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Ethical AI and Collaboration in Cybersecurity Strategies: A conversation with Major Vineet Kumar

Major Vineet Kumar is a Social Entrepreneur, Founder, and Global President of the CyberPeace Foundation. He studied Cyber Defense and Information Assurance at Cranfield University, United Kingdom. He is also an alumnus of Cambridge University, UK, where he studied Leadership. He served in the significant position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) & Head of the State Government agency, Cyber Defense Research Centre (CDRC) of the Government of Jharkhand. He is also part of the Territorial Army like Union Minister – Anurag Thakur, Politician – Sachin Pilot, Cricketer – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Actor – Mohanlal.

Recently, he visited Bangladesh to attend the Bangladesh Cyber Security Summit as a keynote speaker. He spoke with Bangladesh Brand Forum about the changing landscape of cyber security, especially in this region of the world.

BBF: Given your extensive experience in internet governance and cybersecurity, how do you assess cybersecurity awareness and readiness in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh?

Major Vineet Kumar: South Asia is critical when discussing this domain’s strategic location and infrastructure. Plus, the internet penetration is relatively high. India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – this country’s internet users are increasing at a galloping rate. Most internet users and netizens come from rural areas and are usually first-time internet users. If you add the Internet of Things (IOTs), AI, Quantum, and emerging tracks, that landscape is also increasing, and the numbers are pretty high. We must safeguard the critical national infrastructure, the information infrastructure, and the present netizens. Netizens at the grassroots level have been facing different kinds of crimes like financial fraud, phishing, sextortion, bullying, and various other types of crimes, especially in vulnerable populations like children and women. They have been facing sextortion and trafficking that happens through cyberspace and also issues related to child sexual abuse and the dissemination of those materials. These kinds of crimes are increasing, and strategically, most internet users are in South Asia. If you compare India, Bangladesh, and China – they are the leading internet users in the world, and that is why the attack vector is relatively high when you talk about South Asia.

BBF: As a founder of Cyberspace Foundation, what initiatives do you believe are the most critical for establishing a sustainable and peaceful cyberspace in developing countries?

Major Vineet Kumar: Cyberspace, when we started, our core motto was to work on key pillars. The first pillar was to cover policy and diplomacy. In cyberspace, we do not have boundaries; the concept of boundaries has disintegrated. That means we have to think beyond borders, and that is where we must have the right policies and procedures. We also have good relationships with other countries like India and Bangladesh. We have a very close bond, and cross-border information sharing and collaboration would play a key role. This is how different countries also need to team up with each other when we talk about cybersecurity.

The second pillar is the outreach. When I say outreach, I mean across different age groups, different genders, income groups, and geographies. Let us not be restricted to the idea that this particular geography needs attention or focus. Our research has found that an ordinary netizen who has just started using a phone for some basic activity, like WhatsApp, social media, or large-scale enterprises, needs security and safety at all levels. Users are the weakest link in the chain and must be empowered at different levels. When navigating cyberspace, they must be taught about cyber safety, security, and personal hygiene. Digital assets, gadgets, and infrastructures surround us, and we need to know how to safeguard and have the right balance. Sometimes, excessive use of technology affects the mental health of the users, so there are plenty of things that are there when we talk about different kinds of activities that affect the human psyche. This is where the outreach vertical comes into play. Outreach is reaching people across different geographies and borders to ensure they are resilient enough to counter any cyber-attacks or issues that happen to them.

BBF: You have been a pioneer in utilising ethical hacking for cybersecurity. How can ethical hacking be integrated into national cybersecurity strategies to protect against cybercrimes?

Major Vineet Kumar: The word “hackers” has been portrayed negatively in media, but I would like to give my example. I started my career as a hacker, but the only thing that matters is the mindset. There are categories of hackers, beginning with Black Hat hackers. Black Hat hackers are the ones that do stuff negatively. There are a lot of nation-sponsored attacks where these kinds of hackers come into damage other countries or attack individuals. These hackers have no ethics, and that is the negative side of hacking. Now, coming to the positive side of hacking are the White Hat hackers. When I started this organisation, my entire motive was the knowledge of hacking; while it is viewed negatively, can we do something positive with it? Can we interact with people and the government industry and help them safeguard themselves from Black Hats? Can we have hackers that will play a role in the betterment of society and hacking for a purpose?

They are the cybersecurity experts, earlier known as ethical hackers, who have the necessary tools to defend us from cyberattacks mounted against individuals, organisations, NGOs, healthcare, aviation, and other sectors. They can act as a virtual wall between the attacks from the Black Hat hackers. They can be the nation’s cyber defenders if given a proper path, so we have been pushing hard to integrate cybersecurity curriculums into schools and universities. An ecosystem where students and educators can come up with innovative ideas with ground-level cybersecurity knowledge can encourage students and individuals to pursue careers in this space. In the cyberspace arena, a massive skill shortage is evident not just in Bangladesh but in the neighbouring countries. Even countries like Australia and the USA, which are doing exceptionally well in cybersecurity, need more skilled professionals. This is where experts and ethical hackers looking forward to a cybersecurity career can play a crucial role. They can play a massive role in nations concerning individuals, non-profit organisations, and academia. Overall, this needs to be a collaborative and collective effort under one platform, and the backbone will be the ethical hackers and cybersecurity experts who will help shape a secure and resilient cyberspace for everyone.

BBF: With the rise of AI and machine learning, what ethical considerations should be at the forefront of cybersecurity practices?

Major Vineet Kumar: We have seen growth in technology over the past few years, like generative AI and emerging tech like quantum, and it is growing at a challenging pace to catch up to. Somebody is probably working on something new, which we will discuss in a few months. For example, ChatGPT, probably last year, only a few people would know what ChatGPT is. Today, I have interacted with people at the grassroots level who are using ChatGPT to seek information and have some basic know-how and English-speaking skills. It now acts like a search engine where you put in things and get responses; hence, it is a great enabler. But with all the good stuff that humanity has given us, we have also seen the darker side: the misuse of technology in emerging tech and the abuse of different platforms. This is where we have seen the rise of GenAI-generated misinformation and deepfakes, which have been there to attack individuals and communities.

There are ethical issues that the tech communities are working to solve. People using technology are coming together to understand what could be future challenges. Whether it is the datasets or if it is possible to play around with the datasets that enable the spread of misinformation. So, having integrity and quality datasets is required as we talk about AI and GenAI. We must unite and ensure that technology is used for good and not abused. The use of technology is immense – whether you talk about governance or industries. I see excessive use of technology in the times to come. The era has just started, and we have to know how the future shapes up, but yes, it should not happen that the future shapes up like the “Terminator” scenario, where the robots have their mindset and take over. We should see a future where these humanoid robots are seen as enablers. But the future has to be set right, and we all need to come together to ensure that the future is set right for them and that they behave responsibly.

BBF: Considering your role in global cybersecurity efforts, what lessons might be particularly relevant for Bangladesh?

Major Vineet Kumar: The lesson for Bangladesh is to set up an ecosystem for cybersecurity and cooperation. The cyber collaboration between countries is in dire need. We need to talk to each other and forget our borders when dealing with cybersecurity. We need to see how we can exchange ideas because our users do not see borders, so cyber coordination is essential. We should strive for joint research on the kind of attacks and cybercrimes that are coming in and the misuse of emerging tech that is coming in. We need to do joint exercises and joint cyber drills between countries so that we strengthen our capabilities. Above all, there is a need to set up a hub for cybersecurity or a centre of excellence. This can be a regional hub for South Asia to protect people, institutions and organisations from damage. We need the proper structure and strategy for these hubs to ensure they get established in the entire South Asian region and work on different aspects. Cyber policies, diplomacy, outreach, research, and collaboration with other entities and organisations are needed. It can act like one platform where we all discuss safeguarding everyone around us.

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