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Cyber Security – the biggest Global threat of our Time!

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Delhi hosted the 3rd Global Summit on Cyber Security in Oct 2012, which once again highlighted the complex security challenges that face the Cyber world. Advanced persistent threats (APT), Botnets, Hacktivists, Spies etc. are just among the daily headaches that put even top intelligence organizations to the test. But at least large organizations can afford to invest in cyber security solutions. Even more worrisome is the Norton 2012 Cybercrime report which states that 2 out of 3 adults online have been victims of cybercrime and each year the problem causes an estimated loss of about $ 110 billion. Every second, 18 adults become a victim of cybercrime with losses of an average $197 per victim annually. This yet does not take into account the emotional distress and dysfunction people suffer on account of cyber crime like hacking, information theft, invasion of privacy etc. Unlike large or even small organizations, individuals have rather limited access to any kind of advanced security solutions. The standard off the shelf security products have limited applicability and are not enough protection against even a slightly sophisticated attack. In countries like India, China etc. it is not easy to even register a cyber crime report and a response is almost unexpected. Furthermore, cyber criminals transcend boundaries, and international laws are inadequate to tackle the problem. As more and more of the world goes online in personal and professional sphere, cyber security is perhaps the number one challenge before the world yet we seem ill prepared to tackle it.

The Norton Cyber crime report for 2012 shows increased attacks in two areas as compared to 2011 – social networks and mobile networks. These are also the two areas where exciting new technological changes are happening everyday capturing more and more consumers. But as technological innovations are racing far ahead, the security systems seem to lag far behind. While most consumers seem aware of the new gizmos and apps being launched each day through mesmerizing ads, not enough are aware of the likely security threats or probable solutions. They rely on rudimentary knowledge making them easy targets for cyber criminals. They only seem to become aware once they have already become a victim. Awareness about security threats and probable solutions seems to be an issue at the individual level. Further, the technology business is no doubt driven by innovations which rake in the money but it would seem the security systems and innovations in those areas remain underinvested since they do not seem to be as lucrative an opportunity. Left to the private sector, this gap between galloping technology and lagging security systems is likely to remain or perhaps even widen. Unless a lot of awareness is generated about security issues and a lot more investment made into technological innovations in the cyber security area, this challenge will become a behemoth. At a larger level, the vulnerability of defense installations, transportation, power grids etc. to cyber attacks has always been a hot debate. Already some businesses and intelligence organizations have come to rely on paper records and safety vault systems for highly sensitive information. Could the severe lag on cyber security take us back to the paper and lock and key era?

Since hackers and other cyber criminals could be based in any country and launch an attack anywhere else, using already hacked systems, nabbing them would require a lot of trans-national cooperation. While there are summits and conferences - usually led by the industry, not much is being done at the government levels. Even international bodies like the UN are yet to get involved in this area and demand passing of international laws, leave alone seek cross country cooperation to enforce them. Lack of international cooperation thus remains another lacuna. To the contrary governments themselves are often involved in sponsoring spying and related hacking on other countries’ systems. The situation is worse in the developing world where even gruesome crime goes unpunished, so white collar cyber crime is unlikely to get any attention at all. A lot of attacks and spams originate from this part of the world where law enforcement remains a serious issue.

Given the alarming levels of cyber crime where 2 in 3 people online fall a victim to it, the apparent ignorance, grossly inadequate investment or innovations in security systems as well as weak law enforcement is even more worrisome. The problem plagues even top organizations like the FBI but they have a lot of resources at hand. However, it is often the individual or the common man who is most vulnerable to such attacks. They are often caught unawares and lacking access to any advanced help required to ward off the cyber crime or criminals, find themselves helpless in the face of it. Threatened cyber security and rising crime is perhaps staring the Technology horse in the mouth and could be its very nemesis. At the global level, the pan geographical origin of cyber attacks makes it a challenge very hard to tackle. At any rate, other than industry initiatives, not much is being done to raise the issue to the level of attention it deserves or requires. In a world relying more and more on technology, cyber security is the biggest global threat of our times yet it remains grossly under addressed at the international level and calls for greater focus and action.

Anuradha Kataria is an author and a consultant based in Delhi, India. She has published a book and editorials on the developing world issues. She also is a part of the growing statistic of 2 in 3 victims of cybercrime, having faced the hacking problem herself and seen the gaps in security systems or law enforcement process first hand.

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