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Is it possible to deal with terror emails?

Even as the nation lacks an upgraded digital infrastructure, the terrorists have mastered the internet to misuse it and keep a step ahead of us, even surpassing many of their global counterparts.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2008 20:30 IST

Once again, an email threat has preceded a series of blasts, challenging and taunting law enforcement forces. As the investigations try to identify the perpetrators and work out possible linkages between the Delhi attack and previous terror strikes, one fact is painfully obvious: the regular use of cyberspace by the terrorists as part of their strategy. The meticulous planning that goes into the time-bound delivery of an email is something that has to be considered seriously. These terrorists seem to have mastered the art of misusing wi-fi internet connections, thus evading detection.

Both the Ahmedabad and Delhi blasts emails originated from misused IP addresses, of hacked wi-fi connections in Mumbai, with another threat email, in the period between the two blasts, being sent from a prominent college in Mumbai. It is still very difficult to suggest if the masterminds of the blasts are also behind the keyboards typing out the threats, or if they have outsourced the job to techies, the way they have to modules carrying out the actual attack. Thus, despite the police being able to locate the exact virtual address of the sender, corresponding with a physical address, it has been difficult to nab the actual offender.

All these issues can no longer be brushed under the carpet. Even as the nation lacks an upgraded digital infrastructure, the terrorists have mastered the internet to misuse it and keep a step ahead of us, even surpassing many of their global counterparts. The nation is now confronted with highly sophisticated cyber abuse. This requires a revolutionary change on the policy front to pre-empt, rather than react to, future terrorist incidents.

What we need is a comprehensive national cyber security policy that incorporates legal provisions, thereby bolstering our law enforcement agencies; and a robust technical infrastructure to gather and sift through internet traffic. We urgently need to bolster our inadequate intelligence-gathering infrastructure. At present, we have the Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act) to address cyber crimes and this works in consonance with the provisions of the Indian Penal Code as and when needed. Various amendments to the IT Act are long-pending and it remains to be seen if these provisions will be able to keep pace with the terrorists, and address crucial national security issues, by the time they are passed by the Parliament.

However, these incidents must also serve as a wake-up call to alert citizens against the potential misuse of unsecured wi-fi connections, which requires a major cyber awareness activity funded by the government. In realising the intrinsic linkages between cyber security and national security, the government and intelligence agencies can prevent future attacks.

Subimal Bhattacharjee writes on cyberspace and security issues