Cyberattacks have become the new normality. Warfare using Internet-enabled technology to attack another nation’s digital infrastructure with viruses or carry out denial-of-service attacks is also becoming common enough. Strenuous denials as in the suspected cyberattack on the Maharashtra electricity grid that brought about a blackout in Mumbai in October 2020 when suburban train services and stock market trading were halted are barely believable because the likelihood of state-sponsored actions in a cyber battle was very high at a time of India-China tensions along the LAC. The employment of non-state actors to carry out such attacks to aid plausible deniability cannot be discounted either since cyber hits for hire are dime a dozen in an increasingly connected world.
There are no innocents in this battle of wits fought through computer networks. India is also suspected to have sponsored phishing activity in the time of the coronavirus to aim at Chinese entities while China is said to have been behind a string of hacking attempts aimed at India’s banking sector. America responded recently to Russian cyber threats to its electricity grids by littering the Russian system with code in a cyber warning. The history of Russia intervention and hactivist actions goes back some way, extending to interfering with a Presidential election. The recent Russian intervention through the SolarWinds hack that hit nine government agencies and 100 corporations including Microsoft had set the cyber world abuzz about State versus State cyber action.
Cyber security is the watchword but cyber protection is an expensive exercise as dependence on foreign hardware and software in India is extremely high and vulnerabilities exist in all systems that are networked for operational efficiencies. Even as the Indian Army has been priding itself on electronic warfare capability it enjoys on the borders, LAC and LoC, military experts have been calling for replacement of Chinese-made hardware in utilities like power and railways. Vaccine research and manufacturing has also become the target of attacks lately suggesting how susceptible the world is to cyber theft. The government has a great responsibility towards funding cyber security measures in all sectors that are strategically important while individuals are left to their own devices to protect their privacy.
Another facet of new normality has equally sinister implications. In this modern technological environment, the State has been empowered to use cyber tools in surveillance as technology in this field has improved by giga leaps and bounds. Myanmar is an extreme example now in its extensive use of military grade surveillance in targeting critics of the February 1 coup. The capacity to mine phones and computers and employing software and spyware to eavesdrop on conversations and the use of drones and iPhone cracking devices are part of a vast digital arsenal that the State has built up towards electronic warfare in repressive surveillance of its people. An Orwellian dystopia is very much upon us already as States get more powerful in sustaining surveillance upon its critics, rebels and dissidents and just about anyone disagreeing with its ideology. As Bob Dylan said, the times they are a-changin’.