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How can India be better prepared for cyber warfare? Here is a roadmap with a role for the private sector

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Jaijit Bhattacharya | November 24, 2014



The world is now in an era where warfare will be asymmetric in nature and will be conducted using non-traditional means. Such means include, but are not limited to, cyberwarfare, economic warfare, food security warfare, water warfare, and information and social media warfare. Each of them can severely impact the efficacy of the traditional military capability. Each requires a different kind of fortification and defence mechanism.

Cyberwarfare is an enabling mechanism for unleashing devastating damage on critical information infrastructure, including financial systems, water systems, dams, airlines, railways, social information dissemination and myriad other installations of strategic importance.

The cyber-bombing of the nuclear centrifuges of Iran demonstrated the capabilities of cyberwarfare. The direct collateral damage in terms of riots and human deaths is also avoided in this kind of warfare. Thus, cyberwarfare (also known as ‘Information and Communication Technology, Electronics and Cyber’ or ICTEC) enablement is of paramount importance for national security.

The cyber-bombing of the Iranian nuclear centrifuges also demonstrated the issue of compromised information technology equipment that made the centrifuges malfunction and damage themselves. Therefore, technological sovereignty is a necessary but not sufficient condition for preparedness for cyberwarfare.

Given the nature of ICTEC, it is impossible to develop the entire value chain within the military-industrial establishment, or even within the private sector of the country. It would be necessary to source from global locations that would make the challenge of having a non-compromised ICTEC an even more challenging task. The issue is compounded by the lack of a dedicated ICTEC cadre within the military establishment that can develop and evolve new cyber-weapons.

Unfortunately, such cyber-weapons are not available in the global arms market and countries that do not have such weapons have no ability to strike back when cyber-attacked.

The discussions on strategic implications of ICT revolve around attaining technological sovereignty and indigenous development through combined partnership of public and private sector undertakings. The focal issue is India’s heavy dependence in terms of imports of critical high-end equipment and software from foreign countries, particularly China. The lack of ownership over critical ICT technology can have serious ramifications for India’s national security, especially during times of conflict.

It is evident that there is an urgency to create an institutional framework that is able to involve the private sector in India to co-develop the roadmap and the solutions required to meet the challenges of the new warfare paradigms that are fast evolving. There is a need to have an autonomous body that can co-opt expertise from the private sector to create technologies for at least the non-critical military requirements in the ICTEC area.

It is also absolutely necessary to buffer such an organisation from the constraints of the defence public sector units such that the private industry is not forced to use or leverage underutilised public sector capacity, both in terms of industrial capacity as well as in terms of human skills. The body needs to be given a free hand in conceptualising the ICTEC needs (in consultation with the military) and then enabling the private sector to develop and deliver the requirements on a long-term basis, that follows an agreed upon roadmap.

The contracts could be for 10 to 20 years, similar to what the US government gives to its military contractors for developing and supporting futuristic military technologies.

Such an organisation should have linkages to educational institutions of repute and with significant co-investments from serious private sector players from within the country.

Strategic implications
In the information age, the bits and bytes are the currency of commerce and a national resource to be protected. ICT plays a critical role in assuring its availability and continuity.

Electronic and cyber-enabled wars will in future present more options to the leadership of countries to wage silent and non-contact battles keeping in mind the sensitivities associated with conventional war in today’s connected world.

India has suffered immensely in the past due to the lack of ownership of technology in every critical sector of economy. ICT is the future which forms the backbone of our economy, military and society.

The lack of net-centric enablement and secured information environment can adversely affect India’s military operational readiness and performance in conflict scenario.

In defence production for low- to medium-end technology, the lack of joint ventures, limited indigenous development through licensed production and transfer of technology would lead to playing into the hands of a few foreign vendors with strategic and commercial ramifications.
More importantly, some of the solutions will never be available in the market. For example, the Indian military will not be offered the Stuxnet worm that caused extreme devastation to the Iranian nuclear programme.

The international technology denial regimes in place are a key instrument in the developed countries’ strategy to maintain world dominance, both economically and from a military standpoint.

Way forward
There is an urgent need to establish the entire ecosystem to design and develop indigenous ICT technologies through adequate support from the government.

A long-term technology roadmap should be formulated by the government in consultation with the defence forces which can be used as a template by industry to develop critical high-end technology.

There is a need to promote standards-based ICT equipment and software for enhanced interoperability.

In order to mitigate vulnerabilities in India’s national information and communication infrastructure, indigenous components should be given higher weightage formally through the defence procurement policy.

There is a need to augment the L-1 method in ICT procurement for security to include quality-cum-cost-based system (QCBS), T1, and T2.
The role of ex-servicemen from the defence forces needs to be integrated in any indigenisation strategy as they are the people with the domain expertise and internal know-how of the defence services.

Bhattacharya, partner at KPMG, is also president of Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research and adjunct professor at IIT Delhi.

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