Digital awareness key to tackling cybercrimes: Anil Rajput, President, Corporate Affairs, ITC Ltd

Speaking on the rise and varied forms of cyber crimes, Rajput said collective efforts from all stakeholders — individuals, businesses and the broader community — are required to combat it

Digital awareness for cybercrimes, says Anil Rajput at Ficci event

“This digital revolution has not only created vast opportunities for success, but has also given rise to a dirty world of cyber criminals who exploit vulnerabilities for personal gains. For many years now, India has been experiencing a surge in cyber incidents, ranging from financial fraud and data breaches to identity theft and sophisticated hacking attacks. Phishing attacks, where individuals are tricked into revealing sensitive information have become alarmingly common. Our financial system also faces threats from online fraud and ransomware attacks, jeopardising the hard-earned money of millions,” said Anil Rajput, President, Corporate Affairs, ITC Ltd and Chairman, FICCI CASCADE. Rajput was speaking during an address at the plenary track 1 of the International Conference on Cyberlaw, Cybercrime and cybersecurity held in New Delhi.

With cyber criminals running amok, the three-day conference will see experts brainstorming over a raft of issues in the cyberworld, including how enterprises, policymakers and financial institutions can help build a secure ecosystem for all stakeholders. Speaking on the rapid strides made by digitisation in the country, Rajput said: “In 2015, the government launched the Digital India programme, which aimed at transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Under this programme, the government launched several initiatives to promote digital literacy, digital infrastructure, and digital services. One of the key initiatives under Digital India was the Aadhaar programme, which provides a unique identification number to every citizen of India. This programme has made it easier for people to access government services and has helped the government to plug leakages in the delivery of subsidies and other welfare measures.

India’s digital economy has also been driven by the private sector, with several startups and established players investing heavily in the sector. The country’s startup ecosystem is one of the fastest-growing in the world, with several unicorns emerging in recent years. In addition, our IT sector has also been a major contributor to the digital economy, with Indian IT firms providing services to clients across the world.”

Rajput said India is currently experiencing a “technological golden age”, with a growing number of

skilled professionals and a supportive government policy framework with initiatives like the BharatNet project and the Digital Saksharta Abhiyan fuelling the rapid growth in digitisation. “As a result of all these initiatives, more than half of Indians, 759 million citizens, are active internet users and access the internet at least once a month, according to a joint report by industry body IAMAI and market data analytics firm Kantar. The report also states that the active internet base in India is expected to grow to 900 million by 2025. Urban India, with approximately 71 percent internet penetration, witnessed only 6 percent growth, with much of the overall gain in numbers coming from rural India, which witnessed 14 percent growth rate over the past one year. It is estimated that 56 percent of all new internet users in India will be from rural India by 2025. According to RBI data, UPI transactions have witnessed a 428 percent surge, roaring from 2.9 lakh crore in July, 2020 to 15.33 lakh crore in July, 2023. Such has been the unbelievable adoption and progression of digitalisation in our country,” said Rajput.

Rajput, however, also warned about the dangers emanating from nefarious entities looking to exploit the loopholes to launch cyber attacks and causing damage to organisations, government entities and individuals.

“There are various kinds of cyber-attacks and these include Malware, Ransomware, Phishing, Denial-of-Service attack, Man-in-the-Middle attack, Spyware, Trojan Horse and the list is unending. If we look at the big cyber-attacks that impacted India, then the names of Operation Shady Rat (2010), which targeted several Indian government organizations, thereby, compromising sensitive data and networks comes to mind. Operation Red October (2012) was a cyber espionage campaign which targeted Indian government entities and diplomatic missions and resulted in the theft of classified information. The Banking Trojan attacks (2013-14) unleashed malware attacks on multiple banks leading to financial losses and compromising customer data. In 2014 India’s critical infrastructure including power grids was targeted by a group known as Operation Crouching Yeti causing disruptions and raising concerns about national security. The Petya/NotPetya ransomware attacks of 2017 impacted several Indian organizations causing disruptions in shipping, logistics and manufacturing sectors. Recently, India’s premier and most reputed hospital AIIMS was rocked by two cyber-attacks (Malware attacks) in November, 2022 and June, 2023 leading to disruption of services and online based processes, and just a few days ago a major hospitality chain in India was seen struggling with a massive personal data breach of over 15 lakh users from its database.

“Just a couple of days back after the fallout of the recent case at public-sector lender UCO Bank involving erroneous money transfers, the Finance Ministry called for a meeting to discuss digital payment frauds, financial crimes and cybersecurity measures required to counter such activities. The government has over the years recognised the gravity of the situation and has taken steps to address cyber threats. The Information Technology Act, 2000 and the subsequent amendments provide a legal framework to combat cybercrime. Law enforcement agencies are also continually upgrading their capabilities to investigate and prosecute cybercriminals,” said Rajput.

Rajput reiterated that we cannot afford to drop guard in the fight against cyber criminals as it is an emerging field and it is not the sole responsibility of the government to tackle this threat. “The fight against cyber crime requires the collective effort from all stakeholders- individuals, businesses and the broader community. We must prioritise digital literacy to empower citizens to recognise and protect themselves from online threats and the organisations must implement robust cybersecurity measures to safeguard sensitive information and infrastructure. In this interconnected world, international cooperation is extremely important, and here, it is important to underscore, that cyber threats transcend borders and therefore collaboration with other nations is essential to track down and bring to justice all those who operate beyond one’s shores,” said Rajput.

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