17.08.2020 India

Cyber crime soars as hackers cash in on India’s Covid-19 crisis

By Murali Krishnan in New Delhi - RFI
REUTERS - Kacper Pempel
LISTEN AUG 17, 2020
REUTERS - Kacper Pempel

Cyber crime is rising at an alarming rate in India as hackers take advantage of the country's new-found dependence on the virtual world, according to police. 

Since coronavirus lockdown restrictions began easing, banking fraud has jumped, as cyber criminals target citizens with fake reactivations of debit and credit cards, online bookings, free coronavirus tests and foreign job offers.

Authorities say scammers have taken advantage of the ongoing chaos of the Covid-19 crisis to launch phishing and other forms of online attacks.

Boom time for hackers

“Fraudsters compromise the email accounts of people dealing with the company accounts and finances. They create an email account which is similar to either the company's or client's account,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Crime) Anyesh Roy.

“They change the destination of financial transactions on some pretext, following which the money goes to the fraudsters' account.”

Over the weekend, the cyber crime cell in the satellite town of Gurugram, adjacent to Delhi, busted a fake job portal and arrested three people for allegedly cheating people through creating fake job listings.

The police said the accused had purchased job seekers data from a renowned job portal and created their own “dial4career” portal.

In a recent report, multinational cyber security company Check Point Research published startling figures on cyber attacks designed to take advantage of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In the three weeks leading up to May, the company recorded around 192,000 coronavirus-related cyber attacks every week – a staggering 30 percent increase over previous weeks.

Cyber security crisis

“The unemployment rate will likely increase and people will be left with less disposable incomes, paving the way for an economic crisis,” says Pradyumna Uppal, a researcher who authored a paper entitled: Covid-19 will lead to increased crime rates in India.

“With the experience of major crises in the past, we have noticed crime rates in and post such situations tend to increase.”

In the ongoing pandemic, many leading firms have already cancelled pre-placement offers to students of top institutions. Companies have also been laying off employees, sending the unemployment rate skyward.

“This shift is significant as it has increased remote activities, thus creating perfect conditions for internet fraud schemes and phishing emails," said cyber expert Pawan Duggal.

That scale of the problem became evident when the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), the country's nodal cyber security agency, had to swing into action in June.

It shut down several fake handles that had sprung up and were purporting to be the official site for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "PM CARES" fund to fight the pandemic.

Home working boosts security risks

Last month, Israel signed an agreement with India focused on fighting cyber security threats heightened by Covid-19 as the spread of the virus has forced companies worldwide to shift their operations online.

Early this month, global police body, Interpol warned of an "alarming" rate of cyber crime during the coronavirus pandemic, with criminals taking advantage of people working from home to target major institutions.

An assessment by the Lyon-based organisation found a "significant target shift" by criminals from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure.

"Cyber criminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace, exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and economic situation created by Covid-19," said Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock.

Banks, real estate companies and other institutions too have been sending out text messages and emails asking customers to be wary of suspicious calls or emails.

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