Tirumurti spoke of the dangers from terrorist exploitation of the new financial technologies like virtual currencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that create monetary value out of non-physical entities, crowd-funding platforms and new payment methods like prepaid phone cards, mobile payments and online payment systems
Warning about the dire threat from terrorists exploiting emerging digital technologies -- from cryptocurrencies and NFTs to 3D printing and artificial intelligence -- India has proposed hosting a meeting of the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to consider ways to tackle the danger comprehensively.
Announcing the proposal on Monday at the Council, India’s Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti, who is the chair of the CTC, said, “The need for member states to comprehensively address and tackle the implications of terrorist exploitation of the digital technologies more strategically has never been more dire”.
The meeting “will exclusively focus on this issue and attempt to provide the way forward” in facing the challenges from terrorists adopting new financial technologies to raise and transfer funds and using artificial intelligence and 3D printing for attacks, he said.
“The inter-connected nature of the digital domain requires that solutions to the complex problems and threats emanating from this domain cannot be resolved in isolation”, he said.
“There is an underlying need to adopt a collaborative rules-based approach and work towards ensuring its openness, stability and security”, he added.
Tirumurti spoke of the dangers from terrorist exploitation of the new financial technologies like virtual currencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that create monetary value out of non-physical entities, crowd-funding platforms and new payment methods like prepaid phone cards, mobile payments and online payment systems.
“The ease of access, anonymity and intractability offered by them have enabled terrorist entities to collect and transfer funds evading the monitoring and enforcement structures”, he said.
Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo, who briefed the Council on “The Use of Digital Technologies in Maintaining International Peace and Security,” also sounded a warning about “the increasing availability of digital payment methods such as cryptocurrencies” that terrorists exploit.
“Non-state actors are becoming increasingly adept at using low-cost and widely available digital technologies to pursue their agendas”, she added.
DiCarlo said that groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida “remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising”.
“Terrorist misuse of artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing for various terrorist purposes, which have a global reach, also demands our immediate attention”, Tirumurti said.
He said that the approach to the problem of terrorism has to also go beyond looking at it as only a direct physical attack to holding equally responsible those “inciting the terrorist acts through hateful content and radical ideologies” even if they are far away from the incidents.
“Equally needed is to address the legal challenges in bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, particularly due to the remote nature of their involvement in terrorist activities”, he said.
DiCarlo said that according to some estimates, “the number of state- and non-state- sponsored incidents of malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends has nearly quadrupled since 2015”.
“Of specific concern is activity targeting infrastructure that provides essential public services, such as health and humanitarian agencies”, she added.
Tirumurti also warned about cross-border terrorism by governments “leveraging their expertise in digital domain to achieve their political and security-related objectives” to target “critical national infrastructure, including health and energy facilities”.
He did not name any country, but an Indian official has acknowledged that Chinese hackers unsuccessfully targeted power distribution facilities in the Ladakh region.
A US company that monitors cyber threats, Recorded Future, had earlier reported that a Chinese group, Red Echo, had carried out cyber intrusions of several Indian electricity generation and distribution infrastructure facilities in 2020.
In March, US federal prosecutors charged three Russians with hacking into energy infrastructure computer networks in India and in about 135 other countries.
Tirumurti said that open democratic societies like India are particularly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns that are enhanced by “the use of machine learning and big data”.
These pose “a considerable threat to international peace and security” and “the international community cannot take a selective approach and needs to avoid double standards when it comes to addressing these threats”, he said.
DiCarlo criticised social media companies for their “sometimes limited or not fully adequate” response to “the spread of disinformation (and) radicalisation to violence, racism, and misogyny” their platforms.
(The author is a New York-based writer-commentator, South Asia Monitor and Nonresident Fellow, Society for Policy Studies(SPS). Views are personal.)