Technology has advanced beyond expectations, expanding the cyber space making it vulnerable to a cyberattack.
These advances in technology enable criminals to commit crimes. They can indulge in stealing your identity, make you disclose your sensitive information, commit theft, fraud, online harassment, and distribute information about your children and use it for nefarious purposes. Criminals and hackers commit new categories of crimes, and even indulge in committing existing crimes in different ways. Unfortunately, anti-cybercrime laws are not keeping pace with technology developments. Even with good laws, it is difficult to identify criminals as they can operate from another country.
According to the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), harassment and blackmailing of women has increased sharply in Pakistan during the last three years. In 2018, the FIA conducted 2,295 inquiries, registered 255 cases and made 209 arrests. This shows a significant increase as compared to the crime figure in 2017. According to a report by the Digital Rights Foundation, between December 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, the number of complaints received was 2,781. On average, there are 91 calls a month. Surveys show that women are the principal victims of cybercrimes.
Ninety percent complaints are from women and 72 percent of them are not aware of cyber laws. In our country, most such crimes go unreported because a good number of women avoid exposing or reporting their agony.
Other data indicates that cybercrime has now surpassed other crimes. A person’s identity can easily be compromised. Computers, cell phones and household appliances are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Cybercriminals have embedded malware into legitimate applications, and they are targeting poorly secured wifi spots. Email phishing to steel financial data and online child sexual exploitation are now common occurrences. Studies show that many complaints involve deception to gain WhatsApp codes of mobile phone users, hacking their accounts. These criminals pretend to be speaking from legitimate organisations.
For hackers, there are now greater opportunities and greater payoffs. With very low cost to them, they can make big money by targeting rich people and rich organisations. A recent estimate put the global cost of cybercrime at US$ 600 billion. There are bigger crimes; cyber experts can commit large-scale crimes, such as threatening national security, paralysing national networks, doing terrorist activities and suspending financial transactions.
According to the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), harassment and blackmailing of women has increased sharply in Pakistan during the last three years
The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Prevention Act 2016 was an appropriate move by the government to curb cybercrime. However, the Act has been termed as a draconian law by critics who say that it curtails rights to freedom of speech that is enshrined in constitution of Pakistan. The Act covers offences like unauthorised use of identity information, offences against dignity and/or modesty of a person, child pornography, cyber stalking, spamming and email phishing.
With rapid advancement in technology that gives enormous advantages to hackers and cyberattackers, the Act needs improvements for making it more responsive. Expanded cyberspace gives significant advantages to attackers such as asymmetry where no two attacks are similar; anonymity where hackers route their attacks from countries other than the origin; inadequacy of cyber defence; and absence of any binding international treaty.
Internet is available to all, including terrorists and non-state actors, who, with ease, can hack computers and other important information. These actors are under no obligation to respect laws of the land. Unfortunately, we have not been able to enact responsive cyber laws thus giving unprecedented advantages to cybercriminals. Enacting dynamic laws is the need of the hour.
What is the way forward? No country on its own can successfully confront the problem. International cooperation is essential to tackle the ever-growing threats of cybercrime. Reportedly, an expert group in the United Nations brings together diplomats, policy makers and experts from around the globe to discuss the most pressing challenges in cybercrime. The group has recommended enhancing international cyber-security cooperation, framing international laws, taking confidence-building measures and improving states’ capacities for building robust ICT infrastructures.
Investigating and combating cybercrime is a big challenge where you pitch computer experts against other computer experts. This means that organisations, in addition to maintaining robust and cyber-resilient computer infrastructures, need to build their capacity in cybersecurity and cyber defence. To cope with this menace, effective cooperation between the public, private and defence organisations is a vital requirement. There should be an ongoing programme for creating awareness on this subject, starting from educational institutions. Colleges and universities should build up a national talent pool of cybersecurity professionals.
Building capacity to combat cybercrime is resource intensive. We may have the required set up to investigate cybercrime in terms of experts, but unless such organisations are provided the essential resources, they will be unable to cope with their work that is riddled with big challenges. Hybrid war between adversaries is now an ongoing process. Cyber war will be closely integrated with the hybrid war in any future conflict.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.