India’s senior most armed forces official, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Bipin Rawat believes that China is capable of launching cyber attacks that ‘large amount’ of India’s systems. He also revealed that India’s best defence right now is to keep outage time limited when a breach does occur. This comes at a time when the threats from China are increasing in aftermath of the clash between the two Asian giants on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)

Wars in today’s day and age aren’t found on the battlefield but in cyberspace. Malware is ammunition, hackers and cybersecurity experts are the soldiers, and what they’re fighting over is data.

While things may have cooled down between India and China on the ground, the cyber threat posed by the Dragon is still very much in play. “China is capable of launching cyber attacks on us that can disrupt a large amount of our systems,” General Bipin Rawat, India’s highest ranking armed forces official, told reporters on April 7.

Harvard University’s National Cyber Power Index currently ranks China second in cyber power. Meanwhile, India is among one of the most cyber targeted countries in the world. And for China, India is the number one target.

Chinese Hackers Have India’s Power Sector In Its Sights

Not only does India not have any offensive capabilities on hand, its defences are not fool proof. “While we’re trying to create firewalls against cyber attacks, we’re quite sure that they [Chinese hackers] will break through these firewalls,” Rawat said.

That doesn’t bode well for India’s power sector, which is currently in the sights of Chinese state-sponsored hackers, according to a US-based cybersecurity firm, Recorded Future.

The most recent example of the extent of disruption an attack on the power grid can cause was witnessed in October, last year. India’s financial capital was left reeling for hours as a power outage disrupted services in Mumbai. The chaos was allegedly caused by a new coalition of Chinese hackers dubbed ‘Red Echo’ by Recorded Future, a cybersecurity firm based out of the US.

The company believes that these Chinese state-sponsored hackers have at least one connection that is still open. The link is most likely in the network system of an Indian maritime port, although Recorded Future did not specify which one.

India needs to integrate resources across the armed forces to face cyber threats posed by China

According to Rawat, a plan is already in the works to address China’s growing prowess in the field of technology. For it to be successful, he opines that resources across all three pillars of the armed forces A— the Army, Navy, and Air Force — need to be integrated.

“What we are trying to do is create a system in which we ensure cyber defence. And we have been able to create a cyber agency, which is our own agency within the armed forces… Each service also has its own cyber agency to ensure that even if we come under a cyber attack, the down time and the effect of the cyber attack does not last long,” Rawat explained.

However, compared to China’s cyber capabilities, India still has a lot of catching up to do. China has been preparing itself for the fifth dimension of war for over two decades, and, according to Rawat, India is still in the midst of figuring out what it needs to do.

China Has A Long History of Meddling With Indian Servers

In 2008, Indian government officials told the Times of India that Chinese hackers were trying to break down servers on a daily basis — this included targets like the National Informatics Centre, the National Security Council and the Ministry of External Affairs.

Even then, the real gap between the capabilities of the two Asian giants was that India did not have any offensive system in place.

More recently, since the Galwan Valley clash — which escalated into a long, drawn out stand-off between the two Asian giants along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — the number of threats coming in from China has only increased. According to Singapore-based cybersecurity firm, Cyfirma, there was a 200% increase in cyber attacks from China between May to June.

Even though the countries are currently in the process of disengaging and repairing their bilateral ties on the ground, disputes continue to brew in the airwaves.