Cyber crime trends, digital safety amidst COVID-19 pandemic
Between March and April 2020, India has witnessed a staggering 86% increase in cyber-attacks. According to the UN Special Rapporteur,, women are both disproportionately targeted by online violence and suffer disproportionately serious consequences as a result.
UN Women in collaboration with the India Future Foundation hosted a Webinar on “Cyber Crime Trend & Digital Safety amidst COVID-19 Pandemic”, focusing on promoting a safe, gender responsive and equitable cyber space, especially during COVID 19.
The purpose of the webinar was to highlight the increasing cases of cyber violations, the urgency for more robust and comprehensive cyber security measures, among other issues. Between March and April 2020, India has witnessed a staggering 86% increase in cyber-attacks. According to the UN Special Rapporteur,, women are both disproportionately targeted by online violence and suffer disproportionately serious consequences as a result. Cybercrime has real consequences and costs. It undermines women’s wellbeing, their rights, and their progress in all aspects of life. Cyber violence results in psychological, physical, sexual or economic harm to women.
Given the push towards digitisation, amongst the ongoing pandemic, more women and girls are using the internet for varied purposes including education, work, financial transactions, amongst others. Many of these women and girls could be first-time users and/or may have a limited understanding of good practices when interacting with others in cyberspace and could be subjected to cybercrimes.
The webinar drew upon the expertise of High level speakers from the Government, civil society, cyber law and security professionals on analyzing Laws and Policies, the need to move away from a language of obscenity to one of consent, privacy and harm, Phishing Attacks, Malicious Apps, Exploits, and Successful Campaigns, Safety Guidelines and Tools with special focus on women and girl’s safety and Government Initiatives.
Drawing attention to the urgent need for awareness on cyber etiquettes, among the general public, the keynote speaker Lt. Gen Rajesh Pant, National Cyber Security Coordinator said, “Cyber hygiene is as important as maintaining good health practices, every day” given that “Virtual is the new reality.” And this space provides opportunities to women and girls, including access to information, education, employment, networking, socializing and expressing freedom. Lt. Gen Rajesh Pant also stressed on the efficient role being played by Indian government so far in handling the pandemic.
Stressing the enormous potential of the internet, Nishtha Satyam, Deputy Country Representative, UN Women India said, “The internet proves to be a valuable asset, especially for women and girls for whom these avenues may otherwise be limited. Yet, these spaces have also come to mirror the harassment and abuse experienced by women and girls in physical spaces.” With a heightened need for information regarding the dreaded virus, criminals may try their best to cheat, defraud and take advantage of vulnerable populace. Mr. Brijesh Singh, Inspector General, Maharashtra Police, emphasized that “it is incumbent upon us as individuals and as a society, to be aware of attempts by criminals and nefarious elements. It is also important for us to help the vulnerable populace from dangers lurking in the online world.”
The webinar further discussed women’s access or lack thereof to the internet. According to the India Internet 2019 report, by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a large gender disparity is visible, with the number of female internet users being approximately half of the 258 million male Internet users in the country. Many households have a single common family phone, usually kept with the male members. Ms. Bishakha Datta, Executive Director at Point of View highlighted, “We are in a world where everything flows to us via our smartphones. In order for women to be a part of the new order, they need to be part of the virtual world”. For this to happen, mobile and digital ecosystems need to be engendered, we need to not only be putting mobile phones in the hands of women, but women and girls must be at the center of our decision-making with respect to cyber space. This is true in ordinary times and must still apply even in a public health crisis. In practice, this means prioritizing both access, consent and privacy-confidentiality.
The webinar deliberated on the immediate effectiveness of the various technological solutions, including apps specifically developed during pandemics. Mr. Abhishek Singh, CEO My Gov outlined the need and effectiveness of such measures during COVID times. He shed light on how Aarogya Setu App has been designed with privacy first as a policy and highest level of security is ensured. Data analytics is being used to ensure effective contact tracing that helps in optimal testing as also to identify and predict emerging hotspots in the country, while assuring “User’s data in the app is completely secure. In case of people with no risk, we delete the data from the server after 30 days. In case of a corona-infected patient, the limit to remove the data is 60 days from the date of cure of the patient.
Also, the webinar featured prominent professionals in the field of cyber law and security including Ms. Devdutta Mukhopadhyay, Associate Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation, Mr. Amit Dubey, Cyber expert & Co-Founder India Future Foundation, Dr. Muktesh Chander, IPS, Special Commissioner, Delhi Police, Prof. Moutusy Maity Professor at IIM Lucknow and Ms. Khushbu Jain, Cyber Law Expert and Advocate, Supreme Court of India.