Article No.: 1859 Date: 31/05/2011
Space and Cyber Warfare: Threat from China by Radhakrishna Raoranga
Cyber space and outer space seem to be receiving more than usual attention from Chinese warfare strategists who believe that victory in future conflict will be determined by the supremacy exercised therein. The Chinese anti-satellite test carried out in 2007 was in keeping with this vision. In this test, China deployed a ground based medium range ballistic missile to hit and destroy an aging weather satellite located in the middle earth orbit. This exercise was a clear pointer to Chinese intentions to use space for realisation of its strategic goals.
Following this anti-satellite test, there was a strident clamour in India to set up a full-fledged aerospace command and step up efforts to ensure the security of Indian space assets that are equipped for both military and civilian uses. Reflecting the Indian Defence Ministry’s thinking on the contours of a plan to help India to prepare the ground for a space war, ‘technology perspective and capability road map’ points out to priority areas including space warfare and ballistic missile defence shield. This roadmap identifies in clear terms the development of an anti-satellite capability ‘for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both the low earth orbit and geostationary orbit’.
The parameters of a space war are well identified involving as they do physical assets like satellites, launch vehicles, missiles and ground stations. But this is not the case with cyber warfare where the enemy remains incognito. Moreover, it is well-nigh impossible to anticipate the timing and scale of cyber-attack. “We need to be extra vigilant about cyber terrorism because this can inflict attacks of an asymmetric nature and is therefore that much more dangerous,” says Sachin Pilot, Minister of state for Information Technology and Telecommunications.
For many years now, the high security computer systems containing sensitive and strategically important data belonging to India and many other countries have fallen prey to cyber-attacks. It is more than a year now since it was revealed that a group of cyber hackers based in mainland China successfully broke through the high security networks of Indian government agencies including defence and security establishments. While the Indian defence establishment was cognisant of such a possibility, it evidently could not prevent its occurrence. Among the institutions targeted by the Chinese hackers were National Security Council Secretariat, 21 Mountain Artillery Brigade based in North East India and Air Force Station in New Delhi. What is more, computer systems being operated by Indian military colleges were also taken over by the Chinese cyber spies. Some of the documents obtained by Chinese hackers are known to have included the secret assessment of the security situation in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura as well as Maoist insurgency in various parts of the country. Whether this Chinese cyber spy ring enjoyed the support and blessings of Chinese military establishment or the ruling dispensation in Beijing, no one is sure as yet.
Prior to that, way back in 2008, a meticulous research carried out by a team of tech savvy cyber sleuths at Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto in Canada resulted in uncovering the “devious doings” of a spy ring based in Sichuan province of China. The report, ”Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0”, documents “a complex eco system of cyber espionage that systematically compromised government, business, academia and other computer network systems in India and the Offices of the Tibetan Government in Exile led by Dalai Lama”. It was also revealed that the Chinese cyber spy gang based in mainland China had tapped into classified documents from government and private organisations in more than a hundred countries.
Against this backdrop, the recent unveiling of the plan to set up a Special Cyber Warfare unit named “Blue Team” under the command of People’s Liberation Army(PLA) cannot but be a cause of worry for the Indian defence establishment. Though the stated objective of this unit is to safeguard the computer network of Chinese defence forces, there is every chance of this unit being exploited for mounting cyber-attacks on computer systems of the organisations and countries from across the world to secure information which China considers critical to shaping its long term defence strategy. A report appearing in the Hong Kong based influential English language newspaper South China Morning Post said that by 2020, PLA will train and recruit highly skilled personnel to handle advanced weaponry, cyber warfare and to carry out unconventional security tasks.
USA has established its full-fledged cyber command as a subordinate to Strategic Command in 2009. Meanwhile USA and India are negotiating for signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for cyber security cooperation. To this end CERT-IN (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) and its US counterpart US-CERT are working on finalising the final details of the proposed MOU that would focus on sharing of expertise in artefact analysis, network traffic analysis and exchange of information. In fact, the Cyber Security Strategy released by White House in May this year lays emphasis on international cooperation to strengthen cyber security. As stated by Howard Schmidt, White House cyber security coordinator, ‘To achieve our vision, the US will build an international environment that ensures global networks are open to new innovations, interoperable the world over, secure enough to support people’s work and reliable enough to earn their trust’.
In the ultimate analysis, a cyber-warfare strategy could be employed as the easiest and most inexpensive strategy to cripple a targeted country in a ‘highly non-invasive fashion’. But then efforts are on to devise strategies to blunt the edge of cyber invasion by developing techniques to predict, detect and control anomalous behaviour in cyber space.
CLAWS: Space and Cyber Warfare: Threat from China