Cyber Warfare – A Nightmare For Pakistan’s Future Generations
Out of the burgeoning complexities of this era, one that is being confabulated is cyber warfare. Fundamentally, it is the exploitation of Information technology for disintegrating or controlling activities of an adversary state or organisation, specifically the deliberate attacking of information systems for strategic, reconnaissance or military purposes. Today, the internet users across the world amount to a staggering figure of 2.3 billion while in Pakistan, the pool has expanded to 35 million.
Since the inception of war against terrorism, cyber warfare has been adopted by the non-state actors to coerce nation states through political, social, ethnic, cultural propaganda or even in case of Europe: Cyberattacks. It exists in plethora of forms: Cyberterrorism, Cyberspace, Cyber espionage constituting of Denial of Service, Phishing , and Eavesdropping attack.
Pakistan has triumphed over terrorism by the will of Allah Almighty. However, people have to be enlightened about the psychological or fifth generation warfare along with a strategic framework to mitigate its tentacles piercing through the society. An American author Kim remarks “The states most vulnerable to a destructive digital attack are the ones with the greatest connectivity, and research.”
Pertaining to Pakistan, this is relevant owing to the geostrategic location of Pakistan, and projects such as one belt one road initiative CPEC. This article will not be confined to the redundant view only; rather it will try to carve out solutions to this menace of cyberterrorism. We as a nation of 220 million owe a duty to resolve this crisis through deliberation, debate, and research.
Firstly, the notion of cyber warfare comes from eons since the inception of Advanced Research Projects Agency in USA in 1969 which linked all the computer systems of the government, education, and research institutions in case of a conventional attack on infrastructure. In between 1980 and 1990, peak Cold War era, the US casted aspersions upon Soviet Union for alleged theft of software to control trans-Siberian pipeline. However, these accusations, and real time cyber-attacks bolstered in the 21st century with university students at Cornell and Harvard breaking into the system of US Air Force computer emergency response team in USA.
If we bring into consideration the other countries of the globe, we would be flabbergasted to know that even multinational companies like Sony have been a victims too as some hackers in Korea bugged their systems.
Withal to it is Stunxet which seems to be the most bewildering example of a cyberattack on the Iranian nuclear facility which alleviated its thermal ability, and afflicted its infrastructure to maintain temperature. This organisation is known to produce malware which can target the supervisory control, and data acquisition systems (SCADA) necessary to operate critical infrastructure.
In this regard, the Atlanta state where over 8000 employees lost their jobs to a ransomware which shut down the entire networks bringing to a halt all online payments, ticketing, and governmental portals which led to delay in payments for a week. Resultantly, the hacker held the system hostage before being given $51,000 in bitcoins.
A flagrant example is the assault on a petrochemical company in Saudi Arabia through a malware designed to trigger explosion in the plant.
This phenomenon is indeed worrisome, and demands solution. Even the developed countries like the United States and United Kingdom have been facing immense setbacks as a result of cyber security vulnerability. In 2009, a similar malware tagged as “GhostNet” was able to penetrate inside confidential data of governmental as well as non-governmental departments in over 100 countries which caused outrage but no one was to blame in the end.
This brings to light a shocking reality that cyber attacks cannot be located, and busting the hackers has become an arduous task. In this regard, a renowned American author Jeff Carney said, “Any country can wage war on another country, irrespective of resources, because most of the forces are network centric, and connected to the World Wide Web, which is not secure.”
Such perils are not viable for an already militarised, and war torn world. Hostile nation states can carry out clandestine operations hiding behind tycoons to carry out assaults unnoticed as opposed to conventional warfare. Several militaries are researching on the systems required to protect their vehicles including the HINO truck GPS systems.
Nowadays, separatist groups, and terrorists are gaining sympathy for themselves through the use of Twitter, Facebook and social media who attempt to delude our young minds, and instill their anti-state agenda. Fourth and fifth generation warfare are linked together with a mutual objective of petrifying people with psychological affliction, and imbibing an inferiority complex in the working classes.
If we analyse the economic volatility of Pakistan keeping in context the cyber security capabilities of our industries, it will indeed be shocking for you to hear that Pakistan’s economy can become a victim of cyber warfare. There are no stated policies on banking institutions to protect their database; since this issue is not centralised, much of the things can happen under the radar.
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), organises conferences on such vital issues. Experts believed that by 2019, the world can face losses up to USD 2 trillion due to incapacity of global institutions, and corporate sector to tackle cyber theft. It was stated that only in 2017, cyber warfare hammered the global economy by USD 450 billion.
Director SDPI Dr Abid Qayyum compared cyber warfare to a new industrial revolution saying “In this less human and more technology dominated society, we ought to have both military as well as a civil cyber command to handle the growing cybersecurity threats as well as to warrant individual privacy and security from cyber-attackers.”
Furthermore, there are multifarious causes of cyber warfare, and its range. The prime reason is the lack of deterrence on cybercrime, and time becomes a pivotal factor in support of such extremists owing to the spread of false news, rumours, susceptibility to virus attack and vulnerable systems.
Networking has weaved out new dimensions, and professions such as cyber criminals, hackers, and their financial facilitators. It has evolved a dilemma for law enforcement, and intelligence agencies across the goal. Art to decipher, and thwart cyberattacks requires specialised people with experience in the field of information warfare.
Hacktivism is escalating particularly, because of the contemporary techniques being employed, and enhancements being made by cyber criminals on the stratagem of attacking the systems.
P2P (Peer to Peer) networks resemble telephone lines which are utilised to transmit all data from financial to weapons to personal data within seconds which has made it a herculean task for internet monitoring agencies all over the globe. Ancient Roman defeat has a story tagged as time, force, and space.
Thirdly, the monetary gains cannot be unheeded. The likelihood to hijack technologically advanced systems, and intimidate the multinational companies for money has become a norm. This is evident from the hackers taking into possession, the accounts of Sony criminals can grab imperative highly sophisticated and contemporary technology being applied in weapon systems as corroborated from Sony systems being hacked in spite of million-dollar investment on their cyber security.
In addition to this, the financial ease, and cheaper costs have made it plausible to make cyber attacks than using conventional weapons for smaller nation states, and non-state actors whose targets are specifically the infrastructural systems such as roads, traffic control, civil aviation, railways, or classified information in any state where they want to operate.
Cyber warfare is apprehensive as this can compel nation states into using them for war. Peace and tranquility are dangling on the swords. Pakistanis have to be convinced regarding the existence of external threats via cyber warfare. Our defence capability in conventional warfare is above par but we also need to look into the continuously developing anti cyber warfare techniques, malwares, and expertise to counter them at the same pace.
Instant communication and anonymous identity through networks has also buttressed the extremists in executing such cyber attacks. However, Pakistan has emerged successfully owing to its robust intelligence contrivance, and human resource.