India launched new cyber war against Pakistan using cyberspace as a weapon: Report

India launched new cyber war against Pakistan using cyberspace as a weapon: Report

ISLAMABAD: Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology, said on Saturday that India has launched a cyber war against Pakistan, days after a Europe-based watchdog cracked open a nexus of hundreds of dormant companies and 'fake media outlets' saying that it is promoting India’s diplomatic interests around the world, and kickstarting a conversation about cyber security in Pakistan.

EU DisinfoLab, a nonprofit organization that researches and tackles disinformation campaigns, said on Wednesday that it has uncovered 265 fake media outlets spread across 65 countries managed by an Indian network, with content “designed to influence the European Union and the United Nations by repeatedly criticizing Pakistan,” the organization said in a report. “It’s a cyber war and they [Indians] are using cyberspace as a weapon,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

“Cyber security has become a major global issue,” he continued, and added Pakistan’s cyber security policy would be announced soon. Investigating the network, the Lab traced digital prints linked to a group of Indian companies, NGOs, and think tanks, from a little-known company called the Srivastava Group.

Dubious news portals all based at the same New Delhi address and mentioned in the watchdog’s investigation included Times of Los Angeles, Times of Portugal, New Delhi Times, New York Journal American, Times of North Korea and The International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which is the same organization that reportedly invited 27 members of the European Parliament to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visit Kashmir, amid international attention on curbs on free speech and allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.

On Aug. 5, New Delhi flooded Kashmir valley with troops, enforced a curfew and communications blackout, and scrapped the special legal status of the disputed region which both India and Pakistan own in part but claim in full. Since then, New Delhi has denied its part in any human rights abuses on different media outlets- many of which have turned out to be zombie websites.

Foreign Affairs expert Qamar Cheema said India wanted Pakistan to become globally isolated. “It is India’s declared position to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and economically,” Cheema told Arab News.

“Both countries are vying to influence the domestic and international audience about their strategic and tactical narratives, but India has developed cobwebs in the virtual world. This is because of India’s IT achievements and expanding global reach,” he said.

“Pakistan is using traditional tools of diplomacy. India is using traditional tools, its web armies and data mining techniques to influence public opinions to which Pakistan may not be able to respond, lacking resources and state of the art IT infrastructure,” he continued.

The fake news websites republished contents from Russia Today and Voice of America, but the report said they also found a large number of articles related to minorities in Pakistan.

In Geneva, the investigating group found that – an online ‘newspaper’ self-professed to be ‘approaching 35 years in business’ – published and produced videos covering events and demonstrations that criticized Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict.

“Media and cyber space are increasingly being used as weapons to influence events and to project national interests. India has been doing it for many years, whether it is hacking our command and control centers... or planting stories about Pakistan,” Ambassador Vice Admiral (R) Khan Hasham Bin Saddique, President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute, told Arab News.

“India’s prowess in the IT field has undermined our national security interests,” he said. “It is time that Pakistan invests in human resource and technological competence because media and cyberspace are the components of 21st century warfare.”

In April, Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications, had announced that a comprehensive cyber security policy would be introduced soon.

Domestically however, the country has placed great importance on countering and policing the spread of content and information through special cyber laws-- but these were specific to cyber-crime not cyber-security, experts say.

“We have been creating cyber crime laws but not a cyber security policy,” Ammar Jafri, former head of the Federal Investigation Agency’s National Response Center for Cyber Crime wing, told Arab News. Jafri was instrumental in drafting Pakistan’s first cyber security policy in 2012 which is still pending approval.

“We are one of the few countries in the world without a national computer emergency response team, cyber security policy and cyber security strategy,” he said. “There are plenty of challenges that Pakistan faces in cyberspace that need government initiatives to confront. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The cyber security bill can be reactivated with certain amendments.”

“This is the cyber era and we need to spend on cyber weapons to counter enemies of the state on the internet,” he continued.

Pakistan is one of the least cyber-safe countries in the world according to a 2019 Comparitech study sourced from Kaspersky Lab, International Telecommunication Union, and Center for Strategic and International Studies.