India witnessed 1,787 cyber-attacks each week on an average in an organisation over the past six months, compared to the global average of 983, as per an analysis by Check Point Software Technologies, an American-Israeli cyber threat intelligence analyst.
The latest cyber-attack on India’s premier medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), New Delhi, the second such attack in a row has rekindled discussion over India’s preparedness to deal with attacks of the given nature. AIIMS in a statement released on Monday (June 5) said the attempt of malware attack was successfully thwarted and the threat was neutralised in time. But, the bigger questions of India’s vulnerability, vigilance and digitalisation still remain unanswered.
Why is India being targetted?
Cyber-attacks are frequently directed towards India due to its large population and expanding internet user base, resulting in a substantial attack surface, explains Dr Ananth Prabhu G, cyber law and security expert for various Indian law enforcement agencies.
“The country’s economic progress and digital modernisation have led to increased digitisation in various sectors, which has caught the attention of cyber-criminals who seek financial benefits and access to sensitive data. Additionally, India’s global prominence and intricate political and geopolitical relationships make it a prime target for attacks motivated by politics, espionage, or the disruption of critical infrastructure. Government initiatives and the collection of vast amounts of personal data have made the systems enticing targets,” he told WION.
India’s healthcare sector a constant target? Why is health-related data so critical?
A nationwide initiative to digitise medical data was launched in September 2021, and as of now, more than 173,000 hospitals have enrolled with it. In accordance with medical records kept by hospitals on their own servers or in cloud storage, the programme allocates patient numbers that are linked to those records.
“Healthcare data is a prime target for cyber-criminals due to its immense value and inherent vulnerabilities. Firstly, healthcare data contains a plethora of sensitive information that can be exploited for illicit purposes. Personally identifiable information (PII) like names, addresses, Aadhar, and insurance details can be illicitly traded on the black market for identity theft or used in fraudulent financial activities. Furthermore, medical records and health information hold significant worth as they can be leveraged for fraudulent billing, acquiring prescription drugs, or even extorting individuals with sensitive health conditions. The high value attached to healthcare data makes it an enticing objective for cyber-criminals seeking financial gain or other malicious intentions,” explains Dr Prabhu G.
He further adds that healthcare systems are “particularly appealing” to hackers because they often possess weaker security measures compared to other industries. The healthcare sector traditionally prioritises patient care and operational efficiency over robust cybersecurity, leaving vulnerabilities that cyber-criminals can exploit. Outdated software, legacy systems, and inadequate investments in cyber security infrastructure render healthcare organisations more susceptible to attacks.