Pakistan may have one of the largest armies in the world but those men and machines are going to be of little use in a conflict that could erupt at any time — and has the potential to cause serious damage if it does. The chairman of the Senate Defence Committee last Wednesday warned that there is a range of emergent threats to the security of Pakistan, and a woeful inadequacy of cyber legislation in a country that is increasingly reliant on the internet with over 22 million subscribers being a recent estimation. A private member’s bill is being prepared for presentation to parliament which might go some way towards plugging the gaps. The fact remains, though, that in the event of a sustained cyber attack on business, security forces and agencies, the armed forces or the various arms of governance all of which rely heavily on the internet, they would be almost defenceless.
There have been minor instances of hacking in which Indian hackers have defaced Pakistani websites, and there has also been a DDOS attack on this newspaper – but these are trivial. The major powers are already engaged in cyber-conflict, with China and the US trading allegations and whistleblowers opening windows on cyber-spying at state level. It is a matter of considerable urgency that Pakistan have a national cyber-strategy to counter or at least mitigate any future attack. The stock markets are vulnerable, as well as the banking system, retail and telephony — everywhere and anywhere that the internet impinges on daily life. Foreign agencies are already harvesting swathes of data from Pakistan, a country that many external intelligence agencies have a keen interest in. There is to be a seminar on cyber-security on July 8 in Islamabad, and it is much to be hoped that it lays the groundwork for a currently non-existent cyber-security environment.