Darkness of Cyber Attacks Requires the Light of Cyber Security Education
Statistics show that cyberattacks occur every 39 seconds. The total damage caused by cyber-attacks amounted to $6 trillion in 2022. Growing adaptation to smartphones is heightening security vulnerabilities. Ransomware as a service (RaaS) is evolving as a business model. The formal education system must trigger well-crafted education programmes for rolling out a cyber defence army that understands the creativity behind cyber attacks and can protect society at large. Galloping advances in the cyber world push not just for cyber hygiene to become part of formal education at the school level, but also for the ineluctable rigorous campaigns to update every individual to remain cyber safe.
The ongoing expansion of information and communication technology (ICT) has undoubtedly made the present times different, especially after the world wide web came into being in 1991. The exchange of information through electronic mail service, followed by websites and portals, has eventually culminated in networked social media among other IT tools. The presence of the internet has revolutionized social interactions through social media platforms capable of online and offline content sharing. Today, there are a series of forums for interactions amongst the community using internet-enabled electronic gadgets. Gradually, the internet has become a critical infrastructure support for carrying out activities.
The dependence on online transactions enhanced exponentially during the COVID-19 lockdown. Common people carry out virtual transactions with the notion that their activities through a computer/mobile logged on to the internet are hidden and only known to them, while the reality is that logging on to the world wide web in any form opens up their activities to the whole world. The majority of activities that started to sustain transactions in online mode during the pandemic have now become the new normal. Undoubtedly, it is encouraging to see their physical distances and geographical boundaries vanish, but this has made society much more vulnerable to digital security breaches. Consequently, security protocols become inevitable to ensure secure cyber activities. Statistics show that cyberattacks and ransomware attacks occur every 39 seconds and every 14 seconds, respectively. The total damage caused by cyber-attacks amounted to $6 trillion in 2022. It is evident that all internet users ought to be warned beforehand and fortified well for combating this manmade menace.
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Booming ICT systems: Rising threats
Advances in ICT have transformed all equipment concerning its operation and control by intertwining them with internet-enabled systems. Automation is being embedded in gadgets to ensure ease of its functionality. Interconnectivity of remote devices has become feasible due to the internet framework being accessed uniformly by all wifi-enabled devices.
India is claimed to be a connected nation with more than 800 million internet users as per the Minister of State for the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY). As per the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the country has over 1.2 billion mobile phone users and 600 million smartphone users. Rapidly increasing speed of microprocessors, storage capacity, bandwidth, and the aspirations to have the convergence of ICT tools are bringing a paradigm shift in the modern networked world. Growing adaptation to smartphones is heightening the security vulnerabilities in all walks of life, nevertheless, their integrity and affordability are critical for the growth of the economy, safety, and security of every society. Thus, more than half of the projected population of the country is likely to be affected by cyber intrusions in one or the other form by terrorists, industrial spies, organized crime groups, hacktivists, and hackers.
Quite often, there are instances of extortions from victims through threats of publishing personal data, blocking access to certain online facilities, locking the computer systems, damaging computer files, corrupting the software, etc. using certain ransomware, which is a type of malware from cryptovirology. As per a report of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), ransomware attacks are constantly growing and critical infrastructure is being threatened by the attackers using novel toolkits. Ransomware as a service (RaaS) is evolving as a business model in which ransomware operators have the skills and time to develop ransomware variants and are paid by their affiliates to launch the ransomware attacks. Surprisingly, such activities are stated to be sold and procured on the dark web like other e-commerce activities.
The likelihood of mischievous activities such as espionage, hacking, identity theft, crime, terrorism, stealing money, stealing personal information, misusing data, etc. gives a clarion call for mass awareness about the protected use of IT-enabled devices and cyber security concerns. “2023 Global Digital Trust Insights – Indian edition” report from PwC claims that around 77% of business executives in India perceive cybercriminal activities as the major threats to their organizations and more than 82% of Indian business executives expect an increase in cybersecurity budgets in 2023. The report states that in the last three years, there has been data breach costing around $1-20 million or more in around 27% of companies at the global level.
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Cybersecurity education: the need
As a result, cybersecurity education has become imperative for people of all ages. However, the population in the Millennial and Generation Z cohort has to take lead in spreading good cyber hygiene. This has two major dimensions: (a.) sensitizing people to take precautions and (b.) getting acquainted with the skills required for handling it. It is a dynamic field that keeps changing with the pace of inventiveness. So, creative minds are required to withstand disruptions and losses due to cyberattacks.
Undoubtedly, several initiatives have been taken by education regulators for the introduction of cybersecurity education in schools and colleges. But, the constant evolution in cyber attack patterns calls for aggressive strides to train young minds to counteract them. Given that cyber-physical systems are becoming part of critical infrastructure for forthcoming developments, it is incumbent upon the regulators to inculcate cyber security as a foundational skill along with other basic ICT skills throughout the education system.
The Budget 2023-24 proclamation of setting up the centres of excellence in Artificial Intelligence, and labs for 5G service application development, will allow native talent to plunge into cutting technology for nurturing the industrial transformations in line with Industry 4.0 and arriving at indigenous AI solutions to address the unique problems of India. Howbeit, the further penetration of cyber-physical systems in the advancement of civilization necessitates fierce strategy to mitigate the possibilities of devilish motives of cyber attackers. Envisaging the cloud-based entity DigiLocker for business / charitable enterprises and formulation of the National Data Governance Policy in the budget further points to the conspicuous concern of the Government about the cyber challenges while unlocking data for overall growth.
The fast proliferation of cyber-physical systems vociferates cyber security education as paramount for good livelihood. Eventually, the cyber security-trained human resources will help in setting up a modern cyber defence. The formal education system of science and technology must trigger well-crafted education programmes of certificates, diplomas, and degree nature for rolling out a cyber defence army that understands the creativity behind cyber attacks and can protect society at large. The existing computer and information technology interventions should be redrafted to imbibe lifelong learning potential in technical human resources for battling cyber attacks.
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Also, the other dimension of cyber attacks, caused due to the ignorance of cyber system users, calls for creating an ecosystem for reducing human-instigated cyber threats. This can be addressed through the sensitisation of the masses to proper behaviour to mitigate risks in online activities. Inculcating knowledge, attitude, and dos and don’ts in practices as part of cyber hygiene can desist unethical actors from endangering an individual’s social, financial and personal transactions. Deep trust in technology and immanent inclination for its use to ease out personal and professional chores warrants engraining every human with good information handling, password management, reporting of mischiefs, and alertness towards possible threats. Galloping advances in the cyber world push not just for cyber hygiene to become part of formal education at the school level, but also for the ineluctable rigorous campaigns to update every individual to remain cyber safe. Cyber skilling through educational institutions is inescapable.
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About the author
Prof. Onkar Singh is the Vice Chancellor of Veer Madho Singh Bhandari Uttarakhand Technical University, Dehradun, He has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). He is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).