Cyber Security and India at the Crossroads

Internet has made borders porous between nations and people. As a result, a new threat looms on us now — Cyber Security (or insecurity!). Broadly, there are two types of cyber threats — to entities (firms and nations) and to individuals. In this article, we will focus on the former as it has a significant effect on the later.

In the past few decades, nations have made unprecedented progress in connecting their assets — from traffic signals to power plants using internet. Not only the developed nations, but developing nations have been also investing billions in connecting assets and services. This enables nations to be more flexible in their operations as well as efficient. There has been also an immense drive to collect data across various systems. ‘Smart’ is the new mantra. For example, USA is connecting its traffic signal to make them ‘smart’ a move that will help gather data and communicate problems in case of a downtime.

Information is distributed across various stakeholders and improves productivity. A large chunk of this data is also shared with the citizens to improve transparency through public portals and websites, which become vulnerable to cyber threats. Further, critical assets such as power plants are also connected, but they use the same internet backbone, which make them vulnerable as well given the changing landscape of cyberwarfare.

It started with unorganized crimes that were targeted at personal bank accounts, emails etc. to make some quick cash. Over the years, these petty crimes have turned into an international warfare as criminals become more organized, however. Increased interest by ‘some’ nations have fueled this further, when they saw huge benefits for the costs incurred to build a cyberwar infrastructure. Lack of a unified international regulation and difficult to prove allegations turns this into a safe alternative to actual war. To the extent that there are no sanctions for hacking into nation’s power grid or president’s election.

It is a well-known fact now that many countries have started sponsoring state backed cyber programs. Thousands of cyber soldiers have been inducted in such programs. Although to make it sound it legitimate often these programs are shown to defend nation’s assets but at the very core most of these programs are designed to be offensive. The first purpose seems reasonable to protect nation’s assets but second purpose is dangerous. While defense and offence go hand in hand, however, these program are seldom used to retaliate and more towards breaching privacy, creating trouble and retrieving confidential information from the internet assets of a focal country. Thousands of cyber soldiers have been inducted in such programs.

China has estimated 50,000 to 100,000 cyber soldiers, while Russia has a separate division for it. North Korea and Iran are now added to the list. These nations have built their infrastructure to not only spy others but also to show their strength in the cyber space. Further, these nations have been accused of stealing intellectual properties and creating product replicas. There is no doubt that the situation is worrisome, and big victims are nations which maintained a defensive attitude and could not invest a lot in their infrastructure and ‘soldier’ recruitment and upgradation.

Let’s talk about a rapidly growing economy India, a nation which is coping with cyber threats. In the past decade, it has been connecting banks, income tax with people biometric data (known as aadhar). The main subsidies to the citizens have been provided online. It has observed major growth in its internet infrastructure.

However, in the cyber space, India has been playing a defensive game for long. India’s ailing IT infrastructure and explosion of data is making it vulnerable more than ever. Make in India and push on digitalization will make India a bigger target than ever. The current government has been aware and many steps have been in place. Being the sixth largest economy in the world, it does look good to be 27th in the UN cyber security index. Not so friendly neighbours and infiltration of Chinese phones and equipments pose a severe threat to the country now.

Indian has to train its own cyber army, and there is no alternative to it. Being a global IT leader with several cyber security firms estabilished in India, it is a big time that India works like a corporation and get this straight. The ecosystem supports it. Further, India can learn from other coutries such as Israel. Another approach which can go in tendem is to educate the citizens and advance the knowledge of the cyber workforce. For example, Singapore, government highly subsidises such training programs to educate and train its citizens. Lastly, given the recent threats and attacks from its neighbors, it is the right time to be offensive, enough is enough. If small trivial economies can develop strong capabilities, imagine, what could India could do if it starts focusing on it now.

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