The Internet has brought a paradigm shift in Information Warfare (IW) that sees information not only as a target but also as a tool to conduct overt and covert operations. Having taken a giant leap forward in cyber technology compared to other global players, especially American and Western ones, Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE among others pose a great cyber threat to the world including the Indo-Pacific region. As a countermeasure to the Chinese IW, India’s banning of 54 Chinese apps in June 2020, followed by further bans in August 2020 and February 2022, testifies that India cannot remain a bystander and downplay the threat, in the context of China’s imperialist designs. In the region.
China’s advances in cyber technology and skills development have global implications, amid the ongoing Sino-US power struggle to position itself as the world’s most influential power.
Information warfare is now a key element in the formulation of China’s trade and military strategy. The Chinese IW strategy known as “Integrated Network Electronic Warfare (EINW)” includes various elements of electronic warfare and network-centric warfare techniques to deter and disrupt enemy capabilities by targeting their intelligence system. information and collecting sensitive information through cyber espionage.
Notably, China has built a large global digital infrastructure, facilitating its control and surveillance of all social platforms. More than 300 Chinese diplomats in 120 countries around the world, with the equivalent of more than 500 official accounts, maintain their presence on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, China has struck deals with social media influencers around the world, including India, to push its narrative on sensitive issues.
Over the years, India has witnessed an increase in cyberattacks allegedly launched by Chinese-sponsored hackers targeting both the government and the public domain in India, ranging from the first recorded cyberattack ( June 1998) on the computers of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center to repeated violations of the Indian electricity sector and other similar sectors. According to Computer Emergency Response Team India (CERT-In), India in 2021 faced 1,402,809 cyber security incidents compared to 1,158,208 incidents in 2020. Additionally, there has been an increase 51% of ransomware incidents between 2021 and the first half of 2022. .
Significantly, Chinese cyberattacks have been synchronized with internal developments in India, as evidenced by the fact that around 80,000 cyberattacks followed the demonetization of banknotes in November 2016, while more than 40,000 cyberattacks followed the Sino-Indian clashes in Galwan. , aimed at stealing sensitive information.
In May 2017, the Indian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet crashed on the Indo-Chinese border. An Indian Air Force investigation found the cause of the crash to be a cyber attack while the plane was in flight.
India’s NTRO agencies and military intelligence attributed the attack to the Chinese PLA’s media wing in revenge for India’s construction of a road in the Doklam region, perceived by China as its own territory.
India, an emerging global political and economic power, must safeguard its interests amid rising Chinese ambitions to control global trade, strategic affairs as well as the information sector to project its best image. China’s hidden agenda to downplay Indian efforts/vaccines to fight the Covid pandemic is an example of Chinese IW against India.
Chinese spokesperson “Global Times” flagged the Indian government’s so-called failure to effectively fight the pandemic and spread fake news that in order to divert attention from Covid, India may be stirring up sentiment nationalists and provoke China and Pakistan at the borders.
Following the announcement (April 2020) of new FDI rules by India, areas witnessing an upsurge in the attack by Chinese hackers have focused on verifying changes in Indian policies on manufacturing, export, import and other policy frameworks, which are born the Chinese interests. The IT Ministry attributed the attacks to “Stone Panda”, a Chinese threat actor group, linked to Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) entities in Guangzhou.
In 2010, China successfully compromised India’s INSAT-4B communications satellite using the “Stuxnet worm”, which disrupted television signals across the country. Subsequently, the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Center (NCIIPC) was established by the Indian government to protect future breaches in the information domain.
In 2013, Chinese hackers stole several files from DRDO computers and diverted them to a server based in Guangdong province in China. In addition, Chinese cyber operations have also targeted the Indian Space Research Organization, BSNL and other public sector companies including healthcare, consumer industries and banking/financial entities.
India called on the UN to develop standards for responsible state behavior in cyberspace and common understanding of cyberattacks/sovereignty.
India’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, primarily, has its roots in the lack of government control, in line with the constitutional right to freedom of expression, information overflow, whether on the internet or on media/social platforms . In contrast, China enjoys complete control over the flow of information. In this scenario, India, in order to protect its cyberspace from information warfare, must maintain a proper balance between democratic principles and national security.
(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)
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