A Good Servant…

Roughly 4,00,000 years ago, mankind finally managed to control fire. This seemingly- innocuous achievement ushered in a transcendental shift in human life, the scale of which is hard to comprehend in totality. Mastery over fire gave humans security from wild animals, the ability to cook food, obtain warmth, and for perhaps the first time in the history of our evolution – a semblance of power over nature. Mastery over fire put mankind on the path to acquiring mastery over their destiny, and freed us from an animal existence. Where earlier, man had to either run away from wildfire, he now had domesticated it, mastering it for productive use. Thus the saying, ‘fire is a good servant but a bad master’.

In the modern era, mankind’s mastery over electronics ushered in the Information Revolution and a mind bogglingly diverse range of opportunities opened up to us. In less than three decades, the power that earlier used to reside in large mainframes housed in garages has been domesticated into handheld devices. With the gradual move to IPv6, we are approaching an era where every molecule on earth could be assigned an IP address, if the need for that ever arose.

However, just as fire can be used for cooking food as well as for arson, technology is a tool that can be twisted to bad ends, and creative minds with a destructive bend have been busy doing this. Malware has come a long way from the time two inquisitive programmers first dumped rogue, but harmless, code on the boot sector of a floppy. Malicious code now causes millions of dollars worth of economic loss worldwide, impacts lives in multiple ways, and is becoming a bigger threat with each passing day. As diverse systems become increasingly automated and interconnected; as precious, sensitive, private data goes increasingly online; as governance goes mobile and to the Cloud and as an ever-increasing mass of humanity comes online, the havoc that few lines of malicious code can wreak is perhaps unimaginable.

Identity theft, social engineering, phishing, vishing – these are all terms that did not exist till a few years back. These, and many more, are today as ubiquitous as the technology that we so dearly love, that has become an integral part of our lives. Security is now a never-ending race, and the stakes are only getting bigger. A new generation of worms such as Stuxnet and Duqu can take control of critical infrastructure – Stuxnet is believed to have infected Iranian nuclear installations last year. The scale of risk posed by such malware is too frightening to contemplate.

In this issue of eGov, we take at some of the major issues related to the IT Security scenario. Talking to highly placed experts from the government and industry, we have put together a picture of the overall security scenario and also what the future is likely to bring in its wake.  As with fire, its best that mastery over technology is also used towards constructive purposes;  but as is pretty evident, eternal vigilance is a price that we will have to pay for securing our vital information and assets from pernicious minds.