Before infection spreads – AIIMS episode shows big cyber-security review is needed

Source: The post is based on the article “Before infection spreads – AIIMS episode shows big cyber-security review is needed” published in the Business Standard on 2nd November 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Basics of cyber security.

Relevance: About the recent ransomware attack on AIIMS.

News: The recent massive ransomware attack has crippled the e-hospital services of AIIMS, Delhi for seven days.

What is ransomware and which agencies in India deal with cyber-attacks?
Read here: Are ransomware attacks increasing in India?
Why health sector such as AIIMS is targeted by ransomseekers?
Must read: Held To Ransom – Healthcare sector is a sitting duck to cybercriminals. AIIMS & other hospitals must shore up security systems 

India’s healthcare providers are a prime target for cybercriminals. About 28% of the global attacks on healthcare providers in 2021 targeted Indian health care.

What are some general targets for Ransomware attacks?

Ransomware attacks target municipal systems, health care (including the UK’s National Health Service), financial services (many banks have been hit), and other businesses.

Cyber assaults have shut down power grids (in Ukraine and Australia), stock exchanges, nuclear facilities (Iran), telecom networks (Georgia), airlines, and government websites (too many to name), etc. In addition, there have been innumerable breaches of intellectual property (IP) and personal data.

Why India is vulnerable to cyber-attacks?

India at present is implementing various Digital India initiatives. These are vulnerable to cyber attacks. For instance, a) Every bank branch is connected to the banking system, and to the Unified Payments Interface stack, and linked to non-banking financial companies, stock exchanges, toll fastags, and fintech providers, b) Passport information is processed by private service providers, c) Civil aviation system is totally digital, d) Aadhaar connects to multiple sectors, e) The national power grid is “smart” and connected to dozens of different generators and distributors, f) Gas distribution networks are “smart” and g) There are the defence and aerospace establishments and other government institutions connected to private servers.

How do various governments use Ransomware attacks?

Various governments have used ransomware attacks against other governments/agencies. For instance,

a) Google claims it has been targeted by hackers operating from Chinese government institutions to steal IP, b) The North Korean government has been accused of ransomware attacks, c) The attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was coordinated by two governments, d) Cyber-attacks on Ukrainian and Georgian infrastructure coincided with physical conflict with Russia.

What should be done to prevent cyber-attacks?

Following proactive outreach programmes: Instead of reacting to breaches as and when discovered, agencies like the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team must institute proactive outreach programmes to prevent incidents occurring across public and private spaces.

Backup and disaster recovery policies also have to be instituted and upgraded continuously.

All these along with regular policy reviews should be part and parcel of the Digital India initiative.

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