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Is Digital India Ready for Cyber Threats?
Wed, 17 May Pre-Open

India, along with most of the modern world is reeling under threat of the 'WannaCry' ransomware. Over 150 countries have been a victim of the attack with India being one of them at high risk. While the spread of the virus has slowed down, more than 200,000 computers have been affected so far.

The virus encrypts a user's files renders them inaccessible unless a certain amount of ransom is paid to the perpetrators. This is indeed a scary proposition as the virus has capability to spread over multiple computer systems and networks. It is even scarier when one considers that most of the banking sector is based on intricate network of connected systems.

ATMs, banking systems are all connected over the internet, albeit through banks' own networks, but a cyber-attack of this kind has potential to seriously cripple the banks' functioning.

The Reserve Bank of India has taken cognizance of the threat and directed banks to improve their banking systems including their ATM networks with a Windows security update to enhance security and protect them from the malware attack. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), the agency coordinating efforts on cyber security issues, is circulating these Microsoft security patches in India.

Even as most banks suggest they are not infected, they are required to upgrade their systems with the latest Windows "patches" as a precautionary measure.

Earlier this week, the government said that its computer systems have largely escaped the massive global ransomware attack and that state organizations managing government websites and building supercomputers have installed security patches.

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It may seem that the core connected systems in the country have remained largely unscathed from the attack. But it is imperative to note that this was just one attack, and most of the systems were caught off guard with preventive measures becoming active only after the ransomware attack was already spreading like wildfire.

It is only a matter of time before such an attack occurs on an even larger scale.

Is India ready tackle cyber-attacks like these?

We don't think so.

There are about 220,000 ATMs in India. Most of them run on Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer services. This makes ATMs extremely vulnerable. While Microsoft issued a one-time patch considering the severity of the issue, it is not guaranteed it will continue to do so in the future. In any case, a patch is only as good as the next attack.

Around the same time last year, about 3.2 million debit cards were compromised after a malware injection in the systems of Hitachi Payment Services Pvt. Ltd. This goes to show safety nets employed by the financial sector are not enough.

Post demonetisation, the government has been increasingly pushing towards a 'Digital Economy'. While the intent is noble, one important question that needs to be answered is - are our banks and financial institutions ready and competent to tackle the security issues associated with such a shift? If recent trends are any indication, the outlook does not look good.

As my colleague, Ankit Shah writes in a recent edition of the 5 Minute WrapUp:

    The government taking extreme measures to curtail cash transactions in the name of fighting crime, terrorism and tax evasion. And this blind rush to control people's money is alarming. Your 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Indian government to every individual resident of India - compulsory could put your privacy, money and personal security in grave danger.

    As per media reports, already over 13 crore Aadhar account details have been leaked. The star cricketer MS Dhoni himself has been a victim of such misuse.

    The threat to data security has never felt so real before. Unless the basic issues are taken care of, digitzation of India would be something executed in a rush and repented at leisure.

India needs to take measures to make the whole financial system more secure and foolproof. If nothing else, the recent ransomware attack is both a wakeup call, and a sign of things to come.

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