Cyberwar is a thing. It's about time India prepare itself

Delhi Dec 05, 2019, 05.51 PM(IST) Written By: Priyanka Deo

Cyberwar Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Story highlights

India’s cybersecurity policy needs an upgrade and resilience to cyberthreat needs to be implemented at the earliest. 

Cybersecurity. A term almost all have heard about but can’t exactly grasp the holistic meaning of. Cybersecurity refers to the technologies and processes made to protect networks and devices from attack, damage and/or unauthorised access. A simple analogy; no cybersecurity is like having all of your valuables in a house that has no doors or windows. Why is cybersecurity of utmost importance to India? According to a 2019 report, India was ranked among one of the most cyber-attacked countries in the world. Approximately 15 per cent of India’s economy is the digital economy and that percentage is on the rise. The nation is also home to over 100 data clouds and centres. Consequently, India’s cybersecurity policy needs an upgrade and resilience to cyberthreat needs to be implemented at the earliest. 

With the average Indian consuming up to 20 gigabits of data annually, exponential increase in smartphone usage and the upcoming introduction of 5G, individual data protection becomes an essential part of every citizen’s fundamental right. Furthermore, Indian firms, especially startups, are incorporating more of machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics and cloud computing in their everyday functions. As the recent WhatsApp hack on prominent journalists and the cyber attack on the Kudankulam nuclear plant illustrates, all sectors face persistent and serious threats to India’s security. Incidents can include data leaks, malware, terrorist-driven activity, the spread of extremism, illicit trafficking and radicalisation. Action needs to be taken. This can be done in several ways. 

First, a governmental governing body needs to make a comprehensive assessment needs of India’s current cybersecurity across sectors from the individual level to an MNC level. The good news is that India already has existing cybersecurity projects like the National Cyber Coordination Centre and the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre. Such agencies can be strengthened and should take the lead on conducting and completing this assessment. It is only upon the completion of the assessment, effective policy can be crafted that solves for loopholes and threats currently faced. 

Second, India should create a cybersecurity strategy with the vision of cyber-resilience for the public sector, the private sector, the government and the individual. Rather than just outlining strategy, this document should include approaches to managing threats and directions for safeguarding against cyber attacks. It is crucial that this strategy educates on types of cyber threats/attacks and includes action steps to prevent and solve cyberattacks. 

Another important thing to look at is global regulation. External affairs minister S Jaishankar regularly speaks on the importance of cybersecurity for India. At a recent conference in Paris, Jaishankar stressed that multilateralism is needed to come to a global understanding and regulation of cyberspace. Think about it. Cyberspace and digital technology today drives growth in every way; economically, socially and politically. Moreover, though cyber and digital function through national boundaries, they are borderless by design. And in India, digital and cyber technology drives large-scale development programs (ie. Digital India). Such programs are key to effective governance, the economy and Indian innovation. Therefore, India needs to lead in the forefront of the international effort to coordinate the prevention from digital terrorism. 

India needs to go into active mission mode on cybersecurity. Otherwise, it’s not just the data privacy of the individual citizen or a business firm that will be compromised. Weak resilience against cybersecurity will significantly impede economic, and infrastructural growth. For example, positive schemes that have shown massive success like Aadhar (unique biometric ID), Jan Dhan bank accounts and internet connectivity will be stunted without resilience to cyberthreats. The impact? Stunted national development. The recent attack on our nuclear plant proves that strong resilience is also needed to protect national interests. Cyberwar is well on its way to becoming a real thing in the international arena with many actors throwing their weight. If India does not become proactive now, consider our influence in the global arena gone for good. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL) 

Priyanka Deo

Priyanka Deo holds masters' degrees from Harvard University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Southern California