Securing Digital India

The initiative, which aims to step up connectivity, could give way to new cyber threats. Is India ready to deal with it?

ashish-tandon

Ashish Tandon | December 22, 2014



Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign has the potential to be one of the most transformative programmes in recent times. It includes creation of ICT infrastructure like high-speed internet at gram panchayat level, on-demand availability of government services like health, education, and digital empowerment of citizens.

The Digital India vision is in sync with the several other IT initiatives the government has been taking. The implementation of several e-governance projects across different departments and domains, both at the central and state levels, has led to an increase in the government’s IT spending. Recently, the government also allocated Rs 10,000 crore to support the development of technology start-ups.
Industry experts believe that Digital India vision along with ongoing e-governance initiatives could provide the much needed impetus to India’s economic growth. About a third of India’s 252 million internet users and a fourth of mobile internet users live in rural areas. But internet penetration in villages at 8.6 percent, compared to 37.4 percent in cities, has a long way to go, and this is what Digital India hopes to change. A World Bank report says a 10 percent increase in a country’s broadband connections can lead to a 1.38 percent rise in its GDP.

Rising need for cyber security
Increased connectivity and greater use of technology would undoubtedly benefit the masses, but at the same time it could throw up a new set of vulnerabilities and security challenges. Past incidents have shown that cyber security is one area where India is clearly lacking. As per the cyber-crime data maintained by the national crime records bureau (NCRB), a total of 1,791 cases were registered in 2011, which grew to 2,876 cases in 2012 and to 4,356 cases in 2013. Hacking formed close to 60 percent of all cyber offences.

The Indian computer emergency response team (CERT-In) reported 13,301 incidents of web security breach in 2011, which grew to 22,060 in 2012, and to 71,780 in 2013. In the first half of this year, 62,189 incidents had been reported, including cases of phishing, scanning, spam, malicious code and website intrusions. Apart from domestic cyber attacks, India also faces tough cyber threats from outisde.
Given the increasing security challenges in digital space, using secure software, applications and portals becomes extremely important. With vast amounts of personal data of citizens residing on the government’s IT systems, protection of people’s privacy is very critical. It is necessary to have mature software procurement practices, with required focus on security considerations.

Are we doing enough?
To counter this alarming increase in cyber crimes, the government has allocated Rs 800 crore to set up a centre to help people to check and clean their computer systems of viruses and other malware. The programme intends to build capability to not only track malware in the system but also clean the infection. The national cyber security and coordination centre (NCSC) will conduct real-time assessment of internet traffic data and generate actionable reports for various agencies.

As a multi-agency body under the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY), the NCSC will include the national security council secretariat, the intelligence bureau, the research and analysis wing (RAW), CERT-In, the national technical research organisation (NTRO), the three armed forces and the department of telecommunications. It is expected
to subsume the work done by CERT-In as well as issue alerts in the event of a cyber attack.

The Modi government has certainly done a good job by announcing such promising programmes that have potential to transform the lives of many Indians. However, programmes like Digital India cannot succeed in achieving their objectives unless collective action is taken by all government departments to ensure real e-governance. E-security has to be a critical element of this drive. So far, cyber security in India has not received the attention it deserves. The national cyber security policy announced in 2013 has also not been properly implemented. Under these circumstances, the PM may need to take more concrete steps to safeguard his vision of Digital India.

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