Grey Zone Warfare: The Massive Black Out In India

"The Chinese are known for officially hacking sensitive sites world over including ours due to the type of relationship we have with them. Pakistan, North Korea and many countries world over are indulging in bloodless hidden cyber war against adversaries."

Grey Zone Warfare: The Massive Black Out In India

The massive black-out on 30 and 31 Jul 2012 left 670 million Indians without power for two days. Roads were gridlocked, coal miners were trapped underground, hospitals had been plunged into darkness and millions of train passengers were stranded after grids supplying electricity to half of India’s 1.2 billion people collapsed on both 30th and 31st July 2012 for two days at a stretch.

Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the north-western deserts of Rajasthan, the outage was the worst to hit India in more than a decade and embarrassed the government, which has failed to build up enough power capacity to meet soaring demand. Such blackouts will be normal in future due to our inimical neighbours, countries and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Even before we could figure out the reason for the 30th July 2012 failure, we had more grid failures the next day on 31st July, ''said RN Nayak, the then Chairman of the state-run Power Grid Corporation. By the afternoon rush-hour, only about 40 percent of power was back up and streets were clogged with commuters trying to get home.

By nightfall, power was back up in the humid capital, New Delhi and much of the north, but a senior official said only a third was restored in the rural state of Uttar Pradesh, itself home to more people than Brazil.

It’s certainly shameful. Power is a very basic amenity and situations like these should not occur,” said Unnayan Amitabh, 19, then an intern with HSBC Bank in New Delhi, as he was giving up on the underground train system and flagging down an auto-rickshaw to get home. They talk about big ticket reforms but can’t get something as essential as power supply right, said another disgusted citizen.

Hundreds of millions of people across India were left without power on these two days in one of the world's worst blackouts, trapping miners, stranding train travellers and plunging hospitals into darkness when grids collapsed for the second time in two days. The cuts in such a widespread area of the world's second most populous nation appeared to be one of the biggest in history, and hurt Indians' pride as the country seeks to emerge as a major force on the international stage.

Train stations in Kolkata were swamped and traffic jammed the streets after government offices closed early in the dilapidated coastal city of 5 million people. The power failure in some major city hospitals and office buildings had to fire up diesel generators.

The Metro services came to grinding halt and many commuters were struck in 300 trains halting in between the stations with air-conditioning stopped. Some passengers panicked as power controlled automatic doors could not be opened. By mid-evening, services had been restored on the New Delhi metro system.

Two hundred miners were stranded in three deep coal shafts in the state of West Bengal when their electric elevators stopped working and India was forced to buy extra power from the tiny neighbouring kingdom of Bhutan to help it recover from a blackout that hit more than 300 million people. Indians took to social networking sites to ridicule the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, in part for promoting Shinde despite the power cuts.

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What Was The Reason?

Then Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed the system collapse on some states drawing more than their share of electricity from the overburdened grid, but Uttar Pradesh's top civil servant for energy said outdated transmission lines were at fault. Asia's third-largest economy suffers a peak-hour power deficit of about 10 percent, dragging on economic growth.

What was the reason of Massive Power blackout in India? Was UP at the heart of the power crisis that plunged 600 million people across the country into darkness? Even as the central government and experts poured over the possible reasons, power officials in the state denied any blame. But as an expert on Industrial Security, I could not rule out the cyber sabotage angle.

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Was It Sabotage?

There was a cyber war going on between Iran and a few other countries. The Chinese are known for officially hacking sensitive sites world over including ours due to the type of relationship we have with them. Pakistan, North Korea and many countries world over are indulging in bloodless hidden cyber war against their adversaries.

It all started some years back with Stuxnet, considered the most sophisticated computer virus ever and the world's first virtual weapon of mass destruction.

It is like a laser guided missile and comparing it with older viruses like Trojan horse and Time Bomb seems like comparing a nuclear bomb with a crude bomb. Cyber experts point fingers towards the US and Israel in developing this malicious program with a single purpose of sabotaging nuclear installations of Iran.

IT experts feel there are numerous versions of the Stuxnet like Duqu and Flame that are difficult to control as not all are under the control of the people who created them. The Computer Emergency Response Team for India (CERT-IN) had issued an alert against these viruses two years back but by then it was too late as more than 80,000 computers were infected with this virus in India.

Giving us the dubious distinction of the third most infected country with this virus and country has suffered unlimited losses and many cyber criminals are trying to take over control of these viruses.    

While investigations were on to pinpoint the cause of the world’s largest black out, the possibility of the Chinese/Pakistani nexus to hit India’s economy and prestige secretly cannot be ruled out. Cyber warfare is like chemical and biological warfare that are not confined to geographical boundaries. Our vital installations like power, oil, nuclear facilities, defence etc. can be targeted at will on a large scale.

The US Defence Advanced Project Agency (DARPA) that was involved in creation of the Internet finds itself unable to cope with hacking. The “Shadows investigators” as well as “the Dark Visitor” a blog that researches Chinese hacking activities have concluded that these originate from Chengdu University of Electronic Science and Technology that has leashed cyber war world over.

Therefore, the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) also called Industrial Control Systems (ICS) can be hacked easily to put a country like India adversely in the world’s eyes as a soft state and downgrade its economy. We need to develop countermeasures and our experts know what these are and the Government's will should not be lacking to implement them.

And India as the most developing country, with hostile neighbours along our land borders and Indian Ocean sea lanes and many countries and lot more Muslim fundamentalist terrorist organisations and NGOs not toeing our way of democracy, economic and military growth and diplomacy would always resort to impede our progress through invisible, traceless cyber/IT crimes.

About the Author

Col NN Bhatia was commissioned into the 13 Kumaon in 1963. He commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), which is one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions. Upon his retirement from the army, he went on to work in intelligence, specializing in industrial security, goin on to conduct security audits of vital installations.

Presently he is a freelance Industrial Security Consultant and a prolific writer on military and industrial security. He is deeply involved in the release of 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails since the 1971 War. He can be contacted at Email: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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