Monday, November 29, 1999

Internet hostilities

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India is currently being made a target for cyberwar. No sooner did the news of the recent hacking of an Indian Army major's personal computer die down, comes an even more alarming revelation. Each day, hackers, presumably backed by Pakistani defence establishment, are mounting 50-odd cyber attacks on the IT assets of critical Indian systems including banking, electrical grid, telecom, transportation etc, so as to either put them down or somehow create impediments or disturbances in their day-to-day business, cyber security analysts reveal.Pavan Duggal, advocate, Supreme Court of India, says, "While the Chinese cyber attacks on India get wide publicity, harsh reality is that Pakistani Army-backed hackers are horning their skills and attacking Indian websites with increasing ferocity."Another bitter truth: Countries have borders, but the internet does not and this gives the cyber criminals complete freedom to act at will. Therefore, it is hard to currently specify the identity of people who could be behind such attacks. "However, there are no two doubts in my mind that the people behind these attacks are cyber criminals, cyber warriors and cyber terrorists whose only aim is to destabilise the inherent sovereignty and integrity of India , security of the state and friendly relations with other nations," Duggal says. A close analysis of recent cyber attacks highlights that the majority of the sites targeted are belonging to .in ccTLD. Essentially, this means that the governmental systems and governmental websites are far more vulnerable to cyberwar attacks than general private enterprise sites. "We need to appreciate that the .in ccTLDs is a part of a national IT heritage of India and that it represents the country code top-level domain of India . Therefore, we need to have in place an appropriate security mechanism as .in ccTLD is a part of the national information technology heritage backbone and infrastructure of the country," Duggal feels.While the case of computer hacking of the Indian Army major is under investigation, more often than not, these attacks follow a well-trodden path: the search for a suitable victim and the infection of their computer, the theft of their login credentials, followed by the subsequent withdrawal of critical information and data.Ramsunder P, director of enterprise sales—India, McAfee, says, "Since India has emerged as a software power, the threat to its cyber world has increased greatly." According to him, the possible reasons for the increase of cyber attacks are: Internet has become another theatre of engagement between nations; lack of effective security measures and awareness among the masses and businesses to protect against such dangers (government sites); the continuous and complicated evolution of technology also puts businesses and individuals at risk when it comes to securing their network infrastructure and crucial information.In addition, government databases store information that could attract politically motivated attacks, including critical infrastructure information and other sensitive intelligence, which is a potential reason for hackers to target their sites. "Many critical infrastructure systems, such as the electrical grid, banking and finance, and oil and gas sectors are vulnerable to cyber attacks," Ramsundar says.The internet has bred an elite class of criminals who are organised, well funded and far more technologically sophisticated than most law enforcement officials. No wonder, the fight against cyber hackers will be a long drawn out one and the problem will remain unresolved until such times that effective and efficient security mechanisms are put in place to avoid exploitation by cyber criminals.

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