Can India Survive Internet Batten-Down?
Last month Russia undertook an exercise of internet isolation, where the Internet connectivity to the external world was deliberately disabled. The purpose of such an exercise was to see the survivability of the nation in case of cyberwar if the Internet access to Russia is denied. Also, there can be a situation where to prevent cyber-attacks; a nation may decide to cut off external internet communication.
The most critical impact of such a cyber-attack would be the non-availability of the Internet Exchange Point (IXP) and Top Level Domains (TLDs) such as .com and .org. Additionally Software and other support systems may also become unavailable. However, in a war-like situation these support systems, patches and software updates may themselves be cyber weapon injection point. Hence internet isolation may be a desirable state, even for a limited period.
China over a period of time has deliberately built the Internet isolation mechanism. China does not only perceive technical threats from the western world, but also understands the abuse of the internet as a tool of psychological warfare and culture pollution. Action Cambridge Analytica and some of the social media, deliberately intervening in shaping the mass thought of the nation have proven that is China is right. Snowden and Wikileaks have put the US at the same pedestal as China for intervening & exfiltrating information from other countries.
India has 3 international internet gateways at Mumbai, Chennai and Agartala. 99% of the internet to & from India can be blocked by shutting these three points. The uncontrolled routes are through satellite and rogue entry points from neighbouring country 4G & other microwave towers. Therefore the process to simulate batten-down internet is not difficult. Let’s see, which all basic infrastructures exist in India to prevent the total collapse of the intra-India Internet. All three landing points are technically designed to reflect back and prevent any Internet packets leaving or entering the physical territory.
In 2003, India on special request of Defence forces and Intelligence agencies established National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). At that point, all internet traffic of India used to go to Singapore and from there to the US & back for Internet Exchange purpose. The defence establishment used to feel uncomfortable that it’s classified data is also travelling to the US and back which is considered a security risk. Initially, NIXI had five Centres in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. Later on Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Guwahati IXP were added. NIXI is now planning to establish Network Operation Centres (NOC) at Mohali and Lucknow. At present, NIXI has peak capacity 806GBits/s. NIXI is a non-profit government organisation. A private organisation, Mumbai Internet Exchange (Mumbai IXP), was founded in 2014. Soon they will add 3 Internet Exchanges at Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. This IXP has a peak capacity of 250 Gbits/s. Thus the aggregate peak capacity to keep Intra-India Internet alive is about 1 Tbits/s which is less than 1/10th of China capacity. It will be a subject of serious study if these Internet Exchange Points can bear the load if India is battened-down?
Another vital facet for isolated internet infrastructure to survive is Domain Name resolution. In Jan 2005 the government established first National level Top level domain server ccTLD for root .IN (later .भारत). With in Indian territory 16 Root servers which are continuously in-sync with other root servers were established, three are controlled by the Government through NIXI. These root servers are at Mumbai(7), Delhi(5), Kolkta(2), Bengaluru(1) and Chennai(3). Further to strengthen the internet infrastructure, in 2012, Domain Name resolution India Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN) was recognised by Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC).
Therefore, technically speaking India has the reasonable infrastructure to survive Internet isolation challenges, but there is a need to check sizing and load-bearing abilities of these critical facilities. Also, there is a need to check the country's resiliance in case such cyber war-like situation.
Better prepared than perish.