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How Pakistan is reeling under major cyberattacks?

The recent cyberattack on the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) system and National Bank of Pakistan albeit one of the biggest incidents in the history of the country – is not the first of its kind. It has raised serious concerns over the level of cyber security of the state-owned institution and the weak alert policy, which compromised the data of millions of taxpayers and bank users.

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The recent cyberattack on the Federal Board of Revenue and the National bank of Pakistan speaks volumes about Pakistan’s cyber security readiness. The rapid penetration of the internet since the 1990s has eased life but also posed a major cyber threat to many countries. Cyber threats vary from hacking to espionage and cyber warfare to cyberterrorism. Therefore to secure the state and its institution countries have to adopt a mechanism that helps to minimize cyber vulnerability and maximize cyber productivity. Cyber threat is an “illicit act to access the confidential and vulnerable information stored in a system”.

A lack of an effective and organized mechanism allows the hostile countries to attack Pakistan virtually. The growing use of Information and communication technology produces more threats if not managed timely. As of June 2018, more than four billion people (55.1 percent of the world population) have access to the internet. Whereas of December 1995, this number was only 16 million (0.4 percent of the world population). This massive penetration of the internet demands the state to be more responsible for virtual boundaries rather than physical boundaries.

Read more: Cyberattack on NBP: No disruption in digital banking services

The growing threat of cyberattacks to Pakistan

According to the statics of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority in Feb 2019 nearly 65 million people in Pakistan have internet access. The UN conference on trade and development in information economy report 2017 ranked Pakistan among 10 booming digital economies. Pakistan is among those developing countries which are heavily launching online administration services. Pakistan has one of the Largest databases named “NADRA”, which is very sensitive as it holds the identity of citizens. Pakistan’s growing reliance on cyberspace without taking proper measures creates loopholes in the security of the country.

According to the report in 2017 by Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI), Pakistan ranked at 67th position out of 193 countries. The reason for this poor ranking is the lack of legal, technical, and organizational infrastructure to create a better cybersecurity system.

In march 2013 when Snowden’s leaks were published by the guardian. In this publication, Snowden revealed the US mass surveillance program, which showed that after Iran Pakistan was the most targeted country for surveillance by US National Security Agency. It was also revealed that UK’s government communication head quarter hacked Pakistan’s central communication system to access commonly used websites.

Read more: An overview of Pakistan’s cyber security policies

Microsoft also revealed that Pakistan witnessed the highest malware attack in mid of 2015. Later senate committee was shaped to bring a report on cyber threats and the committee revealed that Pakistan was among the top countries under foreign espionage. A country that is hostile to Pakistan is heavily attacking Pakistan. India has been hacking websites of the Pakistani government since 1998 with mostly denial-of-service (DoS). The reports show that between 1999 to 2008 nearly 1600 Pakistani websites were targetted by Indian hackers.

India formed Indian Cyber Army in 2010

The ICA is full of software professionals and this group hacked Pakistan’s top 36 websites including that of NAB, Education, NADRA, ministry of foreign affairs, and finance department. ICA once hacked 40 websites of Pakistan including the State Bank of Pakistan and in a counter reply, Pakistani hackers hacked nearly 270 websites of India including the Central Board of India (CBI). When Pakistan announced the death sentence for Indian SPY Kulbhushan Jadhav the Indian hackers hacked 30 websites of Pakistan. These acts often occur in special events such as independence day. These examples show the future war between India and Pakistan.

The trend of e-commerce and online banking has resulted in increasing cybercrimes in a country. The cybercrime wing of the Federal investigation agency and the National response center for cybercrime has witnessed a large number of online defamatory, scams and harassment complaints. The three e Taliban and another extremist group also recruited and trained members through cyberspace. The recent Whatsapp policy was rumored across the world for which many people turned to telegram. It revealed that ISIS was behind the terrorist attack in Paris 2015.

ISIS used telegrams to spread the propaganda. After the Pakistani military have launched various military operations on terrorists and destroyed their physical rooms they later turned to social media to produce havoc. TTP has been backed by security agencies hostile to Pakistan to fight with Pakistan virtually. India produces a large number of software experts and IT experts each year. India has the capability to get into Pakistan’s system and disrupt it. It is very true that after fighting a physical war with India, both countries might be heading to cyberwarfare.

Read more: Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) under cyber attack

Israel is the hub of cybersecurity and is well known for its cyber-attacks on various countries including Syria. Israel blocked Syria’s Air defense system to launch a strike without any hindrance and all was done with help of Cyber security experts. India and Israel have formed cyber security cooperation to prepare experts for next-generation cyberwarfare. Talpiot training program was launched by Israel defense forces in 1970. It is widely known for producing the best cyber security experts. Indian students will also be trained under this cooperation. The Talpiot was also involved in the Stuxnet cyberattack against the nuclear program of Iran.

Pakistan needs an organized infrastructure that is heavily funded by the government of Pakistan. Coordination among various institutions and LEAs is a must to counter the cyber-attacks on Pakistan. Pakistan needs to be aware its internet users about cyber attacks and steps for their prevention.

The author is a blogger and a freelancer, with an interest in cultural, political and historical studies. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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