Welcome to the dark side of the Internet: cyber crime. Techopedia defines cyber crime as “a crime in which a computer is the object of the crime (hacking, phishing, spamming) or is used as a tool to commit an offense (child pornography, hate crimes). Cybercriminals may use computer technology to access personal information, business trade secrets, or use the Internet for exploitive or malicious purposes. Criminals can also use computers for communication and document or data storage. Criminals who perform these illegal activities are often referred to as hackers.”
Most news reports on cyber crime focus on activity in the United States, China and Russia. A 2013 Bloomberg Business report ranked the ten top hacking countries and while as expected China came in first and the United States a close second, many experts were surprised to read Turkey beat out Russia for the number three spot and that India made the list at all, coming in at number eight.
Of course anything posted on the World Wide Web is subjective and another article, this one from Business Week/Symnatec agreed with the Bloomberg numbers on India but ranked Germany number three in place of Turkey. The Business Week/Symnatec post noted in compiling their list they took into consideration “countries where cyber-attacks initiated…and factored in a higher rate of cyber crime countries that have more access to broadband connections…allowing uninterrupted Internet connectivity.” This would explain why more developed countries such as the United States consistently produce some of the highest cyber crime numbers.
Many in the tech world see the irony involved in the correlation between a strong Internet connection to keep a cybercriminal in business and that until recently when the Philippines pulled ahead in the call center race, India was the call center capital of the world. In 2009 when India had no completion in the business, researchers at the University of Brighton (England) determined, “India is fast emerging as a major hub of cybercrime as recession is driving computer-literate criminals to electronic scams.”
Titled, “Crime Online: Cybercrime and Illegal Innovation”, the study concluded an increase in cyber crime was not just confined to India but was also flourishing in China, Russia and Brazil as well. Professor Howard Rush who chaired the study said, “Russia, China and Brazil are world leaders in cybercrime, with groups and individuals in India powering up to compete. Yet companies in Europe and the US are increasingly moving IT functions and software development tasks to India, Brazil, Russia and Eastern Europe in a bid to draw on their good IT skills and lower wages.” The study also went to state cyber crime in India was a cause of particular concern and that the increase was partly due to the large number of call centers servicing an ever increasing global clientele.
While the Techopedia definition of cyber crime is all-encompassing as it relates to the Internet, the Brighton report maintained, “The booming of call centers in India has generated a niche for cybercriminal activity in harvesting data.” Because cyber crime offers high rewards with minimal risk of apprehension, new players are emerging in countries such as India. In part to the boon of call centers coupled with international financial networks with a wider global reach, these cybercriminals will continue to both flourish and multiply.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a report at the end of 2014 stating their belief cyber crimes in India could quite possibly double during the coming year. This study, “Cyber and Network Security Framework” determined cyber crime in India is growing rapidly with approximately 12,500 new cases being reported each month. The majority of attacks center on phishing of online bank accounts along with cloning debit cards. The study also determined the increased use of mobile devices including smart phones and tablets for online banking and financial transactions over unsecured wireless connections have created the increase in this particular facet of cyber crime.
Finally, according to another Symantec report, this time their Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), social media has become the favorite target of cybercriminals with India coming in second on a list of most targeted countries. Along with social media attacks, India is also reported to have the highest concentration of botnet-related malware among all the Asian countries. Symnatec research falls in line with the ASSOCHAM report adding that India, with an ever increasing number of inexperienced Internet users combined with one of the fastest growing smartphone markets has created a perfect storm of cybercrime both regionally and globally.
Another favorite trick of Indian cybercriminals running rampant throughout the country is ransomware. Often unsophisticated Internet novices don’t understand the necessity of backing up personal data, leading to an unprecedented 60,000 ransomware attacks in 2014 alone.
The county manager for the India and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (RSA), Kartik Shahani, along with cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi both believe, “The reason India is a sweet spot for cybercriminals is companies and the government do not spend money on protecting themselves in cyberspace. This leaves India vulnerable to global hackers. As a country, we do not spend enough on creating a police force that understand cybercrime and our legal system is too slow in convicting cybercriminals.”
Where once upon a time cyber crime was thought to be a concern only in economically developed countries, today it is finding a foothold in struggling developing nations through global Internet access. In many of these areas, law enforcement struggle to deal with “real time” crime and have no strong backing from government officials who are often corrupt themselves. This leaves the growth of cyber crime as a very attractive international option leading many experts to believe we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of future online criminal activity.