Cybercrime – an advancing dark force
In the past week, the recent scandal of leaked nude photographs of famous celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence has quite literally hogged the information space. Many of us have reacted by dismissively changing the channel or scoffing about how gossip-infused the world has become. However, we fail to recognise that the leakage of these photographs via faulty iCloud services sheds light on a rapidly growing dark force in today’s world: cybercrime.
Starting off as just simple spam emails (no, I do not want to make a million dollars whilst sitting at home), cybercrime has evolved into a maliciously covert instrument of genius hackers, who have managed to infiltrate databases and archives of seemingly impenetrable state institutions (including the CIA) and major multinational corporations. Currently, there is a wave of cybercrime hitting financial institutions across the globe.
Essentially, no one is safe, not even highly protected and powerful government officials. Social media feeds of many politicians including President Obama and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been hacked and meddled with, in an attempt to spread senseless rumours and propaganda. And it doesn’t stop there: there are organised cybercrime rings in the Philippines and Morocco that sexually extort and blackmail young children all over the world.
What makes cybercrime so uniquely dangerous is that its perpetrators operate in a playing field which is infinite and penetrates state borders i.e., the internet. With increased access, there is inevitably increased harm. Signing up for Facebook or any social media site is absolutely free and takes less than two minutes. Currently, there are around 16 million Facebook users in Pakistan who are vulnerable to fraud, kidnappings and identity theft. Throughout this year, over 5,000 websites in Pakistan have been hacked, including that of the government of Punjab and PIA.
The issue of cybercrime highlights a classical issue of contention: the constant tug of war between state control and people exercising their rights freely. To what extent should we have freedom of expression and access to information? If people are at risk to so much fraud and crime, shouldn’t security agencies be allowed to penetrate networks and access information so that they can protect us? In 2007, President Asif Ali Zardari issued death penalty for acts of cyber-terrorism that cause death. But there are many loopholes in this law, which are beyond the scope of this article.
Obviously striking a balance is hard, but if we want to tactically approach problems and work towards realistic solutions, we need to start learning how to do so.