In an earlier post on Surgical Strikes and Hybrid Warfare I had opined that modern warfare has evolved into a complex hybrid of Conventional, Asymmetric, Information, Political and Economic Warfare.
While conventional (all out) war is what nations and Armed Forces prepare for – it is the other threats comprising Terrorism, Electronic and Cyber Warfare, Economic Warfare, Psychological Operations and Deception which they are increasingly being confronted with on almost continuous basis. The recent allegations of Cyber Attacks playing a decisive role in the US elections are a clear example of the manifest threat and it’s potential.
Closer home, the demonetization narrative has shifted to cashless economy and digital transactions. Cyber security related concerns have rightly been flagged but the focus is more on security of individual financial transactions whereas the national security dimension has mostly been overlooked.
The concept of “Critical Infrastructure” is now well enshrined in national security doctrines of many countries including India. Defence, Telecommunication, Financial Services, Energy and Transport sectors typically comprise the critical infrastructure. Inevitable reliance on a network of electronic devices and software that communicate over cable or wireless (collectively termed as the Critical Information Infrastructure) has made them more effective as well as more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
The Defence, Energy and Transport sectors typically employ dedicated networks, standalone machines, air gaps and firewalls to isolate their systems from cyber-attacks. Telecommunications cannot be segregated because of its unique nature as facilitator as well as target. When it comes to the Banking and Financial sector – a cash based economy is a form of firewall against cyber-attacks.
It can be stated with near certainty that any future war with our adversaries will start with a massive assault on the critical infrastructure. Cashless economies (as reportedly exist in some Scandinavian countries) can be totally devastated by such a deliberate Electronic or Cyber assault vis-à-vis economies which rely on a mix of digital and cash.
For a country like India where we have just set up the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) in 2014 and the procedures, SOPs and subordinate organisations are not 100% integrated, it would be prudent to incorporate a strategic view and formulate a timetable of cash to cashless ratio that we wish to adopt based on our long term threat perception and preparedness. Similarly the threat of counterfeit currency aiding terrorism has to be carefully weighed against the threat of non-state actors profiteering from hacking which is a much easier option.
Anyone who has experienced the pre mid-nineties era of paper based bank ledgers and stock certificates will instantly realize the enormous tangible and intangible benefits of a digital economy. However, a complete disregard for the national security vulnerabilities it causes would not be prudent and the government would hopefully factor this into its calculus.