Millennium Post

In the cyber age

We live in a digital age. And, similar to any other age in the past, there are pros and cons attached to it. A computerised world surrounds us, making earlier tasks easier and streamlining processes at a much faster pace. But just as we celebrate the technological advancement, we ought to be wary of its perilous side as well. Adapting to the digital world is necessary but it cannot be an incomplete transition. We cannot adapt to digital services without safeguarding those. Net banking without multiple-factor authentication leaves bank accounts vulnerable to hackers and frauds. The past decade has provided enough instances of phishing to appropriately explain the vulnerability in question. But cyber crimes are not related to banking alone. Yes, financially, banks may seem to to be the golden goose we ought to safeguard from nefarious elements. Yet, banks and money is not the only gold we must protect. Security is equally important. With the advent of smart homes, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), security perimeters can be breached and result in adverse circumstances. This is the case not just for people in society but a nation in entirety. Cyber threats from China and North Korea are not new, to say the least. In fact, India happens to be amongst the top ten nations facing cyber-attacks. The recent lockdown period saw an intermittent rise in malicious traffic on the internet. That should be taken as a warning sign. On Sunday, a domestic hacker group by the name 'Kerala Cyber Hackers' breached the Delhi State Health Mission website, accessing personal data of more than 80,000 Covid-19 patients in Delhi. The group exposed the vulnerability in the government systems storing sensitive data. In fact, they rubbed salt on the bruise by asserting that it took less than 10 minutes to access the government site's server. The fact that hackers were "appalled" at the poor digital infrastructure in place should serve as an eye-opener for authorities. The group did not intend to misuse the available data, projecting themselves as ethical hackers who simply point vulnerabilities in systems to ensure better safeguards for the future. However, such a tryst with ethical hackers is not going to be a prerequisite in general. Their act ought to be taken as a warning of the fact that nefarious elements can breach our secure servers and manipulate or misuse sensitive data stored. Consequences could be devastating. In this case, if Covid-19 patients' figures are manipulated, the entire action plan to combat the pandemic in the national capital could be jeopardised. Miscalculations would lead to inaccuracy and the outcome would be disastrous, to say the least. The group's ethical act, notwithstanding an illicit errand, must not go unheeded.

India remains in dire need of updating its National Cyber Security Policy, 2013. We are in need of enhancing the resilience of our digital infrastructure to cyber-attacks. The need will only get enhanced as we continue the digitisation campaign in the country. With around one-third of global cyber-attacks originating from China alone, an updated safety net over our digital infrastructure is non-negotiable. Border incursions are not the only way Chinese can hurt us. The digital age is a conducive environment to inflict cyber-attacks of the kind that can prove detrimental to national security. We are well past the primitive age of computers. Computer systems of today power dams to air-defence systems, power transmission to satellite systems and facilitate communication amid a variety of functions. We need to revitalise our National Cyber Coordination Centre to better serve national interests. A robust network with a coordinated approach is of essence today and it cannot be ignored. Since all kinds of information are now stored on the internet and all sorts of activities are facilitated through the internet, ensuring safeguards and assessing them routinely becomes a prerequisite of the cyber age. There can be no denying to that.

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