The Rudderless Cyber Intelligence
As digital world increasingly envelops all walks of life, security and safety of data and network has become even more critical keeping in view the fact that India reported 13,000 cyber-attacks in 2011. During the Commonwealth Games, the specially created cyber security cell foiled 8,000 attacks within a span of two-and-half weeks. In fact, over the last decade, the country witnessed an increase in the number of cyber attacks, from 2,565 in 2008 to 8,266 in 2009 and 10,315 in 2010. Against this backdrop, the recent cyber attack originating from Pakistan, which resulted in the exodus of the north-eastern people from the other parts of the country such as Bengaluru and Pune, and the tepid response on part of the government is quite perturbing. It took the government more than a month to realise that social media was inundated with video clips and disinformation aimed at spreading fear among the people of the north-east living across the country. No less than a Pakistani journalist and blogger, Faraz Ahmed, writing for Tribune-Pakistan brought out the vicious role that websites in Pakistan were playing in psychological operations. He brought out clearly how images/photographs of events not even remotely connected with Rohingya-Muslims and Buddhist strife in Myanmar were being passed off as evidence of Rohingya-Muslims’ massacre. It is disheartening to note that when sophisticated software is available to check the veracity of such abuses, our intelligence establishment failed so miserably to read early signs. What the government did was issuing orders to block more than 300 items on the Internet, including Facebook pages, blogposts, YouTube videos, Twitter handles, pages of certain websites, and in some cases entire websites, which highlights that the government has simply not applied its mind to the issue of how to deal with cyber attacks. Although, I am not against blocking any content on any websites that can foment violence, it should have been done transparently, with judicial oversight. I think pulling down the social networking sites and reducing to five messages per day is not a permanent solution. What needs to be done is systematic regulation. I totally agree that we are a democratic nation and we have got the right to freedom of speech and expressions but then we have to realise that this freedom cannot be taken as an excuse for the loss of lives. Our nation is suffering from herd mentality syndrome where all of us act without even knowing the depths of the matter. We live in a country where if someone spreads a rumour that one saw God in so and so place, people will blindly follow one without knowing the actual matter, and India is a place where news can be created in seconds, we just need to pass on the message and that is what exactly happening. We can’t blame the social sites and messages alone because when the Partition of the country took place, there were no Twitter messages or Facebook!
In fact, the growing threat of cyber warfare has not been well appreciated or sufficiently understood. Cyber warfare forms a part of information war, which extends to every form of media, and inter alia includes aspects of propaganda and perception management. Cyberspace, though technically restricted to the Internet, is now increasingly linked by convergence to every communication device. With greater connectivity, this divide is narrowing and every citizen or aspect of life is vulnerable. So, there is a need for reforms in the Indian cyber set-up and its policies. And this need does not spring from any desire to ape the West, but from the fact that notwithstanding numerous failures so far, there does not seem to have been any broad-based exercise to reform the country’s cyber apparatus and make it more pro-active and in harmony with the pursuit of nation’s internal and external security. Whatever piecemeal restructuring that has been tinkered with from time to time, has mostly been crisis driven and not a comprehensive need-based attempt to address the basic and structural flaws in the Indian cyber set-up that appears to be a legacy of its origin as a branch of policing of the society. The Indian cyber policies did not evolve out of any detailed and well thought-out administrative policy. It is ironic that we are one of the largest IT services contributors to the global IT industry, and we were caught napping with respect to regulation of the spread of the morphed disturbing content. In the recent past, we have witnessed the abuse of technology and social media whether it be in London or in a different context in the Middle-East. Information spread through e-media is viral and added to it there is free access to tools to morph the content. It is a totally different human behaviour alike to the mob psychology that takes precedence over the rational thinking. Therefore, what would be appropriate is to pro-actively act upon this to prevent or curb such incidents, rather than getting in a loop of blame game.