Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cyber Episode: Understanding the Difference

Recent, two day summit meeting between America’s president Barack Obama and his counterpart Xi JinPing in California has bought focus to cyber security and regulation again. Time and again, we have heard about many cyber-space related issues. Here I want to explore the difference between three major verticals of cyber conflict and their significance in layman’s language: 

1.Cyber Attack, Hacking and Terrorism
Most common, in some way or other we all have experience or at least heard of someone’s
digital identity stolen or bank account phished. Un-ethical hacking of some body’s account or machine in order to use the data to harm the individual and/or organization economically/socially or politically. There are many cases related to massive hacking and jeopardizing the basic functioning of an organization/ enterprise in order to gain economically and/or politically.
Cyber hacking and terrorism can be state sponsored as in cases like this or even individual/organization based, as in cases like this.
Primary significance: Loss of money or other intangible assets.

2. State Sponsored Cyber Censorship in Homeland
Wikipedia says, “Internet censorship is the
control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the internet. It may be carried out by governments, private organizations at the behest of government, regulators, or on their own initiative”. As we see from available facts, communist countries as well as monarchies around the world are the usual practitioners of internet monitoring & regulation (of course, with exceptions). We need to understand here that, there is huge difference between regulation and monitoring.

Recently our I&B Ministry had sought data and control over Facebook which had drawn strong criticism from civic societies. Here you can see a lump-sum report on Internet censorship in India.
Primary significance: Suppression of freedom of speech and expression of displeasure with government.

3. State Sponsored Data Collection,
Monitoring and Analysis

This is the most tricky of all, on paper, government sponsored data collection and monitoring programmes are initiated and are
set with objective to counter terrorism and other cyber crimes without affecting the ordinary internet user in any way. But in reality, they may end up being used to influence popular opinions in homeland as well as establishing cyber supremacy over other states and agencies and espionage. There is no doubt that in current dynamic scenario where most of the terror and economical attacks are mounted or supported by advance cyber tools and expertise; we need a system in place to counter the growing threat and effect of bad elements. But the question that arises here is more of social and legal in nature than technical, programmes like America’s PRISM has drawn widespread criticism and questions regarding the authority of an individual state and/or agency over world’s cyberspace. It is worthy to note here that such programmes are not new and many cases like these have been uncovered in past also, including names of major economic powers such as the UK, Russia, China and France.

In my opinion, it is inevitable for an emerging economy as well as developed nations to have a monitoring and surveillance system in place. But the authority and jurisdiction of each shall be properly defined and should be governed by internationally mutually agreed laws which should be applicable uniformly to all. The cyber surveillance and monitoring issue is uncharted water, with none of us having expertise and thumb rules regarding it. It is a matter of great national and international significance and hence a common approach with universal collaboration and acceptance is need of the hour.

Jai Hind.

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