Is Central Asia Cyber Secure?
Border security, religious extremism, drug trafficking, corruption and political turbulence have been acting as persistent stumbling blocks in the path of prosperity of Central Asia since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The authoritarian presidential regimes in the Central Asian states, namely, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have been battling these stumbling blocks to make Central Asia an unshakeable region.
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However, the digital threat which the last decade brought with it was something that these orthodox states were unequipped for. Virtually, 20 websites are successfully hacked in Central Asia every five days, while every tenth website is hacked repeatedly. These startling statistics raise curiosity on whether or not Central Asia is cyber secure.
Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities in Central Asia:
What factor determines a region as cyber secure? Is it decreased cyber offences or increased cyber retaliation rates? A decline in cybersecurity vulnerabilities is what determines the cyber well-being of a region. According to NIST, a cybersecurity vulnerability is “A flaw or weakness in a computer system, its security procedures, internal controls, or design and implementation, which could be exploited by threat source to violate the system security policy”. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities can go from being very simple mistakes made by the end-user to being very complex loopholes in the operating system. The most basic Cybersecurity vulnerabilities that lead to the exploitation of National Security of the Central Asian states are faulty defenses and poor network Monitoring.
Hacking of National Space Agency of Kazakhstan:
On July 19th of 2010, the official website of the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan was targeted with ‘Cyber Hooliganism’ carried out by a 14-year-old Russian boy and his friends. The boy hacked into the website by creating an account with administrative rights. However, he later argued that the owners failed to make their portal secure. To add more salt to the wounds, the boy described the exact location of the vulnerability on the same website. An interesting fact is that Cyber Hooliganism is mostly carried out by ‘script-kiddies’ who want to boast about their skills by disturbing enormous systems. Hence, a national space agency becoming a victim of cyber hooliganism shows how weak the state is in terms of cyber defense.
Defacement of Kyrgyz Government Websites:
States highly monitor the offices of their Ministries and Legislative Institutions to safeguard them from any threatening situation, the same goes for the official websites of these institutions. Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan failed to do this which led to the hacking of its Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Anti-Terrorist Center, the State Committee of National Security and the Supreme Court in February of 2013. The hacker group called ‘Clone-Security’ defaced these websites with derogatory comments. This incident shows how websites that are considered state assets were left unmonitored.
These incidents show how Central Asian states were not even able to cover up the most basic cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Faulty defenses and poor network monitoring became victims of cyberattacks. For Central Asia to prosper it is necessary that along with prospering in military, political, religious, and ethnic realms, it also prospers in the realm of cybersecurity as currently. It is not a cyber-secure region at all.
Fatima Zainab is the Co-Cheif Executive Officer (Co-CEO) of Global Defense Insight. She studies Nuclear & Strategic Studies at the National Defence University (NDU). She is an IBM Certified Cybersecurity Analyst. Her areas of interest cover Cyber Warfare, Contemporary Security Studies, and International Politics.