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By K S Nayar:

It is understandable that tyre companies and merchandisers, who embraced digital tools and built virtual-realty sales outlets to provide unique customer experience, are quite wary about the unseemly developments in the cyber world in recent times.
Reports that social networking sites and internet service providers are unauthorisedly harvesting personal data, including that of children, are disquieting. The testimony before US Senators by the 33-year old social media mogul Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook revealed massive data breaches.
The scandal is 87 million users among Facebook’s nearly 2.2 billion active users faced unauthorised access to their private data by a research firm Cambridge Analytica. It is believed it could have also accessed the private inbox messages of some users.
This revelation has undermined the confidence of users who routinely tap social networks when they plan shopping. Those who use computers and smartphone to access online and offline stores are exposed to vulnerabilities. Every time their personal details are harvested.
The Facebook disclosure has raised privacy issues, including vulnerability that consumers face from cyber attacks. These issues undermine the fundamental CIA properties — confidentiality, integrity, availability.
Only recently did we hear about data breaches affecting over than 100 financial institutions worldwide. Cybercriminals siphoned off an estimated $1 billion from account holders. There have also been breaches of medical records.
Here comes the importance of blockchain. Under this, there would be no single point for a malicious attack. Therefore, hacking is virtually impossible. Blockchain is based on a unique architecture of distributed ledgers backed by cryptography to secure stored information.
Its decentralised structure makes it virtually impossible to unilaterally access and alter data. Instead of using anti-virus, anti-malware and intrusion detection software that could also get compromised, blockchain uses technologies that ensure integrity of every aspect of data.
The confidence-shattering revelations of data breaches should be addressed by government regulators and organisations to reinforce consumer confidence. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations, which goes into effect on May 25 this year, may require further fine-tuning in the light of Facebook fiasco.
There should be global efforts to develop standardised regulations to protect personal data in the light of technological advancements driven by artificial intelligence and robotics. Even large internet-based companies such as Google and Uber are being probed on the norms they follow in the use of collected data.
The increase in incidents of surveillance and security breaches compromising users’ privacy has shaken people’s confidence. It is the duty of regulators to enforce data integrity so that not only public trust is restored but also the progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and machine learning is achieved.
We should ensure that these areas of innovations do not get mired in the current controversies. These innovations are essential to strengthen our information infrastructure. At a time when driverless cars and connected vehicles are seeing rapid development, it is imperative that smart vehicles and intelligent tyres do not fall victims to remote hacking by cybercriminals.
Experts warn that such smart products are potentially exposed to a range of security and privacy threats such as location tracking or remote hijacking. In fact the success or failure of self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles will depend on how effective AI and machine learning will be.
It is, therefore, important that R&D in the disruptive blockchain technologies is stepped up. This would also give a boost to online and offline purchases though smartphone and other devices that should have strong security architecture.
Tyre companies also stand to benefit if they embrace these technologies. Most tyre buyers prefer a virtual environment where they can, without inhibition, seek product details and get the tyres fitted by robots while waiting in the lounge to have a drink.

Privacy and big data

The Facebook imbroglio has shown how important privacy issues are in the context of innovations in big data and AI. Advertisers relied on Facebook because of the huge quantity of data it has come to posses that a corporates can use for building accurate profiles of consumers and predict buying behaviours. It can also help firms design better products.
While these databases stream through the internet, when a breach occurs the consumer is exposed to vulnerabilities. Hurting consumer privacy leads to illegalities such as identity theft, blackmail or fraud.
Companies that collect data can compromise consumer privacy when they sell it to third parties. During this transfer data leakage happens which cybercriminals exploit. Data thieves are constantly prowling around government departments, banking, insurance, retailing to healthcare.
The thriving cyber black marketers are a cause of grave concern. These thieves are selling details of credit cards and intellectual property. It is like traditional terrorism by non-state actors. This should be wiped out through international collaboration among law enforcement agencies.
The operation of cyber criminals is dispersed, diverse and rapidly growing. The criminals access new technologies and innovate methods that keep security officials constantly on the edge. It is observed that cybercrime blackmarkets are more profitable than counterfeiting of tyres and other automotive components.
It is estimated that the activities of cybercriminals, whose strength is reckoned to be 1.4 million, will cost businesses more than $2 trillion by 2019. They take advantage of the holes in algorithms embedded in social networking sites.
We should be on guard that such vulnerabilities are not allowed to impact the ongoing innovations in blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning and automation. Corporate leadership should be on constant vigil against data breaches that undermine consumer confidence. It is trust that makes the difference in business.

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