April 17, 2023
KATHMANDU – Nepal’s Cyber Bureau says the country has seen a steep rise in cybercrime cases over the past year. Inadequate technical human resource and lack of relevant laws have compounded the problem, the bureau says.
Over the past eight months, the bureau has registered a total of 4,937 cases, a number higher than all cases registered in the whole of last fiscal year (4486 cases), according to Pashupati Kumar Ray, the bureau’s spokesperson.
The country faced its biggest cyberattack at the end of January this year, which resulted in disruptions of hundreds of government websites across the country. It even halted international travel due to the shutdown of the immigration server.
At the time, around 1,500 government websites were shut down due to attacks on the central data bank at the Government Integrated Data Centre, according to Ramesh Pokharel, assistant director at the National Information Technology Centre under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.
Meanwhile, the nature of cybercrimes is fast evolving with the advent of new technologies. People have shifted to live online gambling through the Chinese app TikTok and recently, the app has been widely used to lure clients for sex massage.
This year, financial frauds committed online topped the list, and cases of ‘revenge porn’ came second. A total of 955 cases of financial fraud were lodged with the bureau, or 20 percent of the total online crimes. The financial crimes include phishing (attempting to acquire sensitive data such as bank account numbers in a guise), lottery scam including alluring fraudulent offers of work from home and online shopping.
On March 28, the Valley Crime Investigation Office, Minbhawan nabbed 19 people including nine Chinese nationals on charges of online fraud. The case, however, was not handled by the cyber bureau as it required dealing with Interpol. Police investigation shows that the Chinese fraudsters used Telegram messenger to run online classes where they made people invest in commodities, offering lucrative profits.
The ‘revenge porn’ cases and the cases of fake profiles on social media come second and third, with 901 and 898 complaints registered, respectively.
In February second week, the Post ran an exclusive story on the troubling rise of ‘revenge porn’ in Nepal with three specific cases showing how the perpetrators used social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. In the last fiscal year, 1,011 cases related to revenge porn were registered with the bureau.
With regard to ‘fake profiles’, in February first week, the cyber bureau had nabbed a 22-year-old tech-savvy boy, a resident of Pokhara Metropolitan City-19, for defrauding a US-based Nepali national online.
The bureau registered a total of 799 complaints in the past eight months for online blackmailing where individuals were threatened with their private images and videos being made public, if the blackmailers’ demands were not met.
Likewise, 700 cases of online defamation aimed at assassinating the complainant’s character were lodged by the bureau in the period. Within the same period, 648 cases of online harassment and 36 cases of online child sexual abuse were filed at the bureau.
The officials, however, said they are not able to resolve cyber crimes due to a lack of cyber laws and cyber security policies. Although the government in the first week of March formed a high-level panel to prepare a report to draft a cyber security policy, no one knows when it will come into operation.
A majority of Nepal’s population uses the internet. This makes the people vulnerable to cyberattacks at any given time. There were 38.38 million internet subscribers in the country as of mid-October 2022, according to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.
“The issue of cybercrimes has increased alarmingly, but we don’t have the capacity or technical manpower to handle them,” said Ray, the bureau spokesperson.
Even though the cyber bureau is full of complaints, it just has 84 personnel, and only 20 have the knowhow to crack the cases. The rest of the staff are engaged in administrative work.
The bureau receives around 60-70 complaints a day. It has to handle those complaints with the Electronic Transaction Act, 2063 (2008), which does not address specific cyber-related crimes and emerging threats such as revenge porn and prostitution committed through the use of social media.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts say these problems emerge due to the shortsightedness of the state’s cyber polices.
ICT expert Satish Krishna Kharel said there should be a nationwide awareness campaign to check the rise in cybercrimes.
“The awareness should start from school,” said Kharel. He said there is a need to train digital forensic experts to be mobilised in all seven provinces to prevent large-scale cybercrimes.
Kharel said since people across the country are vulnerable to cybercrimes, the state should give the jurisdiction over cybercrimes to all the district courts. All the district police offices should have at least a small unit each to handle cyber crimes, Kharel added.
At present, the victims of cyber crimes need to come to the Cyber Bureau office, in Bhotahity, Kathmandu, even if they have minor cases such as password hacking or fake identity creation.