The creators of these weapons have vast computing power at their disposal along with some of the best minds in the world to create these sophisticated missiles. This new arsenal could prove to be the world’s most dangerous weapons of mass destruction yet. It is alleged that the joint effort between the US and Israel had ceased to be a joint effort when Israel decided to play cowboy and go at it alone. An act that led to Iran discovering and defending against the attack. Oops.
The world is more intertwined than ever, irreversibly dependent on connectivity and code is the oxygen of productivity powering and driving almost every critical human enterprise. Cloud computing has been steadily promoted by businesses who hope to make a buck on it and gather data to more effectively sell more and more things to people. But common sense should tell us that having all our eggs in the cloud is an invitation for hackers to make omelets.
Clifford Stoll’s account of tracking a hacker in his book, The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage, all the way back from 1989, offers a look into how one determined individual could access highly secure information pretty much at will. It is perhaps the first detailed account of a hacker at work and the creation of a honeypot to catch him. The highly readable book relates how a 0.75 cent accounting error led to the discovery of the hacker, Markus Hess, who was selling his work product to the KGB.
The last couple decades though have seen a tremendous increase in available computing power and determined and talented individuals who can hack to make a living. Information can be bought or ferreted out. Disgruntled individuals are also not averse to leaking information and the tiny pen drive has emerged as one of the biggest threats in the world with its promiscuous ability to spread malicious code.
One aspect of this new cyber war is that things can and will get out of control as pieces of malicious code get out into the wild and the law of unintended consequences may acquire a whole new meaning. Code meant to do one thing may be tweaked ever so slightly to do something else. Nuclear facilities everywhere are already at risk from natural disasters and crazy fanatics. Now remote sabotage opens up new dangers.
The other aspect is the question of how ready is India to defend against such attacks and can it ever hope to wage a cyber war? In his Mint column, Sundeep Khanna recently disrobed the emperor formerly known as jugaad and pointed out how Indians are the most in number to enter Google’s Code Jam but not one makes it to the final rounds and how there is a lack of Made-in-India software of any consequence. Many of the brightest minds in India are scooped up by back office companies that are the pride and joy of India and relegated to do mundane work with no scope for real innovation. After all how path breaking can you get in the service industry?
The Center for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) hasn’t done anything really innovative since its inception. Cyber Security has been chosen by CDAC as “a priority area to focus on” according to its website. It will be interesting to know exactly what CDAC has done in this area, its budget to develop tools and products in this area and how they stack up as compared with the rest of the world.
Finally I wonder where can a young Indian go to become a world class code warrior?