Cyber-crime is a non-issue,” remarked my journalist friend while I was trying to convince him on why it was important for all of us to understand the nature of cyber crimes, the world faces today.
This is not just my journalist friend. A lot of people in security circles think that cybercrimes do not pose a significant threat to us. But the stark reality is that they are out there in various forms and threaten not only human well-being but also state security. According to an estimate, cybercrimes cost world economy US$450 billion in 2016. Some believe that the annual cost of cyber crimes could be between US$400-500 and could go up to US$ 2 trillion by 2019. Ironically, in UK, Germany and USA, only 30% businesses are “experts” enough to prevent cyber-attacks from breaching their security.
Some of you might be wondering about how can cybercrimes affect your lives and why should you be concerned about it? Cyber crimes are the crimes committed by criminals over the internet. This involves online sexual harassment, defamation online, provoking violence against a particular community/sect, identity theft, stealing of bank details, or even hacking computers and demanding money in exchange for providing access to hacked materials. Other forms of cybercrimes involve targeting national security installations of the cyber world, also known as critical infrastructure. Every country defines its own critical infrastructure but usually it could include nuclear installations, power plants, dams, airport facilities, national identification authorities such as NADRA in Pakistan et al. In other words, with increased internet penetration, criminals and terrorists do not necessarily have to come to you and harm you. With a stroke of their fingers, they can use the internet to loot you, harass you or even kill you in extreme circumstances.
Pakistan is not immune from cyber crimes. According to a recent report, since 2013, around 900 cases of cybercrimes have been registered. The prime concerns in Pakistani circles have been the alleged cyber-attacks from India backed hackers, terrorist use of internet and cyber harassment. These cyber issues entail their own set of implications. Publicly, Indian cyber-attacks have only managed to deface Pakistanis websites and no verifiable information is available about any significant devastation caused by Indian cyber-attacks. Meanwhile, terrorists use internet to collect funds, propagate hate speech and convince young people to join them on ground. A recent report by Dawn showed that 41/64 banned organizations were openly operating over the Facebook. Furthermore, another report by Pakistan based Digital Rights Foundation shows that more than 40% women complained of cyber harassment. These cases have more psychological consequences than physical ones. However, in one case of harassment, the girl was so disturbed that she committed suicide.
Thus it is important for policy makers and security circles to be wary of the elephant in the room and take measures to enhance country’s cyber security capabilities. Sadly, our cyber security preparedness is ranked even below Iran and Vietnam. A welcome step in this direction is the enactment of 2016 Pakistan Electronic Crimes act that deals with some of the heinous cybercrimes. Recently, the Interior Minister has also held meetings with Facebook Vice President to clamp down on hate material over Facebook. However, the government should take these efforts to the next stage and focus on raising awareness about cybercrimes. The awareness would achieve two objectives: Firstly, people need to know about cybercrimes so that they do not end up in trouble for committing mischievous acts. Without informing the public, it is a fair chance that people would be committing cybercrimes without knowing of its consequences. Secondly, awareness at the level of judiciary is extremely important as they would be faced with this daunting task to award proportionate punishments to cyber criminals. In this regard, judicial academies across four provinces should incorporate courses around cybercrimes while training the future judges.
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.