Economy and Business

Virtual shield up: Digital India will stand or fall by whether it understands and implements cybersecurity

Two academics from IIT Kanpur, who briefed a parliamentary standing committee on cybersecurity, have pointed out that risks have escalated following India’s drive to digitise its economy.

Aug 1, 2017
Two academics from IIT Kanpur, who briefed a parliamentary standing committee on cybersecurity, have pointed out that risks have escalated following India’s drive to digitise its economy. These risks are pronounced in the financial sector as last year’s malware-related breach which led to millions of debit cards being blocked showed. This vulnerability in financial sector feeds into larger challenges of cyberwarfare and the need to secure India’s critical infrastructure, which now increasingly runs on an IT foundation.
 
Enhancing cybersecurity should necessarily start with the financial sector as a survey showed that’s where 72% of cybercrime takes place. As banks dominate this area, RBI is at the forefront of devising standards for protection. However, the IIT Kanpur study showed that the central bank is not equipped to deal with this challenge. This should worry the government as digitisation is at the heart of all financial inclusion initiatives. Therefore, government should quickly actualise finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget proposal to establish a computer emergency response team for financial sector, or Cert-Fin, to provide domain expertise and coordination in this sector.
 
Preliminary work to establish Cert-Fin has started. But now details need to be worked out and adequate funding provided. Once this is done it will strengthen Cert-In, the national agency to enhance cybersecurity. In all of this the government has a role to play. Not only is it the largest repository of sensitive data following the Aadhaar project, it also seems lax in the matter of security. Cert-In, for instance, says as many as 164 government websites were hacked during 2015. In addition there have been other instances where government agencies have placed Aadhaar numbers in public domain.
 
If individuals are always vulnerable to cybercrime, nations are at risk from acts of cyberwarfare. For example, relations between Russia and US have been adversely impacted by allegations of hacking. In a modern economy powered by computer networks, there is always a threat that hackers can trigger chaos in any sector. Therefore, the briefing to parliamentarians should serve as a timely reminder that there needs to be a collective effort to enhance cybersecurity. Individual organisations can and do take precautions. But government must step up its game. Sectoral regulators and agencies such as Cert-In need to be at the vanguard of strengthening cybersecurity.
 
Times of India, August 1, 2017

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