Cyber attacks and Cyber Security in India – Explained Pointwise

Introduction

Recently there were many instances of Chinese led cyber-attacks on Indians and India based companies. A US-based cyber group has informed about Chinese hackers targeting Indian companies that developed Covid-19 vaccines (Covaxin and Covishield). Similarly, another US report informed about a Chinese firm (Red Echo) that was using malware called ShadowPad to target India’s power sector.

There were also evidences that some of these Chinese led cyber-attacks were backed by the Chinese government. Apart from China, India has also faced cyber-attacks from Russia, North Korea and other countries. These examples highlighted the need to strengthen India’s cyber security infrastructure. 

What is Cyber Security?
  • It is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks.
  • There are 4 main types of threat to cyber security:
    1. Cyber espionage: It is an Intelligence gathering and data theft activity. The data theft will occur without the user’s permission/knowledge.
    2. Cyber warfare: It refers to the use of digital attacks (like computer viruses and hacking) by one country to disrupt the computers or information networks of another country.
    3. Cyber terrorism: It refers to the convergence of terrorism and cyberspace. In this, the terrorists will use the internet to conduct violent activities such as threats, loss of life etc. Terrorists will use cyberspace to achieve their political and ideological gains.
    4. Cyber crime: It is any criminal activity that involves a computer, networked device or a computer network.
Few recent examples of cyber attacks in India

Global Cyber Security Index 2018 positioned India at 23rd place globally. The report mentioned India’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Some of the examples of cyber attacks are:

  1. A Goldman Sachs backed firm Cyfirma has reported that Chinese hacker group APT 10 (also known as Stone Panda) had allegedly attacked the Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers in India. Cyfirma has also mentioned that there were links between the Chinese government and Stone Panda. 
  2. In November 2020 Microsoft detected cyber attacks from Russia and North Korea. Microsoft mentioned that these attacks were targeting the Covid-19 vaccine companies in India, France, Canada, South Korea and the United States.
  3. Similarly, in February 2021, a US-based cyber company had mentioned about the Chinese group called Red Echo. They cautioned that Red Echo was using malware called ShadowPad to target India’s power sector.
Government initiatives to strengthen Cyber Security in India

The Indian government have taken many steps to strengthen cyber security. They are,

  1. Information Technology Act (IT) 2000 – It is the primary law for dealing with cyber-crime and digital commerce in India. 
    • The act covers a broad range of offences including child pornography, cyber terrorism etc.
    • Section 75 of the Act empowers the government to punish people located outside India who is accused of the offence.
  2. National Cyber Security Policy, 2013: The policy provides the vision and strategic direction to protect the national cyberspace. Some objectives of the policy are:
    • To create a secure and robust cyber-ecosystem and building adequate trust and confidence in electronic transactions.
    • The policy aims to guide stakeholder’s (users) actions for ensuring protection in cyberspace.
    • To strengthen the regulatory framework in India for ensuring secure cyber ecosystem.
    • To develop suitable indigenous technologies in the ICT sector.
  3. National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC):
    • The NCIIPC was created by Section 70A of the IT Act.
    • It is designated as a national nodal agency in respect of critical information infrastructure protection. 
    • It aims to protect and safeguard critical information infrastructure (CII) against cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare and other threats.
  4. CERT-In (Cyber Emergency Response Team – India) – It was created by Section 70B of the IT Act. It is the national nodal agency to respond against computer security threats as and when required.
  5. National Cyber Security Coordination Centre (NCCC): The NCCC is mandated to perform real-time threat assessment. Further, they also create situational awareness of potential cyber threats to the country. It was made operational in 2017.
  6. Cyber Swachhta Kendra:  It is a platform for users to analyse and clean their systems by removing various viruses, bots/ malware, Trojans, etc. It was launched in 2017.
  7. Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative: It was launched in 2018. The initiative aims to spread awareness about cybercrime. The initiative also focuse on the capacity building of Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and frontline IT staff across all government departments.
  8. Sandes Platform:
    • It is an instant messaging platform like WhatsApp. It was previously named as  Government Instant Messaging System(GIMS). 
    • The platform can be used for all kinds of communications by anyone with a mobile number or email id. The platform will ensure secure communication between users.
    • It was launched in 2020 for State and Central government employees, now the scope has been extended to every citizen.
Challenges in tackling cyber offences
  1. Poor cyber security infrastructure: Very few cities in India have cyber crime cells and the establishment of dedicated cyber courts is also very less in India.
  2. Awareness issue: People don’t report cyber crimes either due to low awareness or fear of harassment.
  3. There are many data-related problems in ensuring cyber security. Such as,
    • The majority of Indian data is stored in data centres located outside India. So, the data storing companies not report cyberattacks to India.
    • Growing online transactions have generated bigger incentives for cybercriminals. A recent cyberattack on Zomato(food delivery app) is an example of that.
  4. Capacity deficit of officials: The law enforcement agencies who are required to conduct cyber investigation often lack the requisite cyber skills and training.
  5. Anonymity: Cyberspace allows individuals to hide or misrepresent one’s profile using encrypting tools. This creates a larger challenge during the investigation.
  6. Jurisdictional concern: In cyber offences, an individual can conduct a crime from sitting in a remote location of anywhere in the globe. A recent Wannacry malware attack is a perfect example of that. Even if the person gets identified it requires global cooperation to bring the person and conduct a trial in court.
Suggestions to improve cyber security
  1. Coordination Enhancement: There is a need to improve coordination at international, national, state and local levels. An important step in this regard could be the signing of the Budapest Convention on Cyber-crime by the Indian government.

    Budapest Convention on Cyber-crime: It is the first international treaty attempting to address cybercrime. The convention addresses cybercrime by steps such as harmonizing national laws, increasing cooperation among nations and improving investigative techniques in cybercrime.
  2. Robust Training of law enforcement agencies is the need of the hour. The government will have to provide continuous, robust and effective training to law enforcement agencies and individuals with a special focus on cyber security and safe internet handling techniques.
  3. Infrastructure Development: This would involve creating more cyber cells, cyber courts and cyber forensic labs so that the violators are duly punished.
  4. Inculcating Digital Literacy: This can be done by addressing the vulnerabilities of the masses towards cyber offences.
  5. Responsibility on Service providers: Website owners must be made more cautious towards traffic on their sites and report any irregularity. This will ensure large scale data collection on cyber attacks. These data can be used to create a new cyber security strategy in future. 
  6. Amending of the Information Technology Act: There is a need to put a legal responsibility on companies to conduct regular cyber security audits. For that, the IT Act can be amended to include mandatory cyber security audit by independent agencies.
Conclusion

The recent pandemic has once again shown the importance of cyberspace for mankind. Considering the need for cyber security the government needs to fast pace the National Cyber Security Strategy 2020 and its implementation.

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