Cyber Crime and Why All of Us Are At Risk

With the government’s increased digital push and lives being led more in the virtual world than in the real world, all of us are at risk.

Cyber crime is a looming and constant threat in modern society. A threat that many experts believe we are not fully equipped to deal with – in terms of general awareness and also how institutions like the police are able to deal with this sort of crime.

“Everyone is at risk, the key is to be aware and alert,” said A Loganathan*, an officer with the Cyber Crime cell in Chennai. “Phishing calls are the most common offence. And we have had cases where even bank employees who caution other people have fallen prey to fraudsters.”

Cyber attacks are now across devices which are connected over Internet and are no longer restricted only to traditional PCs.

“The most recent wave of attacks has been on mobile devices,” said   Atul Gupta, Partner, IT Advisory and Cyber Security Lead, KPMG in India. “This is because there has been a significant increase in digital payment using mobile devices. With the increased adoption of technologies across devices (called connected devices), there is heightened risk across these devices being under cyber attack.”

Officers at the cell concede that there has been a spike in the number of cases that they deal with ever since demonetization last year.

“The number of complaints have definitely gone up since the note bandi,” Loganathan* said. “More transactions were done online and it was an open field for fraudsters as many who were previously not doing online transactions were suddenly forced to do them.”

There is also another channel of payment that has caught the fancy of many – bitcoins. “Bitcoin is a digital and virtual currency,” explained Gupta. “The RBI has cautioned people against the use of bitcoins. It is known to be a preferred mode used by cyber criminals and this was evident during the recent Ransomware attack (Wannacry). This being said, there are bit coin exchanges available where users can get bitcoins.”

Are our institutions equipped to deal with the surge in cyber crime?

The Cyber Crime Cell in Chennai alone receives close to 25 complaints in a day that broadly involve phishing calls and harassment of women online. Experts said it would not to be wrong to peg the number of complaints in the entire State at around 400-500 in a day. They said this is a gross underestimation as many people do not approach the police to file a complaint. However, the cyber cell is finding it hard to keep up with the current load of complaints.

“It is very taxing,” said P. Sekaran*, another officer working with the Cyber Crime cell. “We have 10 investigating officers of which four are inspectors and the other six are sub-inspectors. This in itself is over the sanctioned strength but is still not not enough. The government clearly has not realised the magnitude of the problem yet.”

These officers also have a tough time as they are also called for bandobast duty whenever required.

“We were there on all the days during Jallikattu,” said Sekaran*. “It is hard to juggle both the responsibilities as invariably one takes a backseat. Our investigation work is hampered when we have to do other work. We need to have an exclusive cell with more officers joining us to lessen the burden of complaints.”

To file a complaint, one must approach the nearest police station or submit a grievance at the Commissioner’s office in Chennai which will be directed to the cyber cell.

“The foremost issue is that those at the police stations do not know how to handle cyber crime cases,” said both the Cyber cell officers. “It is imperative now for all stations to be trained in how to deal with such cases and also for them to have a basic idea of what is happening in the technology space. Right now, even small cases like missing phones are sent to us.”

Social Media Frenzy:

Social media has made the world a smaller place. But cyber crime experts warn to be very careful of what pictures and videos are put up or even sent as personal messages.

“Once it is out there, it is in the public domain and there is every possibility that it can be misused,” said Loganathan*. “People, especially women, need to be careful about what they put online and what they send to people. We have had cases where class 8 girls and 40-year-old women send topless or nude photographs to men who later put these up on porn sites or circulate them once things turn sour between them.”

However, when it comes to sensitive cases such as these, police said the women don’t press for criminal charges but rather just want the pictures to be removed and the perpetrators to be earned. In most cases an FIR is not filed as many women do not want their families to find out.

Legal Issues:

Currently, cyber crime falls under the realm of the IT Act, which was amended later. Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal said the amendments were flawed as the new amendments made the Indian cyberlaw a “cyber crime friendly legislation.” He criticised it saying a majority of cyber crimes under the Act were bailable offences which would “pave way for India to become the potential cyber crime capital of the world.”

While most experts agree that the Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2008 is dated and is in need of being updated, others feel its complete potential has not been tapped yet. “The IT Act can be improved but we are not harnessing the law to the fullest,” said Na Vijayashankar, cyber law expert. “The law provides for police to hold intermediaries like banks and mobile phone providers liable for cyberoffences. However, the police is not tapping this clause.”

The IT Act has clarified the definition of an ‘intermediary’ by specifically including telecom service providers, internet service providers and web-hosting service providers. Further search engines, online-payment sites, online auction sites, online market places and cyber cafes are also included in the definition of an intermediary.

“At the moment we have irresponsible intermediaries as they pass the buck and face no pressure,” said Vijayashankar. “If the police puts pressure on these intermediaries, they will be forced to take cyber insurance which will also help with cross-border cooperation for cases that involve offenders in other countries.”

Another challenge those working in the cyber cell face is international law. There are others who feel that international cooperation, though important is secondary. They said it is essential to first make use of the existing law.

“Cyber law can be complex when the offender is from another country as the offence has to be recognised by the law in both countries,” said Vijayashankar. “When it comes to obscenity this becomes tricky as it could be classified as ‘adult content’ in another country. However, in most cases of terrorism and financial fraud, most countries oblige. It is only in countries like Nigeria and erstwhile Russia where the law enforcement is weak that it poses a challenge.”

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