Cyberattacks emerge as real threats in digital world

In an increasingly digital world where organisations and individuals store more data virtually, cyberattacks and misuse of data have emerged as real threats.

Last week, a global cyberattack affected nearly 200000 machines in 150 countries. Computers running on the older version of Microsoft operating system were impacted. Users were locked out of accessing their files and the hackers demanded $300 in ransom for providing access, resulting in disruptions and delays at workplaces. Imagine being locked out home of your home and being asked to pay up to access your belongings.

cyberattacks may 2017In the UK, healthcare services were affected as the ransomware locked up computers and equipment storing patient data, which means doctor appointments and routine operations had to be cancelled or postponed. This was such a severe event that the highest government authorities held crisis meetings that take place during national emergencies. In other countries, telephone giants, carmakers, universities or even police services were disrupted. We don’t yet know how much data was accessed and stolen by the hackers but thankfully no such reports have emerged yet.

At the individual level, newer dangers have emerged. We are living our lives increasingly in the virtual world and hence leaving a massive footprint that can be misused to manipulate us. In what seems like the plot of a thriller, there are reports that political parties rely on analytics based profiling and manipulation of user data to target their messages and gain voter support. For example, if you are profiled as a blue collared worker, you might end up seeing both real and fake news about spoils of the rich or a nationalist might be bombarded with messages about the perils of globalisation.

Apparently, the seemingly harmless and fun quizzes on Facebook that reveal your personality traits or even your ‘likes’ help analytics firms to draw a personal profile of the user, which can then be used for targeted campaigns. The danger of such messaging is that it only reinforces your beliefs without making you aware of the other points of views, thereby altering your reality.

Imagine how uncomfortable it would feel if someone were to stalk you all day and make a record of everything you did ranging from where you went, how you went there, how well you slept, what you ate etc. The nearly 30 apps on my smartphone do precisely the above and strangely enough I have given them access trusting my data is safe.


Study abroad loses sheen due to employment hurdles


Studying in foreign universities and building a suitable career abroad has long been the dream of the aspiring and ambitious middle class. A degree from a leading university in the US or UK has been seen as a sure shot ticket to a better life. But not so anymore.

It all started after the global financial crisis in 2008. Stories about lay-offs and hiring freezes had replaced news about strong economies and global workplaces. Recent world events such as a vote for Brexit and Donald trump’s election have indicated that many perceive increasing global mobility (of foreigners) as a threat.

Amid economic certainty about the future of UK in a post Brexit world, recruiters have been shying away from hiring people who require work sponsorship. College students reveal that whether one requires a work visa is a qualifying question for nearly all the companies they aspire to work for.

UK higher education Brexit Indian studentsMy brother-in-law who is pursuing a Masters’ degree from a prestigious London-based university recently interviewed for a global technology firm. Despite having a great work experience and strong grades, his discussion with the recruiter lasted all of three

minutes and ended abruptly when he mentioned he required visa sponsorship. Closure of post study work route since 2012 aimed at curbing the abuse of student visa category had already made it difficult to find jobs in UK after completing studies and last year’s Brexit vote has made things even more uncertain.

A one year degree from a university in England can cost up to Rs 50 lakh (including living expenses and tuition fees) and undergraduate would cost even more given the longer duration of the course. But for most Indian middle class families, spending on education is seen as an investment for securing a professionally successful life. According to a global survey published by HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management in 2015, most Indian parents ranked professional success for their children over being healthy or happy.

After investing substantial sums of money on a coveted higher education degree, hoping to work in the host country is not a totally unreasonable desire to have, but in an increasingly closed world, fulfilling that dream is likely to be more difficult. That said, all is not over.

These countries need skilled workers as much as the workers need jobs. It also helps to think beyond finding a job (difficult if you have a huge loan to repay) view studying abroad as an opportunity for cultural exchange and exposure.

It is also time to re-evaluate one’s choices and look for alternatives. For long we have focused only on building skills in IT to support the booming requirements of overseas firms. Perhaps it’s time to explore other subjects, build different skills and focus on working in India. Becoming an entrepreneur and creating jobs for others might also be the way to go.