Internet in the time of war

The Internet could easily be turned into a weapon in the modern war

By Dr. Ajay Data

First time in its history ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers got an unusual request: to pull of top-level domain name (TLD) – “.ru” of Russia so that no website with this domain is accessible from anywhere in the world. Ukrainian’s deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov urged ICANN to revoke Russian domains, including .ru and shut down Russia’s root DNS servers in the country.

Such practices if allowed could lead to mass destruction in terms of destroying economies and information systems.

Global Community and ICANN worked very sensibly and denied the request to pull off the Internet. “Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the internet —regardless of the provocations.” Goran Marby, President ICANN said in his response to Ukrainian.

Internet is a critical infrastructure. It cannot be fully shut down by any one country; but, its use as a weapon of war has the potential of destruction akin to carpet bombing of the economy, critical infrastructure, and services.

The debate over data localization is again in focus as the world faces its worst crisis since World War II.  Ukraine is trying to stop Russia’s internet, Russia is employing cyber-attacks. We all know about our dependency on I-phone, Android, Mac, and windows, which is controlled by American companies. Can a sovereign country imagine functioning without these tech companies in the modern world?

What if India lands in a situation with the US and suddenly the whole country would be caught in the cleft. This is the wake-up time and to solve the puzzle by strategic thinking and planning accordingly.

In the domain of Information Technology (IT), the lesson to learn from the Russia-Ukraine war is to build local capacity. The e-commerce policy of India favors the location of computing facilities within India and requires business entities that collect or process ‘sensitive data’ in India and store them abroad to adhere to certain conditions.

India needs to buckle up  

A mock drill with shutting down external connections for a day and to see if India functions normally would be an ideal scenario for the firsthand knowledge of difficulties one may face in the time of war and external aggression faced by the digitally superior enemy. We must ensure that everything we use in our daily life relies on digital infrastructure which is located in India.

It is extremely critical to build intellectual property out of India and support those companies who are building IP, especially for India. We also need to identify the local focus on strategic needs for India, for example breaking the language barrier to bring people online.

The real issue is – who owns data, who controls the continuity of services, and who will get the monetary benefits out of the data which we as individuals and communities generate on daily basis.

An individual owns data but doesn’t have the capacity to monetarily benefit from it. Companies, on the other hand, don’t own data but gain much monetary value because of the computing capabilities they possess. So how can individuals or communities, the actual owners of data, benefit from the asset they own?

The data is the new “oil”, and companies like Facebook, etc. have already stated that they are willing to be blocked in a few countries if forced to follow data localization norms. $3 trillion worth of cross-border data flows across the globe on daily basis.

Options before any sovereign country are limited as the choice is between a globalized economy and closing down the digital borders. The pitfalls on this narrow path have the potential to take the economy back to the Stone Age.

Gain for India in the long term

In the digital world of Artificial intelligence and machine learning, data plays a critical role, and access to large data becomes paramount. India’s new “bhashani” initiative allows citizens, and companies to push data in government-owned servers, and the option to use bhashani AI models in their software. This is one simple example of people getting benefitted from their own data.

Data localization requirement is an intervention by India to ensure that benefits of data accrue to its citizens. The establishment of data centers within the domestic territory will lead to the creation of more jobs, income, and revenue for the government. Thus, though there are no direct benefits to individuals through data localization, they indeed are benefited indirectly through ‘trickle-down’ effects.

We should also not forget that more than 80 percent of the people do not speak English, and our internet is largely accessible only through the English medium through domain names and email addresses.

The government of India has taken several steps to break the barrier however companies and citizens need to wake up support those policies and start using local service, local domains (.in or .भारत), email address internalization and ensuring to use of Indian server, software for businesses and critical services.

If we can control our digital destiny, then only we can expect a self-reliant India.

Investment and Innovation needed

Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan or the Self-reliant India campaign is the vision for new India envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To me, Atmanirbhar Bharat is based on the five pillars – Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography, and Demand. The aim is to make its citizens independent and self-reliant in all senses. Atmanirbhar Bharat will make India self-reliant by creating an eco-system that will allow Indian companies to be highly competitive on the global stage.

Crisis of various magnitudes with unforeseen impact could emerge and we need to prepare ourselves sooner and faster. This is high time that we should put India’s super brain power to put in action to build solutions for Bharat i.e. India.

It is high time for our government, local companies, and businesses to start thinking to host their websites in Indian data centers, hosting email on Indian servers, and reduce dependency on foreign hosts in India.

India is slowly building its own infrastructure. Paytm, UPI infrastructure for payments, Aadhar for Unique ID to Every citizen, Koo – India’s answer to Twitter, Lehre – for the clubhouse, and XgenPlus for Google workspace or Microsoft exchange is India’s answers to rising up to the challenge.

For fighting the global monopolies, what India needs is to develop its infrastructure.

(The writer is an award-winner techno commercial Founder & CEO of multiple technology companies. Currently, he is also the chair of the Administrative Group of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (USAG). Twitter: @ajaydata)

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Indian Express), (Image Courtesy: The Week) and .

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