Cybersecurity and Covid-19: A nightmare for Pakistan

When COVID-19 emerged in 2019 and later on in 2020 almost all walks of life were affected. People lost their jobs, companies had to seize their productions, and schools were shut down. But in the meantime Cybersecurity attacks were the only fact that didn’t stop and geared up as much as coronavirus spread over the world.

People have been isolated within their houses due to COVID-19, and their activities are limited to the internet and computers. This has given cybercriminals the chance to violate privacy and use it for their own benefit. During the quarantine, users are downloading APPs to their mobile phones and computers and granting the app access to their mobile data. Because today is an era of information warfare, any institution or state can take advantage of the data given to them unintentionally, this can be destructive, and people’s data can be misused to harm personal as well as national security.

In recent times, Google reported millions of phishing and malware scams related to COVID-19 every single day. As Pakistan is an underdeveloped country and in the uncertain situation of COVID-19, cybersecurity threats and risks were a complete nightmare.

Additionally, education, businesses, and economies are increasingly becoming dependent on digital platforms and technologies. Completely changing the way traditional economies used to function.

According to the reports of the impact of COVID-19 on global networking, there has been a 300% growth in teleconferencing applications (such as Zoom, Skype, etc.) in the US. Meanwhile, a 400% increase in gaming, with children being stuck at homes in the US. Approximately, 828% rise in data traffic from Zoom and a 215% spike on Skype video conferencing applications in Thailand.

Moreover, a 15-70% increase in data traffic across Europe and America especially in rural and remote areas, as observed by satellite operators.

This “work from home” was a big challenge for organizations, students, and teachers who were not familiar with the latest communication tools. Many of the Zoom accounts were taken over during the pandemic because of the unencrypted communication. It was also reported that during educational zoom sessions suspicious people were able to join the session and cause lots of hurdles.

Employees were more susceptible to social engineering attacks as attackers take advantage of employees’ increased workloads, unfamiliar ways of working, and elevated stress levels. Phishing attacks crafted to exploit potential alarms around COVID-19 have already been seen in action.
According to PTA mobile data traffic in Pakistan increased by around 22pc, mainly in areas with limited fixed networks.

Trends of data usage showed that data consumption during the lockdown period (March-June 2020) increased by 19pc, while data usage increased by 77pc during FY 2020. In the meantime, domestic voice traffic increased by 38pc.In QE March 2020 experienced a 20pc decline in QE-June 2020. This may be attributed to the fact that people shifted to OTT services (Over-the-top media) from traditional.
In Pakistan when all the students and teachers’ eyes were on HEC (Higher Education Commission of Pakistan) demanding the cancellation of online classes. Some suggested making sure the availability of the internet all over the country and then resume online classes and in the meantime, HEC official website got hacked.

The below table represents the regional performance of the FIA Cyber Crime Wing as per Administrative report 2020:

In Pakistan when the nationwide lockdown was imposed people became jobless and they were in need of money some of them turn to online work like freelancing.

To get the benefit of the situation scammers boosted their planning, they generated a database of random Pakistani mobile numbers and applied a social engineering technique to scam people. At that time government of Pakistan launched a program named Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program to distribute PKR 1200/- amongst daily Wage Workers.

Scammers used the same platform and sent out millions of scam messages inside Pakistan saying that” you are eligible for Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program and call us to receive your PKR 1200/- thousands of people have fallen for this scam and were demanded personal information and cash in form of mobile load.

Scammers also applied the same technique pretending to be a member of BISP (Benazir Income Support Program), Jeeto Pakistan (Famous TV Show in Pakistan) a member of Bank or Easy Paisa,
Even employees of FIA, PTA, and Security Agencies also received the same scam messages. But this game is still going on and looking unstoppable, each day thousands of people receive these scam messages and hundreds of them become victims.

Not only because of COVID-19 but due to the current situation in our region and the neighboring country, currently, the eyes of the future world are on Pakistan.

There is a lack of cybersecurity awareness in Pakistan as the world is advancing in the race of technology and cybersecurity. The government of Pakistan needs to take proper actions against cybercriminals and also launch cybersecurity awareness campaigns on social media and TV channels in local languages.

Pakistan also lacks the necessary legislation to combat cyber-threats. Pakistan approved a cybercrime law in 2016, entitled the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. However, it does not address many important areas of cybersecurity.

Consequently, more rigorous cybersecurity rules are needed in Pakistan requiring businesses and organizations to secure their computer systems and data against attacks. Government agencies, the energy industry, as well as healthcare and financial organizations, should be required to secure their computer systems and information under the laws.

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This opinion has been contributed by Shehzad Ahmad. He can be reached at @imshehzadahmad

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