ensure protection from disruptive cyber attacks or manipulations. Parrikar also cited the example of the terrorist organisation ISIS, which he said, was “one of the best users of internet technology” for promoting their cause.

By all means, the stunning and crippling effect of cyber invasion could be a nightmare for security agencies and military establishments as cyberspace remains a “borderless and impersonal entity”. Clearly and apparently, cyber spies have no physical boundaries to negotiate while giving a practical shape to their “evil designs”. What’s more, even satellites designed for communications, navigation, earth observation and many other end-uses could be paralysed and put out of commission through manipulation and degradation of their software. As it is, the detection of a threat or a potential threat plays a major role in ensuring cyber security. At present, there are no formal rules of engagement in cyber warfare at either international or multi-lateral levels.

The ability to come out with cyber weapons cheaply and quickly is the most striking advantage of cyber war. The Chinese feel that getting information dominance is a key component for attaining victory in a war. As part of its offensive approach, China is busy building the capability to combine computer network attacks, electronic warfare and kinetic warfare strategy with a view to paralyse communications systems and information systems of the targeted adversary and create vulnerable blind spots that can be exploited to stay at the winning edge of the battlefield.

The vast majority of cyber attacks can be categorised into only a handful of types (root kits, Trojan horses, etc.), therefore, it is difficult to keep up with all the various devices defense personnel are using to access military networks. When you factor in the extreme variability in cyber training and awareness that millions of network users exhibit, it’s hard to imagine that determined adversaries can be kept out of the networks.

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been developing capabilities to produce robust high grade cryptographic devices based on indigenously developed cryptographic algorithms and indigenously architected high assurance platforms; and capabilities to develop advanced architectures for LAN and WAN security to safeguard information systems to counter external and internal threats has been developed. For the near term risk mitigation, DRDO works on the approach of development of software-based security systems running on COTS computing platforms.

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