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Terror in Mumbai: IT could be next target

By Rakesh Goyal
July 12, 2006 19:15 IST
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Terrorism' has become a global industry. It appears to work like a multinational corporation with branches, local offices around the world. This industry has no accountability to society.

The attacks in Mumbai, Bangalore, Srinagar, Delhi, Varanasi etc in India and in London, Madrid, Beslan, New York, Lebanon, Iraq appear to be executed with planned precision, coordinated by global bosses, sitting in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Europe or the USA or God knows where.

Tuesday's well-coordinated Mumbai blasts (termed '7/11') were targeted to disrupt the main commercial hub of India's resurgent economy, which houses the nation's central bank, major financial institutions, major stock exchanges, big corporate houses like Tata, Birla, Reliance; major public sector units, a booming diamond trade; wholesale trade and a big part of the IT industry, and can be termed as the engine of the Indian economy.

The bombs strategically targetted the local trains: the transport lifeline of Mumbai. All the blasts were in the first class compartments which carry middle and senior management of corporations, banks and government, apart from owner-managers from various markets. Thus, the target-segment was chosen carefully to break the middle layer of the industrial hierarchy and create terror. Until now, this class was never targeted.

Just a few months ago, terrorists could penetrate the Indian Institute of Science, a major institution of technical excellence in Bangalore, India's information technology hub. Last week, a plot to blow up tunnels between Manhattan and New Jersey in the United States was discovered and defused.

Terrorism is here to stay, whether we like or not.


Many people start describing it as an intelligence failure. This can not be blindly termed as an intelligence failure. In any city like Mumbai, with over 15 million people, it is impossible to provide total security. Even city-States like Singapore and Dubai -- with far less population and 'Big Brother-is-watching' capabilities -- cannot have a 100 per cent incident/crime-free environment.

There are many soft targets in any city like Mumbai, London, New York, Tokyo, Paris. The success of intelligence is rarely known, only when some major haul of arms or drugs is made is there a whiff of it. Else, the success is always unsung. Similarly, successes in security prevention are not known at all. Only the breaches are known.

In TQM/QA (Total Quality Management/Quality Analysis) terms, if we say that 93 per cent of probable incidents are prevented and 7 per cent leads to real incidents, we can say intelligence has three-sigma quality accuracy.

This 7 per cent apparently looks quite high. Four-sigma intelligence quality will make it 99.4 per cent and 0.6 per cent. I believe, the intelligence quality may lie somewhere between 3.5 sigma and 4 sigma. At less than this mark, we would have seen many more such horrible incidents.

IT infrastructure could be the next target

If the methods used by terrorist since 1993 till 2006 are analysed, one can see the trend that the attacks are becoming more sophisticated with precisely defined targets using the same old tools. The arrests of some terrorists in the recent past revealed that terrorists are recruiting people trained in engineering, science, medicine and management.

A lot of technical and managerial knowledge is flowing in to the terror industry. It seems clear that at least the planning process is done by technical and managerial educated minds.

In this scenario, the risk is very high that IT infrastructure and IT assets may be targetted in the future. This is one of the softest targets today, which can create maximum damage.

Today, the application and implementation of IT controls many business processes of social and national strategic importance -- power, communication, railways, transport, oil, manufacturing, banking, services, government-business, etc. The security of these IT assets and IT infrastructure is far lower compared to the security of normal physical assets/infrastructure. Hackers, perpetrators, computer-criminals easily break into IT assets and create news.

There are many methods available for terrorists to break into this IT infrastructure/ IT assets. I can discuss a number of these. But the irony is that this discussion of methods apart from creating awareness among masses, will also help terrorist get ideas. I refrain from discussing these methods as a better and socially secure option.

Thus, it is the duty of all concerned business-process owners, whether in government or industry or utilities, to ascertain that their IT assets and infrastructure are reasonably secure.

Security is not a one-time event. Security is a continuous process. Security is constant vigilance. Security is an ongoing fight between evil and our-protection-from-evil.

Evil always finds new ways to attack us. So it is our duty to keep a constant vigil and keep upgrading the methods and technology of securing ourselves. Especially, when the threat is apparent and looming large on the horizon.

The spirit of Mumbai

Today, Mumbai is back to business. People suffered a lot on Tuesday evening, but only after 12 to 15 hours they are back to their duties/business without any fear, travelling in the same crowded trains. This is the spirit of Mumbai. Terrorists can explode bombs in trains or even at strategic locations, but they cannot break the Mumbai spirit.

This spirit is sufficient to frustrate the evil design of terror-mongers. They can draw satisfaction from material damage but they are unable to break the moral, courage and spirit of Mumbaikars.

Despite the jamming of all telecommunication and transportation hurdles on Tuesday evening, Mumbaikars rose to the occasion. They helped each other; passed well-being messages through incoming STD calls; provided food, water and shelter to stranded fellow Mumbaikars; donated blood; helped the administration in traffic control and at blast sites.

Jamming the communications networks was required so that terrorists could not use mobile phones for more blasts or to communicate amongst themselves for escape.

We need to fight the challenge thrown by the terrorism industry to civilised humankind by systematically/professionally securing ourselves individually and collectively: by being vigilant, by monitoring all the happenings around us, and with a large dose of that Mumbai spirit.

Rakesh Goyal is director general, Centre for Research and Prevention of Computer Crimes.

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