An unauthorised software code has crippled a key channel of oil supply in the east coast of the US. Colonial Pipeline, an energy company, was forced to shut down a 5,500-mile pipeline after the discovery of ransomware in its system. It needed a declaration of an emergency by the federal government to keep up supply through an alternative route. The incident forcefully brings home cybersecurity risks that have increased significantly in the wake of digitalisation.
Malware is malicious software that uses security gaps to take over important computer files, and ransomware is a form of malware that can prevent a legitimate user from accessing essential files. Over the last five years, ransomware has emerged as a frequent way through which cybercriminals, with or without the help of state actors, have unleashed damage. In 2017, there were two separate multi-country attacks by ransomwares WannaCry and NotPetya. The latter even disrupted the production of critical vaccines by pharma firm Merck. A couple of developments have enhanced threats from ransomware. Software code has become ubiquitous; from home appliances to power grids it’s now an integral part of the system. Separately, the advent of multiple cryptocurrencies has provided cybercriminals new ways to route illegal payoffs.
As the pandemic quickened digitalisation, the forced transition has not always been accompanied by appropriate risk mitigation. Tackling cybercrime needs enormous coordination at national and international levels because interconnectedness of computer networks amplifies threats. Also, as cybercrime can be initiated from across borders, all countries have a stake in establishing response standards through bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as well as a new coalition focussed on this threat. India’s CERT-in (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) also needs an upgrade in terms of resource allocation to be in sync with the country’s pace of digitalisation.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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