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Cyberpolitik #1: China’s actions create common ground for cooperation
— Aditya Pareek
China does not shrink from using asymmetric means to achieve its political and geostrategic goals. Cybersecurity is an important emergent asymmetric domain where Chinese, North Korean and Russian grey zone activities have inflicted considerable damage.
Japan finds itself an adversary of China ,North Korea and at least less than an ally to Russia.
Cyberattack on JAXA involved the PLA SSF and a CCP Member
According to this report in Nikkei, Japan recently found itself on the receiving end of cyberattacks that targeted Japan’s space agency JAXA between 2017-2019. The Tokyo Police Department attributes the attacks to a “Chinese IT systems engineer who is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party”. Tokyo Police also believes that the perpetrator registered web servers under a false name in Japan to carry out the attack and that he likely had the aid of China’s People’s Liberation Army. During a press conference the Commissioner-General of Tokyo Police specifically mentioned a Chinese hacker group called “Tick” and the PLA’s Strategic Support Force(SSF)’s Unit 61419.
The attackers are believed to have used malware that was enabled by a zero-day exploit. A zero-day exploit amounts to the attacker utilising previously undiscovered and unpatched vulnerabilities in the security of target systems to gain access to secured areas. Once in, the attacker can install malware, alter or steal login credentials or information on the target systems and even possibly sabotage them.
New Japanese Cybersecurity Strategy is in the making
Another recent report in Nikkei mentions that the Japanese government is preparing a new cybersecurity strategy to safeguard critical infrastructure, in light of attacks in various countries.
According to Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato, who is incharge of formulating the strategy, the main points were deliberated and summarised in a recent meeting held at Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s office. The Japanese cabinet is likely to approve it in fall 2021. The strategy will be the primary cybersecurity guidance to Japan’s functionaries for at least the next three years.
India’s ISRO has also been subject to Cyberattacks from China and North Korea
China and North Korea have both targeted ISRO with cyberattacks on various occasions. ISRO maintains that none of these cyberattacks have jeopardized the sanctity of its data or had an adverse effect on any of its operations or major assets.
With cybersecurity emerging as an important domain, Indo-Japanese co-operation can be furthered in the Quad framework
It is interesting to note that India and Japan last year discussed and finalised the text of a major bilateral cybersecurity co-operation agreement but are yet to sign it. During a recent meeting of the Quad, the focus was on cybersecurity as well as semiconductor supplies, since supply chain dependencies carry their own risks.
In an opinion piece in Outlook Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya, President, Centre for Digital Economy and Policy Research, advocates cybersecurity cooperation between Quad states. Bhattacharya uses an analogy of neuron connectivity in the human body to explain the importance of digital connectivity for a country.
Another interesting point he highlights is the folly of believing an “air-gap” will save critical systems from cyber-sabotage. An “air-gap” in cybersecurity refers to the lack of any internet connectivity on the critical system.
Dr. Bhattacharya quotes the example of the 2010 cyberattack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges, which were not connected to the internet either but were reportedly sabotaged by malware inserted via a physical USB flash drive on an “air-gap” secured local system.
In conclusion Dr. Bhattacharya postulates that “Australia too has the institutional structures required to build an international cybersecurity alliance. It is a similar story with the US and Japan also.
The Fog of Tech War: China-US tech war and implications for India
— Pranay Kotasthane
I spoke with Nirmala Ganapathy from the Strait Times on the implications of the China-US tech war on India. My responses to three key questions were as follows:
Q: Do you see Chinese firms maintaining their edge in many sectors?
No, I don’t see Chinese firms being treated the way they were until a couple of years ago.
Every Chinese company and investment is now seen from a strategic lens rather than a purely economic one. What this means is that Chinese companies will continue to face more scrutiny in technology areas that have longer lock-in periods or need agreement with Chinese standards. For example, a couple of days ago, India released a list of companies participating in 5G trials — a list that had no Chinese companies. Chinese companies might continue to maintain their edge in the less-controversial areas such as physical infrastructure, electrical machinery etc.
Q: The China-US tech war and how it will benefit India
The greatest benefit of this tech war is the acknowledgement by other countries that the only way to overcome the China challenge is if they provide better alternatives themselves. Very often, this requires multilateral or bilateral cooperation and therein lies the opportunity for India. The Quad Working Group on Critical and Emerging Technologies is a good example of this trend where the four countries are now willing to coordinate on technology standards development, principles on technology design, and critical technology supply chains.
Q: Why is the Indian market important for both countries?
Apart from the potential of the huge end-consumer base, India also has a formidable producer base. India affords technology companies the opportunity for cutting-edge technology development. Take the example of semiconductors. Except Apple, virtually every notable semiconductor company has a development or R&D centre in India. That’s because India has a large talent pool of chip designers. This also holds true for other software development.
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Disclaimer: Views expressed on Technopolitik are those of the authors’ and do not represent Takshashila Institution’s recommendations.