From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Zero day vulnerability
Mains level : Paper 3- Cyberwarfare-Fifth dimension
The controversy over the use of Pegasus spyware for snooping highlights the threats posed by cyber-weapons.
The emergence of the cyber weapons epoch
- Cyberattacks on institutions such as banks and on critical infrastructure have proliferated to an alarming extent, signaling the emergence of the cyber weapon epoch.
- Privacy has been eroded and the Internet has become a powerful weapon in the hands of those seeking to exploit its various facets.
- Fifth dimension of warfare: Cyber is often touted as the fifth dimension of warfare — in addition to land, sea, air and space.
The domain of everyday life
- Cyber, as the domain of military and national security, also co-exists with cyber as a domain of everyday life.
- The war is no longer out there.
- It is now directly inside one’s drawing-room, with cyberweapons becoming the weapon of choice.
- Israelis today dominate the cyber domain along with the Chinese, Russians, Koreans and, of course, the Americans.
- The linkage between sabotage and intrusive surveillance is but a short step.
Cyberattacks during the past decades
- Beginning with the 2007 devastating cyberattack on Estonia’s critical infrastructure, this was followed by the Stuxnet worm attack a few years later on Iran’s nuclear facility.
- The Shamoon virus attack on Saudi Aramco occurred in 2012.
- In 2016, a cyberattack occurred on Ukraine’s State power grid; in 2017 there was a Ransomware attack (NotPetya) which affected machines in as many as 64 countries.
- United Kingdom’s National Health Service fell prey to the Wannacry attack the same year.
- The series of attacks happened this year on Ireland’s Health Care System and in the United States such as ‘SolarWinds’, the cyber attack on Colonial Pipeline and JBS, etc.
What are the threats posed by cyberattacks?
- Cyberweapons carry untold capacity to distort systems and structures — civilian or military.
- Cyberweapons also interfere with democratic processes, aggravate domestic divisions and, above all, unleash forces over which established institutions or even governments have little control.
- As more and more devices are connected to networks, the cyber threat is only bound to intensify, both in the short and the medium term.
- What is especially terrifying is that instruments of everyday use can be infected or infiltrated without any direct involvement of the target.
- The possibilities for misuse are immense and involve far graver consequences to an individual, an establishment, or the nation.
- It is not difficult to envisage that from wholesale espionage, this would become something far more sinister such as sabotage.
- Deeper understanding: Dealing with ‘zero day’ vulnerabilities require far more thought and introspection than merely creating special firewalls or special phones that are ‘detached’ from the Internet.
- Recognising the mindset: What is needed is a deeper understanding of not only cyber technologies, but also recognising the mindsets of those who employ spyware of the Pegasus variety, and those at the helm of companies such as the NSO.
- Short-term remedies are unlikely to achieve desired results.
- No use of AI: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often seen as a kind of panacea for many of the current problems and ills, but all advances in technology tend to be a double-edged sword.
- If truth be told, AI could in turn make all information warfare — including cyber related — almost impossible to detect, deflect or prevent, at least at the current stage of development of AI tools.
All this suggests that security in the era of ever-expanding cyberweapons could become an ever-receding horizon.
Back2Basics: Zero-day vulnerability
- The term “zero-day” refers to a newly discovered software vulnerability.
- Because the developer has just learned of the flaw, it also means an official patch or update to fix the issue hasn’t been released.
- So, “zero-day” refers to the fact that the developers have “zero days” to fix the problem that has just been exposed — and perhaps already exploited by hackers.