Government of India is Smartly Outsourcing Offensive Cyber Capabilities from Private Players

Offensive cyber

Following the increasing dependence on Information Technology, the constantly rising cases of cyberattacks have become a huge problem. Multiple firms have improved their defensive and offensive cyber capabilities, fostering a series of strategies to become cyber resilient.

India ranks 21 in a report on National Cyber Power Index 2020 (NCPI), published by Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. NCPI creates a ranking system for the “cyber power” of 30 countries based on the set of 32 intent indicators and 27 capability indicators that includes both the offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

Amid the ongoing uncertainty, what’s certain is that the Indian government’s defence infrastructure overpowers its offensive capabilities. Today, India is considered a “low-intent, low capability” cyber power, when compared with the top contenders i.e. China and the US. To overcome the cyber crises, the government of India is making smart moves, outsourcing offensive cyber solutions from private actors.

India has a huge community of white hat hackers and bug bounty hunters (programmers who get paid for reporting flaws in software). In 2018, India ranked second-highest in the share of bug bounties in the world, behind the US. One of the reports stated that India is still on the second number, as it took 10 percent of the bug bounty payouts in the world in 2020. It was followed by Russia, China, and Germany.

One of the Indian cyber forensics experts stated that the real-estate sector often uses Hacking-as-a-service (HaaS) for their works. The service has existed on the dark web for years, with several Indian freelancers and part-time hackers make money from HaaS businesses.

New-Delhi based Belltrox is one of the private actors that possessed offensive cyber capabilities and provided hacking and spying services to its clients. The group’s modus operandi was to send malicious emails tricking victims into giving up their passwords. It spied upon investors, politicians, lawyers, and environmental groups across the world for seven years.

Another private player – Phronesis has brought India to the forefront of offering offensive cyber capabilities. One of its achievements has been the successful malware attack on Chinese nationals. The Dubai-Indian company led the strategic attack with Cyph3r at the centre of its offensive cyber capabilities. This is sharpening the multidimensional cyber consultancy firm’s offensive security fronts.

Forcepoint Security Labs’ APT report Monsoon stated that several domains were purchased and used by the Phronesis attackers to spread the malware. Such firms have the potential to build a strong OffSec Front and meet national security objectives.

SideWinder Advanced Persistent Threat group, another Indian player appeared to have been progressing in offensive cyber operations. The firm was spotted using the Binder exploit to attack mobile devices. It proactively targeted victims in South Asia using social-engineering techniques to lure targets -multiple government and military units – in China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

The overtime navigation through the Indian cyberspace maze clearly indicates the presence of several firms that otherwise remained obscure, due to non-alignment with the government on the surface. Despite it, these private players are placed in every field of cyber hacking, i.e. malware, phishing, email scam, spyware, and viruses, etc.

The past phishing and malware attack on cyber adversaries draws a conclusion that India is far ahead in capabilities and ranks above than most other countries. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the NCPI list of measuring India’s cyber power on the basis of capabilities is faulty, since there are several private players that are contributing to bringing India to the forefront of cybersecurity.

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