Lt Gen (Dr) AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd)
Communication is the lifeblood of any organisation, civil or military, and to a large extent, the efficiency of an organisation depends on the quality of its communication system.
A communication system essentially comprises a data source, a transmitter, a medium (can be terrestrial, radio or satellite), a receiver and a destination. The requirements of a good communication system are reliability, efficieny (use of bandwidth) and security. Comprehensive security has to be end-to end security of data, networks and applications. To provide redundancy, a combination of media should be used.
Optical fibre is the most secure medium for carrying data since it does not radiate electromagnetic energy and cannot be intercepted unless physically tapped. Fibre can carry large bandwidth over long distances and therefore is very suitable for the ‘backbone’ in any network, but it cannot be used everywhere, particularly in mobile applications.
Wireless communications are generally preferred because of their flexibility, the devices are not hampered by wires and can be moved from place to place easily. Modern technology has made available to the user a host of handheld devices such as PDAs, smartphones, tablets etc., which can synchronise data between each other and also utilise network services. However, since they use Radio Frequencies (RF), they are considerably more risk prone and vulnerable to attack than wired networks. Intruders are constantly on the prowl looking for vulnerabilities to gain access into the communication systems, and once they have, there is no limit to the damage they can cause. They can both eavesdrop on classified information as well as disrupt communications by launch of denial of service attacks, blocking bandwidth and inserting virus and malicious code.
Satellites are increasingly being used for communications, both commercial and defence. However, they are vulnerable to interference and jamming and should not be the primary mode, except where other media are not suitable, such as for communicating with mobile entities or for remote areas and inhospitable terrain. India has planned to have dedicated communication satellites for the armed forces, with GSAT-7 having recently been launched for the Navy.
Despite best efforts, it is not always possible to prevent communications from being intercepted, therefore the need to employ cryptology to protect data, so that even if intercepted, the adversary cannot make sense of it. Here again no system of encryption/ decryption is perfect, it is a technological battle and the code will be cracked sooner or later.
A military operation may last for a few hours, a few days or more, but the battle for communication security — thus information superiority — is a continuous one. While for a commercial organisation, poor communication security may result in financial loss, for the armed forces, it will spell the difference between success and failure.