The recent bomb blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad have rattled the country once again. While there was no prior warning about the former, the latter were preceded by a 14-page email sent to a few media houses minutes before the first blast took place in Ahmedabad.
Even in past cases, such as the blasts in Jaipur in May this year, and in Uttar Pradesh last year, emails were sent from cybercafes by people linked to the plots. But these emails were sent after the bombs went off and investigators have till date not been able to nab the senders.
The email sent before the blasts in Ahmedabad is different and smacks of cyber expertise. It was sent a few minutes before the first blast, with a challenge to Indian law enforcement agencies to prevent the blasts in the shortest possible time. The Internet protocol, or IP, address of the sender led investigators to a WiFi Internet connection of an American couple living in a flat in Navi Mumbai. They claimed to have no knowledge about this.
It seems the terrorists have misused the Internet connection of this couple. How was this done?
In cases such as this one, someone would have to send an email from the vicinity of that flat. An unsecured WiFi supports Internet connectivity at a certain distance from the subscriber if the connection router is always on. The other option would be to hack into this couple’s computer, by infecting it with a Trojan worm and remotely controlling it. However, this possibility is ruled out, as the police have indicated that their laptop was switched off at the time the email was sent.
However, it is amply clear from all this that the terrorists have even mastered the art of using cyberspace to their advantage, and yet remain anonymous.
For some time now, the use of the Internet by terrorists has been a worldwide concern. The Internet offers them a great opportunity to spread their propaganda, recruit sympathizers, collect funds and also to indulge in cyber attacks. But their swift progress in using the Internet to support physical attacks in India is a cause of worry, because of many reasons.
Our intelligence and law enforcement apparatus is still not fully prepared to tackle issues related to cyberspace. A nationwide orientation is urgently required, to prepare law enforcement agencies to meet the challenges.Likewise, intelligence gathering has to be undertaken in cyberspace.
The national security adviser has to get our intelligence agencies to develop capabilities on this front. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the focus should be on deploying existing network monitoring tools and having technical intelligence filtered so as to raise the correct level of alerts. Even cyber forensics has to get a boost.
Legal measures for national security need to be reviewed to incorporate the potential issues surrounding cyberspace. While the investigations are on in the recent cases, as are those for the previous blasts, there is a strong need for law enforcement agencies to be able to get to the bottom of the acts.
Such meticulous planning takes days and months to organize, before successful implementation. The confidence of the nation will go down if such incidents keep on repeating themselves, with no intelligence clues and crores of rupees spent on a security system that is seen failing each time.
These blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and elsewhere are wake-up calls for the government. But they are also a strong reminder to the growing number of Internet users in the country to be alert and careful while using the Internet.
This particular incident has shown how the American couple became vulnerable and how users need to be careful with passwords and check their computers regularly to detect any malwares. The possibility of one getting attacked and then being portrayed as the attacker is possible in cyberspace. Scary it is, but the threat can be overcome by following some best practices of usage.
Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on issues of cyberspace and security. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org