In a significant move to bolster India’s cybersecurity measures, the government has introduced the National Cybersecurity Response Framework (NCRF) following a ransomware attack on the prestigious All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Former national cybersecurity coordinator, Lt Gen Rajesh Pant, revealed that the attack on AIIMS exposed critical vulnerabilities in the nation’s cyber defence infrastructure, leading to the realization of the urgent need to protect essential sectors.
The incident occurred on the morning of November 23 2022, when the systems at AIIMS and its affiliated centres were targeted by a devastating cyberattack that resulted in the corruption of patient-sensitive and research data from both primary and backup servers. The severity of the attack prompted authorities to take immediate action and launch a thorough investigation led by the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) cell of the Delhi Police, along with teams from the National Informatics Centre and Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).
Speaking about the cyberattack and its implications, Lt Gen Rajesh Pant emphasized that the AIIMS incident underscored the necessity for a uniform framework to respond to cybersecurity threats in critical sectors. “It was realized that critical infrastructure needs a unified approach to address cybersecurity challenges,” he stated. As a result, the NCRF was conceived, outlining an architecture for a robust cyber defense system while also specifying trusted companies and supply chain mechanisms to enhance security measures.
The former NCRF chief further highlighted the importance of learning from the AIIMS attack to better prepare the nation’s critical information infrastructure and address existing vulnerabilities. “The network’s architecture was not designed by professionals but rather by a team of doctors, leaving significant loopholes that allowed the breach to occur easily,” Lt Gen Pant remarked. “The incident has provided invaluable insights for the government to implement necessary changes.”
The introduction of the NCRF aims to bridge crucial gaps in the cyber response mechanisms by establishing standard operating procedures for handling such incidents swiftly and effectively. Lt Gen Rajesh Pant stressed the importance of inter-ministerial cooperation and advocated for the establishment of a nodal ministry dedicated solely to address cybersecurity threats. He emphasized that cybersecurity is a constantly evolving landscape, requiring proactive measures to safeguard the nation’s interests.
Additionally, the government’s comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, which has been in development since 2020 and was conceptualized during Lt Gen Pant’s tenure as cybersecurity coordinator, proposes several mitigation measures to combat data breaches and enhance overall security across various sectors.
The NCRF is expected to be publicly available for implementation in critical infrastructure sectors, including power and health. With this new cybersecurity response framework in place, India aims to fortify its cyber defences and protect its vital institutions from potential cyber threats, ushering in a safer and more secure digital landscape for the nation.