By Kaushal Kishore: The number of reported cyber crimes in India reached around a couple millions last year. That means an average of more than 5,000 online offences per day. The number of unreported cyber crimes in India and other parts of the world is yet another issue. Today, the global annual estimate of cyber fraud is worth a trillion US dollars. The pioneer of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Nobel laureate for computing, Geoffrey Hinton, has started regretting his achievement. Recently, he resigned from the Alphabet Inc., the mother institution of Google, after a decade-long service, to speak freely about the risks of AI.
Just before his resignation, in the third week of last month, ever rising cyber crimes were discussed at the IIT Delhi auditorium. In fact, this was a part of the dialogue series based on the book, Cyber Encounters, that an IIT alumni and Director General of Uttarakhand Police, Ashok Kumar, wrote with Om Prakash Manocha, a retired scientist of the DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation).
In this literary work, adventures of the police with cyber criminals are described in detail. The 12 cases deal with the online offences that the police have solved in the last 15 years. It can help readers understand the tactics and the modus operandi of the criminals, in addition to the psychology of their victims, in cases of cyber crimes.
The investigation of a cyber crime is entirely different from the usual business of the law enforcement agencies. It deals with a complicated cobweb â€” very difficult to expose. As such, this is also referred to as the dark web. The highly skilled officers of the police force have displayed a quality of work worth noticing. But this is tiny in comparison with the large number of cyber offences.
The Uttarakhand Police had solved the first cyber crime case in 2007. Its victim reported winning the online British lottery worth Rs 19.5 million, when she lost a couple of millions to obtain the prize money. Greed had led her to commit theft as well. In the mid 1990s, an email-based lottery scam had started in African countries, like Nigeria and Cameroon. Now more than tens of millions emails are generated every day. Most of the time, the recipients are declared the winner without taking part in any lottery scheme. The victims’ greed and ambition to be rich quickly is the key behind the success of the fraudsters in most of such cases. The Uttarakhand Police has solved many such cases.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the police unearthed the Ponzi fraud better known as PowerBank app. The Uttarakhand Police helped other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi and Telangana to expose scams worth Rs 2,700 crore and solve 350 cases of economic frauds committed online.
A network of criminals launched the app only to promote easy loans and money doubling schemes to trap the victims. The involvement of shell companies, exchanges of crypto-currency and thereby, feeding the Chinese coffer were one of the national losses that the law enforcement agencies have addressed in this chain of cases. This is a serious threat that India needs to address sincerely in the future as well.
The second human fault is addressed in two different cases. Honey trap and sextortion were other successful cases that they have solved. In fact, weakness of the individual played a primary role in such cases. Effects of technology are meaningless in absence of the lustful desires or companionship. Next to greed, cyber offenders preferred to cash in on this kind of human weakness.
The police have exposed an ATM cloning scam in 2017. It has helped banks improve the security features of the card â€” chip-based new plastic cards are one of its outcomes. All the victims were innocent customers of the banks without committing any wrong. As such, the court has directed the banks to reimburse their lost money, in case it was reported on time.
The book deals with yet another cyber fraud that was committed by bank staffs. The police exposed it in addition to the innocence of the victim.
It was unbelievable to learn that the widow of a security officer had paid Rs 6.6 million for a dog claimed to be worth Rs 15,000 only. The cyber criminals were running the call centre to commit such an economic offence. One of such groups was cheating elderly American citizens while operating from places like Noida and Dehradun. They have introduced new terms like ransomware and malware in the lexicon.
Duping the pilgrims visiting a shrine is an old trade. Its new version is call centre-based cyber crimes. Police solved a cheating case, when a group of pilgrims paid for a helicopter ride to visit Kedarnath. They have exposed a series of call centres running from places like Jamtara in Jharkhand, Mewat in Haryana and Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
The technology, better known as AI, helped these crooks commit the above cyber crimes. The number of such crimes has been increasing. The evolution of the ultra-modern technology claims to solve growing problems, but in the process, it has created an unprecedented series of crisis. There are questions on this model of development. It needs serious attention before it wipes out our values.
The top chatbots of AI like ChatGPT, Bard and Bing are part of the public discourse these days. The advent of 5G is going to improve Internet of Things to further the scope of cyber crimes. Today, the law is inefficient and the law enforcement agencies are deficient in comparison to the ultra modern tool kits available in the hands of cyber criminals. In case the state has failed to improve itself, it cannot address dangers that humanity is bound to face in the future.
Geoffrey Hinton is ready with an excuse. He said, “I console myself with the normal excuse: If I had not done it, somebody else would have.” The very same idea resonates when Ashok and Manocha refer to the 19th century French author and politician Victor Hugo, who once said, “No force can stop an idea whose time has come.” Although, the intentions of the three leaders are centered on improvement of the state of affairs in cases of AI and cyber crimes, it’s not going to save the human civilisation that is getting wiped out.
Undoubtedly, the next war will be fought in cyber space. Today, the world is trying hard to prepare for such warfare. The leaders of the 21st century need to think about those ideas that can save humanity from the clutches of this civilisation based on ultra modern technology.
On a different occasion, in the same IIT auditorium, former CBI director Joginder Singh had tried to address this crisis. That day, he was afraid of the secular media and trolls of social media. As such, it was limited to a few people. He said that the value of Dharma (eternal law) is now replaced with Dhan (money), and the human civilisation needs to restore the previous order. Modern era of technology needs to revisit the old age of tools.
(Views expressed in this opinion piece are that of the author.)