Cyber Security Risks to Smart Cities in India
The enthusiasts in India, who are sold on digitisation, have a lot to say about how technology and its ubiquity will revolutionise the country with better productivity and efficiency. They are confident that technology development has unforeseeable capabilities that extend from basics, like water and sanitation, to enabling high-end communication. But the process of enlisting multiple devices through technology also renders them vulnerable in many ways. As India looks for a place at the cutting-edge of technology developments, there is also the danger that the rush to adopt these changes may be too fast for an evolving nation like ours.  
 
Over the past century, technology has made great advances. Moore’s Law has worked as predicted and the increase in computation power and electronic circuitry is exponential. The world is talking about how technology is transforming entire verticals such as transportation, communications, entertainment and food as well as the products we use every day, like a light bulb. The entire concept of ‘smart cities’ envisages the innovative use of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to make infrastructure and delivery of utility services efficient.
 
Although technology is powering ahead, I believe that both, capitalists and socialists, need to a pause to learn lessons from countries that have faced cyber-attacks. We must understand that something as basic as a chip embedded in a device (a toy or an oven) can open a thousand doors for hackers. It is the job of the State to protect citizens from the possibility of such attacks. We need to tread with caution to ensure that our obsession with smart cities and electronic linkages does not expose people to cyber-attacks and debilitating disruption. We have already seen how a small change while re-configuring operating systems (OS) of bank ATMs caused massive issues in India. Such disruptions take weeks to set right. 
 
Today, even toys are Internet-of-Things (IOT)-enabled products, like the Chotta Bhim doll, which is Wi-Fi-enabled. While this is fun, it could allow a hacker access to your home network. The dangers of increasingly sophisticated drones and highly automated industrial products are also worrisome. The possible damage and risks associated are, however, different across different paradigms. A smart power grid, when compromised, is capable of shutting down an entire city and can be programmed to cause road accidents, or disrupt the supply of gas and water. 
 
With the introduction of the next generation, Internet protocol version 6 (ipv6), interaction between devices will increase exponentially. Your Smartphone can control a series of ‘smart’ devices such as power plugs, Wi-Fi lighting systems, doors, windows and what not. But what if the Smartphone automatically locks you inside? This sci-fi scenario could well become a reality when all devices in the house are interlinked and connected to a network. Extend this scenario to smart cities where infrastructure and utilities are controlled by vast networks and you have the possibility of shutting down an entire city if the network collapses or is hacked. Without painting a scare scenario, let me point out a few vulnerabilities. 
 
Infrastructure Overload: After using up the entire ipv4 bandwidth, there is a possibility of a cell overload if technologies used to digitise infrastructure outpace the networks that support them. Constant upgradation of technology and protocols will be crucial. 
 
Cascading Impact: The reliance on large central servers to control systems, especially to control utilities such as water or power supply, can have a cascading impact in case of disruption. The efficacy of back-ups, measures to contain damage and quick response mechanisms, which are being discussed and implemented, will actually be tested only in a live situation. With large interdependent networks, security and risk-mitigation are big worries as is the time required for recovery. 
 
Privacy Risks: With integrated circuits (ICs) and microphones becoming cheaper, smaller, more powerful and easy to embed into all devices, snooping and an end to privacy is a reality—if for nothing else, to be able to sell you goods and services. 
 
Our civilisation is being exposed to unbounded complexity due to the rapid automation of processes without a clear understanding of the implications and consequences. India needs to pause to learn from mistakes of other countries and put in place proper risk mitigation systems before going ahead with ideas like smart cities.
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    COMMENTS

    Vivek Silla

    2 years ago

    Nice article by Prashant. Just to add, IoT has a very interesting impact on the evolution of cyber security threat profile. With the proliferation of IoT enabled devices into our homes, offices and daily lives, we might be opening direct channels for attackers to these locations and our lives. Vulnerabilities in a IoT enabled car may be exploited by attackers for cyber aided kidnapping. Vulnerabilities in IoT enabled health transplants such as Pacemakers can be exploited for cyber murders. IoT devices available in our living rooms and bed rooms might have vulnerabilities that might be exploited for eavesdropping and cyber espionage. Vulnerabilities in IoT devices can be leveraged to launch DDoS attacks. You all will agree that with IoT, it is no longer about Safety vs. Security, it is all about Safety and Security. Interestingly enough, the maturity of the IoT market is yet to come in and the need for security in IoT is yet to be acknowledged. Most of the IoT devices that are available in the market today have absolute focus on their features rather than security. IoT should hence be treated very cautiously for the moment, products made by well known brands should be preferred rather than the china products available in the grey market, thorough consideration should be given to the security of the IoT products rather when making a decision on which ones to buy. Devices should always be updated with the latest firmware so that known security vulnerabilities have been addressed. Proper hardening should be conducted to overcome vulnerabilities such as default login credentials etc. which could provide easy access to the attackers. Laws and regulations also need to be developed to regulate safety aspects of IoT enabled devices.

    Ramesh I

    2 years ago

    Technology is a double-edged sword, which can be used for extremely useful purposes of automating processes, as in manufacturing sector, or to sabotage high-tech processes ( like the Stuxnet virus/trojan 'planted' by someone to sabotage the nuclear plants in Iran few years ago, suspecting it was building nuclear weapons in them). Moreover, USA has blacklisted some Chinese firms which were believed to plant spyware in their devices shipped to USA and elsewhere. India imports over 90% of its white goods and even high-tech equipments for its power plants and the crucial telecom sector. Hence, the risks of a planned cyber-attack by China, in case of escalation of hostilities (as during the recent Doklam standoff) can cause havoc in India. It's a pity our politicians of all parties who have been in Govt over the past 15+ years have 'sold out' to China, enabling cheap imports from China, while killing domestic manufacturing industries with heavy taxes and levies. PM Modi has only spoken of Make In India as a slogan but has not yet backed his words with action, even 3 years into his term as PM. It's high time Narendra Modi realizes that India needs to become strong and self-reliant in manufacturing products for itself, not just for economic benefits, but also for ensuring national security in the long-term.

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    Online harassment on the rise in India, Mumbai leads
    Online harassment is on the rise in India, with eight out of 10 surveyed reporting to have encountered some form of online harassment, cyberbullying and cyberstalking, global cyber security firm Norton by Symantec said on Wednesday.
     
    The highest threats of physical violence were reported by victims from Mumbai (51 per cent), Delhi (47 per cent) and Hyderabad (46 per cent), with Delhi victims (51 per cent) experiencing the highest incidence of cyberbullying.
     
    The most common forms of online harassment are abuse and insults (63 per cent) and malicious gossip and rumours (59 per cent).
     
    Shockingly, 87 per cent of the people with disabilities or poor mental health and 77 per cent of those with weight issues reported experiences of abuse or insults online.
     
    "The level of online harassment in India is extremely concerning. Our latest research shows that more serious forms of online harassment including threats of physical violence (45 per cent), cyberbullying (44 per cent) and cyberstalking (45 per cent) are very high," said Ritesh Chopra, Country Manager, Norton by Symantec, in a statement.
     
    Norton by Symantec commissioned the survey through Morar HPI, an insight, strategy and creative consultancy, in 2017 with a sample size of 1,035 adults aged 18 and over. 
     
    The incidence of online harassment was particularly high for people in the under 40s age group, with 65 per cent reporting online abuse and insults. 
     
    "It is also worrying that for over 40 per cent of incidences of cyberbullying and nearly half of all cases of cyberstalking people said that the perpetrator was a stranger. Indeed, many said that they had no idea of the true identity of the person who was bullying them," Chopra added.
     
    Sexual harassment was also a concern for the under 40s, experienced by 40 per cent of this age group. 
     
    "It is more commonly encountered by women than men but those who were most likely to report this form of harassment were people who had disabilities or mental health issues, with 69 per cent reporting being victim to this kind of abuse," the findings showed. 
     
    Sexual comments and messages on social media as well as receiving disturbing emails were the most common complaints.
     
    Reports of sexual harassment were highest by victims from Delhi and Mumbai (43 per cent) followed by Kolkata (37 per cent) and Bengaluru (36 per cent).
     
    "With India's growing population spending more time on social media platforms and mobile applications, it is important that online users' take basic precautions to protect their safety and security to avoid unwanted contact," Chopra noted.
     
    Online harassment often triggered emotional reactions, with 45 per cent of the people saying it made them feel angry, 41 per cent irritated and 36 per cent frustrated. 
     
    Worryingly, one in four women found their experience frightening.
     
    "These statistics indicate the real need for people to take the necessary precautions to boost their online protection," Chopra said.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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