Cyber Warfare

The Statesman | Feb 10, 2001

Regardless of what term is used to describe the war form of the future - besides cyberwars, the other terms in vogue include knowledge warfare, information warfare and command and control warfare - jt is clear that an information and knowledge driven new type of war-form has emerged.

The mellow rays the winter sun glinted off the drum major’s baton as the colourfully attired brass band marched past the Chief of the Army Staff to the stirring strains of Deshon ka sartaj Bharat at the end of the Army Day parade. In the speech that followed, the chief exhorted the army to be ready to resolutely face the new challenges being constantly posed to national security by inimical neighbours. As the chief walked across to join the foreign diplomats and other guests for tea, his military attache (NLA) received a message on his secure cellular phone that the army’s command information and decision support system had gone on the blink since 9.45 AM. He was told that the systems engineers were working furiously to make it operational again. The MA decided to keep the news to himself for the time being and posted an aide de camp to keep in touch with the military operations directorate at the army head quarters.10.30 to 11.15 AM. A series of seemingly unrelated and unprecedented events shook the nations security, information, financial, trade, communications and transportation infrastructure. At 10.30 AM, the finance minister and the Governor of the RBI were informed that the inter-bank inter-city operations master control network had collapsed and no business could be transacted. The computers were automatically crediting and debiting millions of rupees from one account to another in an unpredictable manner.


At 10.45 AM, the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange screen-based online trading system malfunctioned; trading was postponed till the fault could be rectified. A computer logic bomb, set to activate at a predetermined time was suspected. At 10.50 AM, the‘ air traffic control national computer network began generating false tracks and had to be shut down. The controllers at Palam Airport switched to manual control to assist flights circling overhead to land: take-offs and all other operations were suspended and chaos reigned in the air as well on the ground At 11 AM, the telecommunications minister was informed that the computers controlling the telephone networks were behaving erratically and that all telephone and videophone calls, fax and e-mail messages and telegrams were being corrupted and directed to wrong destinations: software engineers were analysing the problem. At 11.15 AM the minister’s permission was sought to shut down the nation’s telecom networks and to implement the contingency scheme to provide limited emergency services on standby circuits. Efforts commenced to isolate the computer virus suspected to have zapped the automatic electronic switching stations and purge it from the system. 11.30 AM. Suddenly, without warning, the  railways’ telecom and traffic control networks stopped responding to commands and electronic routes went on the blink, throwing into jeopardy the fate of thousands of passenger trains and goods trains hurtling over the rails. Trishul. the tri-service armed forces  communications and command and control network, also began spewing meaningless gibberish on all control console screens; the vital command and control link between the operations planing centre of the chief of defence staff and the Agni-I and Agni-II missile control and launch centres was broken. Simultaneously, the national power grid began to trip and the lights went out one by one in all the north Indian states. The Prime Minister and the defence minister, who were formulating political strategy for the impending elections at their respective party headquarters, could be reached only by VSAT satellite phones, courtesy a multinational company providing commercial service over a private geo-stationary satellite network. They were informed about the seamless crisis enveloping the nation.12.30 PM. Due to the extensive communications breakdown, only a few members could be rounded up the hurriedly convened meeting of the national security council in the underground national command post just outside Delhi. For once, the crisis management group had swung into action within minutes of the major national networks having crashed and a damage  limitation exercise was soon under way. Even as the national security adviser to the Prime Minister stood up to commence his briefing regarding the magnitude of the ongoing crisis, the extent of damage, the effect on vital national interests of the immediate vulnerabilities, the political diplomatic and military options to deal with the Situation and his tentative recommendations, news came In that the Indian Air Force’s newly-installed, ultra modern Air Defence Ground Environment System had crashed, rendering the nation’s air defences prone to a virtually undetectable air offensive by the enemy.

Sombre mood

It was in a sombre mood that the top brass of the national] security planning apparatus including, the chief of defence staff and the three services chiefs and their directors general of operations, heard a visibly embarrassed national security adviser outline the contours of the pre-emptive cyber-offensive launched by a wily and ruthless adversary. Clearly, India had been caught off guard as its traditional adversary had demonstrated an unanticipated ability to wage war without a shot being fired. The electronic equivalent of the Pearl Harbour disaster had struck the nation. Besides conflict at land, sea, in the air and in space, one of the primary dimensions of future wars will be the invisible cyberspace medium linking computers and information networks. Such wars in the fourth dimension have come to be known as “cyberwars”. In the coming decades, the ability to wage war in cyberspace is likely to acquire a deterrent value that will rate between the threat of a conventional military attack and a nuclear strike. Regardless of what term is used to describe the war form of the future — besides cyberwars, the other terms in vogue include knowledge warfare, information warfare and command and control warfare — jt is clear that an information and knowledge driven new type of war-form has emerged. Future cyber wars between contending protagonists are likely to be all encompassing. The distinction between peace and war will be blurred as cyber warfare is a game that even non-state actors and terrorist organisations can play with impunity. Since the aim will be to subdue the adversary without fighting, cyber operations may be launched to cripple a society and to deny it the ability to wage war by wrecking its information grids and systems, banking and telecom systems, transportation and traffic control systems and power grids and computer networks. At the core of the new military doctrine for fighting what Alvin and Heidi Toffler have called “Third Wave” wars, will be the concept that the control and manipulation of the adversary’s military, industrial, diplomatic, political, civic and cybernetic assets, with a view to paralysing them without actual fighting, will be essential pre-requisites for success. The weapons of choice will be computer “logic” bombs set to “detonate” at a particular time,electronic viruses to infect enemy computers, non-nuclear high-energy electro-magnetic pulses (EMP) to “fry” the components of radars, electronic networks and computers and sophisticated hacker techniques to gain access to the enemy’s computer networks and manipulate them to own advantage.


The emergence of the cyberwar battlefield will be both an evolutionary and a revolutionary development. In so much as this new war-form will build upon existing military concepts,weapons systems and organisations, it will be evolutionary. It will be revolutionary in that it will seek to provide new capabilities to military commanders to influence and subvert the will of their opponents through imperceptible but nonetheless debilitating non-violent means as a prelude to more conventional operations, should they become necessary — a type of cybernetic intelligence preparation of the battlefield. In cyberwars the endeavour will be to turn the balance of information and knowledge in one’s favour,