By Charani LCM Patabendige
Territorial integrity, sovereignty and non-interference are salient features of a just and secure state. For a state to exist, compete and survive in the international context, a country must be well equipped. The unbiased, neutral and non-aligned movement is the best way to reach heights, especially for small states. However, this is not an easy task, ‘everything has a price’. The existence and co-dependence of a state are made further vulnerable as well as strengthened by way of ‘information’. Unlike in past, when troops protected borders, at present country must face and react to content generated and disseminated on online platforms.
Cyberwar and Netwar are mechanisms that are used by certain individuals as well as entities to infiltrate systems, pass a message, steal information or change the material content. “Cyberwar” is the act of “disrupting, if not destroying, information and communication systems”. On the contrary, “Netwar” is to “disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about the world around it”. These threats are vicious to national security. Since the whole world is digitalized, any information regardless of its credibility reaches a wide audience. There are various modes of cyberwar including Phishing, Ransomware, E-commerce data interception, Crimeware-as-a-Service, Cyber Scams and Crypto-jacking. (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1995) states, that a Netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve diplomacy, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with local media, infiltration of computer networks and databases and efforts to promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks.
According to Blackfog’s 2021 State of Ransomware Report, government agencies were the top targets for cybercriminals, followed by education, healthcare, services, technology, manufacturing and retail. According to Curran, Concannon and McKeever (in Janczewski and Colarik 2008: 03) have pointed out; the LTTE became the world’s first terrorist outfit to attack a country’s computer system in 1998. Another example is India. In August 2013, Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) faced a Cyberattack. ‘Technical snag’ hit the operations of terminal no. 03. Nisar & StepovayaIn (2022) has cited (UNODC, 2021) which states that in September in Malaysia, a web-hosting service was the target of a ransomware attack demanding US$ 900,000 in cryptocurrency and In May, four subsidiaries of an international insurance company in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines were hit by a ransomware attack asking for US$ 20 million. Where that being said for cyber-war, net war is also a crucial problem. This is explicit in Russia and Ukraine conflict where information advantage is heavily discussed and debated. Byman (2022) has mentioned, “Confrontation between Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE (the so-called “Quartet”) and Qatar, for example, began in 2017 in part due to social media exploitation involving hacked email accounts and associated disinformation”. Sri Lanka too faces disinformation by LTTE and its international networks.
Threats, which occur on online platforms, are equally important as much as militaristic aspects of warfare. Where the militaristic aspect includes conquering and declaring power, Cyberwar and Netwar disrupt systems and brainwash people respectively. Since crimes conducted, are unpredictable, intangible and cross borders, ascertaining the criminal is daring. Due to these reasons, imposing liability as to whether it is collective or individual becomes strenuous. Furthermore, lack of experience, expertise in personnel, lack of technology and inadequate infrastructure can be identified as problems. Information illiteracy is another pertaining issue, which is the inability of individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use information effectively. Moreover, cyber-attacks are widely done due to their low cost and widespread nature.
With that being said, it is imperative to reiterate, that national security is threatened by Cyberwar as well as Netwar. Thus, any country must overcome the challenges mentioned afore. For that, to fight cyber war, enhancing technological infrastructure and technical capacity is important. In netwar, information literacy must be instilled to the population. Hence, people will be able to evaluate the quality, credibility and validity of the content. In addition, it is crucial to have a reporting mechanism for false content disseminated online. International cooperation is effective to combat Netwar and Cyberwar. Likewise, it is vital to sign and ratify necessary laws and follow resolutions in the international context. Furthermore, individuals, government, as well as private entities, must behave in a cyber-resilient manner that they are otherwise not incentivized to do.
Published on Modern Diplomacy, 31st January 2023
Charani LCM Patabendige is a Research Assistant and an Acting Research Analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), the premier think tank on National Security established under the Ministry of Defence. This article was published in a European website called Modern Diplomacy which is an invaluable platform for assessing and evaluating complex international issues that are often outside the boundaries of mainstream Western media and academia.
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