Escalation Of Cybercrime In India During The Age of Coronavirus

As the whole world came to a halt due to one of the most monstrous calamity hit humankind, the cyber world saw a boom in its engagement and importance. The benefits included easy working from home, online payment, online classrooms, and shopping there came an upward spike in the cybercrime rate.

In cybercrime, computers and its networks are put into use or more precisely, abuse and the crime concerned is committed through it. Our Indian law has not defined the term cybercrime intrinsically, however, an act has been introduced to tackle these types of crimes, which we know as the IT Act 2000.[1]

Reason for the escalation

Cybercrime has become a standard phenomenon, but the rise in the number of individuals hooked to the web and therefore the time spent online, fused with the sense of confinement and therefore the panic and fear caused from the lockdown, has resulted in additional opportunities for the cybercriminals to use this as an opportunity to make more money, create disturbance and fulfil their inferior motives. The sudden shift to work from home is the biggest reason.

A recent study from a cybersecurity firm Uniken has said that India has observed a two to three times rise in cybercrimes during the pandemic.[2] The CISO at the WHO admitted that the organization faced an increase in cyber threats since the pandemic began.  CloudSEK, a cybersecurity firm, reported the rise in the risk of web or its systems which makes the fight against the virus harder as we are very technologically reliant. Their analysis has revealed that cybercriminals have changed their strategy and persuade to take advantage of COVID-19 outbreak.”[3]

The various kinds of threats are

Spyware, Malware, Ransomware and Virus Attacks

Virus-It effects and corrupts the file and working of the system.

Spyware-It conceals in the behind and collects all the important data like bank info, online nature, etc. Malware is any type of software that was made to wreck and steal data.

Ransomware-: This is like malware who asks for ransom in return for the privacy of your data. Ransomware shuts down the medical, scientific, or health-related facilities where the people are tested or where the vaccines are tested to extract a ransom. It also aims at mobile phones and other gadgets by deceitfully depicting themselves as a genuine source of information or by replicating the apps like Arogya Setu, Ayush Kavach, etc., generally with the motive of getting payment info of people to extract money.

“The main cities which faced almost four to six times the amount of cyber-attacks are Ghaziabad, Lucknow, and Bengaluru. In Kerala, regions like Kottayam, Kannur, Kollam, and Kochi saw the most strikes with 462, 374, 236, and 147 attacks each, while the state overall saw around 2,000 attacks during the period. Then is Punjab and Tamil Nadu with 2017 and 184 attacks each.”[4]

Officials related to national cyber cell said, “online web portals like Netflix, prime, jio cinema is in demand during the lockdown so many fake discounted offers are made by the cybercriminals, which if availed would install spyware in the system”.

According to the recent report of the International Criminal Police, Cyber Attackers have been trying to aim big hospitals and institutions in 194 countries which includes India to get information regarding COVID 19 through ransomware and malware. There’s almost 22 malware that’s been detected in India.[5]

There’s almost a 14% rise in cybercrime in Andhra Pradesh.”. Cybercrimes like online frauds like obtaining OTPs and ATM passcodes have increased in a tremendous amount, the DGP said.[6]

Phishing Attacks

Cyber attackers make and send phishing calls and emails or messages to the customers pretending to be bank officials and asking them for delicate information like their account number, credit or debit card number, CVV, OTP, etc.

Phishing campaigns and malware distribution are done through genuine seeming websites or documents giving information or advice on COVID-19 that are used to infect computers and extract user credentials.

Prime among these is the ‘PM CARES’ COVID 19 fund, initiated by the prime minister’s office. Many false versions of the site have been madeand have successfully garnered thousands of rupees from various individuals. Senior officials from India’s Home Ministry said that more than 9000 complaints have been filed from Indians both home and abroad who became a victim of this fraud.

Fake News or Rumors

The aim of spreading fake rumours and misinformation is to create anxiety, public instability, and an agenda against the government or other authorities. It is done under fake domain names and trolls. Fraud schemes are where people are tricked into purchasing goods such as masks, hand sanitizers, but also fake medicines claiming to prevent or cure corona.

Some examples of rumours and their side effects are discussed below

In March, misinformation was spread that ‘chicken is a carrier of Coronavirus’, and it cost the poultry industry an estimated loss of Rs. 1.6 billion per day. An audio clip went viral on social media where it was claimed that vegetable sellers were licking and spitting on the vegetables to spread the virus. The government officials then came forward and gave a statement claiming that the audio clip was fake.

Another rumour was that the Supreme Court had ordered the government to restore 4G Internet in J&K within 24 hours which created havoc there.

“400 cyber-crime complaints are filed to date on COVID issues in Maharashtra, most of them were related to communal accusations and hate speech. Out of the 400 cases, 234 relates to some kind of hate speech or attempts to coat a communal relation to the spread of the virus or issues related to it. A large amount of the hate speech cases originated from the coronavirus cases expanded due to the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi. The meet turned out to be a hotspot for the virus, which was followed by the subsequent and counter-accusations.”[7]

Taking into contemplation the increasing number of fake news, Maharashtra and Karnataka Cyber Police decided to take strict action against every person who is found circulating misleading and unverified information on social media regarding COVID-19.

Most vulnerable groups

Children

Contemporary proofs from various international child protection organizations, activists group, and police reports given by INTERPOL member countries shows that the dark web has seen a rise in sexual predators who aim at children are arranging various ways to utilize the opportunities there during COVID-19 lockdown. The major cause is working from home, children are now given online education on apps like zoom which has some privacy defaults.Also, their presence online on apps like Instagram, TikTok, etc has increased which makes them vulnerable to a lot of fore coming dangers.

Akancha foundation which works against online Harassment and educates people about degrees of cybercrime said that so far they have received 38 cases from across India, 27 of which targets teens aged between the age of 14 and 18, while 11 cases aim at children aged under 14,” [8]”.Abusers see children as an easy target because they have some to no supervision and vast exposure online.

The India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) lately asserted that after the lockdown there has been an alarming rise in the demand for child pornography or Child Sexual Abuse Material.

Predators disguised as minors enter the famous chat rooms and video games of children to start conservation to lure them. “Criminals use the platform of games like PUBG, Ludo, etc especially their chat groups and pose as kids to get information from children or ask them for sexually explicit photographs or videos. Then they use this to blackmail the kids”[9]

Women

There has been a vast increase in cyber-crime against women because of their online availability during the lockdown and through the means of sextortion. Sextortion is extracting money or sexual favours from someone by threatening to release proof of their sexual activities through ways such as morphed images.

According to data released by National Commission for Women (NCW), 54 cybercrime complaints were received online in April which were 37 and 21 in March and February respectively which were received online or by post. Currently, only online complaints are accepted.[10]

“Chairperson of Akansha Foundation said that they have received 412 complaints of cyber crimes against women in March and April. 396 of these were of criminal offences such as indecent exposure, cyber abuse, leaking obscene pictures, malicious threats, and emails. Many claimed their accounts getting hacked and then were blackmailed for their personal information.[11]

Steps that were taken to counter cybercrime

The Government, online channels, and various officials are implementing ways to regulate the spread of misinformation, virus, malware, etc.

If someone is caught sharing misinformation on social media groups, the ‘Group Admin’ is going to be held responsible for such info in their group and shall be punishable under the current laws.  Chatbots has to be made on WhatsApp to deal with user queries,  as directed by the government to decrease rumours associated with COVID 19.  Facebook too set a chatbot for India which will assist in verifying fake news and restrain the fake rumours from spreading.

The Information Technology Act, 2000 also regulates Cyber Crimes in India.

Preventive measures that might be taken

One should be very cautious about phishing emails and websites. Use all the precautionary measures while surfing the web. Use only trusted Wi-Fi and connecting networks encrypted with a password for using the web. Use double channels of communication with counterparts before transmitting sensitive data or downloading a file that may contain malware.[12]

Instead of immediately clicking links in the emails, one should check for information from trusted websites. The collective conference calls, which are getting used more frequently, one should be mindful of sharing screens or sending screenshots which may contain sensitive information. Employers should be more careful while working on confidential documents as a part of work from home. They should have the appropriate anti-security systems installed for the same and avoid working from personal computers. Finally, it is advised that the companies provide employees with appropriate courses to strengthen their cyber-security knowledge.[13]

The government may take steps like building attribution ability, strengthening the coordination of vulnerability disclosure process, and improving information sharing mechanisms so that the malfunction within the government’s cyber processes could be handled.

Children

As children aren’t mature enough to understand the severity of cyber-crimes against them, the parents will have to take responsibility. They shouldn’t let their kids mindlessly browse and access everything. They should have strong parental control, both emotionally and practically. Parents should also have a candid conversation about the correct and responsible way of using the web with their children. They ought to make them aware/conscious of it without any intimidation.

Women

Cybercrimes against women can be prevented through education on technology. There is a lack of awareness among women on where to reach out when something happens. Women should know how they can securely use various digital media channels. Their awareness regarding privacy security, phishing emails, fake videos, and sharing content should be enhanced. Various NGO’s and organizations like NCW conduct various campaigns for this purpose.

Conclusion

The world of web is scary to dwell in so if you are an avid user, being cautious and taking preventive measures is the only way to be safe. If unfortunately, you do become a victim of a cyber-crime, don’t think before seeking help from people around you or the authorities, depending on the severity because time becomes the key factor here. If you act fast as the web does, surfing it becomes fun and not dangerous.


[1] The Hindu(e-newspaper) https://www.thehindu.com/tag/611-608-600/cyber-crime/

[2] Locked-down India sees a multifold increase in cyber-crimes-  By Anita Babu – https://www.theweek.in/news/sci-tech/2020/04/24/locked-down-india-sees-multifold-increase-in-cyber-crimes.html

[3] ibid

[4] Kerala records the highest number of cybercrimes during lockdown PTI|  May 21, 2020, 04.08 PM IST-https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/kerala-records-highest-number-of-cybercrimes-during-lockdown/articleshow/75865802.cms

[5] COVID 19 Lockdown: Increasing Cyber-crimes in India-RK Dewan & Cohttps://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f33f6b37-6b62-425a-852b-0be29cbe46a7

[6] The economic times- By Shantanu Nandan Sharma- https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/there-is-a-14-rise-in-cybercrime-in-andhra-during-lockdown-dgp-d-gautam-sawang/articleshow/75511742.cms

[7] In Maharashtra, 400 cyber-crime cases filed on COVID issues, most on hate speech & communal accusations- https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/in-maharashtra-400-cyber-crime-cases-filed-on-covid-issues-most-on-hate-speech-communal-accusations-6419881/

[8] The free press journal- By Jayadev Calamurhttps://www.freepressjournal.in/india/internet-crimes-see-manifold-rise-during-lockdown-children-are-the-biggest-targets

[9] Grace Cyril-Hindustan Times, Delhi- https://www.hindustantimes.com/more-lifestyle/digital-age-keep-your-children-safe-from-online-predators-and-hackers/story-L5cKAVVgJlRRNowyxmt8MP.html

[10] All India Press- Trust of India- NDTV news https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/significant-increase-in-cyber-crimes-against-women-during-lockdown-experts-2222352

[11] ibid

[12] Will Coronavirus Lead to More Cyber Attacks by  Brenda R. Shartonhttps://hbr.org/2020/03/will-coronavirus-lead-to-more-cyber-attacks

[13] Crime and contagion- https://globalinitiative.net/crime-contagion-impact-covid-crime/

Anushka Singh from Sharda University, Delhi

Anushka aspires to excel in the legal field and actively work towards contributing to the society as a humanitarian. She is a very optimistic person who dreams to achieve great heights while staying grounded

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