Govt asked to beef up cyber security of its departments

KARACHI – As per Global Cyber Security Index of year 2017, compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, Pakistan is at 67th position as compared to 23rd position of India, therefore much work has to be done to completely safeguard and secure the use of digital means and technologies for private, businesses and state-level communications in the country.

This was the gist of speeches made at a symposium titled, ‘Cyber Security-Where Do We Stand?’, organised by the Pakistan Academy of Engineering (PAS), here on Saturday.

Speakers at the moot being academicians and professionals of IT and computer systems securities suggested that establishment of a national cyber security command could be one effective mechanism to safeguard the digital and computer-based information systems and communications in the country. This cyber security command will also work as the much-needed regulatory body at the state-level to control entire affairs related to cyber communications and systems in the country, they added.

They opined that an effective state-level cyber security institution had to be established for securing IT systems against malicious attacks by hackers from within and outside the country.

Stressing the need for putting in place a cyber security command, the speakers said it had become all the more important given the recent breaches of cyber security systems of ATM (automated teller machine) of private banks in the country.

They said that hackers, allegedly belonging to hostile countries in recent past, had launched attacks on websites related to government services in Pakistan as in several such attacks, the websites of government’s agencies were either completely taken down or their content was distorted, or virtually hijacked by unidentified attackers in the cyber world.

They said that in order to pre-empt such a situation, the government had to beef up and completely secure its own IT and computer systems, servers, and databases to safeguard the record pertaining to different state and government-level services.

They suggested that regional cooperation between the neighbouring countries was key to adopting a uniform legislative network across the region for securing IT systems and networks.

In such a situation the member states of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should come together for introducing a uniform system of cyber security in the entire SAARC much like the cooperation forged among the European Union nations, the speakers emphasised.

In his welcome address, PAS President Professor Dr Jameel Ahmed Khan said it was the strong recommendation by his academy that the government should wake up to the dismal situation of cyber security in the country and take necessary steps for the protection of digital and IT systems.

According to him, adoption of a comprehensive legislative framework was one very viable option for the government for enhancing the level of cyber security in the country.

Khan said that the government should also set up an IT certifying agency at the state-level to make standards of maintaining IT and digital systems and computers servers across the country uniform.

He said that engineering universities in the country should introduce a subject on ‘Cyber Security’ at the undergraduate level as this would be helpful in overcoming acute shortage of IT security specialists.

Dr Khan, who had also served as a vice-chancellor of NED University of Engineering & Technology till 1991, said that a big public sector engineering varsity like NED University should make an assessment of its own IT systems and computers servers to safeguard important academic and research data of students.

PAS President lamented that major public and private sector universities had no idea at all about their present state of cyber security systems for safeguarding their servers against malicious attempts of hacking.

He expressed remorse that lawmakers in the parliament had no understanding at all of the importance of issues like cyber security owing to which successive governments had not implemented any serious action plan to safeguard servers and IT systems of its own agencies, corporations and ministries.

He further said that his academy had taken the initiative by establishing an institute of cyber security management to act as a catalyst to beef up IT security systems at the state level.

In his keynote address via video link, Canada-based cyber security expert Mobeet Khan said that there was a need all over the world to put in place security systems for the protection of IT servers related to banking, financial, health care, municipal systems and public-oriented government services.

He said that cyber security had become an important subject as governments had increased their reliance on online services for handling matters related to governance in the domain of masses.

He said that owing to effective legislation and regulatory framework, the officials in-charge of cyber security systems in private and public institutions in countries like the USA and Canada could be handed down stern punishments lasting up to 10-year imprisonment in case of a serious breach in IT systems and computers servers under their respective control.

Dr Asad Arfeen, Associate Professor at the Department of Computer & Information Systems of NED University, said that during an assignment abroad, he had taken part in a project for enhancing IT facilities for warships of New Zealand Navy and that similar IT systems should also be used for surveillance and security of maritime frontiers of Pakistan as well.

He lamented that people belonging to academic institutions like NED University didn’t readily get financial grant or assistance within the country for doing research on IT security systems whereas such fellowship programmes were available in abundance in European and other developed countries that could also be availed by Pakistani researchers.

He said that country lacked in the systems to protect its important state level servers and systems against acts of cyber terrorism, which had become a frequent occurrence at the global IT scene.

Hussein Hasanali, chief information security officer at a private bank, said that public and private sector institutions should forge alliance to heavily invest for human resource development and training in the field of IT security and management to meet fast changing trends in the field of IT security and systems. He said that country had been facing an acute shortage of trained professionals in the field of IT security as whosever got a bare minimum level of education of this field easily got highly-paid employment.

He said that in case the present dismal trend of training continued, top-level IT security positions in the private sector of the country would remain vacant owing to shortage of qualified professionals of computer systems field.

Wajahat Raja, Dr Jawwad A Shamsi, Dr Fahad Samad, being IT experts and academicians, also spoke on the occasion.

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