Every new innovation brings with it great advantages but also some disadvantages. With countries becoming more and more connected and the emergence of a new cyber world, many important transactions, both business and private, are now carried out online. As a result, the rate of cyber crimes has also risen rapidly over the years.
This global phenomenon now applies to Pakistan too. According to an estimate, there are more than 20 million Internet users in Pakistan. Since Karachi is the country’s largest and most advanced metropolis, its share of people online is huge, going into the millions. This vast network creates strong threats and vulnerabilities and encourages cyber-crimes. In our country, where cyber crimes laws are unclear it requires awareness at all levels to combat the menace.
In 2011, there were 200 cases of cyber-crimes reported, including the hacking of websites, tracing of emails and frauds through the Internet and mobile phones. This included 68 incidents reported of women being harassed online. Cases were registered against persons who were allegedly involved in hacking the email accounts of women, using their personal details and pictures on social networking sites, sending them abusive, obnoxious and obscene emails.
The most common complaints received from women by the National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes (NR3C) involved the hacking of their emails and creating fake profiles of them. Mostly young people are involved in these sorts of cyber-crimes and cyber bullying. Experts believe that many young men are driven to such crimes out of frustration, without realising the traumatic consequences what the victim and her family will face socially and personally.
Earlier this year, the FIA cyber-crime circle in Karachi successfully kicked off a successful operation to unearth some unscrupulous elements that were involved in creating fake Facebook accounts and placing photos of women online to blackmail them.
In most cases, the girls who become the victim leave themselves at the mercy of the criminals as they fear telling their parents about it. Due to the lack of cyber-crime legislation, such harassment, cyber-bullying and online stalking has grown over the years. Without being unaware of the dangers, many girls and young women upload their pictures on social websites without proper privacy settings, and only realise their mistake later when they fall victim to unscrupulous criminals.
In our society, the honour of the family has traditionally been intricately tied around women; if a woman is attacked, the entire family’s honour is attacked. The easiest way to harass women in this kind of traditional culture is to threaten them and ‘dishonour’ them by spreading their pictures online Despite the massive rise in the number of people going online in Pakistan, Internet users are still unaware of fighting back through legal means when they find themselves under cyber-attack.
Keeping in mind such concerns, a department was created to solve the problems regarding computer and technological crimes. The Federal Investigation Agency NR3C, which is equipped with technical investigators, legal advisors, computer forensic experts and computer forensic labs, is here to help the citizens with their issues regarding cyber-crime.
NR3C is working under the Electronic Transaction Ordinance (ETO) 2002, a first of its kind IT-relevant legislation designed by policy-makers. Originally it was meant for the violation of privacy of information and damage to information systems but now it is used for all kinds of crimes related to cyber space.
An official at the FIA cyber-crime cell, on the condition of anonymity, however points out some of the inadequacies of the law: “The ETO law we have is not sufficient to deal with cyber crimes”. The success rate, he believes, was better with Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance (PECO) which was introduced in 2007 ‘as it empowered us’. The ordinance dealt with almost every type of cyber activity for e.g. electronic crimes, including cyber terrorism, data damage, electronic fraud, and electronic forgery, un-authorized access to code, cyber stalking and cyber spamming While talking about the nature of cases that are registered at the cell, he said that hacking email address, hacking and illegal access of websites, misuse of information on the Internet, threatening and abusive messages and emails, bank credit card frauds, fraud through mobile messages regarding the winning of prize money or vehicle, mobile phone threatening through SMS and calls as well as stealing social accounts and then using them for blackmailing purpose are mostly reported.
The cyber criminals are mainly involved in committing frauds, stealing identities, violating privacy and blackmailing people and till now more than 50 cases have been registered at the Cyber Crime Cell Karachi and the investigation in every case has almost reached maturity, the official asserted.
When asked how in a city of millions of users, there are only a handful of complaints lodged, the official said the unwillingness of cyber-crime victims to report their cases is one of the major hurdles in the way of investigations and action against hackers and criminals. Secondly, the complains lodge against blackmailing and harassing are mainly from women and due to societal taboos most women fear registering cases and most crimes go unpunished.
Most of the cyber crime victims do not report incidents of Internet crime to investigators due to several reasons including fear of loss of face. Three female university students who recently became victims of cyber-crime only reported the incident to their families, leaving the criminals free to harass them.
Faiza*, Shagufta* and Ayesha* went to a restaurant for lunch with friends and took some pictures. After coming back home, when Faiza and Shagufta asked for the pictures Ayesha emailed them to her friends but unfortunately the same day Faiza’s email was hacked. She made a new account as she thought there was nothing serious about the hacking. But the hacker had other ideas in mind.
After a few months, Ayesha and Shagufta got a message from the same hacked email of Faiza asking them for favours and blackmailing them, with a warning that if they did not meet his demands, their pictures will be uploaded on social websites. Since there was nothing obscene in them and after they discussed the matter with their families, they were asked not to reply and let the hacker do what he wanted.
Shehzad Ahmed, Country Coordinator Bytes for All, an NGO working to safeguard digital security, online safety and privacy, said: “Currently, we have no cyber law to curb cyber-criminal activities. Since women are mostly the target of cyber bullies and cyber criminals, their personal and social lives are at risk, as their accounts are hacked and then their pictures are uploaded on their Internet which creates problems for them”.
He said, “A law should be made to ensure individual privacy and protection, especially for women. Secondly, awareness should be spread on a massive scale so that every user should know their rights if any mishap happens to them”.
“People involved in immoral activities like blackmailing and harassing women on the Internet are sometimes deeply frustrated and driven to commit these crimes”. Dr. Saleem Ahmed, a consultant psychiatrist, said, “Awareness is the only way to educate these sorts of people. Surely, they too must have mothers, sisters and daughters and education and counseling might temper their frustration”.
* Names have been changed to maintain privacy