Centre for Internet & Society

On Wednesday, one of the largest online shopping and auction portals, eBay, revealed that earlier this year, cybercriminals accessed details of 145 million of its customers.

The article by Surabhi Agarwal was published in the Business Standard on May 23, 2014. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

Even though eBay's customers' financial details are said to be safe, the incident is being termed a "historic breach" given the enormity of the data compromised.  Globally, eBay is being criticised not just for its laxity in securing the digital perimeter but also for reacting too late. The company has said that it first came to know of the breach "two weeks" ago. Records that have been accessed contain passwords as well as email addresses, birth dates, mailing addresses and other personal information.

The situation is worse when it comes to reporting such instances in , say experts. The Indian Information Technology Act requires companies to adopt "reasonable security measures" to protect consumers' sensitive personal information such as passwords and financial details. It also makes companies duty bound to report breaches and also defines liabilities in case a firm is found not to be adhering to best data security practices. However, implementation is patchy and most such instances go unreported.

Pavan Duggal, an advocate specialising in cyber security, says most users do not come to know if there has been a breach. "Awareness is also low among consumers about the legal recourse available in case their data has been compromised," he adds. Unlike in the West, lack of a proper data protection and privacy law in India is to be blamed for this. "Companies, too, are inclined not to report such instances as they fear being negatively impacted in the market," he points out.

In case of a breach, a user can contact the adjudicating officer, which is the state infotech secretary, for legal recourse. However, the onus is on the user to prove the breach. In the US, a consumer can get a subpoena (court order) issued against a company that makes it duty bound to provide details of the breach. "In India, the regime is too lax. It is very difficult to notify the government," says Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society.

"There are stringent compliance requirements in countries such as the US. The laws in India need to come tougher if we want companies to become more serious about this," adds Duggal.

eBay has advised consumers, many of whom could be Indians, to immediately change their passwords. While people tend to use the same password across many sites, emails and phones numbers act as verifying tools for several financial transactions and could be misused. Moreover, unlike India, the US does not require additional authentication apart from credit card and CVV number, which makes transactions slightly more vulnerable. "It may be a good idea to include a one-time password as a security layer," says Abraham.

Over 200 million Indians are online. The Indian market is estimated at $2 billion (Rs 12,000 crore) and is expected to cross $20 billion over the next four years.

"There is no such thing as 100 per cent protection in the digital world. The choice is between transacting online or not," says Akhilesh Tuteja, executive director of consulting firm KPMG. "Technology is becoming so sophisticated that what was good yesterday is not good today." A bigger dialogue is needed on people treating theft of digital assets just as they would physical assets, he adds.

The last big breach was reported at software maker Adobe Systems in October 2013, when it was uncovered that hackers accessed about 152 million user accounts. Last December Target said some 40 million payment card numbers and another 70 million customer records were hacked into.