Cyber challenges to urbanites appear to be an incoherent statement because in cyber-space victim cannot be filtered on the basis of the place where they live or life style they lead. Cyber criminals cannot make out whether their victim is from urban area or rural. But the life style and urban environment does make its residents more prone to harm coming from cyber-space.
Let’s look at the factors which make urbanites more susceptible to certain types of cyber threats. There is easy connectivity and sufficient bandwidth in urban areas, therefore a larger percentage of urban population enjoy the ride in cyberspace. Human beings are wired to be social animals, by nature they want to interact and trust other human beings, however in urban areas even neighbours are strangers. More families are nuclear and lack grandparental support system. A larger percentage of homes have dual income with none to supervise young children. These and many other similar urban environmental conditions make fertile ground for cybercriminal exploiting the cyber-presence of urbanities.
New ubiquitous devices coupled with attractive social media platforms make these devices as immersive devices, where many human core needs are virtually fulfilled. A person on such devices has lots of friends and relatives who are perpetually with her, though virtually. Every interaction and real life happening get shared as if all are present and witnessing to her life unfolding. There are some close friends who are on Whatsapp; a group of friends & friends of friends are on the Facebook; social/professional cause followers & leaders are on Twitter; views are represented on the blogs; professional matters are discussed on LinkedIn; images are shared on Pinterest; and skills are shown through videos on Youtube. In this cyber-space many strangers become friends and come close. There is nothing wrong with that, after all most of the married couples were strangers initially but what if other person is not what her profile is claiming?
But the first and biggest challenge in cyber-space is anonymity and assumed identity. A person can be 40 years old paedophile predator donning identity of a 16 yrs old girl. Another person could be your sworn enemy but after creating a fake identity he then cosies up to you using the friends of friends circle. This challenge gets further compounded by inadequate privacy settings made while using social media and other interactions on the Internet. The information about you may be available in public. There are reported incidents where urbanites posted about themselves enjoying on holidays at faraway places, attracting thieves and burglars to their house. Also there are cases when people with personal animosity have eliminated family while returning from holidays as learnt from status updates on social media site.
Frustrated, tense and lonely lives in cities lead to attracting urbanites into their cocoons. Internet provides virtual exit from that cocoon but many a times with serious consequences. Sexting where a person sends his/her own nude selfie (own snapped photograph) or shares live webcam with girlfriend/boyfriend are new and emerging challenges. People take videos of their own intimate moments which for many reasons can later land up on the internet. Break up with boyfriend/girlfriend can be one such cause; while repairing of device or scrapping/stealing of the device are another causes of such personal photos/videos landing up on the Internet.
Loneliness of urban life can create an addiction to the Internet especially to the on-line-gaming. Excessive on-line gaming running over few days are known to have cause deaths. Several countries are running Internet deaddiction camps to meet this new-era physiological issues. In fact Chinese deaddiction camps are similar to military boot camps.
Shortage of time of urbanites and cost optimisation & market expansion by companies have provided a near perfect solution to urban people as well as companies through net-banking and ecommerce. Though the process of online transaction is very secure but compromise of users’ computers and/or poor cyber-security practices by companies lead to financial cybercrimes. “Financial Cyber-crime” today has an organised crime component and total losses to financial cyber-crimes is much higher than the turnover in drug trafficking. Users’ computer can be infected with spy-bots (a small software to steal passwords and other sensitive data) or the person can fall prey to a phishing attack, where fake e-mail is sent to lead her to exact but fake replica of original website with the objective to extract password and other important details. These details are then used to undertake fraudulent transactions. Cyber-criminals have expansive hacking tools which can be deployed to extract details of customers of bank/ ecommerce sites.
Criminals can gather sufficient intelligence on specific individuals by visiting his various public profiles and information on the Internet to create sufficient grounds to defraud his banks to give away control of their ATM/Debit or Credit cards. Cyber-criminals can also deploy card cloning devices to steal debit/credit card information to create fake cards and make transactions. In fact there is a full-fledged industry involving stealers, carders, money mules and cyber-crime business heads to commit smart cards related crimes.
Urban space is now filled with CCTV cameras with the objective to control crimes. However there are occasions where these CCTV cameras themselves are the source of crime. It has been reported recently that persons in CCTV control room of Delhi Metro sold videos on the Internet of couples having intimate moments in an empty metro compartment.
On an average urban a modern youth maintains about a score sites demanding complex passwords for authentication. This has caused password-overload leading to use of common password across multiple sites, using weak passwords or just simply forgetting passwords. Also these passwords are written down which can be stolen or peeped-away. Disgruntled spouses are known to use these passwords to settle scores.
In cyber-spaces all are equal but due to life style and social make-up of urban areas, urbanites are more prone to challenges in their digital life. The solution is to take all measures similar to the one you take in your real life, to guard against jealous lover, thieves, rapist, fraudsters, paedophiles, robbers and simply an envious friend.
The author Commander Mukesh
Saini (Retd.) is a former National
Information Security Coordinator of
the Government of India