India Struggles with Threat of Chinese Cyber Attacks

On 7 April, India’s Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat brought attention to the vast disparity between Chinese and Indian cyber capabilities. According to the general, it is in this field that the greatest inequality between the two countries’ capabilities lies. According to Rawat, the armed forces are now moving to plug this gap:

“What we are trying to do is create a system which will ensure cyber defense. We have been able to create a cyber agency within the armed forces and each service has also its own cyber agency so that even if we come under a cyber attack, the downtime of the attack doesn’t last long. […] While we are trying to create firewalls for cyber attacks, they will be able to break through the firewalls and we will have cyber attacks. What we are trying to do is, how long will your systems be down and how will you be able to operate through the phase of cyber attack that we have been put through. That is what we are seriously looking at”

The PLA’s Strategic Support Force is believed to be primarily responsible for the military employment of cyber capabilities by Chinese forces.

However, the general acknowledged that the gap is so great that India may not be able to catch up to China in the foreseeable future. 2020 saw a 300% spike in cyber attacks over 2019 and this can be linked with the intensification of the Indo-Chinese border crisis. The Singapore-based cybersecurity firm Cyfirma noted a 200% increase in cyberattacks from India in June 2020 over May. On top of that, China is one of the pioneers in the field of cyber warfare while India is a late newcomer.

Rawat told India Today:

“We may not be able to fully catch up with China. So, we are trying to develop some kind of relationship with western nations and see how better we can get some support from them, during peacetime at least, which will help us to overcome this deficiency.”

Some Indian news outlets have interpreted this statement as meaning that India is trying to deepen cyber security cooperation with the United States.

But perhaps even more importantly, the general’s words are an admission of Indian cyber defense being so behind that the current focus isn’t even on preventing attacks but rather minimizing their damage.