AIIMS Breach - Threat to Some, Lesson to All

Abhishek Singh
Abhishek Singh
Lead - Policy & Advocacy
Dec 10, 2022


Data Breaches have taken over cyberspace as one of the rising issues, these data breaches result in personal data making its way toward cybercriminals who use this data for no good. As netizens, it's our digital responsibility to be cognizant of our data and the data of one's organization. The increase in internet and technology penetration has made people move to cyberspace at a rapid pace, however, awareness regarding the same needs to be inculcated to maximise the data safety of netizens. The recent AIIMS cyber breach has got many organisations worried about their cyber safety and security. According to the HIPPA Journal, 66% of healthcare organizations reported ransomware attacks on them. Data management and security is the prime aspect of clients all across the industry and is now growing into a concern for many. The data is primarily classified into three broad terms-

  • Personal Identified Information (PII) - Any representation of information that permits the identity of an individual to whom the information applies to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means.
  • Non-Public Information (NPI) - The personal information of an individual that is not and should not be available to the public. This includes Social Security Numbers, bank information, other personal identifiable financial information, and certain transactions with financial institutions.
  • Material Non-Public Information (MNPI) - Data relating to a company that has not been made public but could have an impact on its share price. It is against the law for holders of nonpublic material information to use the information to their advantage in trading stocks.

This classification of data allows the industry to manage and secure data effectively and efficiently and at the same time, this allows the user to understand the uses of their data and its intensity in case of breach of data. Organisations process data that is a combination of the above-mentioned classifications and hence in instances of data breach this becomes a critical aspect. Coming back to the AIIMS data breach, it is a known fact that AIIMS is also an educational and research institution. So, one might assume that the reason for any attack on AIIMS could be either to exfiltrate patient data or could be to obtain hands-on the R & D data including research-related intellectual properties. If we postulate the latter, we could also imagine that other educational institutes of higher learning such as IITs, IISc, ISI, IISERs, IIITs, NITs, and some of the significant state universities could also be targeted. In 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs through the Ministry of Education sent a directive to IITs and many other institutes to take certain steps related to cyber security measures and to create SoPs to establish efficient data management practices. The following sectors are critical in terms of data protection-

  • Health sector
  • Financial sector
  • Education sector
  • Automobile sector

These sectors are generally targeted by bad actors and often data breach from these sectors result in cyber crimes as the data is soon made available on Darkweb. These institutions need to practice compliance like any other corporate house as the end user here is the netizen and his/her data is of utmost importance in terms of protection.Organisations in today's time need to be in coherence to the advancement in cyberspace to find out keen shortcomings and vulnerabilities they may face and subsequently create safeguards for the same. The AIIMS breach is an example to learn from so that we can protect other organisations from such cyber attacks. To showcase strong and impenetrable cyber security every organisation should be able to answer these questions-

  • Do you have a centralized cyber asset inventory?
  • Do you have human resources that are trained to model possible cyber threats and cyber risk assessment?
  • Have you ever undertaken a business continuity and resilience study of your institutional digitalized business processes?
  • Do you have a formal vulnerability management system that enumerates vulnerabilities in your cyber assets and a patch management system that patches freshly discovered vulnerabilities?
  • Do you have a formal configuration assessment and management system that checks the configuration of all your cyber assets and security tools (firewalls, antivirus management, proxy services) regularly to ensure they are most securely configured?
  • Do have a segmented network such that your most critical assets (servers, databases, HPC resources, etc.) are in a separate network that is access-controlled and only people with proper permission can access?
  • Do you have a cyber security policy that spells out the policies regarding the usage of cyber assets, protection of cyber assets, monitoring of cyber assets, authentication and access control policies, and asset lifecycle management strategies?
  • Do you have a business continuity and cyber crisis management plan in place which is regularly exercised like fire drills so that in cases of exigencies such plans can easily be followed, and all stakeholders are properly trained to do their part during such emergencies?
  • Do you have multi-factor authentication for all users implemented?
  • Do you have a supply chain security policy for applications that are supplied by vendors? Do you have a vendor access policy that disallows providing network access to vendors for configuration, updates, etc?
  • Do you have regular penetration testing of the cyberinfrastructure of the organization with proper red-teaming?
  • Do you have a bug-bounty program for students who could report vulnerabilities they discover in your cyber infrastructure and get rewarded?
  • Do you have an endpoint security monitoring tool mandatory for all critical endpoints such as database servers, application servers, and other important cyber assets?
  • Do have a continuous network monitoring and alert generation tool installed?
  • Do you have a comprehensive cyber security strategy that is reflected in your cyber security policy document?
  • Do you regularly receive cyber security incidents (including small, medium, or high severity incidents, network scanning, etc) updates from your cyber security team in order to ensure that top management is aware of the situation on the ground?
  • Do you have regular cyber security skills training for your cyber security team and your IT/OT engineers and employees?
  • Do your top management show adequate support, and hold the cyber security team accountable on a regular basis?
  • Do you have a proper and vetted backup and restoration policy and practice?

If any organisation has definite answers to these questions, it is safe to say that they have strong cyber security, these questions should not be taken as a comparison but as a checklist by various organisations to be up to date in regard to the technical measures and policies related to cyber security. Having a strong cyber security posture does not drive the cyber security risk to zero but it helps to reduce the risk and improves the fighting chance. Further, if a proper risk assessment is regularly carried out and high-risk cyber assets are properly protected, then the damages resulting from cyber attacks can be contained to a large extent.

Dec 10, 2022
data breaches
data protection

Related Blogs