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India still on the back foot in countering cyber attacks

February 16, 2012 17:53 IST

Cyber attacks have become a major worry for India, as it has been repeatedly targeted by countries like Pakistan and China, reports Vicky Nanjappa.

The report by James Clapper, director, National Intelligence, United States, paints a scary picture the world faces from cyber attacks. Clapper's report states that Iran has increased its capabilities dramatically in the cyber world and poses a great threat.

India too faces a serious threat from its neighbour, Pakistan, on this front. In 2009 there were 2,866 incidents of cyber attacks on India.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had pointed out that there were around 9,000 websites in India that were hacked in the past five years.

The threat India has faced in the past has been brash -- like the attack on the Central Bureau of Investigation website a couple of months ago -- and has often been veiled.

The most shocking bit of information came when cyber security investigative officer Jeffrey Karr pointed out that it was the Stuxnet worm that brought down the Indian Space Research Organisation satellite INSAT 4B. He had also pointed out that this was done with an intention of serving China's business interests. Targeting the satellite affected major services and it took India quite a while to fix the problem.

In addition to this, India's oil rigs have been targeted through a method known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). This attack on the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in the year 2010 was however prevented. Had there been a let up, it would have affected 70 drilling rigs in the country. This would have been a major setback as India would not have been able to produce oil for a couple of weeks.

There have also been attempts made at the control system of the Delhi metro.

Cyber security experts say that there is an ongoing war in the online space between India and Pakistan. There are a bunch of guys who call themselves as the Pakistan Hackers Army, who are under the control of their security establishment. So far they have been carrying out more attacks with the intention of embarrassing the security establishment in India. However, the real threat is not from these attackers, but from the ones targeting the SCADA software.

This would mean water boards, satellites, factories and power plants that cater to essential services would be hit once such an attack is carried out. Hackers both from Pakistan and China, which have a great interest in India, often manipulate real world equipment with help of the deadly Stuxnet worm.

The growing use of technology has acted as a boon for enemy nations to step up their crime against India in cyber space.

There are nearly 500 syndicates across the world that has been formed and a large number of them have tapped the potential of carrying out crimes on Indian. They first came into the Indian space with email scams that many fell for. The outcome of investigations and also the inability to track down the origin of the crime encouraged cyber criminals to take the war a step further. Out of these syndicates emerged another syndicate that started to carry out bigger operations.

Unfortunately for India, they had tested the vulnerability of the system and found it easier to break into. This syndicate not only deployed the Stuxnet in some operations but also began attacking government websites. In some cases they hacked into the systems, while in other cases they managed to collect data, although on a very small scale.

After years of pondering and discussions, the Indian agencies finally began to moot a proper cyber policy. It had to be a strong one and the first point that was made was to have a proper team to counter attack such attackers. There was not only a need to protect our own systems, but India also found the need to retaliate on web space.

Today India is talking in terms of more command and control centres apart from having computer emergency response teams. There will also be a National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre comprising of technical experts who would constantly monitor any breach or intrusion into the Indian cyber space.

In the past, India often realised that an intrusion has occurred only after the attack took place.

Indian Intelligence officials point out that there is a lot of snooping that is taking place on cyber space and there have been many instances to show that countries such as China are looking for information. Affected areas have been the border security control systems, the defence ministry and also the ministry of external affairs. It is no longer a minor problem and if India does not get its act together soon, the situation will become very serious.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore