Cyber offences have emerged as the biggest crime worldwide, generating an annual income of $6 trillion for the fraudsters, Special Inspector-General of Police (cybercrime), Maharashtra, Yashaswi Yadav revealed during the course of an interaction with journalists of the Free Press Journal and Navshakti at Free Press House on Friday. Cybercrime has overtaken drug smuggling as the world’s biggest organised crime, he added.
Vulnerability in India: The Massive Mobile Phone Base
Yadav said that at 700 million India has the world’s largest number of mobile phones and this makes Indians extremely vulnerable to cybercrimes. He noted that the best antidote is awareness of the modus operandi adopted by the criminals. He said the Maharashtra cyber cell has a helpline ‘1930’ through which bank accounts can be frozen.
Maharashtra's Helpline '1930' for Freezing Bank Accounts
Yadav said, “The moment a person realises that he has been cheated by a cyber cheat, he or she should dial 1930 and give details of the fraud and the police will immediately freeze the account of the victim, further blocking the transfer of funds to the fraudster’s account. We have so far saved Rs3 crore of people’s money. The helpline is manned by 100 trained police personnel and their number would be increased in future.”
National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal
After getting the account frozen, the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal (NCCRP) can be contacted to lodge complaints and these will be automatically forwarded to the Maharashtra unit for investigation. Yadav said in the COSMOS Bank case, wherein several account holders were duped of about Rs100 crore, only Rs12 crore has been recovered.
Criminals Financing Luxuries and Weapons
Yadav said cyber criminals operating out of Jamtara and Mewat have become so rich that they have purchased helicopters and are also financing the erection of towers for high speed internet connectivity. He said the phishing attacks are not confined to only bank frauds, but have serious security implications. He said on the dark web there are sites that sell AK-47s and other deadly weapons.
Cyber Attacks on Power Systems and Satellites
He said the 2020 power outage in Mumbai was the result of a cyberattack on Mahadiscom’s power system through 14 trojan horses embedded in its network. He said even NASA’s satellites were targeted by cyber criminals. Pegasus software can be misused in a big way. “Even if a phone is not in use, a person using Pegasus can snoop on the conversations of the owner,” he disclosed. Each licence of Pegasus costs Rs7 crore.
Manipulating Water Reservoirs and Railway Signals
He said cyber criminals can contaminate drinking water reservoirs by manipulating the quantum of chlorine, too. Even railway signals can be manipulated remotely to cause havoc. He noted that the computers of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) were hacked despite the presence of firewalls. “The problem was that these firewalls were not upgraded. Every organisation should have a cyber audit of its systems at least every six months to detect malware,” he noted.
Strengthening Cybersecurity: Regular Audits & Amendments to IT Act
Yadav said the Information Technology (IT) Act was last amended in 2008, but since then cyber criminals have devised several new ways of gypping unsuspecting persons.
“We have suggested several amendments to this Act so as to tackle new crimes like sextortion. We have said these offences should be made cognisable and non-bailable,” he noted. Yadav added that digital footprints are permanent in nature and can be traced. Replying to a question, he said the cyber criminals opened bank accounts with fake KYC documents. They have several such “mule accounts” through which they transfer looted funds to themselves.