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Cyberattacks: A Threat To South Asian Stability

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Transformation of ICT:

The constant threat of cyberattacks has made living difficult for everyone, but it has wider ramifications for national security. Information and communication technology has transformed in the final decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. States, non-state actors, and even people use communication networks and computer systems for daily operations. Life has become impossible without digital tools because of this hyper-reliance on them.

Dependence on information and communication technologies has helped to boost global connectivity and economic development. But there were a lot of vulnerabilities brought on by this reliance on digital tools. Cyberattacks have already harmed many countries’ bilateral ties, and Pakistan and India are no exception.

When an adversary state or person causes a disturbance, cybersecurity is compromised. Threats can come from various places in cyberspace, including states, non-state groups, and criminal gangs. When an enemy state causes the disruption, cybersecurity is compromised.

Cyber-attacks have the potential to cause a variety of disruptions, from cyber intrusion for espionage to targeting vital infrastructure that could have kinetic effects undermining a state’s national security. Hackers can potentially steal large sums of money and things that are crucial for a government or other organization to steal. Malware and viruses can wreak havoc on a computer system, disrupting the information flow.‎

Cyber terrorism: A New Threat To South Asia:

The political climate in South Asia also saw the emergence of a new danger. Cyber terrorism is the new form of this danger. Although there haven’t been any significant cyberattacks, India and Pakistan frequently participate in minor cyberattacks. Most of these attacks target websites pertaining to media organizations and government institutions and deface them. When a website is hacked, the attacker frequently uploads inappropriate material or images to those websites.

The term “Indian Cyber Army” is typically used to refer to Indian hackers, while “Pakistan’s Cyber Army” is used to refer to Pakistani hackers. Most of the time, Pakistan or India took responsibility for these attacks. Although this vandalism has no visible bodily effects, it does affect society. The public is led to think that their state’s cybersecurity system no longer protects them, which disturbs the minds of elected officials. ‎

Additionally, Pakistan and India frequently engage in cyber-attacks for spying. Both states attempt to steal crucial information that could help them in future efforts. We observe a dramatic increase in cyberattacks from both parties whenever tensions between two states along the line of control in the disputed Kashmir region soar.

The threat of cyberattacks on both parties was extremely high in February 2019 following the Pulwama incident. Fearing a significant cyberattack from Pakistan, the Indian government has ordered its cybersecurity organization to expand its capabilities. On the other hand, the official also requested that Pakistani authorities strengthen their cybersecurity. This was done due to the Indian side’s cyberattacks, which were intensifying quickly.‎

Cyberattacks Can Lead To Disasters:

Since more than 70 years ago, India and Pakistan have been at odds with one another, and there is no sign of an end in mind. There are, therefore, good possibilities that they will use cyberspace to further their national interests. Attacks by offensive cyber actors on a state’s vital infrastructure might trigger a traditional reaction from the adversary.

Escalation can introduce a nuclear device into the battlefield when it spirals out of control. The issue with online is that it can sometimes be very challenging to pin down the offenders. A third party could exploit a crisis by attacking India’s or Pakistan’s vital assets. A Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) report states, “Tomorrow’s terrorists may be able to do more harm with a keyboard than with a bomb.”

A Way Forward:

India and Pakistan, therefore, have limited choices to reduce this new threat of cyberattacks, but the good news is that they still do. Creating cyber standards is the first and most crucial of them. Each nation can work together to establish cyber standards. Norms denote proper conduct for both parties. A tacit understanding between the two parties that they won’t attack important or strategic infrastructure.

Second, both nations can create formal frameworks to govern their shared cyberspace. When a catastrophe strikes, this institutional framework will be crucial.‎ Building cyber security CBMs that the rest of the world can emulate can be done by India and Pakistan.

Finding points of agreement between Islamabad and New Delhi, creating communication channels, and sharing accountability for these tasks among all parties are potential solutions to this problem. Cyber CBMs can contribute to maintaining regional stability, opening the door for Pakistan and India to work together and develop confidence.

Finally, the best method to address this cyber terrorism is to find a peaceful solution to the long-standing conflict between South Asian neighbors. The Kashmir conflict is the most significant of them, so experts refer to it as a nuclear flashpoint. With the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, friendly ties between the two states will subsequently be established, ultimately eliminating the security quandary and the war threat between them.‎

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Abu Hurrairah Abbasi is a Research Intern at Arms Control and Disarmament Centre, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.
Email: abuhurrairahah@gmail.com

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