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Archive | December, 2010

Waqt-i-Leaks

Nawa-i-waqt and its ilk must be called out.

The Nawa-i-Waqt Group launched an insidious campaign to malign India, all the while purporting its source to be classified comments made by U.S. officials, now made public through the Wikileaks exposé.  The trouble for the Nawa-i-waqt Group is that The Guardian, which does have full access to the all of the undisclosed Wikileaks content, confirmed that nothing akin to what was being claimed existed in the leaked cables.  In other words, Nawa-i-waqt was making stuff up and passing it off as fact.  And anyone familiar with Nawa-i-Waqt’s body of work will know that the media group has a long and storied tradition in fabricating news.

Until very recently, its English-language newspaper, The Nation, was edited by Dr. Shireen Mazari, a former Director, Institute of Strategic Studies (Islamabad) and columnist for the Jang Group‘s The News, from where she was summarily dismissed, (for allegedly) having pushed propaganda pieces once too often for the U.S.’s liking.  Dr. Mazari was subsequently hired as editor of The Nation, where she ran an editorial accusing a Wall Street Journal Pakistan correspondent Matthew Rosenberg of being a chief operative for the CIA, Blackwater and Mossad, putting his life at risk in the country.  Her editorial campaigns against India are well known to those who have followed Pakistan’s media over the years.  She recently parted ways with the Nawa-i-Waqt group, allegedly over editorial differences.

The Nawa-i-Waqt group’s status as an anti-India propaganda machine is well-documented.  It is chaired by (Spin) Doctor Majid Nizami, who routinely calls for a nuclear confrontation with India, offers vocal support to LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, and hopes one day to see the reunification of Pakistan with Bangladesh.  Dr. Nizami is also chairman of the Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust, whose Advisory Council includes, among others, former DG-ISI Hamid Gul, who openly declares his solidarity with the Taliban and al-Qaeda (he refers to Osama bin Laden as a “great Muslim warrior”).

Even so, the Nawa-i-Waqt Group’s own Wikileaks — the Waqt-i-Leaks — are perfidious and vulgar.  Some statements, purportedly made by U.S. officials about India and senior officers (past and present) of the Indian Army are listed below:

The U.S. has said that India’s Hindu extremist groups are far more dangerous to global and regional peace than al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Indian Army is involved in supporting Hindu extremist groups, whose objective is to portray their terrorists acts as having been conducted by India’s Muslims, the Pakistani Army and intelligence agencies.  Another U.S. cable indicated that the ISI was not involved in any terrorist acts in India.  [نواےوقت]

Yet another cable suggested that the current Army Chief of Indian General VK Singh was having an aggressive approach and believes that “offense is the best defence”. General Singh has also been described as “Pakistan, China centric”, with an added aggression towards China. The cable mentioned General Singh as an egotist, self-obsessed, petulant and idiosyncratic General, a braggadocio and a show-off, who has been disliked (and barely tolerated) by all his subordinates. An earlier cable described Indian Army in gross Human rights violations in Indian Held part of Jammu and Kashmir while some Lt. Gen HS Panag, the then GOC-in-Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army was equated with General Milosevic of Bosnia with regard to butchering Muslims through war crimes. [The Nation]


An earlier cable did rule out any direct or indirect involvement of ISI in 26/11 under Pasha’s command while Mumbai’s dossier, based on prime accused Ajmal Kasab’s confessional statement was termed funny and “shockingly immature”. Another cable confirmed the interception of radio communication by Pakistani and NATO forces in regional Indian languages in the Waziristan agencies [The Nation]

Of course, these could all be rated somewhere along the mildly amusing — hysterically funny continuum, were one not to account for the fact that the Nawa-i-Waqt Group is one of Pakistan’s largest media groups (in terms of circulation) and that half a million people in Pakistan read this propaganda peace, believing most of it. The Guardian coming out to highlight these cooked-up stories is important, but it is equally important for condemnation to come from the Indian media as well.

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In Pragati: The den in Yemen

In this month’s Pragati, I discuss the rising threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the context of the failed attempts to blow up cargo planes bound for the U.S. via London and the Middle East:

Al Qaeda, of course, has had a historical presence in the tribal provinces of Yemen. Osama bin Laden, though born in Riyadh, belongs to a branch of the Kidnah tribe of the Hadhramaut region in eastern Yemen, from where Mr bin Laden’s father emigrated. Yemen stands out from the other countries in the Peninsula as the least developed economically, with a high unemployment rate (35 per cent, 2009) and a per capita income roughly one-tenth that of Saudi Arabia’s. Its post-colonial history is marred in conflict — inter-tribal confrontations, a coup d’etat, support to a rebellion in neighboring Oman, and two civil wars.

In many ways, Yemen mirrors Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, with its rugged, mountainous terrain, general security vacuum, and low levels of economic development. Rather unsurprisingly therefore, Yemen provided conditions ideal for al-Qaeda to promulgate its regional campaign for jihad. It served as al-Qaeda’s base for the first attack on Western targets in 1992; a bombing of a hotel used by US troops in Aden, which resulted in two civilian deaths. Its next attack in 2000, off the coast of Aden, killed 17 US sailors aboard the USS Cole. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entirety in this month’s Pragati (html) ( pdf)

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‘Tis the season for hacking

Cyber-security asymmetries 101: Hacking is easier than defending.

Indian and Pakistani hackers are out defacing websites of each others’ countries.  On the second anniversary of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, an Indian group calling itself the “Indian Cyber Army” (ICA) carried out an attack on 36 Pakistani websites, including the websites of the Pakistani Navy, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In response, a group called Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA) launched an attack on about 200 Indian websites, including the CBI (littering it with trash-talk that should, quite frankly, embarrass the hackers more than the compromise should, the CBI).  The very next day, Indian groups retaliated by hacking Pakistan’s Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) and a Pakistani Army recruitment website.

A review of the list of 200 websites hacked by the PCA reveals that a majority of sites were private small-business websites.  Embarrassing perhaps, but of low strategic value.  The goal of any large-scale defacement is to hurt the reputation of the victim.  If PCA’s victim was the Indian state, then its targets were poorly chosen.

Yes, websites owned by Indians were hit, but they are hardly representative of the Indian state in the same way that the government or the military is. This could indicate that the attack itself was poorly planned and motivated more by a desire to show that Pakistani hackers could retaliate quickly, by hitting out at low-hanging fruit, than an orchestrated attempt to deliver the same quality of response as ICA did on 26/11.  By all measures, compromising the website of Khanna Constructions isn’t remotely of the same strategic value as defacing the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

But the world of cyber-security is faced with certain asymmetries.  Hacking is easier than defending.  For any government to be able to defend its “universe” of websites requires it to have three things — an appreciation for the challenge it faces, determination to address the challenge, and good counsel on how to address the challenge. If the first two are absent, the third is almost irrelevant.

It is no secret that the first two are almost entirely missing in India. In an apparent response to the hacking of the CBI website, we were given this bit of information from DRDO, via PTI:

Close on the heels of hacking of the CBI website, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Sunday said it was developing a mechanism to make websites hacking-proof. “It is always better to use indigenously developed systems than using others’ designs,” he said. The DRDO chief expressed optimism that its engineers could certainly develop hacking proof devices. [NDTV] (Credit: Parth Bakshi)

That’s just brilliant. Not only do they not know what they are talking about, they also don’t know what hit them nor how to defend against it.

And pray, what is a “hacking-proof” website?

Based on the attack on the CBI website, we know that a vulnerability management program isn’t in place right now.  The CBI attack was a standard SQL-injection exploit.  Out-of-the-box solutions (some, even free) exist today that assess whether websites are susceptible to SQL-injection and other attacks.  Even a basic vulnerability management program would have detected and alerted those responsible for security about the existing vulnerability.

That dovetails nicely into my closing question: who owns the security of India’s websites and supporting infrastructure, across the Centre and State? The answer is no one. And everyone. The blind lead the blind. With that being the case, there really is no reason not to believe that Indian websites will continue to get hit over the coming days and months, just as they have over the past many years.  Cyber-security is uphill battle to begin with. With the current levels of apathy and ignorance to such issues prevalent in our government, we should be prepared for nothing less.

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