Author Mehar Kaur Arora


Introduction – Cybercrimes

The world has witnessed crime since time immemorial. With the advent of computers & technological advancement,  criminals have now shifted their focus from conventional methods to modern-tech based crimes so as to secure their identity and to escape liability. Although cybercrimes are not defined under any Indian statute, they are not drastically different from the conventional crimes., the primary difference being the mode and manner of commission of the crime. Both these methods include the conduct,  act or omission, which ultimately breach of law.[1]

Cyber laws regulate all aspect of internet and electronic communication. In recent years, everything has been shifted online, we are even having online court proceedings.  With this change, few alert nations amended their criminal laws so as to inculcate provisions to deal with cybercrimes and punishments thereof. India, being one of such nation, enacted the Information and Technology Act, 2000 to include cybercrimes. Presently, the IT Act, 2000 along with Indian Penal Code, 1860 regulate cybercrimes in India.

Cybercrimes under IT ACT, 2000 and IPC, 1860.

Cybercrimes may say to be those species of which genus is the conventional crime and where the computer is either an object or subject of the conduct constituting a crime. Any criminal activity that uses a computer either as an instrument, target or a means for perpetuating further crime comes within the ambit of cybercrimes. In simple words, any crime committed through computers is considered to be a cybercrime.

Information and Technology Act, 2000 aims to regulate commercial activities conducted through electronic medium and to facilitate legal reorganization of cyberspace. Before the introduction of IT Act, a few cybercrimes such as data theft and mischief with computer systems were recognised and penalised under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, with the introduction of the IT Act, certain IPC provisions were amended to include virtual criminal acts. Section 192 of the Indian Penal Code which was amended to include false entry or false electronic record under the ambit of fabricated false evidence. A few other offences such as forgery, extortion and possession or sale of obscene material are covered under Section 463, 383 and 292 of the Indian Penal Code respectively. 

Section 65 to 67 of Part XI of the IT Act deals with the offences that may be committed in cyberspace and Part IX prescribes the penalties for the commission of such offences. Some of the offences covered under Part XI are- tampering with computer source documents and computer-related offences such as sending offensive messages through communication service under Section 66 (A) and Cyber terrorism under Section 66 (F) to name a few.

In order to bring paperless crimes under the umbrella of the Indian Penal Code, it had to be revised in alignment with the IT Act. A major drawback of the IT Act is that it doesn’t provide sufficient emphasis on cybercrimes and rather focuses on facilitating e-commerce activities. The first 17 sections of the IT Act are verbatim of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) with Chapter IV of the Act containing specific provisions dealing with electronic contracting along with guidelines for internet-based trading and services as against having only Section 65 to 67 which penalise Cybercrimes.

With the majority of the offence being bailable, the Act is unlikely to cause reduction cybercrimes. On one hand, the Act does not provide any to deal with spams and a few other offences committed through mobile phones, on the other hand, it includes ‘safe-harbour’ principle under Section 79 which was used by WhatsApp to escape from the hands of judiciary without paying a penny for the breach of confidential information pertaining to the Indian Government officials, scientists and journalists in 2018.

Cybercrimes and Covid-19

Subex, 2019 Report

Subex, an IT firm based in Bengaluru revealed in its 2019 reports that India was the worlds most targeted country for cybercrimes during the second quarter of 2019. The report further says that the cyber threats faced by the country bear a direct correlation to geopolitical events happening in the neighbourhood.  This happens due to the terrorist and violative activities being carried on with a vested interest in India’s neighbouring countries.

Covid-19 Threats & the Interpol Report

And now, with the shutting down of the world’s second most populated country, people are compelled to stay at home leading to an exponential increase in the usage of internet. Every organisation, whether big or small, has changed its operations to work from home leading to access of proprietary data from personal laptops, which may not have the same firewall security as present in an in-house working condition. As per, the International Police (Interpol), cybercrimes, in this CoviD-19 crisis, have increased due to a shift of focus from cyber defence to health crisis. It went further to reveal that Malware, spyware and Trojans along with span emails have been tricking the users into clicking links which download malware to their computers or mobile devices.

Hammersmith Medicines Research

Hammersmith Medicines Research, a London-based company that carries out clinical trials for new medicines, was blackmailed into paying a ransom to the hackers that had used encryption to lock down thousands of the company’s patient records and promised to publish them online if a ransom wasn’t paid. Phishing is another cybercrime that was detected wherein sensitive bank details of a customer are collected by frauds by deceiving people that the information is being collected by a bank manager.

Fake Identities

The malware link, shared widely on messaging apps like WhatsApp, claims that it has important information about ways to prevent coronavirus infection. If one clicks on the link, it installs a spy software, which can steal bank account details, passwords and other personal data. Tech giant and cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky has detected 93 coronavirus-related malware in Bangladesh, 53 in the Philippines, 40 in China, 23 in Vietnam, 22 in India and 20 in Malaysia in the APAC region. Majority of these scams were hiding under the shadow of sophisticated campaigns of fundraising and helping the migrant labourers and could easily snare the “digital illiterates”. 

With scams ranging from free mobile recharges, to offers of free Netflix subscriptions, federal home ministry officials say there has been 86 % rise in cybercrimes in the past four weeks. These cyber frauds went further to circulate fake Unified Payments Interface (UPI) ID created with a motive to cheat the donors of the newly launched PM CARES Fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak. 

Social Media

By updating the daily activities, social media users tend to share their locations and sensitive information in the public domain, which aids the commission of cyber flashing. Cyber flashing refers to the intentional disclosure of unsolicited obscene media. These criminal acts could not be deprecated in spite of the efforts made by the Ministry of Information and Technology, which issued a guideline to all the social media platforms to be vigilant during the times of this pandemic and to judiciously remove any content that spreads disinformation about Covid-19.

Any ban placed by the government could easily be bypassed through mirroring sites and Virtual Private Networks as the world has witnessed through the usage of virtual conferencing website Zoom, in which meetings were hacked and obscene content was displayed.

With the aid of intermediaries like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, commission of cybercrimes has become a cakewalk for the implementation of malicious motives especially due to the quick “forward” and the authentic appearing profiles that the hackers make.  Navarro, a WhatsApp user, was asked for his six-digit verification code sent by WhatsApp on the creation of an account by an unknown number claiming to be an employee of WhatsApp and having the display picture of the app. After inquiry, WABetaInfo, the official account of WhatsApp revealed that they had never instructed any of its employees to collect such information.

Conclusion

The invention of computers and the internet has empowered the lives of millions, however, it has also opened doors for a plethora of crimes. These crimes are constantly increasing and have the potential to wreck huge havoc in the virtual world. With the increased exposure to online platforms, the reach of crimes has expanded immensely, having a potential impact on the functioning of the government as well.  Recently, a case was lodged against an unknown online fraudster who tried selling the world’s largest statue (State of Unity) for $4 billion, claiming the proceeds would be used to help the Gujarat state government fund its fight against the coronavirus as discovered by the World Economic Forum. To avoid falling prey to such scams, users can rely on ISO/IEC 27000 which is a global benchmark certificate, given to the organisations that comply with the Information Security Management System (ISMS).  ISMS secure the personal information of the company and the clients from cyber-attacks. If users are not vigilant towards their virtual actions, catastrophic consequences could follow which would one day, fall out of the control of cyber experts and professionals.


[1] Dr K. Sita Manikyam Hind Law House, Pune, Cybercrime- Law & policy perspectives, Page 40 (2009).


About the Author Mehar [2019-24, GNLU] is pursuing B.B.A.LL.B(Hons) from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.


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