In October a massive number of bank account details were compromised due to hacking of servers. The security codes of as many as 3.2 million debit cards, in a major breach of financial data in India, were hacked into. India’s biggest banks from State Bank of India to ICICI Bank were affected, with an estimated Rs 1.3 crore already looted by the hackers. This not only revealed the inability of these major banks to keep their data secure from such cyber hacking, but also made their customers susceptible to losses.
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The country, which in a knee-jerk reaction to demonetisation is preparing itself for a digital economy, needs to also realise that these challenges are for real. By pushing for Digital India the government’s focus should not be just to make India go digital, but to make it go safely digital. The cyber laws should ensure the customers using these transaction modes are safe and secure. As of now there are no defined rules as to who bears the losses in case accounts are compromised and nor are there defined rules for accountability. RBI put out a draft proposal in August, which would protect customers with limited liability in case of unauthorised e-transactions.
In the recently concluded US elections, a new phenomena came to the fore. It was that of cyber-espionage that targeted hundreds of key people from both the Republicans and Democrats over the period of a year. The hackers accessed and stole emails of key Capitol Hill members, political parties, campaigners and aides. The US administration blamed Russia for the cyber attack which they felt was done in an attempt to influence US politics. This became a topic of debate between the two candidates in the run up to the election.
However, in what perhaps is a new low in Indian politics and a serious cyber crime, the social media accounts of Indian National Congress and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi were hacked into and obscene content sent out from both the Twitter handles. Since these attacks come in the backdrop of India being engaged in a heated debate on demonetisation and terror attacks, questions need to be asked of this government as to how these accounts were hacked and about the audacity of the messages tweeted. One tweet from INC India handle also had the hackers claim they had an entire dump of emails accessed from email accounts of INC and they would make it public mid-December. If this isn’t a security breach of the highest order, especially since it involves those questioning the government’s recent policy decisions, then what is?
Since 2014 India has been seeing a consistent attack on institutions and people who have spoken against the government. It has become the norm for people to be tagged as anti-national to being arrested for their views. Repeatedly we see a government that refuses to engage with the opposition on policy issues including that of demonetisation, that is seeing an entire nation in upheaval. The attempts to bring changes such as the Land Acquisition Bill through an ordinance to trying to introducing GST as a Money bill to the recent passing of amendments to Income Tax Act without a discussion is some of the sinister attempts at thwarting India’s vibrant democracy. Why should this cyber attack on the accounts of India’s principal opposition party not be looked into in the same context?
What is surprising and in a way disappointing is that the BJP government instead of looking into this issue is actually defending the security breach. Doesn’t it become the responsibility of India’s Communication and IT Minister to look into this on priority and bring the so called ‘mischief makers’ to book so that in the longer run everyone using the medium feels safe?
Priyanka Chaturvedi is national spokesperson Congress. The views expressed are personal.