With the world grappling to keep the virus from spreading and as people are following social distancing guidelines, crimes such as theft has drastically reduced. Albeit the positive impact of the pandemic, it is pertinent to note that criminal activities have not disappeared, instead have taken a different means to achieve a similar goal.

The rise digitalisation in major work and activities has led to an exponential increase in cybercrime, thereby, taking advantage of the dire circumstances and an ill prepared public. The detrimental impact of these is evident across multiple sectors and individuals which and who have been affected in different ways.

Impact on digital workspace and organizations

A corporation’s critical infrastructure is a hub of sensitive information, and every possible measure is taken in order to avoid any breach of data. These measures can range from cyber security systems to confidentiality agreements which gives an idea of the importance of data for a corporation. This data if lost, locked or shared can lead to significant loss which is factor that is heavily exploited by the use of ransomware. Ransomware has been around for quite a while, some of the popular ones being WannaCry that crippled the medical infrastructure of the United Kingdom in 2017. However, the usage of such malware has diversified with time in order to extort more money out of its victims. Some of the major ways been ransomware, doxware and double extortion.

These incidents are not exclusive to the pandemic, but have been occurring even before that however, the rate of such crimes has escalated in this time of crisis. Before covid times, when work done in an office was secured with well-equipped cyber security systems, nevertheless the digital workspace being a relatively new concept, particularly in developing countries, it paves the path for perpetrators. Moreover, with the growing phenomenon of work from home, cyber-attacks have been on a rising high too. A significant amount of data such as employee details, important company decisions, details of bank transactions etc can be extracted from an employee’s device and other connected devices. Also, since the infrastructure in developing countries is still undergoing the process of digitalization and as significant work is done offline, it leaves these countries more vulnerable than the others. 

Impact on individuals and exploitation of panic 

The harsh effects of the pandemic and the boom of cyber-attacks were not only witnessed in the digital workspace, but the same caused widespread panic among the masses who were exploited in cyber-attacks. Various means were used to gain money and personal information from individuals going through tough times. For instance, phishing was used heavily to gain access to personal information which may also include credit card details and other sensitive information. E-mails were sent to people stating covid relief facilities or funds as the subject and luring people into clicking links which can lead to a data breach or loss of money. Further, work from home scams kicked off wherein people were exploited owing to the increase in unemployment. Such scams took money as welcome package and often redirected the victim to a portal where the bank details, if given would be compromised. The scope of work provided by these scams would usually be data entry, assembly work, repackaging, etc and often ask for money as security deposit for hiring the victim.

Similarly, there were certain recorded cases of cybercrooks defrauding people by assuring them help to arrange Remdesivir, hospital beds, oxygen and plasma. An individual lost 40,000, who was assured. via call, for the arrangement of an ICU bed in a private hospital and later the perpetrator switched off his phone after receiving the money in advance. It has been observed that mostly the criminals contact the victims through WhatsApp Calls or other encrypted applications. Recently, the Hyderabad Cybercrime Division got two complaints of defrauding under the pretence of supplying oxygen concentrators, as well as two accusations of fraud when purchasing Tocilizumab, in which the victims each lost about Rs 1 lakh. Despite being educated and aware of such scammers, it was discovered that all of these victims fall into the trap due to the urgent need for medications and equipment. 

These are merely some examples of how Covid has been used by criminals as an opportunity to exploit people. Hospitals, that are at the epicentre of this crises are continuously trying to keep up but are falling prey to these cyber-attacks. Moreover, pharma giants are also prime targets for the same and such attacks are not just wrong in terms of law but also depict a significant lack of empathy. Therefore, it is imperative that the authorities prioritize cyber security of our critical infrastructure especially healthcare facilities and take strict action against the perpetrators. #KhabarLive #hydnews 

(About the author: Sonam Chandwani, the Managing Partner at KS Legal & Associates)

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