Given that there are so many things to do online, the internet usage statistic for year 2021 shouldn’t surprise many. On an average, internet users spend 6 hours and 56 minutes online each day. One would also tend to think that the urban population is more glued to their computer and smartphone screens than their rural counterparts. Think again! Another survey indicates that in 2021, there were 352 million internet users in rural India compared to 294 million urban internet users. This jump in rural internet penetration was largely due to the increased availability of bandwidth, affordable data plans and various government initiatives under the Digital India campaign. Digital India is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy thus promoting digital payments, ecommerce, e-education and making available government services electronically. The internet penetration in India has reached almost 51% percent by 2021.
(Source – Statista.com)
So we have now become netizens with extensive use of the internet with our various devices such as computers, laptops, smartphone and tablets. Let us call this space – “cyberspace” – where people have email accounts, social media accounts, digital payment accounts, blogs , virtual identities or ‘avataars’. The question is, how any of us are aware about the risks and dangers in cyberspace, how to remain safe in cyberspace and where to go for help if you become a victim of cyber crime ?
In this article, I will try to answer these questions so that your journey is cyberspace is safe, memorable and enjoyable.
Cyberspace is a place when humans interact and transact with each other and so as there are the good and bad people we meet in the real word there are good and bad people in the virtual world. In fact the sense of anonymity that cyberspace offers make its more appealing to the bad actors to do criminal activity in cyberspace. So in order to be safe in cyberspace, it is important to understand the risks and the crimes that may take place in which one can get trapped or become an innocent victim.
Cyber space is the place where cybercriminals, who may be individuals or organized groups , use advanced technology and social engineering skills to identify gullible victims to cheat them for money or harass them for political vendetta or personal revenge or cause sexual harassment to women and children.
Let us look at the top 5 types of cybercrime
Cybercriminals may infect computers with viruses, malware or spyware to damage devices, damage data or gain unauthorized access. Cyber criminals also commonly operate under disguised identities or false identities and trap victims through phishing attacks.
- Financial Frauds or Digital Payment Frauds
- Most of the financial frauds are committed by identity theft, phishing or vishing attacks or through email scams. Phishing emails are spam emails which entice the recipients with freebies and trick the recipient into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment so that the attacker can steal valuable information such as ids and passwords and then use them to siphon off money from bank accounts of payment wallets.
- A common example of identity theft is when people make fake profiles on social media platforms or on dating sites to lure women with a promise to marry and ultimately cheat them and extract money from the innocent victims.
- Another form of financial frauds are popularly known as CEO emails frauds or business email scams is where an employee gets as email allegedly from his boss asking him to urgently transfer money. A employee will generally believe such an email and will transfer money to the fraudsters account
- Another common example of a payment fraud is the recent electricity scam where one gets a message that “This message is from the electricity department. Your latest electricity bill is unpaid and your connection will be cut if you don’t pay the amount immediately. Please call on <this number> to avoid your electricity supply being cut.“ After you place a call on this number , you are cheated into making a payment to the fraudster .
- Internet Banking frauds may happen where a customer losses money from his bank accounts as his login id and password has been compromised.
A common malware attack that encrypts all the data on the targeted computer and then the attacker asks for a ransome to release the decryption key. Several small and large business have suffered from a ransomware attack. The first reported attack was in 2017 known as the WannaCry ransomware attack. WannaCry was a ransomware which targeted a vulnerability in computers running Microsoft Windows. Users were locked out of their computers and a message was sent demanding ransom in BitCoin to regain access.
- Is a form of online ragging where Children are harassed online. According to a recent report two-thirds (66%) of youth in India have had some experience with cyber-bullying. 36% of youth having been cyberbullied themselves. Of those who responded they were cyberbullied, 46% responded it was due to appearance while 45% answered due their intelligence level. 40% stated religion/race was the driving factor. While the study reveals cyberbullying continues to represent a serious problem for youth, the survey found 57% of youth would not know what to do if they were harassed or bullied online.
- Some common cases of cyber bullying are circulation of pictures to humiliate or to body shame or write vulgar comments or photo shop pictures to create obscene or pornographic photos or sexual imagery, creating memes to humiliate or troll
- Creating hate groups to target people of a certain race, colour , gender , etc
- Online Sextortion occurs when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material including intimate sexual imagery or text online either on social media or private whatsapp groups if he/ she doesn’t provide images of a sexual nature, sexual favours, or money.
- Honeytrap – cyber fraudsters have been using novel methods for extortion from affluent elderly men. The fraudsters first meticulously choose their targets and then use girls to engage with the men on WhatsApp. Starting with calls, the conversation gradually turns into texting and video chatting. Next, the video chats are recorded and morphed into adult clips to blackmail the men. The accused fake themselves as policemen in their WhatsApp DP (display picture). They even concoct suicide episodes to add gravity to their narrative, falsely claiming the girls in the video committed suicide. The victims are then blackmailed in this manner, with the fraudsters threatening to upload morphed videos on social media if money wasn’t paid. In one case, the victim was even sent a fake police notice on WhatsApp demanding Rs 1 crore compensation for the woman in the clip, citing harassment and mental trauma. In both the cases, Rs 7-8 lakh were extorted before the victims approached the police.
Another form of digital abuse you might have heard of is nonconsensual pornography often called revenge porn. This type of abuse involves the digital distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos of a person without their consent. It’s called “revenge” porn because the images or videos are often used as retaliation or for blackmailing by a current or former partner.
In addition to the crimes listed above there are other categories or more sophisticated crimes such as Copyright and Trademark Infringement, Illegal Gambling and Gaming, sale of illegal items online, Cryptocurrency or blockchain frauds, Online trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, organ harvesting or bonded labour .
How to protect yourself against cybercrime
So, now you understand the cyber risks and types of cyber crimes, here are a few general tips to keep safe in cyberspace.
The most important tip is to be alert and vigilant while doing any transaction on the internet. Do not believe strangers, do not do any monetary transactions on untrusted sites or insecure sites or e-commerce sites who do have credibility. Fraudsters are looking out for victims who are gullible.
The second important tip is to keep your computers systems safe, secure and free from malware by
- Keeping your software and operating system up to date which ensures that you benefit from the latest security patches to protect your computer.
- Using anti-virus software and keep it updated which ensures that your computer system is not infected by viruses and malware
- Using strong passwords which ensures that hackers cannot break your password and gain unauthorized access
- Not opening attachments in spam emails. A classic way that computers get infected by malware attacks and other forms of cybercrime is via email attachments in spam emails. Never open an attachment from a sender you do not know.
- No clicking on links in spam emails or untrusted websites
- Not giving personal information unless secure. Never give out personal data over the phone or via email unless you are completely sure the line or email is secure. Make certain that you are speaking to the person you think you are.
- Being mindful of which website URLs you visit. Keep an eye on the URLs you are clicking on. Do they look legitimate? Avoid clicking on links with unfamiliar looking URLs.
- Keeping an eye on your bank statements and query any unfamiliar transactions with the bank. The bank can investigate whether they are fraudulent.
Here are some additional tips
Tips for safe Digital payments :-
- Create a strong password. Your banking password should not be the same as any other password you use for social media or any other digital asset
- Choose an account or a bank which offers account security with two factor or multifactor authentication
- Protect your computer from Malware attacks
- Do not click on any link in an email to access your account with your bank.
- Access your account from secure computer which includes a secure mobile phone if the account is being accessed from a banking APP
- Do not link your UPI with a banking account which has large balance. Link your UPI with a bank account in which you have small amount of money or use a digital wallet
Tips to parents and stakeholders ahaving access to children to kee children safe online
It is important for parents to monitor the child’s use of technology regardless of how much your child resents it. You may do the following –
- Keep the computer in a busy area of your house so you can easily monitor its use, rather than allowing your child use a laptop or tablet in his or her bedroom, for example.
- Limit data access to your child’s smart phone if he or she uses it to surf the web.
- Set up filters on your child’s computer. Tracking software can block inappropriate web content and help you check up on your child’s online activities.
- Insist on knowing your child’s passwords and learn the common acronyms kids use online and in text messages.
- Know who your child communicates with online. Go over your child’s address book and instant messenger “buddy list” with them. Ask who each person is and how your child knows them.
- Encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if they receive threatening messages or are otherwise targeted by cyberbullies, while reassuring them that doing so will not result in their loss of computer or cell phone privileges.
Despite your best efforts , if you become a victim of cyber crime . What will you do ?
The best way is to report the cyber crime to the police for investigation and necessary action.
How to report a cybercrime?
The most important tip for reporting is – act fast and report the crime.
Also preserve all evidence. Do not delete any chats , messages , emails , etc . Take screen shots with a date and time stamp
Though complex crimes may require a more detailed reporting, here are FIVE simple ways in which you can report a cybercrime:
- Go to the nearest police station and register a complaint. Give all supporting evidence such as screenshots/ account details /whatsapp communications, etc.
- You can report any type of cybercrime by dialling the national helpline number “1930” which runs 24*7. (Earlier the number was 155260)
- If you are a resident of Maharashtra, you can contact the police using any of the following details-
Landline Number- 022-22160080
Email ID- email@example.com
- WhatsApp/ Phone numbers– 7058719375/ 7058719371
- Pune City Police Women Helpline– 1091
Address- Revenue Colony, Shivaji Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra 411005
- Cyber Police Station, Pune City
Landline Number- 020-29710097
Email ID- firstname.lastname@example.org
Address- Near Police Headquarter, police ground, Shivajinagar, Pune City- 411005
- Pimpri- Chinchwad Cyber Cell
Landline Number- 020-27350939
Email ID- email@example.com
Address- Premlok Park, behind SKF Company, Chinchwad
- Pune Rural (Gramin) Cyber Cell
Landline Number- 020-25654616
Email ID- firstname.lastname@example.org
Address- Pashan Road, Near Rural SP Office, Pune
- 24*7 Helpline Number – 982081000
Landline Number – 022-26504008
Email ID- email@example.com
Address – Cyber Police Station, Crime Branch, C.I.D Mumbai
1st Floor, Bandra Kurla Complex, Police Station,
B.K.C, Bandra (E), Mumbai 400051.
- You can also report a cybercrime on the National Cybercrime portal i.e. www.cybercrime.gov.in
- You can report the crime on the site on which the incident took place like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. They allow users to report offensive content as per their community guidelines
Reporting the crime early is important as the Police authorities or the Court will be in a position to take urgent steps such as putting a debit freeze on the accounts in which the money was fraudulently transferred or to issue take down orders for offensive or obscene content.
If you are the victim of a cybercrime, don’t panic. Report it as quickly as you can to the right authorities including the service providers such as banks, credit card companies, mobile network companies, or social media platforms for urgent action. Take legal advice in case the nature of the crime is complex or the amount of loss is substantial and recurring.
Adv Vaishali Bhagwat
The author is a practicing Civil and Cyber lawyer