Though India celebrates its National Technology Day to remember the success of the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test, the more important and urgent field that requires our attention is the cyber/digital security tech. India is poised to become a tech hub and an innovation centre for research and development. And to protect the IPRs and all the national data of its people and institutions, the government needs to take cyber security much more seriously.
Every technological advancement comes with its positive and negative aspects. Whether it be smartphones, the internet, social media or the digital revolution. India is currently going through a digital revolution.
This too has the positives like digitization of payments & transactions, and the negatives like digital/cyber frauds, scams & attacks. The arrival of this pandemic has also boosted the positive as well as the negative aspects of the digital revolution. What's the need of the hour is to engrave our focus and attention on the negative aspects of the digital revolution, which brings us to the reality of Cyber Threats and Cyber Security in India.
The Positives: Good side of the digital revolution.
The arrival of fast & affordable 4G, the shock of demonetization, the introduction of GST, the launch of government programs & services like Digital India, UPI, RuPay, etc and the recent disruptions caused by the pandemic, all of these have contributed to placing India amongst the worlds leading nations in terms of internet users, smartphone users, social media users and online payments & transactions. All of these have made life much easier & comfortable; decreased the digital & opportunity divide; made the country, society and economy more interlinked & connected; helped in formalising the economy; helped many to expand & grow their business and has contributed to making the country more prosperous.
The Negatives: Dangers, threats & worries.
As the people, businesses, institutions, organisations, corporates, individuals, governments, authorities, agencies etc have propelled toward the digital & online way of life and work; the threats like cyber attacks, online scams & digital frauds have also increased at a rapid pace.
Today, the country is facing cyber attacks from across the world. Massive electricity blackouts, hacking of power grids & sat-com networks, and cyber attacks on IPRs of R&D institutions, are among the most alarming realities that India is currently experiencing. There are also data theft, data leaks and mass scale malware attacks happening on citizens.
Most of the cyber attacks in India are carried out by our neighbours China and Pakistan. Also, not even the Indian defence personnel and officers are safe, as recently several malware attacks on the devices of defences personnel have been reported. From private organizations to individuals, from terrorist organizations to enemy countries, India is facing cyber threats from everywhere.
The rise in the number of connected devices like mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, PC etc, has resulted in the rise of frauds & scams related to mail, SMS, OTP, SIM card, links etc. SMS and mail phishing attacks, SIM swap attacks (also known as SIM porting or SIM hijacking), OTP payment frauds etc, all have grown by many folds.
Recently, India has seen a massive increase in the scale and size of cyberattacks on banks & financial institutions, scientific and R&D establishments, power grids & energy sector companies, defence & strategic companies and startups, government & intelligence agencies, Large MNC's & corporations, transaction & payment companies etc.
Though most of the attacks are carried out from China & Pakistan, there is also a third front, the elements present within the country. This third front carries out cyberattacks and online frauds on a massive scale. These domestically carried out attacks have increased at a worrying pace since the spread and adoption of affordable internet and 4G.
Also, the cyber attacks on MSMEs, small & new businesses, startups etc, that don't have the expertise and resources to protect themselves and invest in cyber security; have made the Indian economy vulnerable to massive outrages and disruptions.
The Actions: Steps & preparedness.
The recent establishment of DCA (Defence Cyber Agency), cybercrime/cyberattack cells and departments at various government levels, and the building of a cyber army are some of the steps that the Indian government has taken in response to the increasing threats. Also, the government has increased the power of the institutions and agencies like the National Technical Research Organisation, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, National Payments Corporation of India etc.
The government is also in the process of drafting data protection and cyber security law. The recent changes made in online payments rules by RBI are a step towards this. The Indian government is taking most of the required action, but the most important requirement is to develop awareness about these issues and realities among the citizens, new & small businesses, MSMEs, startups & entrepreneurs, and all the resourceless elements of the society.
This could be done by making financial education a part of the schools and colleges. Also, advertisements & public awareness programs need to incorporate financial and cyber awareness as topics of national importance. Using public sector banks and institutions for spreading awareness is also one legitimate way of spreading information about online frauds and scams.
The large corporates also have the responsibility of contributing to the fight against cyber threats. The corporate sector, with its huge financial backing, giant amount of intellectual, manpower and other resources, can help the country prepare for the future.
India needs a tremendous amount of government and private investment in building a robust, resilient, safe, secured & sustainable digital economy and society. Though the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests were our biggest scientific and technological achievement to date, the self-sufficiency in the field of cyber/digital tech and security will be our biggest step towards making India a technological superpower within this century.