Up in cyber arms

Cyberspace advocate N S Nappinai encourages India to wise-up when it comes to liberty in online spaces

July 13, 2017 04:24 pm | Updated 04:27 pm IST

Malicious cyberattacks such as that of WannaCry ransomware has shaken netizens the world over. In a Manthan-run talk titled ‘Liberty and Cyberspace,’ Mumbai-based advocate N S Nappinai will be answering all the questions we’re too afraid to ask.

With India’s contentious outlook on privacy and liberty, the need to acknowledge and address how much power we give to technology is bigger than ever. “In this world of strife and now seemingly aggressive posturing over physical borders, Nation-States would have to create consensus at least for the cyber domain by creating global enforcement mechanisms, to overcome the increasing threat of cross-border crimes, terror attacks and now even cyber warfare,” she states.

With over 25 years of experience, N S Nappinai is well aware of the impacts following the advances in tech— be it infrastructural or societal. Given how mediated society and technology are into each other, Nappinai strongly encourages everyone to embrace technology and to thrive in the glory of its liberation, saying “Safety ought not to be mediated through eschewing technology. Ivory towers devoid of technology is neither feasible in today’s world nor is it the solution for ensuring security.”

However, she does engender the responsible use of tech, “Liberty today is understood to mean a world devoid of restraints, including legal, emotional, moral or ethical constraints, which ensure adherence to tenets in the real world. This results in a false sense of security for users to venture farther than they would in real life and for miscreants to commit crimes they would not dare to in the physical world. Absence of physicality unfortunately results in dissociating actions from consequences with drastic results for both the culprits and the victims.”

On netizens

Because of this heavy involvement of tech, despite us being not as digitally literate as we like to think, we hand over a lot of information about ourselves that lead to identity fraud and cyber attacks. And with majority of the country attempting to go cashless, even more personal information is floating about.

Nappinai strongly states that literacy and digital literacy are poles apart. “The millennials rule the online domain, irrespective of their levels of education, which otherwise defines literacy in the physical world. India’s population may be young but not that young to comprise only of these digital natives, as Marc Prensky tagged them. Most of us are those who have migrated to the digital world and struggle to cope with the complexities therein, whilst enjoying the thrills of this new toy.”

It’s easy to get carried away with the kaleidoscope of what happens in online spaces, and inhibition inexorably fades off and age isn’t necessarily a factor, according to Nappinai, “(This) appears to be common to young and old on the cyber domain and in fact the sense of liberation seems to encourage the older generation to open up a lot more than even the young. Innocence, defiance and misplaced trust appear to lead to most of the other crimes including identity theft, financial and banking frauds or even ransomware attacks made popular now by the WannaCry and Petya attacks.”

Criminals vs institutions

There’s an intrinsic psychological intelligence that cyber criminals possess: reading people. Nappinai points out that fear and greed are two tropes upon which they prey to draw out deeply personal information. She adds, “Banking frauds for instance rested on greed first with lotteries won and inheritances from unknown persons. Today it is perpetuated using fear— that bank accounts would be frozen, or credit or debit cards would be cancelled being standard threats used to cull information.”

And in the flurry of a predominantly digitally illiterate population trying to make sense of the movement towards a largely cashless economy, education on the risks and threats associated with these changes is required, “Equating physical world examples for the digital immigrants may work best. No one would for instance part with a key to their home to a stranger. Educating them that the PIN number is a key makes the concept of security obvious.”

She also highlights that the Government should ensure that effective, inexpensive and expeditious remedies are provided in law. Without this safety net, pushing the populace along may simply lead them to a precipice.

‘Broken windows’

With the recent narcotics bust in the city, a labyrinth of darknet sites have been a challenge for authorities to navigate and this is mainly due to the fact that the cyber domain has predominantly enjoyed an uninhibited and unfettered existence, according to Nappinai. “Net neutrality postures as the guardian of this freedom. This debate cannot be confused however with the need for regulating the net or providing effective enforcement mechanisms against misuse of the domain. However responsible or aware a user may be, there are bound to be breaches and violations.”

Having penned Technology Laws Decoded in May, she addresses this extensively. “The dark net is a stark example of such broken windows resulting in absolute lawlessness. Take down repeatedly of the darknet site Silk Road reiterates faith in law enforcers but to some extent even these take downs defy established tenets of due process. Vigilante justice is the other risk that is likely to rear its head due to absence of effective enforcement online.”

N S Nappinai will be speaking on ‘Liberty and Cyberspace’ with Manthan, at Vidyaranya High School on July 13 from 6pm to 8.30pm.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.