India competes with China in many statistics tables, drawing parallels between the two countries. They have the two largest populations globally, and both have taken full advantage of globalization to produce astonishing GDP growth rates year on year by offering cheap manufactured goods. Moreover, both now want to encourage the digital economy to take their national production levels to the top of the table.
India has a natural advantage over China in its thrust towards an IT-based economy. With the English language widely spoken in the country and an eagerness for learning among an ambitious younger generation, the government has already excelled at providing call centers and other managed services to the world’s major corporations. Cloud computing removes geographical dependency in giving a large raft of services, and this opportunity plays nicely into the hands of ambitious India.
However, India is its own worst enemy. Its burdensome, over-staffed, and intervention-obsessed Civil Service is unwilling to let go of all its procedures and paperwork and truly unleash the potential of India’s digital sector. As a result, the agility of India’s techno entrepreneurs gets suffocated in forms and regulations. Thus, in IT, India has its foot on the gas pedal and the brake simultaneously.
Internet penetration and availability
India’s internet user community numbered more than 622 million in 2020, according to the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report. This is the second-largest internet market globally, with only China exceeding India in the number of people connected to the Web. IAMAI is the Internet and Mobile Association of India.
As India’s economic development increases at break-neck speed, its internet penetration figures rise in step. The country has almost doubled its online community in the last five years, and predictions expect that number to increase by 45 percent to 900 million by 2025.
The internet penetration rate in India currently stands at just short of 50 percent. This compares to a figure of 18.94 percent in neighboring Pakistan and 28.8 percent in Bangladesh. However, compare these figures from the sub-continent with the USA’s internet penetration rate of 90.9 percent. You can see that even India, as the regional leader, still has a long way to go.
India has been successful in connecting its urban population to the internet., However, the economic viability of rolling out Broadband to rural areas means a great deal of disparity in the availability of the internet in India. However, mobile internet, which isn’t reliant on long stretches of high-quality cable for its existence, is evening the score. Internet usage rates in the rural population rose by 13 percent last year to reach 299 million.
About two-thirds of the population of India lives in rural areas, but about two-thirds of the country’s internet users are based in urban centers. Therefore, increases in internet penetration in rural India are seen as the next giant leap in connectivity.
The 2020 World Wide Broadband Price Comparison Report from Cable.co.uk shows that the Broadband prices in India are relatively low – it is the 20th cheapest country in the world for Broadband services. The average cost for Broadband in the country is $13.58 per month. This compares with $20.43 in Pakistan, $34.78 in the UK, and $59.99 in the USA. The cheapest Broadband package available in India costs $5.52 per month. So, internet access in India looks pretty affordable – where it is available. According to the Economic Times of India, the county’s average monthly wage was $437 in 2020.
The key to internet usage and its expansion in India lies with mobile devices; 91 percent of all internet connections in India are made from mobile phones. This is due to the relatively affordable prices of handsets in the country and very competitive data plans from mobile service providers that can provide good coverage out into the countryside.
Free WiFi hotspots help cash-strapped millennials keep up with social media – India is the top market for Facebook, and all social media platforms are widely used in the country. According to WiFi Maps, there are 244,949 free public WiFi hotspots in the country. However, this is not a significant number given the size and population of India.
Internet speeds in India
The Ookla Speedtest Global Index ranks India as 68th in the world for fixed-line Broadband speeds. That is an average speed of 60.06 Mbps as measured during July 2020. The top-ranking country in that category is Monaco, with 256.7 Mbps. Other vital countries to compare these figures to are Pakistan, which has an average speed of 13.19 Mbps, and the USA, with a rate of 195.55 Mbps.
Although mobile internet is the most significant growth area for internet penetration in India, the services’ speeds aren’t incredible. The average mobile Internet speed in India is 17.77 Mbps, putting the country 122 out of 139. Pakistan does better in this division with a rate of 20.33 Mbps. The USA’s mobile owners get internet at an average speed of 91.01 Mbps. The UAE has the fastest mobile internet speeds on earth at 190.03 Mbps.
India ranks highly in national cybersecurity defenses. The Indian government has been very active in preparing the country’s IT sector and defending against attacks. Its actions in setting up the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team were timely. The country is increasingly experiencing cybersecurity attacks, seriously harming India’s chances of becoming a significant technology performer.
The efforts of India’s cybersecurity awareness put it in 10th place on the Global Cybersecurity Index 2020. That puts it ahead of Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland – other countries that hope to make themselves global hubs for digital services.
The situation over control over the Web and surveillance of users is the flip side of the government of India’s attitude to the internet. While the authorities do everything possible to protect businesses from intrusion, they also do everything possible to intrude on the privacy of individuals.
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, made “digital India” a central plank of his election campaign in 2014. However, his claims to be opening up India to information without barriers seems to have resulted in the Indian authorities getting an unlimited access to the activities of India’s internet users.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, introduced in February 2021, require social media platforms to record connection information and, on-demand from authorities, break the end-to-end encryption that provides complete privacy in chat apps, such as WhatsApp. The regulations also give the government greater control of the content shown in India by multinational video streamers, including Netflix and Amazon. So, no matter what steps you take in India, you have no privacy on social media or chat apps.
Access to privacy tools
Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are entirely legal in India. There are VPN servers in the country, which helps those in other countries appear in India. In addition, customers in India can use VPN services that run servers in other countries to get around regional restrictions that block access to content in newspapers and streaming services.
The Tor browser is a free private network that is very similar to a VPN. It, too, is not illegal to use in India. However, Tor is not very well known in India, and its usage there is negligible.
Daily user access events over the year from August 2020 to August 2021 amounted to about 50,000, compared to 500,000 per day in the USA. The user base of 50,000 represents 0.008 percent of India’s connected community.
Cybercrime: prevalence and attack types
As commercial IT activities increase in India, so do the hacker attacks that hit the country’s businesses. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is the government agency tasked with tracking and recording all cybercrimes in India. The Team registered 208,456 events in 2018, 394,499 events in 2019, and 1,158,208 in 2020. Subdued business activity due to Covid-19 hasn’t reduced attacks. Up to the end of June 2021, there had been 607,220 cybercrime events reported to CERT-In.
Unfortunately, the Indian Civil Service is one of the most frequently hacked organizations in India. The service conducts annual recruitment round, which is the biggest careers event in the country. In addition, the principal applicant database for the Common Admissions Test is routinely stolen, the latest breach being in May 2021.
Data theft is a big problem in India at the moment, with large organizations frequently being attacked. For example, in May 2021, it was discovered that Air India had been the victim of a long-term advanced persistent threat that had been ongoing since August 2011 and resulted in the disclosure of personally identifiable data of more than 4.5 million passengers. India’s attraction to data thieves lies with the large volumes of PII that many nationally active businesses hold. For example, a data theft event suffered by Dominos Pizza in India in April 2021 gained the thieves the credit card details of more than 1 million customers.
According to The Spamhaus Project, a non-profit spam email tracking service, India is the sixth-largest source of all spam emails sent in the world. The five leaders in that league are the USA, China, the Russian Federation, Japan, and North Korea. Although that statistic could indicate that Indian ISPs are not interested in combating spammers, the position in the USA at the top of that list shows that this isn’t an issue of lax standards or a rogue state mentality. The country is also home to many spambots, putting it as the second-worst country in the world for hosting these automated spam mail fronts. The leader at that table is China. Spamhaus has detected 756,308 spambots in India that are live at present, which is more than double the number of activities in the USA in third place with 368,398.
India is home to several hacker teams. The most well-known of these is the Ghost Squad Hacker group. However, this is a hacktivist collective that mainly intends to disrupt spam email creators – which means they are tackling one of India’s worst image-destroying sectors. This group also targets digital marketers.
India offers a rich source of IT skills, which are available for hacker activity and building the country’s digital economy. In a country where tech wages are a fraction of those earned by equivalent experts in the USA, the temptation to hack is tremendous, and India has become known as a source of hackers for hire. It is also increasingly building a reputation as a hub for ethical hacking consultants.
All levels of government in India have the power to block websites or even shut down all internet access for a period. Even district court judges have been known to implement internet bans on their initiative.
The internet gets shut down more often in India than in any other country. More than any other indicator, this phenomenon highlights the gap incomprehension of the internet between generations in India. While the ambitious young see the internet as a global opportunity for advancement, many of the older people in India regard it with suspicion.
The government of Jammu and Kashmir shut down the internet entirely in the state for seven months in 2019-2020. The local government routinely shuts down all internet access during the exams season, claiming it is a conduit for cheating. Any mass protest also triggers blackouts of social media platforms and chat apps in a specific state and can also trigger state authorities to shut down the internet entirely. The internet blackouts are complete and impact businesses as well as individuals. They are sporadic and can occur without any warning, making eCommerce an unstable business model.
The Indian government also has a reputation for blocking specific websites. Sites promoting or facilitating gambling, file sharing, dating, and access to porn are the usual targets. However, the net can be cast wide. GitHub, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and Telegram have all been blocked, and sites explaining or selling VPNs also get blocked, even though those systems are legal in the country.
India is currently experiencing several territorial disputes with China and has an ongoing row with Pakistan over the possession of Kashmir. In 2020, the government blocked 177 Chinese sites, including Tiktok. News sites can be blacked out if they carry stories relating to Kashmir or the Sikh independence movement. Mention of the Ladakh territory, which China wants to acquire, can also get a news site blocked for a period.