Cybercrime Threats Loom Large

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The internet has undeniably transformed how we connect and communicate with one another. Nepal, like many other countries, has been caught up in the digital revolution, with its population being bombarded with online information and access to a variety of digital channels. Nepalis have grabbed this modern-day luxury, from obtaining information to sharing their own ideas and creations. With the proliferation of cellphones, tablets, laptops, and computers of various types, Nepalis now have fast access to a variety of information on their favourite subjects. Additionally, social media platforms such as X, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, WhatsApp and TikTok have enabled Nepalis to connect and communicate with people from all over the world.

But it doesn't end there; many Nepalis have found success on these online platforms, swiftly amassing a significant following through funny articles and videos. This enlarged audience also brings with it potential financial gains. It's no surprise that communication has become easier and more accessible, with various digital platforms providing free phone services.

In the meantime, the internet has transformed numerous media outlets. All traditional media outlets—newspapers and periodicals, television networks, radio, and FM broadcasters—have responded to the growing need for digital platforms. Almost all such media outlets now rely heavily on their internet-based online portals, which allow readers to access news, videos, photographs, and interviews with a single mouse click or screen touch.

Without a doubt, internet-based platforms, apps, and websites of various types have evolved into a huge industry that requires the enactment of effective legislation to govern and steer them, as well as bring this industry under the tax net.

Threats

As numerous digital forms have begun to welcome us at an ever-increasing rate, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which is now given precedence because it has the potential to generate responses based on respondents' demands and preferences, has become nearly omnipresent. AI technology is expected to revolutionise internet-based applications.

Despite all of the advantages of internet-guided technologies, we have discovered several drawbacks. With expanded digital access, we have seen a surge in numerous types of cybercrime, which was only made possible by the introduction of the internet and various digital platforms.

Several months ago, our government banned the use of TikTok, a video-sharing programme that allows users to upload short video clips. The government took action after reportedly determining that the content supplied to this app was socially, politically, ethically, and legally problematic. Some argued that the recordings released through this app were politically motivated, harming the reputations of prominent people. Most significantly, the enormously popular app functioned as a media platform, allowing users to upload news video snippets, some of which were quite sensitive to those in power.

Aside from being a useful means of quickly spreading useful information, popular mobile apps and many other social network platforms are also being used to attack opponents, rival groups, fan hate crimes, religious bigotry, character assassination, banking, and financial fraud.

Recently, in India, scammers involved AI to generate a girl's voice and then delivered the audio tape to her parents, demanding a ransom. The gullible family members paid the kidnappers but later discovered that their daughter was staying at a hostel. 

After submitting a police report, they discovered that the purported kidnappers had used artificial intelligence to mimic the girl's voice. Nowadays, we may watch video clips on social media platforms that feature AI-generated voices of leaders singing songs or making comments about competing parties or politicians. This is a serious problem that can only be solved through the application of digital technologies.

Over 13,000 cybercrime incidents have been registered in Nepal since the formation of the Cyber Bureau under the Nepal Police a few years ago. In Nepal, cybercrime incidents have surged sixfold in the last year, with the majority of cybercrimes including character assassination and the dissemination of false information about specific individuals, organisations, leaders, political parties, and religious groups. Some of the most obvious types of crimes committed using computers and social media apps include uploading naked pictures of women, morphed photos of leaders undermining their status, exacting revenge by spreading false news, inciting hate crimes through false and unsubstantiated information, and assisting someone in committing suicide. Unauthorised access to other people's computer systems, theft of personal or institutional data, hacking, password infringement, and other types of cybercrime are all frequent in our country.

The rise in such crimes has prompted our government to enact a number of laws and regulations targeted at preventing cybercrime. The Electronic Transactions Act of 2063 (2008) creates a legislative framework to regulate electronic transactions and prevent cybercrime. The act provides provisions for punishing cybercriminals and protecting victims' rights.

The act defines cybercrime as any behaviour carried out with the intent to injure or deceive someone via computer means. This includes unauthorised access to computer systems, hacking, identity theft, and other forms of cybercrime.

The act also calls for the creation of a cyber department under the Nepal Police to investigate and prosecute cybercrime. The Cyber Bureau has the authority to collect and study electronic devices, as well as to assist foreign law enforcement bodies in the fight against cybercrime.

Nepal has also ratified the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which provides a framework for international cooperation in cybercrime investigation and prosecution. To combat cybercrime, the government has launched a series of cybersecurity awareness campaigns to educate the public on cyber hazards and how to protect themselves from cybercriminals. These campaigns include seminars, workshops, and training programmes.

Through these initiatives, the government has worked with private-sector institutions such as banks and telecommunications companies, and the goal is to increase public knowledge of cyber hazards and promote safe online activities. In addition to these initiatives, the government has launched a website dedicated to cybersecurity awareness. The website provides information on common cyber hazards, recommendations for being safe online, and resources for reporting cybercrime incidents.

Evolving technology

These steps to raise cyber threat awareness and encourage safe online behaviour are critical for cyber security. In addition, the government has established a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to coordinate cybercrime efforts. The centre is responsible for developing cybercrime policies and strategies as well as coordinating actions between government authorities, business sector organisations, and international partners.

However, our authorities must be aware of the constantly evolving technologies that can be exploited to commit cybercrime. It cannot ban apps arbitrarily because it must protect people's right to communicate and express themselves. However, it should be noted that hackers and anyone knowledgeable in computer technology can deceive police and authorities. Our leaders must consequently take proper steps to ensure that no one harms our institutions, society, or the broader public.

(Upadhyay is a former managing editor of this daily.)

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