Cyber attacks on India and the Bangladesh Spring of discontent

Mac Haque

‘My mother drunk or sober, my country right or wrong’ – Anonymous

The first day of Falgoon – Spring in the Bengali calendar, heralded with the unexpected news of 20,000 Indian websites being defaced by Bangladeshi hackers operating under the coalition of ‘Bangladesh Cyber Army’ (BCA), ‘Bangladesh Black Hat Hackers (BBHH) and ‘3xp1r3 Cyber Army’ among others. In slick Youtube video statements, all the groups jointly or singly claimed credits for the attacks and their intentions were specific.

Essentially they boil down to protesting the unabated killings, kidnapping and barbaric torture of Bangladesh nationals by BSF personnel’s on the border, Tipaimukh and Farakka issues, India’s reluctance to allow Bangladesh television airwaves over it’s territory, and the continuous attacks by Indian hackers of some five hundred Bangladeshi websites.

The crux of the irate and emotional statements on the hackers Facebook groups indicate they have decided to ‘attack’ because the government of Bangladesh has taken no effective actions on any of the issues – although BSF brutality has time and again made headlines in both Bangladesh and international Media, including those of India.

The above is but a short summary of what the ‘Cyber War’ with India is all about, but what needs to be understood is this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The nuts and bolts in my personal interaction with many cyber activists lead me to believe the following:

– An overall sense of gloom and frustration has overtaken the young of the nation and it is necessary to appreciate that they look at Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy and the government’s appeasement of India as subservience and outright betrayal of our national interest. The government or the establishment in turn have failed to sense the pulse of a new generation, in these enlightened days of connectivity.

– What became apparent is this new generation of techno and Net savvy Bangladeshi women and men have given a resounding thumbs down, not only to the government of the day, but the entire political system that has rotted to the core in forty years of our existence. While we may debate the legality or ethics of the hackers, their actions which has received stoic indifference from both the government and the Bangladesh mainstream media, has nonetheless been applauded resoundingly by millions on the Net.

– In the same vein, that India is a regional bully that needs counter harassing or at the least their super-ego ‘cut to size’ has for now been succinctly addressed in private citizen’s initiatives. While hacking is surely a crime, the innovative out-of-the-box protest by Bangladesh’s new generation and the ongoing tit–for-tat, deserves our unbridled appreciation.

– While we foam in our mouth about a ‘digital Bangladesh’, what has not been bargained for is the advent of ‘Cyber warriors’ who have the capacity to operate independently and retaliate at a perceived ‘enemy’, when the government of the day fails, is only to Bangladesh citizens advantage. This is well within permissible limits of civil defense where ‘Cyber attacks’ need to be repulsed or at best, citizens have rudimentary idea of how to defend themselves.

– The Awami League sponsored political culture whereby any open anti-Indian statements by individuals or groups leads to humiliating questions asked in the public domain as to ones ‘patriotism’ is a sore point. A new generation wants to know why they should be daubed sordid colors of ‘Pro-Pakistani’, ‘ISI agents’ and ‘communal Islamic extremist after Hindu blood’ – or ‘ elements out to subvert the trial of War Criminals’ whenever there is a fair criticism of the government of the day – or its ‘friend’ India? They ask: why does one have to be pro-Pakistani to be anti-AL or anti-Indian, and vice versa? What then is ‘pro-Bangladesh’ or is there no such thing.

– The ‘Cyber warriors’ are out to prove that dissent is the highest form of patriotism and their protest has moved way beyond our political master’s dream. All we see is our politicians have ‘talents’ no more than to ‘garner support’ (a 60’s legacy) by paying upfront cash and mobilise thousands of people in ‘historical meetings’ to listen to their idiotic speeches, or ‘marches’ where SUVs more than humans do the ‘march’ and contributes to chaos. In contrast, the alternative ‘walk and prowl’ on the information superhighway by the intelligent, inspired and informed of Bangladesh have created a virtual bulwark that is already causing a ‘jam’ with the world watching – as numbers quadruple and interests grow by the days.

– The Bangladesh media, which is no more than an extension of the status quo and well recognised underlings of the establishment, has also been singled for betrayal. The word ‘Bharotiyo dalal’ or Indian collaborators has gained currency on the Net, and journalists and media tycoons who hog shameless amount of public space on a day-to-day basis are identified by name and systematically brutalised.

– These ‘Cyber warriors’ have no gripes against the people of India, but more so against India’s political masters and the media, who have time and again chosen to demean and insult Bangladesh and the possibilities of its now generation.

Coming back to recent times, the Bangladesh media, in cahoots with their political masters, have for long fed on a fear psychosis of a ‘third force’ evolving and taking over power. By that is implied a military intervention that a corrupt and morally degraded ‘civil society’ will then back and derail the course of democracy. This is an exercise in futility, demonstrated ever so visibly in the ‘Caretaker Governance’ of 2007-2009. None of the players who have since vanished from public view to safe confines ‘abroad’ were ever punished for a huge price the citizenry actually paid.

The current fear is an ‘Islamic takeover’ backed by section of ‘religious extremist elements within the Army’. This is now rife in the political propaganda of the day, following the government’s well trumpeted foiling of an attempted ‘email coup’ in the last week of January! Many people, however, believe that the propaganda served the government to divert the nation’s attention from the economic failures of the government and the endemically out-of-control law and order situation where each day, we are fed stories and macabre pictures of murder victims, is now all the more apparent.

The grim scenario that the Bangladesh Government is yet unable to contend with is, the ‘third force’ has actually arrived and is an abrasive REALITY. It has evolved in Cyber Space without any of us knowing, matured and are putting a firm down payment, in that ‘enough is enough’ will no longer mean exasperated sighs of those merely in the ‘real world’. The advantage of this new ‘third force’ is – they are invisible and operate within parameters of global thinking and aspirations.

The world as such is no longer limited to our geographical territory. The chaos in Bangladesh, its dicey political culture, its corruption and sycophancy, its utter disregard for civility and the cries of a new generation that has for long been shunned aside, has caused the first nail to be driven straight into the government’s coffin. The resonance of the ‘Cyber warriors’ actions, which the establishment may discard as ‘youthful exuberance’, will not die down as easily as anticipated. More specifically a generational revolt is in the air.

As expected while the Spring Offensive by Bangladesh hackers didn’t merit any major mainstream print media coverage in Bangladesh, the world and Indian media covered it with the importance it deserves. This attack that downed 20,000 websites in twenty four hours possibly merits entry into the Guinness Book of World records! Not unsurprisingly, Indian Cyber Army, ‘Indishell’ has promised a massive retaliation and as the new generation digs in its heel and marks time, we need to analyse the entire scenario. Where do we go from here? The government’s silence of over a week and the media blackout could mean three things:

Firstly, the government does not want to ‘upset India’ and up front that is how things stand. There are also indications that India is in secret parley with our government after the BSF server was destroyed and several Indian High Commission and Embassy sites including the ones in Dhaka, were not only hacked, but critical information about employees, visitors with their personal details were leaked. What these parleys are about is not known, but our guesstimates can be as good as the Indians.

Secondly, there should be no underestimating the competence and capabilities of Bangladesh Intelligence. The precision, timing of the attacks, and systematic targeting with the numbers of websites taken down in twenty four hours, simply couldn’t have happened without the knowledge of the government or the complicity of our intelligence services. At best and for all practical purpose, elements within the government may have initiated the attacks and/or intentionally looked the other way when BCA and BBHH and others went all out.

Thirdly and more dangerously, and I hope I am proved wrong, all or even part of the ‘war’ could well be a false-flag counter-intelligence operations by India, to add further pressure on Bangladesh, and let alarm bells ring about our cyber security. That in the end would or could lead to one specific goal. Further Internet censorship and it is not as if Bangladesh is new to the phenomena.

Having taken the above coordinates – let us assess where we are at currently: what we are confronted today is a series of serious breach of trust felt by a predominant part of our population towards our political establishment. The noise on the street only adds up to more decibels to our much stressed existence. Everything is on the verge of collapsing and each day seems like we are merely hanging on a tether.

False promises in false speech by politicians, who have taken on the false aura of false Prophets, are contributing to our doom and gloom psyche. Our sensitive young, feel listless and unable to act, or contribute meaningfully to society. They have taken refuge in the virtual world, for the real world makes no meaning to them. Their aspirations are blunted, their frustrations pronounced in daily status updates on their Facebook walls. Most have no chance to compete in the real world where recession has rendered jobs scarce.

Yet today the young have scored a point and made not only us but the rest of the world to take notice. We still have no time for them, nor are we interested to hear their voices. We indulge in age-related prejudices and think in our own over heated imagination that they do not deserve to be heard. Since we have placed ourselves in a pedestal at their expense, we by implication behave as if all the best thoughts for the nation lay safely ensconced within our minds – not theirs. Our domineering façade does not belie our self confidence, but our vulnerability. Because we are vulnerable, we do not permit the young to breathe, to be themselves. In our frailties we only try act God!

Yet here we are in 2012 and almost 60 per cent of our population is below the age of 25 – a supremely talented nation of the young, who when given a fair chance have displayed their merits. On the flip side, our fossilized and wasted establishment and political culture do not even have the flimsiest research to probe their highly imaginative minds nor do we have the capacity to appreciate their infinite talents and capacity.

What we are then left with, is for the now generation to act out its vengeance and frustrations covertly, in anonymity, in disguise. We do not know the identity of any of the thousands of hackers that have unleashed this ‘war’ not only on India, but on our opportunistic political establishment. The danger is right here.

In event of a government crackdown and arrest of hackers, there is more than a chance that many will be most brutally tortured, some may even face death. Already many of the hackers on activist pages on Facebook are sending out cautionary messages of the government working out means with India on how they could be traced and annihilated.

All of the above can happen without our knowing, without any Media coverage, without any screams heard for Human Rights Violation and in the end, we may well waste or kill some of the brightest and most promising that Bangladesh could ever offer. The Government will be ill advised to make such a move, for what we will then have is a disaster that will make matters complex. The power of our young, the now generation is immense and should not be underestimated.

What can then best be done?

In a TV talk show on February 17, I suggested that Bangladesh should actively patronise and promote these young but highly talented pool of hackers, by opening dialogues either overtly or covertly and bring them onboard. The next step could be an assurance of proper employment and to make them work together with the national defense to develop an impregnable cyber security system for the nation, which will have far reaching implications in the days ahead.

As much as we talk about a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ – we do not get to hear anything about Cyber Security. To imagine that we are safe is wishful thinking. Security is never discussed in public, so the hackers too may have important reasons to be anonymous. The digital divide has never ever been more pronounced.

Meanwhile some TV talk show hosts have discreetly talked to some hackers on screen, but it is obvious that their efforts were only to find out the safety of our Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system and if it is ‘hackable’. The answer incorrectly was NO. The other was to portray these wonderful young women and men as petty thieves and robbers – ones who can hack into your bank or credit card account and ‘steal money from the rich to give them to the poor’ – millennium Cyber Robinhood?

Our lust for money and greed that is the cause for all our sufferings cannot simply be transferred to the young, for such an exercise will result in a major catastrophe which no Government or security service can ever control or handle. We may be justifiably opposed to hacking as it constitutes a crime, but let us not forget that the circumstances that have provoked our young to ‘declare war’ in 2012 is JUST, and on the clear premise that ‘to FIGHT injustice is JUSTIFIED’ !

On balance, what we now have is not just a ‘cyber war’ against India, but a bubbling political cauldron that has every indicator of outstripping the 2011 Arab Spring of Discontent. To be fair, in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, Facebook and Twitter spread messages for mass mobilisation on the streets. There are however no records of protestors arming themselves on ‘weapons’ available free on the Net – things like Hacking Tutorials conducted online and results quickly transmitted as and when success were met by novices?

What can conceivably happen in the long run is no Tahrir Square in Dhaka to force the ouster of a political Government and replace one with yet another corrupt set of politicians in musical chair roulette. If left unattended and the young disrespected, dishonored or efforts made to defeat them, a ‘war’ most unwarranted may erupt. Our Government, corrupt institutions and the civil society just doesn’t have a clue as what is likely to come next.

When you provoke sixty per cent of the young and sensitive portion of your population, you wake up ‘lovable monsters’ that will crush you in ways more than one. Perhaps that is what Bangladesh direly needs – ‘lovable monsters’?

Source: New Age