Cyber Crime – the parallel pandemic

These days the havoc being caused by loan app sharks in India is in the limelight. In these trying COVID times, desperate people fell prey to the easy loans being disbursed by these apps at exorbitant interest rates. The apps used the data gathered to intimidate and harass users for recovery. Outside the regulated financial sector, these apps are now being shut down. Post-covid is not just a difficult time for the recovering patient; it is also a difficult time for law enforcement dealing with cyber crime.

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As a majority of the world retreated into the confines of their homes due to the pandemic and with work from home becoming the norm, the use of the internet highways increased manifold. Crime followed on the same path and rising cyber crime has become a major challenge world over, including India

In the first few months of the pandemic the incidents of cyber crime soared by nearly 86%. Exploiting the pandemic many fraud sites seeking funds for fighting the virus sprung up to fool people. The flagship fund ‘PM Cares’ was also targeted and a host of lookalikes emerged. In June 2020, the ‘brandjacking’ of the fund was tackled promptly and efficiently.

As the pandemic has unfolded, the types of cyber crimes have evolved. From luring people with jobs, loans, magic cures, banking frauds and the like – cyber criminals are attacking in novel ways.

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It has been the experience of the past, most recently the Ebola outbreak, that crime rates tend to go up during and after crisis situations. The Corona pandemic has pushed life and work online, more and more people are becoming part of the digital world and opening up vulnerabilities to cyber criminals.

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It is not just individuals like you and me who are at risk; increasingly corporations and governments too are becoming victims. Cyber criminals have attacked health databases, airlines, strategic defence and security sectors. The threat is so severe that during the pandemic Interpol and WHO have been issuing warnings about rising cyber crime.

Data shows that cyber crimes against women and children are increasing. These take the form of cyber stalking, blackmail, cyber bullying and the like.

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However, the actual prevention lies in our hands – the consumers of the internet. We take many measures to prevent physical crime – we double lock our houses and valuables, put locks in cars, avoid dark and lonely places and the like. We need to take care with similar vigilance of our online presence and assets – remain alert and cautious. We tend to be careless when online – imagining an anonymity and safety in the faceless web – which does not exist.

We need to practice cyber hygiene as carefully as we protect our physical selves and possessions. Certain actions, much like using locks, need to become part of our cyber life. Strong passwords, multi factor authentication, installing good antivirus and malware software, a network firewall, and cleaning our router will help in protecting personal data.

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Going forward, cyber crime is going to be centre-stage in the crime arena. To protect ourselves we need to use common sense, embrace good cyber hygiene practices, and where women and children are concerned speak out and seek help. 

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