ANALYSIS: E-mail bomb versus truck bomb —Musa Khan Jalalzai - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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The cyber war between Pakistan and India is another development in South Asia. In 2008, a group of Indian hackers attacked the website of Pakistan’s ministry of petroleum and natural resources while in December 2010 some 36 websites were hacked by the Indian cyber army

By the end of 2010, a series of events and rapidly developing threats of cyber terrorism across Asia and Europe created an alarming situation. To counter the looming threat of cyber terrorism, many states have decided to make some immediate improvements in their cyber security strategies. Indian cyber attacks against Pakistani state institutions, Pakistan’s cyber attacks against Indian trade and industrial firms, Chinese cyber attacks on both the US and UK government’s computers and the consecutive cyber attacks of Russia and Iran against Baltic, Arab and Central Asian states gives us a dismal message of full-scale modern technological war in the near future. E-mail bombs are considered to be a more effective weapon than the conventional truck bombs, as they can destroy important and sensitive data of any civil or military institution within seconds.

A majority of personal and state-owned computers connected to the internet are vulnerable to infiltration. In 2000, the police department in Japan reported that it had obtained an illicit software programme that could track vehicles. In 2009 and 2010, China attacked the UK foreign office computers 1,000 times.

The recent success of the Pakistan Army in the field of IT and cyber warfare diverted the attention of many states, including the US, UK and Germany towards the creation of a strong cyber command to deal with the challenges emanating from cyberspace. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, efforts are underway to establish a cyber security unit. This decision is part of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s plans to effectively counter Indian cyber attacks against the state institutions. The unit, under the supervision of DIG Malik Khuda Bakhsh Awan, has recently completed its paper work but is still looking for IT experts and cyber analysts.

The recent terror attacks in Pakistan and the vulnerability of its military installations has worried nuclear experts regarding the significant challenges Pakistan is facing. Terrorist organisations and other extremist groups want to recruit IT experts in the field of nuclear and cyber attacks. Any rival state or firm can provide them their members trained in making such attacks. Terrorism has already been a grave threat to state institutions in the country; this will just add fuel to the fire.

The cyber war between Pakistan and India is another development in South Asia. In 2008, a group of Indian hackers attacked the website of Pakistan’s ministry of petroleum and natural resources while in December 2010 some 36 websites were hacked by the Indian cyber army. These websites included the websites of Pakistan Navy, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the ministries of foreign affairs, education and finance, as well as NADRA and the Council of Islamic Ideology, which were badly disrupted. According to the country’s cyber Ordinance, “Whoever commits the offence of cyber terrorism and causes death of any person shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life.” The ordinance also sets out punishments for electronic fraud, electronic forgery, system damage and unauthorised encryption. Most experts worry about the weak counter-measures of the country and complain about the ineffectiveness of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, introduced in February 2009.

However, the governments of UK and Australia have recently announced a partnership to meet the challenges of cyberspace. The WikiLeaks’ recent exposure, attacks on various websites and data infringement incidents stress the need for strengthening cyber security.

Here in Britain, defence researchers are of the opinion that the data of military industry and other departments is under threat. The recently announced National Security Strategy of the country depicts a frightening picture of the future cyber terror threat. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “It is the UK defence need.” Today, citizens of Britain are facing the worst form of cyber terrorism. Cyber warriors electronically attack institutions. It is a much cheaper method and the culprits are almost impossible to track down.

The cyber war between Iran and the Arab world is another interesting story. Iranian hackers have been trying to retrieve sensitive data from the computers of state institutions of various Arab states since long. To destroy the Iranian nuclear programme, Israel transmits strong viruses to the computers of Iranian nuclear installations. Russia attacked the state computers of Estonia and Georgia in 2007 and destroyed all important defence and infrastructure related data. Attacks on the military industry, infrastructure, communications, police networks and financial markets pose a rapidly growing but little understood threat to the security of a state. Information warfare among the states of Asia and Europe and between China, the UK and US can further disrupt the economic cycle of the world economy.

This will become a weapon of choice in future conflicts. Cyber warriors use different viruses to disable and meddle with the military data of other countries. After the development of cyber weapons in Asia and Europe, experts say the days of foot soldiers will be numbered. The use of computer viruses as weapons against rival states has now become a tradition in the modern world. General David Richard has recently hinted about the establishment of a Cyber Command to protect the country from online strikes and launch its own attacks. In October 2010, the UK defence ministry debated the emergence of the internet in modern warfare in its Strategic Defence and Security Review. Defence and other departments in the UK and US are feeling a strong threat from Chinese, Russian and Indian cyber warriors. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army, Russian Army and other advanced states mostly depend on electronic warfare. The Chinese military establishment has adopted a formal strategy called Integrated Network Electronic Warfare.

The writer is author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at

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