As India digitises, cyber crime is becoming an increasingly tangible threat

04 June 2018 4 min. read
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A combination of digitalisation and relative digital immaturity is making India susceptible to a growing, and increasingly diverse barrage of cyber attacks. According to global professional services firm EY, India accounts for 3% of the systems across the world that have been infiltrated and are controlled by criminals. 

Cybercrime is a reality that most of the world is ill-equipped to tackle. By its very nature, the proliferating phenomenon is unpredictable, often untraceable, and has unlimited reach in that a hacker in one corner of the globe can break into a system at the other end, thereby creating problems of jurisdiction, at the very least.

The relative ease of conducting a cyber attack and the low costs involved have translated into an explosion of hacks in recent years. Moreover, the attacks are growing in scope and geographical reach, with malware such as WannaCry and Petya affecting countries across the world.

India has been amongst the countries most hard hit under this new paradigm. One example is the six-month leak of Big Four accounting and advisory firm Deloitte’s emails, which compromised classified information of all of its Indian clients. A new report prepared by fellow Big Four firm EY and commissioned by FICCI offers other examples of India’s cyber security woes.

Top countries impacted by cybercrime

The Petya malware mentioned above resulted in the temporary closing down of one entire terminal in Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port – India’s largest container port. The degree of disruption caused by the attack made India the worst hit country in Asia, and the seventh worst in the whole world.

In overall cybercrime levels as well, India ranks fairly high on the global list. Using the percentage of criminally-controlled systems as a metric, the United States is the country most affected by cybercrime at 23%, followed by China at 9%. Germany, Britain, Brazil and Spain follow with between 4% and 6% each. Although India records 3% of criminally infiltrated systems, the country ranks third in terms of the absolute number of systems affected.

The high figures in the United States can most likely be attributed to its financial power and its political friction with Russia and Eastern Europe – a region that is incidentally the source of the highest number of cyber attacks. China’s high figures can similarly be attributed to financial power, with the addition of a large and digitally immature population. 

As per the report, this last factor is the biggest cause of India’s high figures. With the advent of Reliance Jio, and subsequent plummeting of data-access costs, India’s pool of online users has grown by 100 million in just seven months, and is expected to surpass 850 million by 2025.

Motivations behind cybercrime

The majority of this new online population resides in rural areas, which is the main source of vulnerabilities, primarily due to the lack of infrastructure and know-how in these areas to deal with cyber crime of advanced sophistication. Ideological warriors and hacktivists, for instance – identified by the report as a major portion of cyber criminals – can have a substantial impact on political outcomes in India, which are often swayed by the large rural population.

“Cybercrime is the biggest challenge these days with development and access to technology across the globe. Cyber space is increasingly being used to radicalize young minds,” says Rajnath Singh, India’s Cabinet Minister for Home Affairs.

Commenting on the state of cyber crime, Partner at EY and Leader of its Advisory Services, Rahul Rishi said, “Frequent criminalization instances of the web has resulted in proliferation of illicit trading of arms and drugs, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, cyber extortion, child pornography and so on. The protagonists have graduated from being opportunistic individuals to organized criminal groups who offer cybercrime-as-a-service at a minimal cost over the dark net.”