Tuesday, July 13, 2010

National Security: Information and Cyber Warfare

The Tribune Tuesday, July 13, 2010, Chandigarh, India
Information Warfare
Decision makers should log-on to the nuances
Vulnerable information networks can adversely affect national security and create utter chaos. Safeguarding them is critical and the country ought to move fast to secure its cyber assets as potential adversaries already have an edge
Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh (Retd)

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." So said noted Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu. No doubt what he meant was ways to outwit and outmaneuver the enemy without resorting to arms.

Today this translates to a type of warfare dominated by the use and manipulation of information and information networks and subversion of data to one's own advantage, thereby bringing down an enemy by without actually firing a shot.

Information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of information and information systems to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy, an adversary's information, information-based processes, information systems, and computer-based networks while protecting one's own. Such actions are designed to achieve advantages over military, political or business adversaries.

One of the prime aims of Information warfare is to so manage the perception of the enemy top decision makers and even its people, that a nation's aims are met without recourse to war.

We are living in the Information Age. The means of gathering and disseminating information are exploding -- TV, Internet, media, news on cell phones, e-newspapers and e-books are available at home, in the work place and even on the move. The maxim, 'seeing is believing' has made TV very powerful in forming opinions and perceptions. Internet is another means used extensively. These are already being used as vehicles for information and disinformation. Since information is such a powerful tool, contesting entities, may they be nations, politicians, economic czars, terrorist organizations try and exploit its use and deny the same to the adversary. This leads to Information Warfare.

The terminology "Information Warfare" covers propaganda or disinformation leading to "perception management", which is making the targeted people believe, what you want them to believe. This is used both during peace and war, in diplomacy, politics, and economic relations and even in sports (pre match sound bytes!!). Before important international conferences, news leaks by unnamed representatives are commonly used to put pressure on the other side. The propaganda blitz during elections is also common the world over.

In a war scenario, information warfare starts much earlier, even before war clouds start to build. The warring nations may try and project their policy and strengths through speeches, press releases, pictures of their armed forces and so on. Aim being not only to detract the enemy from his plans and thinking but also to mould a favorable international opinion, in particular of international power centers, so important in today's world. The aim may be to see if the national objectives can be met or facilitated through information warfare and actual war avoided. On the other hand some powerful nations may use this to justify to their own people and the world at large going to war!

In any kind of warfare, there are both the offensive and defensive aspects. The aim has to be having an overwhelming edge on the adversary in propaganda. The offensive part also includes using electronic and ballistic means to disable or destroy enemy's TV and radio stations or jamming them.

This aspect of Information warfare has to be planned and coordinated at the highest level as part of national strategy. What to project at what time and how. In our case, the PMO will have to get involved.

In a war situation, Information warfare operations are to be undertaken, in the military arena; propaganda/perception management being a part and parcel. The armed forces today depend heavily on electronic systems, including communications, surveillance devices (satellites, radars, UAVs), weapon systems (missiles, rockets, guns), air and naval operations and electronic warfare. Information or intelligence is passed instantaneously, processed and disseminated speedily. Plans and orders issued and their implementation monitored leading to Network Centric Warfare. All such systems heavily depend on use of computers.

Information warfare is also integral part of deception. Use of computers enables doctoring of images quite realistically. This can help in projecting troops, aircraft, ships and weapon systems where they are not. According to Sun Zu, All warfare is based on deception.

Over 70 per cent of all intelligence is derived using electronic interceptions, both in peace and war. The aim has to be to make the battlefield transparent to own forces and blind the enemy. This is one of the prime objectives of information operations during war.

Disabling or doctoring enemy's computer based systems while ensuring use of the same by own forces is a critical aspect of information operations. This is also termed cyber warfare. However, cyber warfare is not restricted to armed forces networks but includes all national critical resources like transportation, water supply, law and order, telecommunications, financial systems (banking, stock markets), news media, medical etc. In short all systems which can adversely affect the war effort, the lives of people and thus create chaos. Safeguarding all such systems is critical to overall war effort.

Cyber warfare covers hacking and spread of viruses. The worst is to doctor the functioning of systems so that these get out of control. There are many reports of Indian and American computer systems being hacked. The fingers point invariably towards China, which has taken cyber warfare very seriously and made it a pillar of its strategy. It has raised a number of cyber warfare divisions.

India has also set up some organisations to counter these threats, both at national and military levels but much more needs to be done and fast. India has the required brains and technical resources. What is needed is the national will and according required priority and resources.

Our political leaders and bureaucrats who are the ultimate decision makers need to be well versed in the nuances of this new form of warfare. As of now, our potential adversaries have a big edge.
(The author is a former Signals Officer-in-Chief of the Indian Army)
Information Warfare: Decision makers should log-on to the nuances

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