By Rajendra Prasad Adhikary
People around the world have benefited greatly from internet services. These services range from online jobs and video conferencing to placing purchase orders and social networking. With the rapid development of information and technology, our daily lives have become heavily influenced by the information obtained from online services. Whenever people encounter a problem, they often turn to the internet for immediate solutions by using search engines like Google. Information sharing, even across long distances, has become a cheaper and simpler mode of communication in the modern world. The use of modern information technologies has brought the world together, providing people with a platform to unite and express their opinions and concerns. Internet services have transformed people's right to information into a versatile reality, which is fundamental to a vibrant democratic system of governance.
While internet services have consistently made people's lives simpler, more efficient, and smarter, they also pose threats in the form of frequent attacks and the influx of undesired information. The number of misleading and harassing information is increasing day by day, which puts users of online services at risk. Many sectors globally, including government institutions, corporate houses, and ordinary individuals, are facing challenges from cybercrime and various threats. Internet and social networks have been misused in numerous cases involving sexual and gender-related violence. Particularly alarming is the increasing victimisation of children and women through online sexual attacks, especially by individuals they have met on social networks. As these cybercrimes are linked to female sexuality and moral values, and considering the patriarchal nature of Nepali society, it is essential for society as a whole to be sensitive to cases of gender discrimination.
With the rapid advancement of information and communication systems, cybercrimes have become prevalent and pose a constant threat to users worldwide, regardless of time and location. Protecting against internet crimes and ensuring cyber safety has become a crucial issue for every nation, taking into account the socio-economic context of each country.
As people around the world increasingly face various forms of cyber attacks while using ICT devices and applications, the Nepali population, as well as the government and private institutions, are consistently experiencing a series of cybercrimes. These crimes include hacking, patent rights theft, credit card cloning, phishing, personal harassment, software piracy, false emails, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, banking fraud, computer virus transmission, online terrorism, spyware, ransomware, and social harassment, among others. Internet-based crimes are spreading so rapidly that our efforts to monitor and combat them often prove inadequate. There is a need for improved infrastructure to tackle these crimes at their source and effective policy regulations to penalise the perpetrators.
Cyber criminals can launch attacks on computer network systems owned by governments, private agencies, or individuals by gaining unauthorised access through the internet. Recent incidents of cyber attacks on the government's data system resulted in the disruption of proper functioning of government websites, including the web portal for airport immigration. This disruption forced outbound international flights to be rescheduled.
Ensuring data security and securing the cyber space in Nepal is widely recognised as a challenging task that requires strategic cooperation between the public and private sectors, security forces, and the general population.
Technologically advanced and economically developed countries worldwide have implemented scientific applications of internet services to safeguard their national security. Any vulnerabilities resulting from misrepresentations in these systems due to cybercrimes can lead to catastrophic collapses and incur irreplaceable losses and damages. There have been reports of Indian national security agencies being highly susceptible to potential data leaks through the use of Chinese-made closed-circuit cameras. The video sharing app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has raised suspicions among many European nations regarding potential data theft. The UK government has imposed restrictions on the use of the TikTok app on government corporate devices, and the US has taken a stringent approach due to concerns that user data may be abused or misused. The use of Pegasus, a spyware developed by an Israeli company, was a subject of heated discussion in the Indian parliament. It is covertly installed on mobile devices to read text messages, track calls, and monitor location. This raised serious concerns about privacy rights in a country with the world's largest population with a strong faith in democracy.
In the interest of national and international security, ensuring cyber security to protect personal and institutional data has become an increasingly challenging task. Cyber attacks carried out by criminals utilising data-extracting applications have severe implications for the security of individuals, families, institutions, and even the state. Data hackers and cyber criminals carefully observe the existing regulations, identify weaknesses in infrastructure, and exploit vulnerabilities in software and hardware devices to strategically launch their cyber attacks, both domestically and internationally. Since these cyber criminals continuously update their knowledge and skills in technology, it would be a grave mistake of the government if it underestimates their capabilities.
Ensuring data security and securing the cyber space in Nepal is widely recognised as a challenging task that requires strategic cooperation between the public and private sectors, security forces, and the general population. It is essential for computer data banks, government institutions, public organisations, and individuals to make informed decisions and exercise caution when it comes to data and personal information, as cyber security is not solely a technical matter, but a responsibility of the government. In addition to the government's efforts in developing secure physical and technical infrastructure, it is crucial to cultivate expert teams equipped with the latest technical knowledge to safeguard the vulnerable digital lives. Promoting digital literacy that includes cyber security, data privacy, and social network management should be a part of educational campaigns targeting parliamentarians, students in schools and colleges, and the general population. The safety of national and international information, data, and security mechanisms, which are directly linked to e-governance initiatives implemented by the government for the welfare of the masses and the protection of national sovereignty, must be prioritised at all costs.
(Adhikary is an engineer and served Nepal government in various high level capacities.)