Public Wi-Fi

Govt. approves hotspots across cities and towns but there are concerns about security and data thefts.


Accessing Wi-Fi anywhere in the country is expected to be an easy click with the Government giving permission to set up lakhs of public hotspots across the country. The plan includes remote areas and high-density areas in cities. Not only that, information consumption is expected to be easily snackable as connecting to a hotspot has been envisaged to be as easy as opening an app on your smartphone. The network is fairly open as anyone — be it a private individual in a residential area (with a commercial broadband connection), the neighbourhood shop or the vendor — can provide the facility. The Public Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (WANI) has been conceived to be as revolutionary as the PCO movement of the 1990s that enabled millions of Indians to make phone calls easily and at virtually no cost. The idea of setting up public Wi-Fi hotspots was recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) a few years ago to boost digital connectivity and encourage self-employment. Of course, data management is a humongous task and the Government has set up a tiered system, with Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) at the top, who will then enlist the Public Data Offices or PDOs (operators). No licence fee will be required for providing broadband internet through public networks.


However, with so much data floating around and being easily accessible, there are undoubtedly questions about security risks, particularly in a country like India, which has millions of internet users. The multi-layered architecture that has been conceived by the Government is intended to filter such cyber threats and misuse of personal information but it is still leaky. Besides telecom companies see no business sense in public Wi-Fi, given the low data rates and security concerns. As it is, social media platforms have been wildly manipulated in this country by vested interests, and increased access to the internet does come with its attendant risks of data-mining and identity thefts. Of course, pandemic-appropriate behaviour now demands that there be increased digitisation and the Government has jumped at the opportunity to consolidate this space. India will soon have 700 million broadband users, which will only swell in years to come. Done with good intentions but is it practical to implement, considering connectivity continues to be denied to Kashmir on grounds of security threats?

- Source: The Pioneer
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Hackers steal Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine data in Europe, say firms

United States drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on Wednesday that documents related to their development of a COVID-19 vaccine had been “unlawfully accessed” in a cyberattack on Europe’s medicines regulator.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), responsible for assessing and approving medicines and vaccines for the European Union (EU), said hours earlier that it had been targeted in a cyberattack. It gave no further details.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they did not believe any personal data of trial participants had been compromised and EMA “has assured us that the cyberattack will have no impact on the timeline for its review.”

It was not immediately clear when or how the attack took place, who was responsible or what other information may have been compromised.

A spokeswoman for BioNTech declined further comment. Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The two companies said they had been informed by the EMA “that the agency has been subject to a cyberattack and that some documents relating to the regulatory submission for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate … had been unlawfully accessed.”

They added that “no BioNTech or Pfizer systems have been breached in connection with this incident and we are unaware that any study participants have been identified through the data being accessed.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech development is among the top contenders in a global race to roll out a vaccine for COVID-19. It is already being administered in the United Kingdom, which last week gave the vaccine approval for emergency use.

But the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is still being studied by the EU. The EMA has said it would complete its review by December 29, although it has said its schedule may be subject to change.

The EMA gave few details about the attack in its earlier statement, saying only that it was investigating the incident with help from law enforcement.

“EMA cannot provide additional details whilst the investigation is ongoing. Further information will be made available in due course,” it said in a statement.

Hacking attempts against healthcare and medical organisations have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic as attackers ranging from state-backed spies to cybercriminals scramble to obtain the latest information about the outbreak.

Reuters news agency has previously documented how hackers linked to North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, China and Russia have on separate occasions been accused of trying to steal information about the virus and its potential treatments.

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