Cybersecurity: New forms of crime emerging

Steep rise in numbers

Stealing money

A thirst for new technology, coupled with a lack of awareness about the vulnerabilities of these systems, could see a great number of people fall prey to digital scams, experts warned.

Vineet Kumar, the founder of Cyber Peace Foundation, an NGO think-tank that often partners with the United Nations to address and raise awareness about online fraud in the country, explained that nearly every crime today has a technological component.

READ: There is no help coming for cybercrime victims

“If smartphone comes into the crime, it comes under the purview of ‘cybercrime’ and such crimes are increasing,” he said.

Experts across the police and private cybersecurity entities said that those most vulnerable are first-time internet users, whose numbers are growing.

Internet connections in India were projected to reach one billion by the year 2020. “The majority of these users are going to come from rural areas,” explained Kumar, who added that there are currently 451 million internet connections in the country, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

These sheer numbers prompted Jayant Sinha, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Finance to declare recently at a Cybersecurity conclave that the growing numbers of Indians becoming users of mobile data was posing significant security challenges. It is a situation complicated by the fact that even though one hand of the Indian government is still trying to formulate a cogent cybersecurity policy, the other hand is busy disbursing smartphones for free in rural areas, to increase internet penetration in the countryside. 

This has created its own set of challenges, Kumar said. “While urbanites have a degree of awareness of the issue, there is almost none among first-time users in rural areas. They believe whatever message they receive,” he clarified.

The proliferation of IOT (Internet-of-Things) devices, such as smartwatches, kitchen appliances, light bulbs, security cameras, home assistant, and even garbage cans, is set to worsen the issue. 

Anything from a device the size of a pin to an aeroplane can be hacked, the Cyber Peace Foundation warned. 

Connected devices

Connected devices are everywhere, in the health sector, in the auto sector, in the aviation sector and a spate of recent attacks on banks and national infrastructure centres indicate that this is basically the way things are headed. Homes with seven to eight unprotected devices talking to each other are at risk, the Foundation added.

“The problem in India as a problem of sheer volumes, in which the large national population meant more ‘smart’ refrigerators, washing machines and other devices being vulnerable to attack,” Kumar said.

“Just imagine the scale of the problem. India has 100 billion connected devices and if almost 60% of devices are used and controlled at one point of time to attack anybody, it is difficult to protect against such attacks,” he added. 

The next big form of digital crime in India, however, will be ransomware. Smartphone users without security could see their phones locked out by criminals who then demand a ransom before it is unlocked.

However, if criminals discover nude or semi-nude personal images or video on the compromised device, they could use them to further blackmail the victim. 

Already, in the current ecosystem of internet connections, activists and police said they have seen massive cases of “revenge pornography,” which one senior police official in Bengaluru said eclipsed all other forms of cybercrimes, although the numbers are not reported. 

Cyber-bullying is another rising crime, which has started to filter down into to rural government school children. 

In this scenario, police are often powerless. Crimes which happen within state jurisdictional boundaries can be addressed by local police. However, crimes which originate outside the state or even outside the nation, require over half a year of investigations at the least.

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