Everyday aspects of cyber-crime

THIS is an overview of aspects of criminal activities that relate to the usage of computer networks and computer devices including mobile phones.

By MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME

As computer usage increases, it is important to know how to keep safe from falling victim to cyber-crime and to avoid perpetrating it.

The government drafted the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill in 2016. The aim of the Bill is to curb cyber-crime.

It is an attempt to keep up with global trends because of the necessity to do so. It is now necessary for all countries to come up with laws that classify and deal specifically with cyber-crimes for, without dedicated statutes, there will be no legal mechanisms on which to prosecute the cyber-crimes.

Today, however, we shall only look at some common aspects in order to appreciate the ordinary meaning of cyber-crimes by looking at the most common ones, which all computer users are exposed to.

1. Hacking

This is gaining unauthorised access to data or a computer or a computer system. It includes undesirable acts like breaking into someone’s wi-fi network through, for example, cracking a neighbour’s wi-fi password and using their wi-fi for free while the victim wonders why their data always finishes faster than they can account for it.

The crime is gaining popularity as more and more people become sophisticated and computer-savvy and take advantage of the relatively lax cyber security systems in the country.

Employees routinely break into their employers secure servers and access data without permission. Political opponents have also been known in Zimbabwe as in the rest of the world to hack into their opponents’ computer systems to access and steal information or even to plant incriminating evidence.

Hacking is very common in the commercial and financial sectors of the country. In January, a man from Chitungwiza was arrested and prosecuted for hacking into OK Zimbabwe’s Money Wave system and stealing a whopping $70 000 just by punching a few numbers on a computer keyboard.

Robbery is not like it used to be, as more brains and less brawn are required for a successful thieving career in the 12st Century

2. Online scams

The 21st century con-artist also has moved with the times and no longer waylays their victim on city streets.

He or she meets them online and persuades them by the sheer power of their persuasive tongue, including even the most intelligent of people to part with their money in exchange for absolutely nothing.

The 419 scam and its numerous variants is the most common online scam. The 419 scam, contrary to popular belief, did not originate in Nigeria.

It has been there since time immemorial and was very common in 18th Century Europe, where rich merchants, noblemen and the aristocracy were the targets of similar deceptive ruses.

Spanish and German scammers were the most feared as they were the most ruthless and highly-skilled in the business of con-artistry and scamming.

Nigeria only popularised the old worn scam because 419 is the article in the Nigerian Penal Code which criminalises the particular scam.

In Nigeria, as many people know, there is always a rich prince or former government agent who always desperately requires help in getting their millions of dollars out of the country.

They only need to be sent some amount of money to enable the money to leave the country. For a long winding and fuzzy reason, they are never able to do it themselves and take the small bit of money out of the millions they are sitting on.

If you help them, they will reward you with a rather tempting chunk of the millions of dollars when the money is safely out of Nigeria.

All things considered not a bad day’s work as you could be a millionaire for a small amount of effort and an even smaller investment of anything from as little as $10.

Online scams can take many forms, but the modus operandi is always the same. They always include sending money over the Internet to an unknown person or organisation somewhere very far away.

3. Attacking computer systems

The types of attack vary and also include hacking. They are intended to compromise a computer system with the intention of achieving a certain objective.

Attacks may include eavesdropping into other people’s data and sharing their files without their knowledge, piracy, data modification and virus attacks.

This is done by usually holding the victim to ransom until the specified action is performed. Earlier in the year, there were reports that the Harare Institute of Technology and National University of Science and Technology computer servers had been simultaneously hacked by an unknown entity.

The attacker allegedly demanded up to $6 billion in exchange for not releasing the institutions’ records.

It is unknown how the incident ended, but obviously, that amount of money, which far exceeds the country’s national budget, could not have been paid.

4. Phishing and pharming

There is an upside to living in a country with an unattractive and sluggish economy because it means our money is not that much to be worth the time and effort of online thieves.

Our isolation from the rest of the world, though not so splendid, keeps us safe because news of a newly cooked-up scam in the market by aspiring local online fraudsters quickly spreads around.

Phishing is an extremely common crime in countries with vibrant online economic activities. It doesn’t work so well here with our very limited bank balances as we barely have any spare money to lose to online thieves.

ATM scams happened before ATMs strangely became obsolete in Zimbabwe when money seemingly evaporated into thin air.

Zimbabweans are not yet big on online shopping, so there are few opportunities to be phished. Phishing is when online users are tricked into parting with sensitive data such as passwords and bank account or shop card details.

The most common phishing tricks come in the form of an email or phone message purportedly from one’s bank, which looks authentic because it has the correct colours and logos of the bank or shop.

The message will politely request the customer to type in their account details and other sensitive information like passwords.

This is almost always done under the pretext of a system upgrade and accompanied by a threat to close the account if the information is not furnished quickly. The threat will sound real and people feel the pressure to part with the information.

The best way to avoid being phished is to never give out sensitive information online. Banks and shops will never ask for information of that nature over the phone or online and more so, banks will never ask a client to give it their password.

The best thing is to phone the bank or the shop that has purportedly originated the message or to go in person just to make sure.

Pharming occurs where an unsuspecting online user is re-routed to a fake or wrong website instead of the one they wanted.

There are ways of checking the genuineness and security of a website and for space constraints, readers are encouraged to do their own research to keep themselves safe when they are online

There are also plenty of other cyber-crimes such as passing on and sharing pornographic content, cyber bullying, piracy and spamming, among others. The list is quite expansive.

Some crimes which involve exchanging information using computers and mobile devices are covered under the Postal and Telecommunications Act.

Next week, we shall look closely at practical aspects and implementation of the Computer and Cyber Security Bill and the role of the newly-instituted Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation ministry and what it all means to the ordinary person who uses the Internet and computer devices.

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