While Russian intelligence agencies might have allegedly used the internet and the social media to influence the United States election, Indian intelligence agencies operating in the field of cyber warfare and cyber security are still miles away from attempting something similar on these lines.
Officials who man India’s cyber security said that their primary focus is to defend India’s cyber area rather than launch offensive actions like “flooding the social media with news to negate the news that are spread by the anti-India forces”.
“We are more into defensive posturing rather than offensive mood. Our main focus is to stop hacking of government websites, identify the perpetrators and work on making an effective ‘wall’ to stop such intrusions which mainly come from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Romania, Syria and United Arab Emirates. Whatever India originated hacking takes place in foreign countries are done by individuals and small groups,” an official with one of the organisations working in the field of cyber security said.
As per the statement made by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, United States, while appearing before a senate committee last month, Russian government–backed groups had created and propagated false news stories as part of a broader campaign that included hacking and stealing emails, spreading disinformation, fake news to influence the US elections.
Indian officials, when asked whether they had the wherewithal to attempt something similar, said that going into the question of capability would be a premature question. “The important thing is whether the security apparatus at the top are ready for sanctioning any such thing. Cyber warfare is evolving at a breathtaking speed and unless our policymakers understand the significance of this, we can do nothing,” the official said.
Indian officials said that it was practically impossible for any agency to stop what was being shared on social media and communication platforms like WhatsApp and hence it was more prudent for the government to “follow the path” of the “anti nationals and anti social elements”.
“We cannot stop such individuals and groups from floating rumour on Whatsapp, which , as we have seen in the past, lead to communal tensions. What intelligence agencies of other countries are doing to counter such rumour mongering is to spread their own stories that effectively kill the nuisance value of rumours. However, we are yet to follow that path. These are policy decisions that need to be taken at the top,” the official said. According to officials, the number of cyber attacks on banking institutions and related installations had witnessed a significant spike after demonetisation was announced. “Point of sales, ATMS, electronic wallets, online banking, mobile banking etc everything has seen increased ‘hits’ with the intention to defraud or cripple the system. Many of these have originated from outside India,” the official said.