Increasing Cybercrime during COVID 19

Edited By – Arriba Siddique

This article is written Anurag Lama, pursuing B.A.LLB(H) at University of North Bengal.

With most of the human population locked inside their own homes during this tough lockdown period due to COVID 19, our safest means to connect with the outside world is the Internet. The parents who used to hide their electronic devices to encourage their children to play outside are now instead encouraging their children to use electronic devices and remain inside their home. We are taking necessary precautions to prevent the COVID 19 invasion in our bodies. The mere thought of the coronavirus entering into our body and causing havoc is a recurring nightmare for most of the people, currently. But parallel to the virus, there is another recurring threat, which we are all well aware of, but rarely pay any proper heed to, we consider it as a big issue for a day or two, and almost forget about it the very next day. A rising threat which is becoming more complex every day and theoretically there is no vaccine for it.

Similar to the natural viruses, computer viruses require a “host” to exist and replicate, they too blur the line between living and non-living things. Akin to how real viruses are simply a genetic code in the form of a protein, computer viruses are too simply a sequence of basic code, and unsurprisingly like a real virus, and they too can only infect and wreak havoc in a specific system only.

Computer viruses have existed since the dawn of the internet era. Some are relatively harmless and at worse, they are merely annoying, such as the infamous fork bomb. But when given time and effort, they can become a weapon of mass destruction. The Stuxnet, world’s first cyber weapon which targeted Nuclear Power plants, and the Conficker virus are the revenants of the past which exists till date and seem impossible to remove completely. Digital viruses can perform much more complex task as well. They are not only crafted and employed to steal data but also convert the computer system into a slave bot. A bot is an infected computer which listens to a set of commands directed from a server (Called Command and Control or C&C) to do the creator’s bidding. Contrast to the common notion, it is not even necessary to install a malicious application to be infected with a virus. The virus (Technically called a payload in this scenario) can be deployed with many exploits. The vectors of the exploits range from the “use-after-free” vectors such as CVE 2019-2215 (Android) and CVE 2017-8613 (IOS) to remotely performed exploits such as CVE 2019-16702.

In this pandemic period, when we are glued to our electronic devices from the moment we wake until we are asleep, depending on ourselves upon various online services for our banking, shopping and education, it becomes necessary for us to protect ourselves from not only the COVID 19 but also from all the digital viruses that we may contact without our knowledge. The motive of cyber-attacks is not always the collection of individual data (doxing), identity theft or financial theft. Sometimes the target is an organisation. The leaked information of an organisation can be sold at an extremely high price (usually in cryptocurrency such as bitcoin). Section 43 and 66 of Information Technology Act, 2000 penalises several activities ranging from hacking, data theft, spreading viruses, disrupting computer communications and other similar activities. The punishments for such activities can range from imprisonment for up to 3 years or a fine of Rs. 2,00,000 (Rupees Two Lakh) or both for hacking with a computer system as stated in Section 66 of the IT Act, to imprisonment for up to 5 years or a fine of Rs. 2,00,000 (Rupees Two Lakh) or both for the publishing of obscene information in electronic form as stated in Section 67 of the IT Act. Usually, such activities are considered cognizable and are non-bailable.

the lockdown was imposed, to curb the spread of Coronavirus, the number of cybercrime had increased at a drastic pace. According to U.N. disarmament chief, cybercrime has been boosted by 600% during the ongoing crisis. Izumi Nakamitsu told in an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the attacks were primarily targeting health care organisation and medical research facilities worldwide.  Recent ransomware attacks held many hospitals and medical services crippled, preventing them from accessing vital patient data and systems until the ransom was paid.

The most common method of cybercrime during the lockdown was a technique called ‘Phishing’. Phishing is the fraudulent practice of inducing individuals from revealing their private information, such as email address, banking details, address and another such kind of information. According to the data gathered by Google and analysed by Atlas VPN in January, Google registered 149k active websites that were solely published and hosted for Phishing purposes. In February, that number nearly doubled to 293k and in March, the number had increased to 522k. That’s a 350% increase since January! Alongside phishing, ransomware such as WannaCry and Maze are also on the rise. Ransomers are notorious software that masquerades as a harmless software, but as soon as they are installed, they encrypt everything on the system and demand a certain payment be made within a time limit, else the data will be deleted.

Theoretically, no “Vaccine” can be created for digital viruses because the most vulnerable vector for these viruses to enter the computer system is the user. Security experts always consider the users to be the weakest security barrier. Recently, a “Corona Anti Virus” Software was flagged to the Italian Enforcement Authorities.  The application promised to protect the user’s devices from coronavirus, but instead, rather than acting as an antivirus, installed software named BlackNet Rat (RAT in computer terminology means Remote Administration Toolkit which is used to control the device remotely e.g. TeamViewer), took control over the user’s device. Despite the software having a malicious name and it claims to do something impossible, it was downloaded by thousands of individuals. Raising the number of compromised devices. On a darker side, a sharp surge of fake or inappropriate drugs and medical equipment claiming to cure coronavirus is being observed, which are being sold at very high prices. Another common scam that’s taking place currently is of fake investment opportunities. This scam has gone global and both INTERPOL and the United Nations have warned of this scam. Children and high school students too aren’t much safe either. The availability of internet and E-schooling may be beneficial, but at the same time the problems of file sharing abuse, pornography and inappropriate content, and the issues of stalking and cat-fishing have increased considerably. Section 345D of the Indian penal code penalises the offence of Stalking, whether it was done digitally or not.

We need to be cautious of our activities and maintain a healthy distance from malicious sites and individuals online,  similar to how we are doing right now in the offline world against the COVID-19. Preventing the sharing of infected files, use of good anti-viruses and Intrusion of Detection Systems and a healthy dose of system checks and clean-ups can break the chain of digital infection and help flatten the curve of the cybercrime.

Written By –

Author Name – Anurag Lama

Published on – 25/07/2020