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Cyber Attacks: More Terrifying than Terrorists

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DQI Bureau
New Update

While many would fear the first, it is cyber attack that has grown to become the top threat.

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A recent joint survey done by FICCI and Pinkerton has found that the fear of cyber insecurity is today the topmost threat while that of a terror attack has moved to a second. And not just the IT industry, even the government, manufacturing and telecom sectors are rating cyber security as one of their top 3 risks.

Mass killings carried out by insurgents used to be everyone's top fear - not anymore - it is now the organized cyber-criminals and rogue hacktivists who are making their unfortunate targets lose sleep. The fear of losing data, money, information and ideas has become the topmost concern for IT & ITeS sectors and the government, beating the fear of facing another 26/11.

A cyber attack can get your business ruined, your ideas becoming another's brainchild and your secret data floating free. With no serious treaty so far, it is quite easy for a cyber punk to sell top confidential data which the government believes it is keeping safe. Proud of a double-digit growth, those sitting in the Planning Commission will take a century to recover from the damage if the Indian economywas to face a cyber attack.

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On whether we face a larger threat from cyber attacks than traditional terror strikes Dr Aditya Arya, special commissioner, Delhi Police, says cyber terrorism is the enemy number one. Suggesting that the amount of devastation can be much more, he adds, "Cyber attack or cyber terrorism is much more devastating than the terrorism done by terrorists."The intensity of danger is very understandable!

The enemy here is almost invisible, a hackivist who cannot be caught, an attacker you cannot counter-play with. The war of the cyber world has no boundaries, the weapons are technology-equipped, and the potential damage to an economy's security structure is huge and fearful...much more ruinous and destructive than any physical terrorism.

Cyber Threat Looming Large

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Amidst endless threats, activities by cyber terrorists, their undying dedication and the cyber warfare with rogue nations promoting them as a part of a build-up for cyber world wars, the future looks grim. Today an e-mail can be a possible virus transmitter, a webpage could have a latent Trojan, and an e-commerce transaction may be a budding fraud and an e-banking transaction can end up becoming an e-robbery.

India is more exposed to such threats in the absence of proper cyber threats awareness, lack of cyber security, loose cyber law mechanisms and the absence of a national encryption policy. Conducting a cyber attack on India's critical information or data today is child's play. The very first example in the recent past was the 9/11 attacks, followed by the terror attacks in Mumbai in the year 2008. An attempt to hack the computers in the Prime Minister's Office shows the reach of these cyber terrorists. Then there were the 200 cyber attacks per day during the Commonwealth Games...

India's vulnerability to cyber attacks is much more than we can think of. Coming straight from the topmost official responsible for security, GK Pillai, Union Home Secretary: "At the moment we are not prepared to tackle such type of attacks but we are working on this."He said that almost all our systems, including transportation, power, electronics and defense are based on IT, making us more vulnerable. He also said that cyber attacks are only going to increase in the future. Critical functions such as telecommunications, aviation, railways, banking and financial networks are all under threat.

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Are We Prepared?

No. Many countries across the globe are fortifying their defense networks against cyber attacks. Having realised the importance of cyber security, some have merged their traditional armed forces with technology driven security while others have establisheded separate, dedicated cyber security segments for themselves. India too needs a good techno-legal cyber security mechanism for protection of its sensitive information and data.

But we are putting all our hopes on one section - the Information Technology Act 2000, Section 66F of the amended IT Act - but it may not adequately protect India's sovereign interest given the global onslaught of cyber terrorist activities. India requires a dedicated law on cyber terrorism. The law has to ensure that instances like the 26/11 do not get repeated. The security of governmental websites continue to be below optimal standards. The cyber cells seem to be groping in the dark for want of information regarding such cases and are not appropriately equipped to deal with them. Existing laws in India, even the Indian Penal Code of the IT Act 2000, are not sufficient for effectively regulating all the cyber crimes occuring in India.

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"Our existing laws are not at all sufficient,"says cyber law expert Pavan Duggal. "The IT Act amendment 2008 was made in haste after 26/11 took place. Many of the necessary parts are missing and much is needed to be done."Commenting on the loose nature of laws, he says that all cyber crimes including hacking are bailable offenses. If we need to protect our sensitive data and information, we must amend the IT Act to have some dedicated provisions - strict laws pertaining to cyber security, a distinct legislature, and, most importantly, a national policy on cyber security.

Government Intervention a Must

To create a completely secure cyber eco-system in the country we need well defined systems, use of appropriate technology and, more importantly, development of appropriate products and solutions. The priorities for action will be suitable design and development of indigenous products through frontier technology/product oriented research, testing & validation of products so they meet the protection profile requirements needed to secure the ICT infrastructure and the cyber space of the country.

Concerns about cyber security are escalating. Current efforts in these areas need to be stepped up by several notches with appropriate arrangements for coordination across multiple agencies. Department of Telecommunications and Department of IT would need to play a key role in this effort. India could play a major role along with other global forces that are working towards ensuring a secure cyber space.

The solution lies in the government making special anti-cyber terror courts and in creating more awareness about cyber terrorism among the law enforcement agencies and cyber cells. It will be better if the government creates a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle cyber terror. It's also high time for a policy on cyber security and defense. The country must speed up the matter and formulate a good cyber security policy and effective crisis management plan. The issue must be taken up at the national level.

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