Cybercrimes and our Perilous Digital Village
By: Hridya Ganga
In a century where our world has become digital, crimes too have rerouted to the digital space. From bullying to thefts, societal crimes have now diverted to cybercrimes as the cyberspace has become our new society. Millions communicate instantly using advanced internet technology but rarely do we think about things like privacy and anonymity. The information that we share on the internet can be tracked, recorded and traced back to us which shows how vulnerable we have become. This seems quite alright in a righteous world packed with virtuous and ethical people, but unfortunately that remains an utopian dream.
Reports from the year 2020-21 show that more than 400 million Indians are active users of various social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram among others. India has the second largest digital population in the world which reflects why cybercrime rates are skyrocketing in the nation. According to the National Cyber Security coordinator of India, Mr. Rajesh Pant, more than 375 cyberattacks occur every day in India - one of the highest in the world. Reports provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that 44,546 cybercrime cases were reported in the year 2019. But why are cybercrime rates increasing rapidly? To get to the answer, we first need to understand the concept of cybercrimes.
Cyber criminals often intend to steal personal and business data or threaten national security and financial health of businesses. The most common types of cyber-crimes include cyberterrorism. cyberextortion, online harassment, cybersex trafficking, man in the middle attack (MITM), and identity threats. Cybercrime rates against women were reported to be 8,379 in 2019, which included cyber blackmailing, stalking, bullying, defamation and morphing. Personal revenge, anger, fraud, extortion, prank, political motives, inciting hate against communities and abetment of suicide are some of the main motives of cybercrimes according to reports published by the NCRB in 2019. India’s large technologically oblivious population has since long been a victim of such attacks, and it is high time that precautionary measures are thought of and implemented. With this objective, the central government came up with a new initiative to curb the ever-increasing cybercrimes in India known as ‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat’.
‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat’ was a program launched in January of 2018 in order to strengthen cybersecurity in India. It was a program launched specifically to train Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and technical officials from the Central Government, State governments, public sector banks, defense forces, and technical arms of the army, navy and air force. It is of key importance to the government and our country due to its close association with the Prime Minister’s vision of a ‘Digital India’. The program mainly aims to spread awareness about cybercrimes prevailing in our country. Another important initiative being implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre or ‘I4C’. The scheme was launched in October, 2018 with a proposed investment of Rs. 415.86 crore to deal with cybercrime. Other reputed organizations such as Data Security Council of India (DSCI) and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) were set up to deal with the national cyber security threats. But even with these modern initiatives and advanced organizations developed specifically to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity, our cybercrime rates are still soaring high as ‘cyber-predators’ are becoming innovative in their style of crime. Even during the pandemic, cyber criminals continue to progress.
CYBERCRIMES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The pandemic has forced us to retreat back to home, leading to a high surge in the usage of internet and social media platforms for various purposes, predominantly work and education. This has been advantageously used by hackers and cyber attackers, putting one out of two people in India in danger of cyberattacks. Fraudsters impersonate themselves as medical professionals on social media platforms and demand upfront payment for telemedicine and consultation. Some even disguise themselves as government officials and send fake text messages and emails regarding registration for Covid-19 vaccination, which in reality, are phishing links. Oxygen fraud is another common scam during this crisis where fraudsters demand advance payments for home delivery of oxygen cylinders. Such texts and links need to be verified for their credibility before any further transactions are made but netizens who are mentally stressed in the current situation, or are in a dire need of help, do not tend to think twice before accepting aid and thus, instantly fall into these traps.
A recent cyberattack that shocked the world was the devastating ransomware hack on the Colonial Pipeline in the United States on 7th May, 2021 wherein, the US energy company was forced to shut down its fuel distribution pipeline for days. Ransomware is a cyberattack in which hackers threaten to shut down networks or publish private information unless paid a ransom. Ransomware attacks target retailers, hospitals, police departments, utilities and state and local governments. BBC reports that America paid nearly 5 million dollars in ransom to the Russian-based cybercriminal gang, DarkSide.
The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 63.5% increase in cybercrimes in 2019. NortonLifeLock Cyber Safety Insight reports that Rs.1.24 trillion was lost in India in 2019 due to cybercrimes. The main challenge faced in this fight against cybercrimes is cited to be our ineffectual criminal laws and judicial system. Existing laws in the country need to be tailored to deal with evolving cybercrimes. To a great extent, criminals aren’t even deterred to indulge in cybercrimes due to our inefficient laws which lower their chances of getting caught or traced.
What the netizens can do, however, is to take care of their own social life and create awareness among their friends and family. They need to take care of privacy settings and make sure that they do not access unauthorized websites which might be illegal and harmful. Installation of firewall and anti-virus applications is another way to make sure you do not provide your personal data, including any passwords and CVV/ATM /Bank account numbers to unknown people. If you become aware of any cybercrimes then do not hesitate to report it on the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal online. These are some of the local yet tangible measures that you can adopt to protect yourself from the colossal threats of cybercrimes. However, bringing about effective structural change depends on the government which needs to improve its approach and prioritize this issue for a safer world, not just for its citizens but also for the smooth running of the government itself.