‘Everything that comes for free is not actually useful or harmless’

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on October 06, 2020

Ritesh Chopra

At the end of the day, the user has to be responsible for his personal information and data, says Ritesh Chopra of NortonLifeLock

India has a number of people who skipped the PC generation and moved to a mobile-first approach, thanks to cheaper data, says Ritesh Chopra, Director Sales and Field Marketing, India & SAARC Countries, NortonLifeLock. Accentuated by the pandemic, online transactions have seen a huge jump. Naturally, threat perceptions have gone up about risking personal information. In an interview to BusinessLine, Chopra talks about the rise in digital payments, threats to mobile phone users, and possible prevention mechanisms of cyber attacks. Excerpts:

What sort of online trends have you noticed since the lockdown and subsequent unlocking?

Since the lockdown, everything, which includes ordering groceries, has moved online. This led to a jump in digital payments within a fortnight. People were coming out with new payment methods and cash on delivery — which previously was a huge chunk in India — went down. Some of this also percolated to smaller cities as well. Things like screen time usage (on mobiles) have gone up. Online transactions moved up like a hockey stick since the pandemic broke out.

From a security aspect, how do you see these trends?

Phishing has gone up; mostly seeking donations on some pretext or other. Ransomware attacks, where people lose control of their devices and are then blackmailed to regain access, is on the rise.

Spyware or clickbaits embedded in news articles are being seen. In case of spyware, there could be news around a popular topic and once you click on the link, there are downloads happening in the background without knowledge of the user. The spyware can remain dormant and suddenly take copies of passwords or credit card details.

Is any particular segment, say, online buyers or a newsreader, more prone to such cyber attacks?

I will say it’s everywhere. Digitisation is all about data and a user’s PII (personally identifiable information).

Cyber criminals want access to this PII. At a very simple level, this data is sold to advertisers. Or, it could be that they create fake IDs or take SIM cards or even monetary frauds.

Cyber criminals are using this time and jump in online transactions to gain access to PIIs and then sell it on the dark web.

But are people aware of other potential threats that a cyber crime can lead to?

Unfortunately, people’s mindset is restricted to knowing whether there is a virus on his/her device or if they incur a monetary loss due to online fraud. But, it goes much bigger than that when one sees the threat of theft or loss of digital identity and privacy. There are some people who are aware of these other threats, but they are happily giving away access to their devices to download a free application.

Digital transactions are here to stay. What is the solution then?

Lines between the virtual and real world have blurred today. People do not switch off phones or log out of devices or social media accounts. This has to change as we bring in some practices from the real world into the virtual one. For example, you do not go to sleep keeping your main door unbolted. Similarly, the specs on your mobile are as powerful as what a computer used to be three to four years back. So why not log out of email or social media accounts or why not log out of an online banking session?

This apart, everything that comes for free is not actually useful or harmless.

We often download free applications and give them permission to access our device. Have we ever thought, why something as innocuous as a weather app would require access to our contacts.

People need to give the terms and conditions a read too, rather than accepting them blindly. Users will also need software at the right places like an application scanner or even a VPN to mask the user’s identities.

Is adoption of paid software picking up and who pays?

There are enough solutions available in the market and we at Norton have offerings like a no-log VPN which is as easy as switching on-or-off.

On the PC side, people have moved to paid software. They are even adopting security products for a ‘Mac’. But the challenge continues to be on the mobile side. We have partnerships with Jio and we do see people adopting VPN and mobile security products. But, it is far away from what we would want it to be. At the end of the day, the user has to be responsible for his personal information and data; irrespective of what is being done by the government. In terms of price, the subscriptions can be as low as ₹50 a month.

Published on October 06, 2020

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