Chinese hostilities at the border are by no means the only intrusions India needs to be alert to. A new study by the American company Recorded Future underlines systematic cyberintrusions by Chinese state-sponsored groups attempting to gain a foothold in “critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure”. The October 12 blackout in our financial capital is being linked to this cause, with the Maharashtra energy minister affirming the possibility of sabotage. Recorded Future does say that the link remains unsubstantiated. But as the Biden administration’s caution in calling the widespread SolarWinds hack a ‘Russian attack’ also suggests, plausible deniability is a key feature of successful state-sponsored cyber espionage and hostilities.
It bears reminding that Mumbai’s grid failure brought its trains and financial markets to a screeching halt, leaving hospitals scrambling for generators in the high noon of the pandemic, making it plain in just a couple of hours how extensive economic damage can be caused by digitally crippling the power infrastructure. Actually, the vulnerabilities are everywhere. Other recent reports point to Chinese groups targeting Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech. Over the past decades a lot of the dragon’s fire has derived from looting intellectual property. Now its geopolitical ascendancy and aggression portend higher levels of threat and harm.
Indian government insiders say additional safeguards have been deployed after October to protect the national power grid, with CERT-In helping deflect various malware. Cybersecurity also needs a broader strengthening because the pandemic has pushed many sectors through an unprecedented digital transformation. For this, international collaboration is necessary and urgent. Although talk of a Digital Geneva Convention will not go far in today’s polarised world, India must work closely with like-minded countries to share intelligence and neutralise cyberattacks, while protecting the privacy of citizens.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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