The penchant to get interconnected is unstoppable – II

Vast interconnections help greater access to information and enable the path to greater knowledge, application and even prediction. Having an edge with a little caution matters!

Communication, data collection and analytics will foster economic growth and for some, it may even help predicting the future. Being able to predict the weather, stock markets, energy supply, prices of commodities, market potential, etc based on various data points and statistical analysis has seen increasing demand. Today, in an interconnected world of cyberspace, a place where we have people-to-people communication, people-to-machine communication and machine-to-machine communications evolving at a tremendous pace, the opportunities opening up are galore. And India, with a vast population and economic potential, cyberspace technologies are key to minimise inefficiencies and to implement effective solutions that can work at scale. On the other hand, highly networked interconnections will also bring along its share of vulnerabilities which can be exploited. In the first part of this series of blogs on Cyber Security topic, the broad definition of Cyberspace was provided together with a brief introduction on the questions around Cyber Security. Before going into the details of Cyber Security, it is essential to look at what are the trends and reach of cyberspace in India.

The TRAI report on The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators for the period July-September 2015 showed that newly added broadband Internet subscriber rates are growing faster than narrowband subscribers added, and see a clear indication that Indians are accessing internet more via wireless than wireline technologies. The impact of the challenges faced to lay cables to connect all areas in India, particularly in rural areas, is now to some extent mitigated due to the wireless alternative (e.g. the National Optical Fibre Network project in India initiated in 2011 to connect 2,50,000 Gram panchayats using optical links is facing huge delays). The total number of internet subscribers touched 324.95million at the end of September 2015, with wireless internet subscribers accounting for more than 93% of the subscriptions.

While mobile devices enable faster penetration of internet today, wireline solutions like ADSL, Cable Modem and Optical Fibre to home solutions will also gain traction along the way due to its higher bandwidth capability, lower cost and wider application base (like Audio/Video streaming).

Globally, in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, we are seeing a massive growth in internet users since 2000. ITU’s ICT Facts & Figures report show that the number of internet users has increased to 3.2Billion in 2015 from just around 400million in 2000. Internet penetration grew seven-fold from 6.5% to 43% between 2000-2015. As per Ericsson’s India Mobility Report June 2015, India is one of the fastest economies using mobile for accessing the internet. The number of smartphone subscriptions is expected to grow at a CAGR of 35% from 2014 to 2020, reaching 750million subscriptions. The total data traffic is expected to touch as high as 2800PetaBytes per month in 2020, which is a 55% CAGR growth compared to figures in 2014. The usage of mobile data services is seen in all segments like Audio/Video streaming, Social Networking, E-Commerce, Instant Messaging, Banking and Finance, Emails, etc. Globally, India grew the fastest in terms of net subscriber additions in Q3 2015.

From Digital India to Smart Cities, technologies like Internet-of-Things will bring more devices connected to the internet (not limited to PCs and Mobile phones, but also household appliances, automobiles,  homes, etc) and enhanced services via cloud based technologies. The cyberspace environment is going through a transformation which will make it very complex. Cisco predicts that there will be 50billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, that is an average of ~6.58 devices per person. And if we consider only the actual number of internet users in 2020, this figure would be much higher.

However, the increasing interconnections will raise the chances of increasing vulnerability in the system, hence making users more prone to security risks. Given that the benefits of connecting to Internet outweigh the economic costs of cyber attacks, nations need to focus more on how to tackle the challenges of cyber security. ITU’s Global Cyber Security Index report released in April 2015 made an evaluation of India’s Cyberwellness profile. Interestingly, India was ranked 5th in the Global Cyber Security Index (ps. rank was shared with six other countries). While this may be commendable, the word of caution to take note (also mentioned in the report) is that this ranking is based on data concerning the commitment and preparedness of the country and not really taking into account the detailed capabilities and possible vulnerabilities in the cyberspace systems – which is also critical.

In this information age, the question that arises is how prepared is the nation to handle cyber attacks? Do we know the vulnerabilities in the systems we use and are able to take appropriate actions immediately? What level of cyber security awareness do users have? What are all the key critical assets that need to be air-gapped to prevent any catastrophic impacts due to cyber attacks? With the ever increasing value of information of a billion people and with ability to control critical infrastructure and business/household systems from remote locations, do we have the right capabilities and capacities to protect the citizens and systems and to respond swiftly to minimise impact of an attack and also, have in place appropriate measures to prevent or deter such attacks?

In the next blog in this series, we will look further into the scope of cyber security in the context of National Security and beyond.

Sudeep Divakaran is a Research Scholar at Takshashila Institution

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