Explained: What is ‘critical information infrastructure’, who protects it? | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack

The Union Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has declared IT resources of ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and UPI managing entity NPCI as ‘critical information infrastructure’. The notification to this effect was issued on June 16. What is ‘critical information infrastructure’, and who protects it?

What is critical information infrastructure?

The Information Technology Act of 2000 defines “Critical Information Infrastructure” as a “computer resource, the incapacitation or destruction of which shall have debilitating impact on national security, economy, public health or safety”.

The government, under the Act, has the power to declare any data, database, IT network or communications infrastructure as CII to protect that digital asset.

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Any person who secures access or attempts to secure access to a protected system in violation of the law can be punished with a jail term of up to 10 years.

Why is CII classification and protection necessary?

World over governments have been moving with alacrity to protect their critical information infrastructure. IT resources form the backbone of countless critical operations in a country’s infrastructure, and given their interconnectedness, disruptions can have a cascading effect across sectors. An information technology failure at a power grid can lead to prolonged outages crippling other sectors like healthcare, banking services.

In 2007, a wave of denial-of-service attacks, allegedly from Russian IP addresses, hit major Estonian banks, government bodies – ministries and parliament, and media outlets. It was cyber aggression of the kind that the world had not seen before, and it came in the wake of Estonia’s decision to move a memorial to the Soviet Red Army to a location of less prominence. The attacks played havoc in one of the most networked countries in the world for almost three weeks.

On October 12, 2020 as India battled the pandemic, the electric grid supply to Mumbai suddenly snapped hitting the mega city’s hospitals, trains and businesses. Later, a study by a US firm that looks into the use of the internet by states, claimed that this power outage could have been a cyber attack, allegedly from a China-linked group, aimed at critical infrastructure. The government, however, was quick to deny any cyber attack in Mumbai.

But the incident underlined the possibility of hostile state and non-state actors probing internet-dependent critical systems in other countries, and the necessity to fortify such assets.

How are CIIs protected in India?

Created in January 2014, the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) is the nodal agency for taking all measures to protect the nation’s critical information infrastructure.

It is mandated to guard CIIs from “unauthorized access, modification, use, disclosure, disruption, incapacitation or distraction”.

According to its website, NCIIPC will monitor and forecast national-level threats to CII for policy guidance, expertise sharing and situational awareness for early warning or alerts. The basic responsibility for protecting the CII system shall lie with the agency running that CII, it says.

“In the event of any threat to critical information infrastructure the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre may call for information and give directions to the critical sectors or persons serving or having a critical impact on Critical Information Infrastructure,” the NCIIPC website adds.

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