Staying Safe In Cyber Space

174

MIAN TUFAIL & MAREAYA FAYAZ

We at Kashmir Central, got talking to Professor Dr. Nishakant Ojha, a renowned name in cyber concepts, aerospace & national securities. Here are some important bits from the conversation.

INDIA is not an exception to the growing threat of cyber attacks as the world becomes more digitally advanced. A US company called Resecurity alerted the globe in October 2023 to the existence of Indian personal data on the dark web. Moreover, 52% of India’s population, or 759 million individuals accessed the internet at least once a month in 2022, indicating the country’s sizable and expanding internet user base. After China, India has the second-largest online market globally. It is anticipated that by 2025, there would be 900 million. India’s digital economy is growing quickly, and industries including healthcare, education, finance, retail, and agriculture all depend on internet platforms and services. India, however, faces sophisticated and persistent cyber threats from state-sponsored and non-state actors that target India’s strategic, economic, and national interests due to its antiquated or inadequate cyber security policies, infrastructure, and awareness, which make it easy for hackers to exploit the gaps and weaknesses in the system.

In order to get a clear picture of the scenario, Team Kashmir Central interviewed one of the renowned personalities in cyber world – Professor Dr. Nishakant Ojha. An expert in cyber, aerospace & national securities, talking to him gave us a good view into the core area of national security strategies & cyber policies. He is also an eminent faculty for Counter Terrorism & Cyber Security for Para-Military Forces. He also specialises in the subject of cyber functionality of China & Russia. Here are excerpts from our interaction.

Mian Tufail: How do you see cyber security through the Indian perspective and where do we stand in safeguarding our digital infrastructure?

Dr Ojha: Cyber security in India is not too robust. There are an estimated 40,000 cyber attacks per day from neighbouring countries. No conventional warfare here – it’s an electronic or hybrid warfare. A country like Israel is good at cyber security and aerospace while India has just started working on it. India has to work really hard in this sphere. In any infrastructure – be it medical, security, banking even academia – it’s all digital; so India needs to work on it. We need to have a cyber audit system since terrorists are now moving to satellite communication. The Chinese are now hacking into satellites and fetching data from other countries and using it for malafide interests. So India needs a system to stop this.

A majority of stakeholders in India are not even aware of what cyber means. Technology needs to be understood and then implemented. A system needs to be put in place in order to stop cyber attacks. We need to move fast. We need to adapt artificial intelligence systems, quantum technology and a cyber audit system as they are all embedded together.

Mareaya: In one of your interviews, you had said that the next war will be fought with machines. Please explain this for our readers.

Dr Ojha: It means that the next war will have less human intervention; it will be a robotic warfare. I am not talking about creation of a Terminator that will go on a killing spree. That too is coming very soon but yes, the next war will not be fought by individuals but by machines controlled by humans through use of algorithms. Our Department of Defence, under the Government of India, is working on creation of robots for use in military operations; it’s coming in the near future. Now any system that works on commands is a robot and it works using an algorithm. Suppose I want to hit a target – I will put in the information like the parameters of where the target is; the machine will be able to identify and locate the object and automatically, will fire after locking the target. It’s basically an autonomous warfare which can search, detect, evaluate and monitor threats, and engage and destroy targets without human intervention. This is what I mean when I say machines will be fighting the next warfare.

US, China, Russia and South Korea are working tirelessly on autonomous weapon system. Global autonomous weapon market is something which was valued around 11,566 million dollars in 2020 and it’s heading towards 30,168 million dollars by 2030.

Sheikh Abid: Given the fact that the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is a very sensitive and a volatile area with respect to security challenges and with the technological assessment being easily available to everyone, the challenges and threat to security with respect to cyber attacks become very evident. What are your views on this and what are the initiatives taken by the government for fighting and assessing cyber attacks and cyber security challenges?

Dr Ojha: This is not only a matter of J&K or UP or some other state. Cyber attacks can happen anywhere; the only thing to be considered is about the cyber ecosystem, the inflow of the digital traffic which is moving into my territory. If we are able to monitor that and safeguard that traffic which could be in the form of an audio, video, mails or anything digital, it is possible to prevent these attacks. I agree that J&K is a volatile area but I personally don’t believe that even at the onset of a disturbance, the entire network should be shut down to control the incident. I have advised the government on having a parallel network; if you need to shut down one network, the other network – which could be a basic necessity – should not be hampered. Of course some serious things need to be put into consideration like Line of Control, international borders and the fact that sometimes, terrorists are real smart and use double VPNs or self designed servers, and this is something the government needs to keep a check on. We need to create a cyber war room which can control the inflow and outflow of digital traffic to differentiate between good traffic and bad traffic and sorting good people from bad ones.

The government, in this matter, is trying its best but they don’t have the right people on the right jobs – an aspect that needs to be sorted out. In context of J&K, the defence forces cannot afford to keep the data secret – it’s about national security – so you need to collaborate and share data. When you are not sharing data, you are compromising security and causing a security lapse. Also, the forces need to be trained in cyber skills.

Mian Tufail:  Being an expert on strategic affairs with the Middle East and West Asia, and given India’s strategic interest in the Middle East and West Asia, what role do you envision for India’s cyber security and aerospace security, including and enforcing regional cooperation and addressing the common security challenges between India and the Middle East?

Dr Ojha: When talking about the Middle-East market, let me give you an example of the UAE which is working fast and efficiently in the field of cyber security and since the UAE has become an open country, it has given access to a lot of people from all over the world who are moving into their territory. I have written an article where I have mentioned how UAE’s national security is a prime concern now? When we talk about the UAE, we talk about the illegal call centres and many gambling applications which run there and are being operated from Nepal or some other country. However, the Government of India is working very closely with the Government of UAE. UAE is a small country unlike India; so it’s easy to secure the country. It is doing a tremendous job at cracking down on all kinds of illegal activities happening there, all the transactions are monitored. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is working wonders for them in cyber security. Their cyber ecosystem is robust; so it is difficult to hack into their network.

As a matter of fact, cyber security system of the UAE, Iran, Egypt and most of the Middle East is robust and they are adapting the cyber technology very fast, giving them secured cyber security ecosystems.

Mareaya:  We have seen in fiction movies or series that somewhere a group of hackers hacks into the security system of a country, thereby taking control of their power grids, nuclear plants, even the automatic weapons. Do you think this is a possibility now or in the near future and is this threat evident with the developments taking place in cybernetics?

Dr Ojha: Basically once things are automated and put in a digital mode, they are working on IPs; so pretty much, everything is possible. If you can control the IP, you can control the machine. Once the hackers understand the entire cyber ecosystem, they can attack and control everything. Recently in India, IP cameras were banned because the pictures taken were being sent to People Liberation Army in Beijing. In a nutshell, once you control the IP, you control the machine, the machine becomes the slave and the controller of IP becomes the master. I cannot go into the details but attacks like these are happening all over the world – like the attack on ESTSDA due to which the whole power plant was shut down. It’s happening everywhere. It’s a tug of war between countries. India has a cyber warfare room which is there for defence purposes. India is working real hard to prevent such attacks in the future.

Abid: I would like to know your opinion on the advent of AI, machine learning and robotics, since we have lot of diverse opinions from experts and scientists like Elon Musk talking about the misuse and damage AI can do. What are the challenges, threats with respect to AI in cyber security and aerospace security as such?

Dr Ojha: A majority of people are not aware of what an AI is. When the word ‘cyber’ was introduced, everyone kept talking about it. Now everyone and anyone is talking about AI. But what actually is AI, few know. AI is nothing, it’s just a concept; it’s not a tangible thing; you cannot touch it or sue an AI. It’s a set of programming and algorithms which is done to minimise the human effort and maximise the output. If I have to give a predictive analysis whether there will be an attack in this particular region, say after a week or so, I will need to rely on the previous related data; even then it’s difficult to find whether the data is true or malafide. So we need to understand the patterns and that’s how AI comes into the picture. The AI market in 2022 was around 180 billion dollars and is likely to surpass 350 billion in 2026. We are still at the narrow stage of AI; it still has an enormous utility and usage which can be put to use in different industries. AI can be incorporated into command and control centre in intelligence, surveillance, logistics, healthcare, cyber warfare and simulators. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh deployed 75 AI technologies during the symposium and exhibition at the Institute Of Defence that happened last year.

When working with late Bipin Rawat, we discussed about AI, how to create an AI strategy that will provide a strategic roadmap for development and buildings in the defence. And organisational changes in defence were one of the areas marked for effective application of AI. A directorate of AI needs to be set up and integrated in to the defence systems.

Mian Tufail: With the elections going on, we have seen the rise of deep fakes and usage of these videos during the times of ongoing elections. How do you think can these impact poll prospects and what are the ways to regulate and counter this situation?

Dr Ojha: Deep fake videos work on different levels; they work on the deep web and dark web. So as of now, there is nothing like that. You can immediately see if it’s a fake video or a true one because the AI that developed it, burnt itself; it’s vanished; so no ashes will be there. You can make arrests only when you catch someone at it. The Department of IT and Communication need to take an action at the gateway network put some AI algorithms, some kind of programming. But in my opinion no intelligence – neither Indian nor FBI – has been able to control these things.

Mareaya: Does banning Chinese applications in India actually prevent a security breach?

Dr Ojha: I disagree that banning applications will remove problems. If I wanted to use a banned app like TikTok I can put in double VPNs and use it. We need permanent solutions and banning something is not the solution.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here