23 Jan 2018/Tuesday   

India’s main adversaries namely Pakistan and China are in a constant process of upgrading and honing their Cyber-Attack capabilities. There are increasing indications that Pakistan and China may collude or separately launch a clandestine severe Cyber-Attack on Indian Defence and Economic Institutions. The reasons are far too many to be ignored. So what makes a Cyber-Attack on India by Pakistan a reality in near future?

Cyber-Attack is among top three risk to society, alongside natural disaster and extreme weather, according to the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2018. The WEF is an international body which brings together business, political, academic, and other leaders to help shape the global agenda. Cyber-Attack by a nation is a kind of hybrid war that can be unleashed on the opponent by a handful of expert without inviting too much of international hue and cry. A perfectly orchestrated Cyber-Attack on India follows Pakistan’s declared and proven strategic thought process and therefore a distinct reality.

First is the easy deniability. Hiding behind multiple layers of cyber walls, it is very difficult to trace the origin of the attack, specially when this can be done with servers located in different countries. The most lucrative part of this option comes from the fact that; if at all the attack is confirmed to have originated from the hostile country, it can always be passed off as the “hand of Non-State Actors”. Pakistan has been hiding behind this veil for decades and has mastered the art of deniability. The case of Hafiz Sayeed is a case in point, where despite all the pieces of evidence provided by India and US, Pakistan has not prosecuted the internationally acclaimed terrorist citing lack of evidence.

The second most compelling reason is that a Cyber-Attack is a low-cost option for the attacking country. The Global Risks Report 2018, cites two major events as examples of the damage and disruption which can be caused: the WannaCry attack, which affected 300,000 computers in 150 countries and impacted infrastructure across the globe including the UK’s NHS, and Petya — which caused losses of over $300m to a number of organisations. To compare it differently, the economic damage of a successful major cyber-attack against a country could be similar in scale to the financial impact of a destructive hurricane or a small. The destructive tropical cyclone hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2005, causing $108bn in damages — but that could be far exceeded by the cost of a major Cyber-Attack, according to one expert. Pakistan being in a state of perpetual penury will find the economics of this option very compelling.

A US study says 

“The likelihood of attempted cyber-attacks on nuclear weapons systems is relatively high and increasing from advanced persistent threats from states and non-state groups”.

 “It cited examples of a report, the US could have infiltrated the supply chain of North Korea’s missile system that contributed to a test failure in April last year”.

The third most compelling reason is that an effective Cyber Attack sits very comfortably away from a conventional war and nuclear option and is a very potent instrument for degrading adversary’s war-waging capability. A cyber-attack can be launched in isolation or in consonance with terrorist attacks by Non-State Actors on India’s nuclear facilities thereby seriously degrading India’s defence potential.

All the above put together is likely to force Pakistan to retaliate to Indian Surgical Strikes by launching a crippling Cyber-Attack. Seen in the backdrop of President Trump’s warning to Russia that a Cyber-Attack will compel US to use Nukes, a confirmed Cyber –Attack originated from Pakistan may also lead to a small scale conventional strikes by India.