What is Ransomware? How can it impact the Digital India Dream?

On July 2, 2015, Prime Minister NarendraModi launched the Digital India campaign to connect India’s rural areas with high-speed internet and providing government services digitally. Apart from these two motives, improving India’s online infrastructure, bettering internet connectivity, and ensuring digital literacy, were among the few others.

India recently witnessed demonetization which prompted many citizens to embrace cashless or digital transactions. With an easy access to the internet and the latest demonetization drive, there was a huge spike in the number of online transactions. Though India is on the path of achieving digital literacy, meaning, making Indians possess a set of skills required for full participation in a knowledge society, one cannot neglect the threats it would bring along.

The digital space was recently attacked by a ransomware named Petya, which was first discovered in 2016. According to a report by a security software firm Symantec, the most affected country in the Asia Pacific region was India. On the world map, India was the seventh most affected nation.

Another malware that hit globally in the same year was ‘WannaCry’. With ransomware like Petya and WannaCry in existence, is the Digital India Dream blurring? Before we answer this question, we should learn what a Ransomware is.

Ransomware is a malicious software that blocks access to computer systems until a sum of money (ransom) is paid. This malware holds a system’s database in captive, and it is released only in exchange for money. There were two ransomware attacks that hit globally in the past four months. The first ‘WannaCry’, short for WannaCrypt, hit in May 2017, and a month later, ‘Petya’ hit in June 2017. The former ransomware said to have affected 2,30,000 companies across 150 countries in the world.

The Petyaransomware spreads through Microsoft Windows computers using EternalBlue vulnerability. Once it hits a computer, it quickly spreads throughout the organization. This ransomware is said to have a better mechanism in spreading independently than the WannaCryransomware.

Why did Petya hit India so badly? Why is India one of the most hit countries in the world? The lack of awareness could be one of the reasons why we fell victim to this attack. Maintaining cybersecurity is said to be a shared responsibility of the government, the organizations involved, and the internet users. Another reason why Petya hit so hard could be the increase in online payments.

The shift to a cashless society could be because of the increase in mobile phones, increase in the internet usage, and the recent demonetization. According to KPMG, an auditing company in India, few measures for a long-term success in digital payments include a strong administrative structure, efficient redressal policies, substantial security divisions, grounds for assistance and ease in cashless transactions.

Another probable reason for India’s vulnerability is the usage of obsolete software and hardware, which the world has already scrapped long time ago. India uses old computers with older operating systems. Having a weaker composition enables malware and viruses to get into the systems easily as an old system holds a weaker security. While the world is using up-to-date operating systems with the latest hardware, many systems used in India still belong to the mid-2000s.

Software piracy is another common phenomenon in India. One can find stalls of pirated software CDs throughout the country. This unoriginal software has a weaker security framework, which makes the computer system further exposed to viruses.

Another common form of cybercrime is phishing, which is a deceitful way of sending emails to cause individuals to reveal their personal information like credit card details, passwords, etc. The person pretends to be from a known company and asks for personal details.

With an alarming increase in cybercrimes, the dream of Digital India and achieving digital literacy is under threat for sure. But it can be curbed if the government, various organizations, and the internet users join hands to make cybersecurity an important concern. The masses could be educated with basic knowledge of security. Software piracy could be banned and the internet users could be encouraged to update their software. Countries should come together to fight against cybercrime and make the world a healthy place for digital requirements.

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