Growing cybersecurity threats: Laws needed to tackle them

An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. Photo: Reuters

There is a serious concern that disinformation, misinformation and propaganda campaigns are being run in Nepal, some of them motivated by others

The global security landscape is changing rapidly. Conventional war has been replaced by irregular warfare. Cyber threat has been a crossfire tool of irregular warfare in an era of great power competition.

Cyberspace has become a prominent defence space military force in today’s world. Today many government institutions and companies are fighting for survival in battles against cyber criminals. This is an ugly war being fought every second of the day – a rogue actor with a laptop.

The enemy is not only vicious but also incredibly clever and with access to high-tech. The cyberspace enemies are not only borderless and faceless, some of them are nationless. The daunting threats incredibly lead to future cybersecurity uncertainty.

Cyberspace has become one of the most crucial defence domains for all branches of the military. Thus, strategists and military planners should fully understand how Cyberspace Operations (CO) fit into national security as an instrument of national policy. This is because cyberspace is now essential for military operations in all domains.

In addition, cyberspace is a new and evolving domain, which means that it is full of vulnerabilities that can be exploited by adversaries.

As a result, there is a growing need for militaries to develop cyber defence capabilities to protect their networks and systems from attack. In Nepal, there is no clear government policy, mandate or legal framework for responding to large-scale cyberattacks.

This lack of clarity has increased the danger of such attacks, as it is unclear which agency would be responsible for coordinating the response. Cybercrime falls under the jurisdiction of the Nepal Police, as it is a direct concern to public security.

Similarly, cyber defence falls under the domain of the defence forces. Therefore, it would be more efficient for our government to keep its cyber defence under the defence domain, for which the Nepali Army Cyber Directorate would be the best force.

However, the cyberspace of Nepal is not safe, not only from cyber enemies but also from cyber terrorism. Although there is no cyber-terrorism attack targeting Nepal itself, it seems that there is a strong possibility of cyberattacks in other countries using the cyberspace of Nepal. Nepal must, therefore, prepare the necessary laws and professional human resources to secure Nepal’s cyberspace. The National Security Act must dictate the national cyber security policy and cyber defence policy.

For the past few years, several cyberattacks have been taking place in Nepal. Websites of government and non-government organisations and social networks are being targeted by hackers. Important data and money are being stolen by cyber attackers from Nepal by foreign criminal gangs.

Cyberattacks are on the rise, and everyone is a potential target. Hackers and other criminals are constantly looking for new ways, including nuisance calls, malicious emails and even social engineering to gain access to our personal and financial data.

Private sector companies and government infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

These entities often store large amounts of sensitive data, which make them a prime target for criminals.

In recent years, we have seen several high-profile cyberattacks that have targeted private-sector companies and government infrastructure.

These attacks have caused significant financial and reputational damage. Furthermore, there is a serious concern that disinformation, misinformation and propaganda campaigns are being run in Nepal. Some of these campaigns appear to be motivated by the interests of other countries. The misuse of social media at the highest levels is a further cause for concern.

Cyberattacks in Nepal can be seen from two perspectives: criminal and national security. Criminal cyberattacks, such as phishing and ransomware, should be handled by the police. However, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, such as those that could disrupt the power grid or financial system, should be treated as a national security threat.

The government should designate the Nepali Army Cyber Directorate as the country’s national cyber defence authority, with full authority to respond to cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

The government should also provide the Nepali Army with the resources it needs to strengthen its capabilities in this area.

In the absence of a national cyber security policy, and cyber defence policy, security agencies are left in a dilemma. There is no clear mandate for cyber-criminal acts and acts of cyber defence. If we are not prepared, one day we may lose all our digital data, which is a serious threat to the national security of Nepal.

The government and the private sector should work together to prevent it. Nepali cyber security and IT companies are growing rapidly on their own. They have become a source of remittance.

Therefore, the government should immediately implement cybersecurity and IT-friendly policies to promote these businesses.

Nepal needs to improve cybersecurity by strengthening government agencies, promoting awareness, establishing response teams and fostering global cooperation with cyber diplomacy.

Cybersecurity is important for Nepal because of its dependence on digital connectivity and the potential for cyberattacks from political tensions, regional conflicts and ideological motivations.

Civil rights and liberties are the eyes of a liberal democracy.

It helps citizens to be accountable to protect national security and privacy.

Balancing cybersecurity policy and privacy is a complex assignment. The government must consider several factors, including the nature of the threat, the potential impact of a breach, and the rights of individuals.

Citizens should be able to understand that personal security is not higher than national security.

For this, we should spread awareness among every citizen about national security and its importance.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 25, 2023, of The Himalayan Times.