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Views | Cyber Security: What makes cyber shields indispensable in India?

Views | Cyber Security: What makes cyber shields indispensable in India?

Views | Cyber Security: What makes cyber shields indispensable in India?
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By Ch Unnikrishnan  Dec 8, 2022 7:52:15 AM IST (Published)

In this digital era, cyber-attacks are the most expected vulnerability to systems that run the government, enterprises, institutions and social platforms. However, the mistake we are tempted to make while embracing the smart options is forgetting to keep a compulsory ‘Plan B’ in place to overcome those sudden uncertainties.

On December 1, the operations at the most modern Terminal-2 (T2) of Mumbai International Airport went back to the seventies or eighties as the boarding passes had to be issued manually; baggage tags had to be tied physically to clear them off through the security post with a manual stamp on it; and plastic chairs needed to be laid out along the passages as the plush waiting area and lounges could not fully accommodate the weary crowd of passengers. That day, the airport's passenger management system crashed due to damage in the cable network, and things went completely haywire.  

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More seriously, as I write this, the country’s premier medical institution — the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — is struggling to manage its huge patient load, including patient care services in the emergency, outpatient, inpatient, laboratory wings, etc., manually, causing a lot of anomalies. Its IT server remained out of order for the thirteenth day after a major cyber attack on November 23.
The medical data of its millions of patients, including VVIPs and celebrities, were feared to be stolen by the hackers for ransom. And now, the hackers have threatened to leak this confidential data.   
On December 4,  a similar incident occurred at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, and it had to run its significantly large outpatient management task manually after it was hit by a major cyber security failure.
Shockingly, the country's apex medical research regulatory body ICMR's server has been under the threat of hacking, and there have been at least 6,000 attempts in the last couple of days.   
These incidents and several other instances, whether in the public domain or not, altogether point to one scary conclusion — the more the world becomes smarter, the more it becomes uncertain. And the most important thing that we miss while embracing smart options is a ‘Plan B’ to overcome those sudden uncertainties. 
The Plan B is essentially an alertness about the most likely failures and vulnerabilities of the system that we are in;  the knowledge about substitute systems and strategies that can easily be adopted in an emergency, and a ready action to prepare for the worst. In the best case scenario, the establishment should be able to predict and prevent such an unexpected downtime, permanently install an alternative system, and make it readily available to manage the uninterrupted functions and at least protect confidential data.          
In this digital era, cyber-attacks are the most expected risk to systems that run the government, enterprises, institutions and social platforms. The latest data reveals that the number of cyber attacks in India witnessed a four-fold increase over the last two to three years. According to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, it tracked some 3.95 lakh cyber security incidents in 2019 in the country, and this number suddenly spiked multifold to 11.58 lakh in 2020 and 14.03 lakh in 2021. CERT-In has already tracked some 6.75 lakh cyber attacks this year in the first six months.  
However,  we don't invest much in cyber shields, though all these incidences have proved beyond doubt that it is indispensable. A 2021 IBM Security survey of more than 3,600 IT and security professionals from across the countries, including India, says 51 percent of them have reported a significant data breach; 61 percent of the participants said their respective organisations paid a ransom following cyber threat, and 74 percent said their organisations applied cyber shields inconsistently.          
Technology is the fulcrum for many of India’s public services and, therefore, protecting them from advanced threats from rivals like China is not just a utility issue but one could argue that it should be treated as part of the defence budget.
In this context, the AIIMS experience has proved our zero preparedness, which is unacceptable in a country that aims to build its ambitious growth on the digital economy. 
- CH Unnikrishnan is consulting editor at CNBCTV18.com
Read his previous articles here
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