Growing menaceCyber Bureau should be enhanced so that it can combat complex and planned cyber attacks.
The world is changing fast, and so is the nature of crimes. The latest forms of wrongdoings are committed through digital means and this has become one of the most challenging tasks for security agencies, public and private entities and individuals. But we in Nepal seem unprepared to deal with the complications these new technologies pose. As in other offences, security agencies and mainly the Nepal Police handle cybers crimes. Yet the police, burdened with a myriad other responsibilities, are yet to prioritise cyber crimes.
The police’s Cyber Bureau is entrusted with resolving digital crimes but the unit seems to be struggling in the absence of trained human resources. The bureau is in fact overwhelmed by petty individual cases; the only body entrusted with handling cyber crimes should rather have been focused on organised and planned attacks to vital organisations that could potentially invite a national crisis. For instance, only in the last week of January, government offices faced cyber attacks that resulted in disruptions of hundreds of government websites across the country. They also hit international travel due to the shutdown of the immigration server.
Internet and digital transactions cover all places and walks of life—urban as well as remote areas, rich as well as poor sections of the society. The number of internet users in Nepal is increasing by leaps and bounds every day. According to Nepal Telecommunications Authority, the country has 38.38 million internet subscribers—in a population of under 30 million—as of mid-October 2022. This number will rise speedily in the days to come. But as our reports suggest, individuals with even minor cyber-related problems currently have to come to the Kathmandu-based bureau. That need not be the case.
According to officials working in cyber security in the banking sector, around 5,500 cyber-related crimes were registered in the country from 2016 to 2020—and 77 percent of them affected the banks. The number of unregistered cases could be bigger still. According to the bureau, of the nearly 70 daily complaints it gets, around 50 are petty crimes, many of them unrelated to the bureau. For instance, of the total complaints, nearly 90 percent are related to hacking of email and social media passwords and other general issues.
Both police officials and independent experts working in the field of cyber security say such minor technical problems must be resolved at the local police units. The units should be trained and equipped for that so that people from far-flung districts do not need to descend on Kathmandu. The bureau can then use its limited bandwidth to deal with the cyber crimes of more serious nature.
As cyber crimes are going to create more and more problems for individuals as well as sensitive sectors like civil aviation, banks and other vital national bodies, there is a need for a new cyber crimes policy that befits the emerging challenge. Moreover, besides equipping local police units to handle minor technical problems, the capacity of the Kathmandu-based bureau should be enhanced so that it can combat complex and planned cyber attacks originating both in and outside the country. Given the rapid pace at which cyber crimes are evolving, a business-as-usual approach could invite disastrous consequences.