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KARACHI: The Covid-19 pandemic has paced up Pakistan's transformation into a true digital economy. However, banks in the country are estimated to losing Rs 1 billion in online frauds every year. If the growing cybersecurity's challenges remain unaddressed, the digitalization would become a hindrance toward the dreamed growth rather than a boon.

"After Covid-19, cybersecurity is the ninth top risk for the world," Sagheer Mufti, Chief Operating Officer, Habib Bank Limited (HBL), said while addressing the '12th International Information Security Conference of Pakistan', Virtually organized by the Total Communications and HBL. "Social engineering (fake phone calls to retrieve secrete information and ATM scamming) frauds alone may cost the local banking industry upto Rs1 billion a year," he said. "The digitalization can be a hindrance rather than a boon for Pakistan if not fully secured."

Since 2009, Pakistan has been a victim of at least 11 suspected state-sponsored cyber operations. However, frauds can't work in silo, involve cybersecurity, digital technology even operations guys, Mufti said.

The cybersecurity market will grow by 12% to 15% through 2021. "From 2020 to 2025, global spending on cybersecurity will exceed $1 trillion," he said.

"A single cyberattack can jeopardize your online businesses and services. Cost of reputational damages cannot be aggregated. You lose market share to competitors," he said.

Pakistan has 70 million 3G/4G mobile internet users and 48 million mobile wallet accounts. Some 4.5 million branchless banking transactions are done every day and around Rs4 trillion worth of digital transactions every year in the country.

Dr Tamer Aboualy, Global Lead Partner, IBM Security Services, said that Pakistan is having a vulnerable cybersecurity infrastructure. Organizations are using security devices which are easy to be misused to conduct cyberattacks. This has increased the risk of compromising customers' data at thousands of organizations in the country.

"Pakistan's credit cards (secret information like credit card number and PIN codes) were up on sale in black markets many times in the recent past," he said.

"The security breach cost on an average $4 million (to the attacked and hacked organisations) in 2019," Dr Aboualy said.

"The world has witnessed 2,000 percent (two thousand percent) year-on-year increase in attacks targeting operational technology (OT)," he said.

"The increasing convergence of IT/OT combined with the ever-growing number of OT vulnerabilities will make critical infrastructure a bigger target in 2020," he said.

Muhammad Ahmed Zaeem, Deputy Director - Cyber Crime Wing, FIA said the Federal Investigation Agency is working with the banking sector regulator the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), individual banks and their customers to improve cybersecurity in the country.

"There are some weaknesses in cybersecurity at some banks. We have shared the details with the banks concerned," he said.

"We have busted multiple gangs involved in cyberattacks in Pakistan. Multiple gangs are (still) active particularly in Punjab. One group bought a mobile phone SIM from Multan and got it activated in Faisalabad through fraudulent means," he said. The end-users like bank accountholders need to be cautions. They should avoid giving their CNIC number, credit card number, PIN code and other sensitive and secrete information to anonymous phone callers, he said. Shafique Dawood, Head of Sales & Business Development, APAC. Group IB - Intelligence - Driven Cyber Security Singapore, said that Pakistan credit cards continued to remain available on sale at black markets like maleware and darknets since 2017. "Such compromised credit cards are still available on sales as we speak as of now," he said.-PR

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020