The Invisible Enemies: Activism of Cyber Criminals amidst Corona Pandemic

Anindita Mahapatra
August 09, 2020

The Corona virus, having the most recent common ancestry aging back to 8000 B.C.E, was first identified as an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Within just a month, the outbreak was declared to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ by WHO, and a pandemic soon after. 

The surfacing of this global pandemic and the world-wide lockdown induced by it led to a proverbial stirring of the hornets’ nest, with varied physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual issues. The lockdown imposed and ensuing quarantine with no end in sight and the return of normalcy seems to be a thing of a considerably distant future, most of the usual diurnal routines have shifted to the online medium. 

The entire definition of communication has been altered. This has entailed disclosing and distributing information amongst the producers and consumers in new ways. The facilitated access and channeling of information vis-a-vis the absence of proper utilization, examination, and inspection of this information are what makes it abstruse to decide whether it is a boon or a bane. It is indeed, both. It facilitates human communication and transactions but simultaneously becomes an instrument in the hands of criminal and anti-social elements.

Cybercrime originated with the rise of cyberspace and its use. However, it has majorly escalated in the past few decades due to an explosion of cyber use the planet underwent. However, what was previously overlooked and has been recently indisputably raising dust is the augmented misuse by hackers and cyber scammers using their kind of social engineering. It involves the rapid circulation of treacherous messages, spurious information, and damaging emails. The Corona Virus pandemic has given the cybercriminals a fertile ground to play with social media platforms for nefarious purposes.

E-Transgression is an umbrella term encompassing online misdemeanor of two broad categories: a) crimes targeting networks and devices, such as DDoS attacks, Botnets, PUPs, Exploit kits; and b) crimes using devices to indulge in criminal activities. The latter has three major categories on the basis of their targets: property (includes phishing and black hat), individuals (includes fraud, identity theft, and cyberstalking) or government agencies (the least common but the most serious offense). This has given rise to, what can be called as cyber terrorism, which encompasses hacking into government and military websites and distributing propaganda materials or just false information.

On elaboration, one can identify the severity, technicalities, and the repercussions of various kinds of cyberattacks. 

To begin, Distributed Denial-of-Service, or DDoS attack, is a disruption of service by taking the network down through overwhelming traffic of the site. It can be carried out from a variety of sources by infecting large networks with deposited malware known as Botnets, which is controlled by remote hackers to perform malicious tasks. 

Second, PUPs or Potentially Unwanted Programs are other forms of malware which are slightly less threatening. They can be prevented by downloading antivirus software as they can damage the system by uninstalling essential pre-downloaded apps and search engines, as well as downloading spyware or adware. This can lead to Black Hat Hacking, where the criminals who break into a user’s computer can hold the computer hostage, destroys files, and steals information to threaten and exploit the victim’s accounts. 

Third, there is a readymade toolkit for cybercriminals, called exploit kit, that is upgraded regularly and can be bought online from dark web hacking forums to use against any victim by gaining control of the victim user’s computer through a pre-existing vulnerability (such as a bug in the code of software). 

Fourth, another worrying form of cybercrime includes cyberstalking, which is online harassment through text messages on social media sites and emails in order to intimidate the victim and inflicting fear about their safety. It often takes place in the lives of young adolescents who are new to social media. 

Fifth, Phishing is another type of cyber-attack that includes social engineering by sending links and attachments to the victims via email or text messages in order to gain access to their personal information. 

Furthermore, identity theft occurs when this personal information is exploited to participate in insurance fraud, stealing funds, and using someone’s identity to receive benefits. 

A recent example of a highly concerning cybercrime causing alarming dismay amongst the masses involved VVIPs and eminent personalities. The Twitter handles of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Waren Buffett, Joe Biden, and Former President Barack Obama along with crypto-exchange companies such as Cash App, Ripple, Binance, and Coinbase, and tech companies, such as Apple and Uber were hacked as a part of a colossal crypto-currency scam. This can be categorized as an online scam as it included promises of rewards and offers to unrealistic “too good to be true” amount of money, which could cause malware if clicked on.

However, this E-Transgression is not limited to heinous unlawful acts that exist on the dark web. It also comprises the deeds found on everyday internet that are mistakenly regarded as minor wrong-doings for amusement, such as posting inappropriate and offensive conversations and photographs, casual body shaming, and humiliation based on one’s background and rumor-mongering. 

Eradication of this deeply rooted transgression, called cybercrime, is starkly the need of the hour, and it is the undeniable reality and a Gordian knot that authorities around the world ought to cut by taking the severest of actions against the perpetrators without delay. 

However, the responsibility to deal with this social menace does not lie only on the shoulders of the governing agencies. Peoples’ participation is desirable and imperative. There are minor but significant steps that we all can take as individuals to secure ourselves and the ones around us from the invisible criminals. In order to do so, all of us need to refrain ourselves from sharing and reposting any news or online items of hearsay that reaches us through social media without authentication. 

This basic effort on each of our parts can help protect the image, interests, and characters of millions of innocent victims who fall prey to avoidable social media trials almost on a daily basis, perhaps 24/7. 

*** The author is an Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies and an Alumnus of Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi ***