Terrorists with Technology

Amit Shah tells G20 countries to devise common strategy to meet security challenges

Subhashis Mittra

New methods and emerging technologies are being used by terrorists for financial transactions, posing great threats for the security apparatus and digital public infrastructure. Terrorists are finding new ways to perpetrate violence, radicalise youth and raise financial resources.

Terrorists with Technology

Against this backdrop, union home minister Amit Shah said transformation of security challenges from “dynamite to metaverse” and “hawala to crypto currency” is a matter of concern. He made the remarks at the inaugural session of the two-day G20 Conference on Crime and Security in the Age of NFTs, AI, and Metaverse in Gurugram, Haryana.

Over 900 distinguished individuals from G20 countries as well as representatives from special invitee countries, international bodies, technology leaders and experts, gathered to discuss ways to protect the digital space and the interconnected world from evolving cyber threats.

The event offered a unique opportunity to form global partnerships for a secure cyberspace as the world faced profound challenges of cybercrime in this new era of non-fungible tokens, artificial intelligence and metaverse.

The minister said some anti-social elements and global forces were using technology to cause economic and social harm to citizens and governments. Incidents ranging from ransomware attacks, sale of critical personal data, online harassment and child abuse to fake news and misinformation campaigns with toolkits are being carried out by cybercriminals. Shah emphasised the urgent need for cooperation both at the national and international levels to build cyber resilience in an increasingly connected world. He urged all to devise a common strategy to effectively deal with this menace.

Highlighting the achievements made in the digital sector in the last nine years, the home minister said 840 million Indians have online presence and by 2025 another 400 million Indians will enter the digital world. Internet connections have increased by 250 per cent in the nine years. Under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, 50 crore new bank accounts have been opened and 330 million RuPay debit cards distributed.

He pointed out that India leads in global digital payments with 90 million transactions in 2022 and said India has set up open-access digital public infrastructure models, which have become examples in the world today.

India has developed the Aadhaar model for digital identity, UPI model for real-time fast payment, open network for digital commerce, and open health service network.

Shah said India has been at the forefront of adopting emerging technologies at the grassroots level aiming to make modern technology more accessible and affordable to all sections of the society.

On the relevance of the G20 conference on new technologies, he said this was the first conference on cybersecurity in the G20. “The G20 has focused on digital transformation and data flow from an economic perspective, but now it is important to understand the aspects of crime and security and find a solution,” he said.

Against this scenario, he said it was the government’s endeavour to stay ahead in the era of NFT, AI, metaverse and other emerging technologies by responding in a timely manner to new and emerging threats in a coordinated and cooperative approach.

He said cybersecurity had become an essential aspect of global security that requires adequate attention on its economic and geo-political implications in the digital age. It was essential to strengthen the capabilities of nations and international organisations to deal with new and emerging, traditional and non-traditional challenges, including terrorism, terror financing, radicalisation, narco, narco-terror links, and misinformation in a better way.

“The world today needs a new model for digital public infrastructure to facilitate the flow of information and finance,” he said. “The G20 has so far focused on digital transformation and data flow from an economic perspective, but now it is important to understand the aspects of crime and security, and find a solution,” he said.

Shah said such activities were of national concern as they directly impacted national security, law and order, and the economy. If such crimes and criminals had to be stopped, there is a need to think and act by rising above the conventional geographic boundaries, he noted. “Although technology is a positive development in bringing human beings, communities and countries closer, there are also some anti-social elements and global forces that are using technology to cause economic and social harm to citizens and governments,” he added.

The home minister suggested a slew of measures to act against cyber criminals operating across borders like bringing uniformity in laws of all countries, developing a response mechanism under different laws of the countries, harmonising bench marks, best practices and regulations, and greater coordination among cyber agencies of all countries.

“An integrated and stable approach to cyber security policies will facilitate interoperability, increase trust in information sharing, and reduce the agency protocol and resources gaps. The need of the hour is to share real-time cyber threat intelligence among member-countries with active support from the industry and academia to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure,” he said.

Cooperation in the investigation of cross-border cybercrimes through joint efforts to build a “peaceful, secure, deterrent and open” information and communication technology environment was extremely necessary today, the home minister said.

“Many countries have become victims of cyberattacks and this threat is hovering over all the major economies of the world. According to World Bank estimates, cyberattacks could have caused losses of around USD 5.2 trillion to the world during 2019-2023. The use of crypto currency by malicious threat actors further complicates its detection and prevention,” he said.

The home minster also suggested that in line with the United Nations Convention on the Criminal Use of Information and Communication Technology, speedy preservation, investigation and co-ordination of evidence is essential. He said Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) must be strengthened to deal with emerging technologies.

Shah flagged off cyber volunteer squads from seven premier educational institutions of the country. These specially identified volunteers will work to generate cyber awareness in the society, identify and report harmful content, and render technical assistance for making society cyber-safe.

The conference saw participants engaging in extensive deliberations across six technical sessions, covering topics like internet governance, artificial Intelligence, deep packet inspection security, potential of extended reality, metaverse and future of digital ownership, connecting the dots, and criminal use of information and communications technology.

At the end of the conference, India issued the summary of the meeting, which said: “It is critical to strengthen and develop capacities of individual states, international organisations and relevant stakeholders to better respond to traditional, non-traditional and new and emerging challenges, including terrorism and its financing, money laundering, misinformation and disinformation.”

The chair emphasised the promotion of an open, secure, stable, accessible, peaceful and accountable ICT environment, including technical advancement, business development, safeguarding the security of states and public interests and respecting privacy right of individuals.

Concerns were raised over the increasing challenge to protect individuals, particularly women and children, from online sexual exploitation and from other content harmful to their health and well-being.

Stakeholders are looking forward to strengthening cooperation to develop initiatives aimed at ensuring safety of users, especially children and women on the internet, it noted.

The chair observed that the misuse of ICTs along with new and emerging technologies and advanced ICT tools by state and non-state actors for terrorist purposes was a serious concern for global security and stability, economic and social development, as well as the safety and well-being of individuals.

The importance of deterring, preventing and combating the use of ICTs for terrorist purposes and strengthening of international cooperation through the exchange of best practices, sharing of information and effective and efficient mutual legal assistance, was underscored.

The chair noted that the use of AI, Metaverse, NFTs, Dark Net, Deep fakes, Internet of Things (IoTs) and other technologies by malicious actors is increasing rapidly. There is concern about AI generated cyber-attacks, malware, highly convincing information manipulation, and scams that can be deployed cheaply and at formidable scale using these tools.

The Dark net has gained popularity among cyber criminals due to its perceived anonymity and the ability to conduct various activities generally outside the reach of law enforcement agencies. Within the Darknet, one prominent trend is the increasing criminal misuse of crypto assets as a medium of financial transaction.

“Collaboration between law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, technology companies, and cryptocurrency exchanges can lead to better intelligence and coordinated efforts to combat illegal activities. By addressing the challenges, implementing robust solutions, and exploring future directions, stakeholders can strive to connect the dots in the Darknet and create a safer digital environment for all users,” it observed.



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