Event ReportsPublished on Mar 05, 2016
Internet will come under pressure if States build own Internet

The future of the Internet will come under increasing pressure if more and more States opted to build their own Internet services, as China is doing, warned Prof. Solange Ghernaouti, Director of the Swiss Cybersecurity Advisory & Research Group and professor at the University of Lausanne.

Delivering a talk on ‘Cyber Weapon and Cyber Power: A New Warfare Paradigm’ at Observer Research Foundation on February 2, Prof. Ghernaouti said India should build home grown ICT systems and technologies to create new economic opportunity. It should pursue the path of self-sufficiency and garner the necessary political will to build home grown consumer Internet technologies by taking advantage of the talent available in the country. This would enable India to retain the data generated by Indian users within the country’s borders and exercise digital sovereignty, she said.

Prof. Ghernaouti noted that the cyberspace has become a playground for various actors that include both civilian and military, and non-state’ actors like ‘anonymous’ and cyber terrorists. Also changing rapidly are the nature of cyber threats. Threats emanate across an entire continuum, including cyber-crime, cyber vandalism, cyber espionage, and cyber terrorism to more dangerous and full-fledged cyber conflict between states. Therefore, states need to build a series of cyber defence measures across the broad array of cyber threats.

The talk was moderated by Dr. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. He began the discussion by reiterating the growing threat posed by cyber warfare. In this regard, he referred to the recent decision by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to establish a ‘Strategic Support Force’ that will combine Chinese capabilities in the cyber and space domains. The Chinese claim of sovereignty in cyberspace was very similar to their legal claims in the South China Sea dispute. The autonomous state of the ‘Chinese’ Internet and its distinct features that are far removed from the global Internet have led to a situation wherein the global responses to addressing the challenges posed by cyberspace remain fractured. At the same time, because of the global context in which cyber operates, we need to develop a common understanding in dealing with the challenges ahead in this emerging field.

Prof. Ghernaouti said that cyberspace could be used for waging both economic and military wars that would disrupt public order, destabilise the economy, cause reputational damage and impose costs on critical infrastructure. She covered various topics related to cyberspace and cyber warfare and addressed a broad set of issues on the cyber security challenges facing the State.

First, she captured the main ingredients that constitute cyberspace and the digital trends that led to the evolution of the modern information society. Second, she provided a broad overview of the actors who participate in cyberspace, the nature and intensity of cyber threats and the role of ICT and social media in fuelling cyber terrorism. In this regard, she mentioned how her own institution’s website was hacked by the ISIS through a defacement attack, but the damage caused was quite limited and could be easily repaired. She warned that non-state actors can wage cyber war against economic assets and cyber mercenaries have access to very powerful tools to create anarchy in society.

Third, Prof. Ghernaouti depicted a high level picture of the emerging cyber-centric battleground and the issues that confront policy makers in deciphering the various pieces of the cyber puzzle. Finally, she identified the twin effects (economic and military) of using cyber as a weapon of war and its impact of a State’s cyber defence and offence strategies.

Prof. Ghernaouti said it is ‘people’ who are at the centre of cyberspace and hence technology would have to be designed to meet the needs of users. She noted that ICT played a major role in addressing the needs of society and served as the prime driver of the digital economy.  Information security is about building confidence in the digital infrastructure so e-services and e-commerce could be delivered over that edifice. Since economic, social and political forces shape cyberspace, in many ways it is an extension of our physical society.

Prof. Ghernaouti highlighted the importance of data as a source of connectivity, power and profit and the role that autonomous technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence are likely to play in the future.

She went on to define three key concepts that are critical to understanding cyber security: cyber warfare, cyber weapon and cyber power. Cyber war is a means to wage information war and inflict damage on the enemy’s critical infrastructure that includes civilian, economic, humanitarian and/or military targets. Cyber warfare allows attackers the ability to reach targets remotely at long range and hidden from enemy lines and use multiple technical intermediaries during the attack. It results in psychological and reputational damage, manipulation of the mind and conquers the enemy without a fight. Cyber weapons include computer code and programs and information to launch cyber-attacks against civilian and military interests.

Cyber power is the ability of a state to combine original ‘infrastructure’ ownership with the capability to understand cyber security, deploy effective marketing strategies, influence communication and conduct surveillance and intelligence in cyberspace. States need to be better prepared with their own cyber command and control systems, offensive and defensive cyber doctrines and incorporate the ‘cyber dimension’ in conducting joint operations involving other domains of warfare including land, air, space and naval, she said.

During the Q&A session, Prof. Ghernaouti addressed several questions regarding the need for making investments in home grown cyber technologies, gaining access to cyber intelligence, the nature of cyber war and the need for developing norms for global cyber cooperation. Countries like Germany, Brazil and other European countries including Switzerland are investing in in-house capabilities to build new Internet services in the face of the Snowden revelations about the extensive surveillance systems of the U.S. Government. While it is difficult to dissuade users from using U.S. origin social media services like Facebook and Twitter, Governments in many European countries are making efforts to encourage more home grown services. They no longer perceive the Internet to be a ‘global village’ but are seeking to provide a more local flavour to the growth of the Internet in future.

This report is prepared by Ramesh Balakrishnan and Jayadev Parida, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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