Vision for cybersecurity: An exclusive interview with India’s National Cybersecurity Coordinator at Prime Minister’s Office
-Interviewed by Sachin Gaur, executive editor, InnoHEALTH Magazine
Lt General (Dr.) Rajesh Pant is an internationally recognized Cyber Security expert, presently tenanting the prestigious appointment of National Cyber Security Coordinator at the Prime Minister’s Office, India. General Pant brings to the table an interesting mix of military operations, academic excellence, corporate governance, and cybersecurity wisdom. Prior to this, he was the Head of the Army’s Cyber Training establishment for three years. He served in the Army Signals Corps for 41 years wherein he was awarded three times by the President of India for distinguished service of the highest order. He also served as the Chairman of Precision Electronics Ltd as a Governing Council Member of IETE (India). Sachin Gaur interviewed him on his viewpoint on India’s vision for cybersecurity.
Q. On behalf of InnoHEALTH Magazine, we congratulate you on your new assignment. For our readers, we would like you to share your short-term and long-term vision for Cybersecurity from national security perspective.
Short-term vision is to issue National Cyber Security Strategy 2020-25 early next year. Task force is working overtime on this by consulting all stakeholders. Long-term vision is to create an all-encompassing cyber vertical at the national level, to handle incident response, cybercrimes, legal issues and capacity building.
Q. We know that there are some fundamental technological shifts waiting to happen like 5G, and along-with it massive (Internet of Things) IoT deployments and especially use cases of connected healthcare. Can you share your views on the cybersecurity implications of the connected devices?
IoT security is a priority topic world over and this is because the limited security capabilities of these devices are also an afterthought. We need to work on a framework, to bring baselinesecurity through the manufacturers and developers of these devices. These devices are omnipresent in our lives, we find them in our home environment to industrial environments including hospitals. We have seen attacks in the past, where such devices are compromised to launch massive denial of service attacks to manipulate the workings of critical infrastructure.
Also, the issue of IoT security is multidimensional, from data security, privacy to device security. As we discuss this, there are multiple acts and bills pending in the Parliament on these topics. While the bills and acts will provide a framework, we need to also create awareness on both sides, supplier and consumer on the possible risks and mitigation strategies.
Q. What steps can be taken to improve the security in such connected devices?
When I say baseline security framework, it can be achieved in multiple ways.
As of today, most devices that we use including mobile phones, do not have a security testing certification. So, we can agree with the industry and look at important test cases and if they can do self-certification on such test cases.
For example: the device should not have weak default login credentials, it is sending data to a remote server and can be operated remotely. So, we can come up like a 5-star rating framework like that of the energy consumption but for the security of IoT devices basis what kind of tests they clear.
Industry bodies can agree on various levels of security and what it takes to achieve that level. Such a framework, when implemented, can provide confidence to consumers and users on the kind of device they are using vis-a-visthe use case they have at hand. So, they might use a higher security rating device in a use case where the stakes are high.
The other approach is to get the security testing done with notified agencies. Department of Telecom for example has announced mandatory security testing of network elements for telecom given telecom is a part of the critical infrastructure and security issuescannot be taken lightly.
Also, some of the emerging concepts in connected devices are missing in the various governing acts of the industrial connected devices. So, we also need to update our legal frameworks to cover software-based tempering of such devices and make the manufacturers and service providers accountable and proactive towards the security of the systems they provide.
Q. What are the threats that you foresee for the health sector?
There are three areas we see where health sector can be impacted:
First is the data breaches and ransomware attacks on healthcare data. As we know, among all the data, healthcare is the most sensitive and sought after by malicious actors. Outside of India, we have seen umpteen cases where ransomware has crippled the health system and it is only after paying the ransom the hospitals can start operation again. Timely backups and encryption of healthcare data during storage is a preventive measure that clinical establishments can take to mitigate the breach and ransomware attacks.
Second is the manipulation of connected devices. The topic of IoT and connected devices security, as discussed in the above sections, directly apply to the medical devices. Healthcare is a domain where attacks on such devices can be life threatening, especially when there are implantable devices. As we have the new Medical Device Regulation Act in India since 2018, we should also consider cyber security aspect in the devices which have a communication interface. For example, a pacemaker which has a communication interface can be manipulated remotely and the patient’s life is at risk.
Third is the manipulation of health system including the building management. We are probably not very far from the days when sophisticated attacks, as we see in the movies, on high security establishments by manipulating the building controls. The building management systems are very weak when it comes to security. Every hospital is a building and imagine what a false fire alarm would mean to patients in Intensive Care Unit. Or even loss of air conditioning or sudden spikes in electrical power.
There is a proposed act DISHA, Digital Information Security Healthcare Act, which might address some of the legal aspects of security in the healthcare setting. A lot needs to be done in this area, and we are on our way.
Q. Our readership consists of health experts all over the world. Any message for them?
We are at the cusp of a new age where we look to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence to Internet of Things. For such a knowledge economy to take off, health sector is at the center of it and health experts need to pay attention on what they are buying and how such systems are managed and operated. Through intervention of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and responsible bodies such as National Accreditation Board of Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) of Quality Council of India, we plan to recommend a cyber audit and increased awareness of information security.
We would not want our hospitals and clinical establishments to be a prey for malicious actors. Rather we would want our experts to leverage technology to take the country to the next level in providing care to a wider population at a lower cost and of the highest quality.