By S M Hali
Cyber weapons are directed towards targeting the enemy’s computers and networks used for espionage, denying the enemy the use of its cyberspace, stealing classified data clandestinely or introducing malware, which can dupe its operators.
Cyber warfare involves a battle space and is recognised as a form of warfare involving both offensive and defensive operations pertaining to the threat of cyber-attacks, espionage and sabotage.
A number of countries today possess offensive cyber capabilities, notably the United States, Israel, Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, India and Iran. The range and sophistication of the cyber weapons varies since they are conceived and deployed for a specific project or purpose.
Take the example of the Stuxnet Worm, a 500-kilobyte computer worm that infiltrated numerous computer systems used in Iranian nuclear facilities. Over fifteen Iranian facilities were attacked and infiltrated by the Stuxnet initiated by a random worker’s USB drive. One of the affected industrial facilities was the Natanz nuclear facility.
The first signs of an issue in the nuclear facility’s computer system emerged in 2010. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the Natanz facility and observed that a strange number of uranium enriching centrifuges were breaking. The cause of these failures was unknown at the time.
Later in 2010, Iran contracted computer security specialists in Belarus to examine their computer systems. This security firm eventually discovered multiple malicious files on Iranian computer systems. It was subsequently revealed that these malicious files were the Stuxnet worm.
Although Iran has not released specific details regarding the effects of the attack, it is currently estimated that the Stuxnet worm destroyed 984 uranium enriching centrifuges. By current estimations, this constituted a 30 percent decrease in enrichment efficiency.
India has also jumped into the fray and it is believed that India is using a zero-day exploit of InPage Software against users in Pakistan. The attack can have a huge impact in Pakistan as it has the largest number of InPage users in the world. The software is used by almost all clerical staff in Government departments, tri services, intelligence organisations and anywhere where Urdu typing is carried out.
It is pertinent to mention that InPage Software has been developed by an Indian Company called M/S Concept which is most likely working in collaboration with Indian Intelligence agencies.
Cyberspace involves tactics more detrimental than traditional warfare and poses a huge threat to Pakistan. As if sea, land and air warfare were not enough, traditional arch rivals India and Pakistan are now confronting on another in cyberspace as well.
It is pertinent to quote how eagerly India wants to gain an edge in cyber warfare technology from what former Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta admitted in an interview to StartPost:
“The Indian Armed Forces are increasingly investing in networked operations, both singly and in a joint fashion. We cannot, therefore, afford to be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Information Technology is our country’s known strength and it would be in our interest to leverage this strength in developing a formidable ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ cyber warfare capability. Harnessing the gene pool available in academia, private industry and the younger generation of talented individuals is imperative.”
India also claims that the loss, in May 2017, of an advanced and mechanically certified as safe, Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft, close to the border with China may be the result of “cyber-interference with the on-board computers” in the cockpit. This may explain why even the pilots may have found it difficult to activate safety ejection mechanisms, once it became obvious that the aircraft was in serious trouble, since such mechanisms could have been crippled by computer malfunctions induced from an outside source.
They point to the apparent loss of five Army vehicles, “due to (according to the authorities) a misfired mortar strike” in the same zone, saying that a single mortar round would not have enough firepower to take out such a large number of vehicles.
Cyber warfare is complex and is more penetrating and detrimental than conventional warfare. It is fought in cyberspace using different tactics like cyber espionage, web vandalism, data gathering, Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks, equipment disruption, critical infrastructure attacks, Compromised Counterfeit Hardware, etc.
The Internet security company McAfee in their annual report stated that approximately 120 countries have been developing ways to use the Internet as a weapon to target financial markets, government computer systems and utilities.
India spends over Rs 200,000 crore on defence through the armed forces and another Rs 100,000 crore on security via police units of which nearly Rs 5000 crore is spent on cyber capability. Pakistani defence planners have their task cut out to defend against cyber weapons since India’s arsenals of cyber weapons has significantly raised the bar.
Daily Times, July 29, 2017