Digital demons of demonetization

Dr. Rajneesh Chauhan
The pros and cons of demonetization can be debated, but demonetization is here to stay. Demonetization is leading to democratization of digital payments. Demonetization drive is a shot in the arm for financial inclusion. Labourers, farmers, people working in unorganized sector – all are getting forced to use the banking systems.
As per the website of Pradhan Mantri Jan DhanYojana, there are 25.6 crore Jan Dhan bank accounts and 19.5 crore Rupaycards. The implementation of direct benefit transfer  schemes (gas subsidies etc.) have also ensured usage of  bank accounts. Demonetization is dependent upon these underlying crores of bank accounts to help tide over the difficulties arising from demonetization drive.  Demonetization is expected to give a big push to digital money. Usage of debit cards, credit cards, digital wallets, mobile wallets, online payments and other digital channels has increased manifold.
However, this is where demons of the digital kind start surfacing. Digital money use means more avenues for potential hackers and more number of digital frauds. Identity thefts, passwords getting stolen, credit card frauds, phishing scams etc. Given that there will be millions of people who will be trying out plastic money for the first time, or using online transactions etc. for the first time, these people can be easy prey to cybercrime. More so because many of these first timers are getting initiated into this digital world in an environment lacking adequate security precautions. These days when you go to an ATM and enter your password, there are at least 2-3 more people in the ATM standing next to you in the queue. At a merchant establishment, when you enter your passwords while using your card, how many of us try to cover the number pad with our hand. Paytm launched app PoS but had to take it back for some time because of security concerns. In an environment where adequate precautions are not being taken, chances of cybercrime shooting up are high.Most of the ATMs in our country still run on old ATM software and Windows XP, an operating system version which even Microsoft does not support anymore.  Recently, three months back, there were an estimated 30 lakh bank cards which were compromised in our country because of an ATM related malware. Further, there is a deep divide, a digital divide which exists in India. Even by liberal estimates of internet penetration in India, at most one-third of our population will be covered by internet. This is a big gap. How do you bring the remaining population online so that they can also do online transactions safely.Getting elderly citizens, housewives to use internet in a secure manner has its technology adoption challenges. Digital divide is a demon and this divide has to be bridged for going digital. These demons go hand in hand with going digital.
Going digital means living with these digital demons. Demonetization is helping us leap frog into an era of digital money. Whether we link these digital bugs to demonetization or with going digital or with both – these demons of the digital kind are here to stay. This is a time when the cyber agencies, banks, financial institutions, ecommerce companies etc.in our country should increase their cybercrime vigilance. This is a time when individuals need to be made aware of cyber security issues so that they do not fall prey to these demons. This is a time to take digital bugs seriously. Just like demonetization is here to stay, so are the digital bugs.  World Wide Web In its origins at CERN, was designed to share information in a trusted community and hence security has always come as a distant afterthought. That is why digital demons have always been around. These digital demons, more than anything, are driven by human greed. How much we want to attribute this demons to demonetization is debatable. The combination of human greed and the demonetization makes it easy for digital demons to rise.As the popular Demons song goes “No matter what we breed, We still are made of greed…. It’s where my Demons hide, It’s where my Demons hide”.
(The author is Professor of Information Technology at FORE School of                         Management, New Delhi)
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