The growing reliance of states on cyber warfare and digital networks has revolutionized the present day threat spectrum.

Technology, though essentially an element of national power has also become a pivotal national security risk for the nation states in recent decades. The growing reliance of states on cyberspace and digital networks has revolutionized the present day threat spectrum. Widespread digital transformation of states and societies has eventually made cyber warfare a reality. All the states cognizant of this danger are working upon their capabilities in this domain for force projection.Pakistan’s key adversary India is also amongst the countries which aspire for a proliferating cyber-arms culture and militarizing the cyberspace.

The South Asian region has always been prone to conflicts due to unresolved disputes, posing serious challenges to strategic stability. Owing to the increasing transition towards digitization, escalation of threat in the novel domain of combat, the cyberspace, was therefore inevitable. India and Pakistan have occasionally indulged in cyber aggression against each other where cyber warriors from each side continue to challenge the other through attacks on government as well as non-government entities.

The news of Indian hackers defacing Pakistani websites and the Pakistani hackers retaliating in kindmake up theheadlinesevery now and then. Nevertheless, with each passing day,the battles in this sphereare maturingwith increasing effectiveness.

Last week the public relations wing of Pakistan Army reported a major cyber-attack by Indian intelligence agencies against the stateofficials. The attack included hacking of the mobile phones and gadgets of government officials and military personnel. The attack aimed at deceitful fabrication. Despite itstimely interception, it has raised serious concerns about the risk of India waging a waragainst Pakistan ranging from hacktivism and propaganda toa full scale digital sabotage.

“Acquisition of modern technologies and sophisticated cyber tools by India from its strategic partners or through the development of indigenous capabilities will further complicate matters for Pakistan, which already struggles with its cyber defence readiness”

The above incident of cyber espionage is not unique in its occurrence. Earlier in 2019, two dozen mobile phones of senior defense and intelligence officials were also said to be compromised using a spyware called Pegasus, ownedby the Israeli spyware company NSO Group. The technology apparently created for the purpose of crime control has been accused of potentially being used by its operators for state sponsored espionage. While Indian officials denied any contracts with NSO or possessing Pegasus, it is noteworthy that India-Israel strategic collaboration is a reality. The cooperation ranges from supplies of arms and military technologies to the sharing of high end technologies for civilian purposes.

India happens to be the largest buyer of Israeli weapons and the current government of India is committed to consolidate the relationship further. Last month India and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding to expand cooperation in cyber security to counter the challenges that might arise due to rapid digitization amid COVID-19.

This cooperation in cyber field has high probability of developing into a strategic partnership in cyberspace as Israel is an established leader in global cyber warfare race and India has much to gain from its advanced cyber capabilities. Similarly, the initiation of a new cold war between United States and China may push the United States (which again is a cyber-security partner of India)to support India as a counter weight to China in cyberspace.

The subversive role that the disruptive technologies can play in the modern battlefields is also being increasingly recognized by academics and practitioners. Not only will they act as force multipliers in cyber led warfare but their potential integration with cyber domain would also generate additional risks. Adoption of these new technologies would also enhance the magnitude of cyber-attacks as more unreported vulnerabilities would be there in these developing techs upon which hackers can capitalize.

India strives to become a major player in the South Asian region, has therefore been consistently lobbying for the transfer of technology from its strategic partners in a bid to strengthen its indigenous defence industry. Similarly, India is also investing heavily upon its military modernization ranging from procurement of advanced weaponry to the development of cutting-edge capabilities in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and outer space,which would grant it a military advantage over its adversaries. A paradigm shift can be seen in renewed Indian defence strategy, the Joint Doctrine of Indian Armed Forces published in 2017, which establishes defence technologies as a key strategic resource to empower the armed forces. Similarly,nowadays in Indian strategic circles,a greater focus is being placed upon the development of digital arms forces to gain cyber superiority that would act as an operational imperative for the battlefield of future.

Acquisition of modern technologies and sophisticated cyber tools by India from its strategic partners or through the development of indigenous capabilities will further complicate matters for Pakistan, which already struggles with its cyber defence readiness.

Moreover, Pakistan neither has a comprehensive national cyber security policy in civilian domain nor is it anticipating this challenge of future digital/cyber warfare aptly.

While the state agencies have active cyber departments, there is little to be seen in terms of strategic planning for the development of a comprehensive cyber warfare doctrine or a national level cyber command to defend or pre-empt country’s cyberspace frontiers. The policy makers in Pakistan should, therefore look into establishing strict protocols for digital safety in both civilian and military fronts.

With the growing cyber power of our enemies, it is also crucial to put focus upon agility and risk management approaches. Best practices to protect country’s cyber environment should be adopted while concurrently making a substantive effort towards innovation.

Formation of a governmental computer emergency response team is therefore imperative.Last but not the least, the country needs to enforce a cyber security culture. People should be sensitised about the cyber security risks, challenges and trained to act with caution and responsibility.

the article is originally published at daily times.