Impact of cyber crime, cyber harassment and cyber defamation | Sunday Observer

Impact of cyber crime, cyber harassment and cyber defamation

8 August, 2021

Cyber crime is described as any criminal activity that involves a computer, networked device, or and network. Most of the cyber crimes around the world are carried out to generate profits whilst some of them are related to spreading malware, illegal information, and in some countries such as Sri Lanka to spread malicious political propaganda or slander recognised personalities.

The media revealed that according to Kaspersky, the renowned global cybersecurity company, attacks against Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) has jumped from 93 million in February 2020 to an alarming 227 million in March 2020, marking an increase of 197% in just a matter of a month. The number of cyber crimes in Sri Lanka also has increased significantly during the Covid- 19 lock downs and beyond, according to Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) information.

Crimes through social media in Sri Lanka

In the Sri Lankan context, the vital factor to consider seriously is that the news that the largest number of such computer crimes was committed through social media platforms. These include impersonations, financial frauds, abuse, and privacy violations, and so forth.

The growing share of the Sri Lankan community is experiencing severe forms of online harassment that encompass physical threats, stalking, and sexual harassment of different kinds. In addition, the spread of political disinformation, prostitution, online financial frauds, and scathing personal attacks on popular figures is a constantly growing threat to the nation. Whilst these types of negative incidents occur everywhere in the world, social media is by far the most common platform for cyber crimes.

Cyber criminals can engage everyone from a single user to large corporations to State-sponsored agencies. The typical cyber criminal most often relies on other players to complete the crime, knowingly or unknowingly. They use various attack vectors to carry out attacks and persistently look for new methods and techniques to achieve their goals and avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.

Cyber extortion is a crime that engages threats with a demand for money. Ransomware, a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system is utilised to threaten organisations or individuals to obtain ransom money. In this scenario, the attacker hacks into the victims’ computer systems and encrypts important documents with potential value. Usually, cyber criminals demand money to release the blockages.

Identity thefts are plenty in Sri Lanka where the attackers access an individual’s personal information such as valuable accounts, critical data, or credit card identifications. A worldwide racket is reported where the criminals sell identity information in the market through darknet markets. They offer financial and other valuable information such as video streaming, webmail, and other useful information to outside nefarious buyers.

The recent controversial child prostitution case came to light was a classic example of the darknet market in Sri Lanka where there were many websites promoting prostitution. The disappointing factor of this illegal cyber auction that occurred in Sri Lanka is that it was not detected by Sri Lanka’s cybersecurity agencies until a physical complaint to law enforcement was made by an individual. However, as the first judicial order, recently a Sri Lankan court has ordered to ban and remove all detectable harmful websites enforcing regulations of the Criminal Procedure Code Act.

An increasing number of credit card frauds are reported constantly in Sri Lanka. Typically, the attacker infiltrates the retailers’ system and steals the card details or other banking information of their customer, and use it for fraudulent acts.

Increasing use of mobile phones and crime rate

Cyber bullying or cyber harassment has become an increasing menace in Sri Lanka. This has severely increased in Sri Lanka due to the rapidly escalating usage of social media platforms mostly through mobile phones. It is a repeated action aimed at scaring, angering, shaming those who are targeted.

Examples include spreading false information about or posting discomforting images on social media, sending cruel messages through messaging platforms, or impersonating another person to send out hurtful material. The only consolation is that these types of cyber bullying leave digital trails and evidence that can be useful in litigation or reporting to the operators.

Online harassment is a specific common feature for younger adults, young females in particular. Reports reveal that the vast majority of this segment of people experience some form of online bullying and harassment.

In Sri Lanka, an increasing number of teenagers of both sexes are being targeted during the past several years for harassment. It is imperative to report any type of cyber harassment effort immediately after identifying such behaviour. Especially, teenage students who become victims must immediately inform such situations to parents or any other trusted person. Reporting such incidents is the key to stop bullying.

Efficiency of our police with limited resources

Almost every recognised online platform such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Viber, Instagram, and Twitter initiate fairly fast action on complaints on cyber bullying by discontinuing such accounts. However, If the harassment continues, complaints can be directed to the Police Cyber crime Division or SLCERT for further action. Both institutions have fairly proven track records on efficiency and effectiveness in responding to cyber crime situations, within the limited resources they possess.

Even though the social media experience seems a consoling tool and safe space for women to confidently voice an opinion, escalating negative incidents against such views have sounded a note of caution due to the abusive responses of users. Gender-based harassments through modern technology are on the rise in the country. Particularly, just as in many other offensive elements, social media platforms are providing abusive content concerning women in general.

Cyber defamation is perhaps one of the commonest types of cyber crimes in Sri Lanka. Regrettably, in Sri Lanka, defamation is not a criminal offence and the law enforcement officials are compelled to prosecute accordingly. Hence, people are subjected to defamation frequently as the offenders cannot be charged for criminal offenses.

However, the exploitation is more radical specifically on women engaged in politics and cinema, music, or television. Often, insulting and obnoxious material and information are published on social media sans any substantial or credible facts.

Many of the victims are left without much protection to press charges due to the nature of digital technology. Invariably, they have to count on the few technically capable institutions such as the Police Cyber crime Division or SLCERT. However, with the increasing number of complaints, they too seem to be encountering both manpower and technical issues.

The general public opinion is that the criminal legal system of the country acts somewhat slowly to the complaints. The irony is that many of the sufferers have either lack knowledge about where to complain exactly or are too far from a credible agency to report cyber abuse. Even with watertight evidence, when a complaint is made to the Police, the investigations are done at a snail pace, the victims opine.

However, the low rate of reporting of cyber crimes and harassment is a drawback. Victims, particularly young adults are reluctant to make complaints to the authorities for the fear of losing confidentiality by revealing their private data. The majority of them have no idea about the legal remedies they can pursue.

Deliberate and repeated harms inflicted through cyber crimes that are often manifest as frauds, bullying, defamation must be prevented. Whatever the intention of the cyber criminal, whether it is to embarrass, threaten, humiliate, intimidate, or abuse, the authorities must bring in more stringent laws to prevent further intensification.

Cyber crime is not merely an ongoing global threat but it also increases in magnitude with the ever-evolving digital technology. At first, it was mostly hackers stealing financial information for money. However, it is not that simple now. Whilst, relevant authorities must increase the protection through a legal policy framework, the people must be educated on protecting themselves from cyber crimes.

Cyber crimes can individually be protected by taking certain basic precautions as per the cyber security experts. Deploying an effective internet security system, keeping software updated, use strong passwords, keep a constant tab and be vigilant on cyber crimes that occur globally, are some of such precautions. Also, reporting cyber crimes without delay to institutions such as Police Cyber crime Division, SLCERT, or any other relevant authority for direction is imperative to curtail the menace to a certain extent.