Pushing forward with determination and a vision for the future will help ensure that India and its people will become a guiding force for cyber freedom and security in the information age
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been making the rounds of friendly countries over the last few months, visiting his counterparts in France and the US and initiating cyber security talks in Australia. During a recent visit to the US, Modi highlighted a renewed awareness of the expectations of the wider world towards India. This constitutes both a sense of responsibility and a challenge that Indians are eager to meet.
Although Modi’s State visits and meetings addressed a number of topics of interest for the country and the world at large, one major subject concerned the ongoing threat of cyber crime and prevention. Preparing for a new generation of computing that entails everything from the Internet of Things (IoT) to 5G, is essential for any rising superpower that hopes to compete — perhaps even lead — as we move toward the middle of the 21st century. So where does India stand now in these regards and where does it hope to go in the future?
The current state of cyber security in India: Statistics reveal a lot about where technology is heading and how far it still has to go. Currently, there are more than 370 million active computer users in India, making up about 30 per cent of the total population and nearly equalling the total population of the US. That makes it the second-largest global Internet market.
Although India ranks first in cyber attacks, it is 15th in terms of cyber security. This is mainly due to a combination of increased reliance on mobile technology and cheap, unprotected devices, which lands it within the top 10 nations worst in mobile security.
In a move towards modernisation and a new spirit of global cooperation, members of the e-Governance, Information Technology, and Cyber Diplomacy department of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs met with their counterparts in Australia for a series of talks, the latest of which took part in New Delhi a few weeks ago. These talks revolved around decreasing the frequency and severity of cyber crimes that threaten to destabilise economic security as well as disrupt international peace and trade.
So far, they’ve agreed to establish a Joint Working Group on Cyber Security Cooperation; implement the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) reports of 2013 and 2015; continue reciprocal reporting on policies regarding engagement with the private sector, telecommunications and important legislative developments. The meeting between Modi and the French President Emmanuel Macron resulted in similar points of agreement.
For instance, they reached a consensus on such measures as sharing information regarding legal and regulatory frameworks; sharing cyber security best practices and recommendations; working together to protect Economic Information Infrastructure, especially with regards to national security in both countries; unifying regulations regarding digital product development, including design, testing, and certification; implementing the framework of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in order to facilitate more secure data sharing and protection between the two countries and last but not the least, preventing the spread and controlling the impact of fake news and personal data profiling.
India is not part of the “Five Eyes Alliance” that makes up the bulk of cyber superpowers but deeper cooperation means that it could be held to their standards and subject to their laws. Regulations about data integrity and privacy underline the importance of using a virtual private network (VPN) before 5G becomes widespread. The fundamental encryption underlying both VPN and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology will help ensure compliance with regulations like the GDPR while protecting users and site owners from intrusive Government oversight and potential abuses.
The future of India and cyber security: One key player who’s working hard to put a new “Digital India” on the map is Khushhal Kaushik. An ethical hacker, it’s partly his passion to turn the perception of India as a cyber security liability around, that is moving the cyber security technology sector in the country forward.
The key, he believes, is heightening India’s presence and visibility in matters of cyber security.
One of the first things Kaushik did in an effort to destroy the myth of India’s substandard cyber security is to insist on his name and nationality being included when his paper was selected for publication in UNESCO’s annual magazine. He was the first ethical hacker to receive such an honour. He has also been invited to lecture on cyber security at such institutions as the Northwestern University in Chicago.
For his part, Kaushik believes that there should be a stronger partnership between the Government and the private industry in India. Giving preference to local developers will enhance India’s standing and remove responsibility for her security out of foreign hands. Allowing private DevSecOps (a natural and necessary response to the bottleneck effect of older security models on the modern continuous delivery pipeline) to work with local and regional law enforcement authorities will allow these agencies to have the tools and knowledge necessary to tackle cyber crime on a local level.
Direct tech-related subjects are not the only way to give India a seat at the table and bring us into the conversation as a technology superpower. Changes in the agriculture sector are a good example of how technology can increase India’s standing in the world and improve the living standards of people.
Modernisation through technology will provide some of the care and vision needed to protect an industry that 70 per cent of the population still depends upon for their livelihood. This will also play a part in the Prime Minister’s plan to transform India into a $5 trillion global economy.
As one of the world’s most populated countries and with 243 million active Internet users, India has a big stake in the evolution of cyber security and crime prevention.
Every burgeoning superpower is going to endure some growing pains and missteps along the way. Pushing forward with determination and a vision for the future will help ensure that India and her people will become a guiding force for cyber freedom and security in the information age.
(The writer is a retired Defence analyst for the US Navy and specialises in diplomacy and national security, with emphasis on technology trends in cyber warfare, cyber defence and cryptography.)