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Jaimon Joseph
Wednesday, October 03, 2012 at 17 : 49

Third Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit


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A few SMS messages, a couple of inflammatory photos. They triggered off the largest internal exodus in India since partition. We're talking about the north east crisis a few weeks back.

There were allegations then of a foreign hand. Of an outside power purposely muddying the waters, fomenting civil unrest. It was called the cheapest, most effective form of cyber war.

If those allegations were true and if the crisis had worsened, could India have launched a punitive military attack against the enemy? As a sort of slap on the wrist? Would that have been justified? Write me back - I'm curious what you think.

Telecommunication technology being what it is today, it's quite easy to spoof one's location. Let's suppose the SMS messages and trick pictures were from Country A. But if its cyber wing was any good at all, they'd have taken particular care to mask themselves. They'd tamper with their digital trace to lead investigators on a wild goose chase around the world - and then, could finally point to an innocent country B, which had no role at all in the mischief.

If India slapped the wrist of an innocent country, in its hurry to avenge a huge loss to its own citizens, would that be acceptable? Could we term it collateral damage in the smog of war?

If the country we strike ratchets up the stakes and launches a retaliatory strike to protect itself - would it be the beginning of Armageddon? Problem is, we live in a combustible neighbourhood. One spark could be enough to set the whole block on fire.

John Mroz, is an expert on making people talk. He set up the EastWest Institute during the height of the cold war, to get Russian and American leaders to talk -away from the spotlights and TV cameras. It's called Track 2 diplomacy, a background dialogue that continues even when main stream talks have failed. John had a role in helping South Eastern Europe stay stable after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so yes, he's pretty hardcore.

Curiously, over the past nine months the EastWest Institute has been busy compiling "Rules of the Road" - a set of do's and dont's for countries faced with potentially devastating crises triggered in some way, by online behaviour. On October 30th and 31st, they're going to unveil them in New Delhi at the third Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit.

What should make things interesting is the fact that the US, birthplace to the EastWest Institute, is the first country in the world to declare a military wing dedicated to cyber warfare. Besides the Army, Navy and Air Force, they now have soldiers trained to fight in cyberspace.

America and Israel are also, supposedly, the first countries to unleash cyber weapons against an enemy. While China has been accused many times of cyber espionage, America and Israel are suspected of damaging Iran's nuclear and banking industry, with computer viruses like Stuxnet, Flame and Duqu.

America is also home to YouTube, which recently refused to pull down a film offensive to Islam, despite a request from the White House. The film was blocked in India and Pakistan. But not before setting off a tidal wave of unrest across the Middle East and claiming the life of the US Ambassador in Libya.

So a lot of people are going to be very curious about what they have to say about "Rules of the Road" for the internet.

The other reason people will be curious, is that Kanwal Sibal, former Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador, is one of the directors of the EastWest Institute. Mr Sibal's brother Kapil Sibal is the current Minister of Communications and Information Technology. He's received a lot of flak in the recent past for his efforts to muzzle and censor social networking sites in India. It should be interesting to see which side of the divide his brother comes down on.

So yes, a lot of fireworks expected. Let the games begin.


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More about Jaimon Joseph

I've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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