India has a big role to play in fighting the virtual war against cyber crime

This article has been co-authored by Deeksha Goyal and Satyendra Tripathi.

 |  Breaking views  |  5-minute read |   17-02-2017

In this digital era, when virtual space occupies a dominant place in the lives of almost every citizen, it is near impossible to think of a time when these did not exist. However, we cannot even allow a nightmare for a future deprived of these facilities. From sustaining the life of gizmos to teaching the first alphabet to a toddler, digital facilities have taken over our lives. And, with this growing dependence have grown the challenges of controlling cyber theft and cyber terrorism.

Data management has emerged as the new trend of business opportunities. However, the protection of valuable intellectual properties and information is posing greater and critical challenges to policy makers.

Addressing a gathering at the launch of his ambitious Digital India programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed cyber war to be a bloodless war and had called upon the IT experts of the nation to play a big role in combating this threat. Echoing his sentiments, the former US president Barack Obama in his remarks on “Securing our nation’s cyber infrastructure” at the White House had identified cyber security as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges.

Cyber crime has dispensed off the concept of physical boundaries and with the click of a mouse devastations can be initiated at any place irrespective of the latitudinal and longitudinal positions. The same is proven by a fact stated in the Asia Pacific Defence Outlook 2016, a report published by Deloitte, which says that South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore, also referred to as the Cyber Five, are nine times more vulnerable to cyber attacks than the rest of Asian economies.

As per a report of the World Economic Forum, the current impact of cyber attacks on the Australian economy is to the tune of 17 billion Australian dollars annually. To rectify this, the Australian minister of cyber security in the prime minister’s office has pledged an investment of 230 million Australian dollars on cyber security strategies.

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Cyber attacks have posed a major challenge, affecting the world economy to the tune of £238 billion in a year.

Globally too, cyber attacks have posed a major challenge, affecting the world economy to the tune of £238 billion in a year, which is equal to 0.5 per cent of the world’s total GDP.  On the other hand, Juniper research (UK) has predicted that cyber crime will cost businesses over $2 trillion by 2019.

As per a report in the Financial Times, there have been about 60 million cyber security incidents in the year 2015, rising from the 40 million reported in 2014. In August 2008, during the Russia-Georgia War, cyber attacks caused the Parliament of Georgia and Georgian ministry of foreign affairs websites to be replaced by images comparing Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili to Adolf Hitler.

Indian Ocean Region has emerged as the economic epicentre with India and China at the fulcrum. India has taken a lead in its IT penetration with the national economy leveraging its digital component, thus following the lead of Singapore and Japan. While this advancement towards cashless economy will also be a catalyst in building a corruption-free society, but, on the other hand, digital transactions are at a risk of being victims of cyber crime.

Three financial institutions, including the BSE, have faced cyber attacks in the last three months. Major banking systems of India, incuding SBI, Axis, HDFC, have faced cyber attacks in the recent past. A survey on fraud in the financial sector by Assocham and PwC found these caused $20 billion (Rs 1.26 lakh crore) in direct losses annually. Around 3.2 million customers were left vulnerable in a recent attack on India’s banking system. In a similar cyber attack on Bangladesh's central bank, the hackers stole over $80 million.

Cyber crime has emerged as the new weapon for terrorist groups to attack the economic system of countries so that economies can be collapsed. The upsurge in radicalisation of the youth by extremists groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda and JeM, in the Indian Ocean Region is one of the darkest effects of cyber terrorism.

Not only does it help in quick radicalisataion but has also become an easy tool for the extremist recruiters to pick their targets mostly in the age group of 16-24. It has also been observed that hacking of the banking systems is a major source of funding and sustenance of all such groups.

Political vulnerability of the region, especially in countries like Pakistan and Vietnam, is further exposed to threat owing to the constant rise in the cases of cyber terrorism, annually. The governments are always at threat of being taken over or undemocratically thrown out of power at the hands of unseen forces, that are at work.

There is a greater possibility of misuse of defence equipments and state machinery to pose war against other nation states, thus, posing another great challenge to world peace. Recently, the world had witnessed the use of information technology by ISIS to recruit and radicalise youth from all around the world to indoctrinate them and strengthen its squad in its fight against the ruling regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Now, the need of the hour is for the policy-makers to work on an integrated framework for nations and the world at large to secure internal security from external invasion. Thus, a policy should be so derived that protection is rendered to both national and global economy as well as national and global security.

(The authors are senior research fellows at India Foundation.)

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