India to set up new defence unit to tackle Chinese and Pakistani hackers

In a bid to enhance its combat capabilities in the virtual domain, the defence ministry is working towards establishing a new cyber agency to tackle attempts by Chinese and Pakistani hackers to break into its systems and networks.

"The tri-services integrated defence staff (IDS) is coming up with a unit to tackle the cyber warfare domain and it will be staffed with personnel from all the three services," senior government sources told Mail Today.

The IDS is a tri-services organisation that works directly under the defence ministry but has officers and men from the army, navy as well as air force, and is responsible for tasks and projects involving the assets and men from all three services.

"The forces have already started pooling in their resources in the cyber domain under the new agency, which would be headed by a major general-rank officer. The organisation will have both offensive and defensive capabilities in cyber warfare," said the sources.

The development comes against the backdrop of around 22,000 pages of data purportedly related to submarines that a French government-owned company was building for the Indian navy being leaked to the media last year.

There have been thousands of online attacks on various government websites and systems including defence-related ones in recent years, with fingers often pointing towards China and Pakistan.

Till now, the army, navy and air force have their own separate cells dealing with cyber issues and they have also developed individual networks for safe communication and data exchange. The information networks created by the forces are state of the art and are capable of detecting any violation at centralised locations within a few microseconds.

"If anybody puts in a pen drive in a computer of the military network, our men sitting in Delhi and other centralised locations can detect it within no time and prevent any leakage or attack immediately," said the sources.

"This step of creating a new cyber agency, which would be a precursor to a cyber command, is in the right direction. Now the focus should be on creating infrastructure for manufacturing totally indigenous information and communication technology equipment," said information warfare expert Pavithran Rajan.

To test its capabilities, the new agency has also carried out its first cyber warfare exercise under which Indian forces carried out attacks on their own networks to check for loopholes and steps required to strengthen the system, the sources informed.

"The forces deduced that cyber should be the first agency to be raised for dealing with the increasing instances of attacks on military networks and systems," they said.

The command of the new agency would be on rotational basis for the three services, which means that if it is first headed by an army officer, he would be succeeded by navy and air force officers. The head of the unit would report to the chief of integrated defence staff Lt Gen Satish Dua who heads the organisation at present.

The government had deferred the demand for creation of new commands for cyber, special forces and space under senior lieutenant generalrank officers and asked the forces to first create capabilities for such commands.

The decision to put off the creation of new commands was taken soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi told senior military commanders that while global powers were reducing the number of their personnel, Indian forces were continuously demanding expansion in size.

The armed forces had initiated the demand for creation of three new commands during the UPA government where the three services had decided to take one command each for themselves, setting up three army commander-equivalent positions.

The country has only two operational tri-services commands including the strategicallylocated Andaman and Nicobar command in Port Blair, which will now likely have an officer from the navy as its head permanently.

The other tri-services organisation is the strategic forces command, which looks after the nuclear arsenal including the Agni-series missiles for the nuclear command authority headed by the Prime Minister.

The government is now considering a four-star officer appointment in the form of permanent chairman for the chiefs of staff committee. All tri-services issues are expected to go to him once the office is created.

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