C Gopinath

Cold War redux

C GOPINATH | Updated on March 12, 2018

It’s happening in cyber space

If you thought the Cold War and its proxy wars had ended, think again. It has only moved with the times. The whole domain of cyberspace has provided rich territory for sabre rattling of different forms.

Let’s follow a thread. In May this year, the Chinese government decided to ban Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system from being installed in new computers purchased by the government.

Perhaps, a local supplier has an alternative operating system that can be used, for I do not see Apple rubbing its hands in glee. Then, Bloomberg, the US news service, quoted unidentified sources that the Chinese government, out of national security concerns, may ask its domestic banks to remove high-end servers supplied by IBM.

Global Times, the Chinese English language daily, following up this story noted that Inspur, an IBM rival in servers is likely to benefit. Inspur’s shares are already rising.

This would be truly ironic, for the US House of Representatives and the government had expressed similar security concerns about US firms buying telecom equipment from Huawei, a Chinese company. Huawei is said to have close links with the Chinese government and its owner/founder is a former Chinese army official.

Checking on

I am a security illiterate, but if the worry is that companies can put in chips (or sauces that go with it) in their equipment so it regularly sends secret signals to mama sitting in the depths of a government building somewhere, it can be found out. I know this because I have seen several Hollywood movies on the subject. Even Saddam Hussein found out that security cameras installed by the US government on a request from the IAEA to monitor weapons’ sites in Iraq were also secretly sending signals to US intelligence.

But that is what governments do, whether they are democratic or autocratic. They are supposed to ensure the security of the nation, even if it means spying on or overhearing the phone conversations of close allies.

The cyber heat got turned up recently when the US revealed the names of Chinese army officers who were said to be conducting cyber espionage against US businesses.

Shadow boxing

If IBM is hurt by the Chinese government’s policy changes, that would again be ironic since it exited the PC business, perceived as a low-margin commodity business, in 2005 by selling it to the Chinese company, Lenovo. In return for US government permission to conclude the transaction, Lenovo had to agree to several conditions about governance and firewalls between US operations and China.

And thus the games go on. Surely, tests can reveal if hardware has been tampered with that violate security concerns. It is software and hacking that we should be worried about; let’s not forget that the US could even remotely place bugs to neutralise Iran’s centrifuges. Then why all this shadow boxing about telecom equipment and IBM servers? Cyber technologies led the world in its march towards globalisation.

Digitisation of information allowed work to be broken up into little pieces and transferred almost instantaneously around the world. Now computing technology is becoming the new frontier for localisation. That is a pity.

The writer is dean of Jindal Global Business School, Sonipat, Delhi NCR

Published on June 10, 2014

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