LAHORE: Year 2021 saw an increase in involvement of suspects operating from outside the country in cybercrimes, making it difficult for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime wing to lay its hands on them.

In 23 per cent of the complaints, social media networking site — Facebook — was used as a medium.

Of over 100,000 complaints filed with the FIA cybercrime wing across the country in 2021, most were related to (women) harassment, financial fraud, defamation, child pornography, and hate speech.

In cases related to the modesty of a natural person — uploading objectionable pictures and videos of women by ex-husband, ex-fiancé or boyfriend (to blackmail them) — the FIA put 325 such offenders behind bars.

TTP, TLP also involved in cyber terrorism

Of the total complaints, over 75,000 were processed at the verification stage and about 15,000 were upgraded into inquiries and over 8,700 disposed of. The FIA wing arrested 1,160 suspects and filed challan in 552 cases in court of law. So far 28 of them have been convicted.

Child pornography is another area in which cybercrime wing receives complaints not only from here but also from abroad. According to the FIA statistics, 52 persons were arrested for their alleged involvement in either producing, distributing, or transmitting pornographic material related to children.

The FIA also arrested 185 suspects involved in cyber terrorism and hate speech during the period under review. The social media activists of banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) are involved in this offence.

In blackmailing and extortion, the agency arrested 185 suspects. As many as 388 were arrested for their involvement in financial fraud and forgery. In case of dignity of a natural person (defaming someone on social media platforms), 178 suspects were arrested in 2021.

Students reported 32 per cent of the cyber crimes to the FIA.

FIA cybercrime wing chief Babur Bakht Qureshi told Dawn on Thursday that the agency acted swiftly, especially in women harassment and child pornography complaints. “We have zero tolerance in such cases,” he said and added that the wing’s conviction rate was above 90 per cent.

“The expansion of the internet has increased child pornography cases. Online communities have promoted communication and collaboration among child pornography offenders. Due to the heinous nature of the crime the cybercrime wing has established a separate cell to curb this menace,” he said.

Babur Bakht Qureshi further said in different cybercrime offences against local citizens, the suspects had been operating abroad, making the job of FIA difficult to go after them as it did not have the required treaties with international bodies. He said the FIA under Director General Sanaullah Abbasi had been in correspondence with such foreign bodies to sign the treaties which suited Pakistan.

Mr Qureshi was of the view that with emerging technologies in the IT industry, the rate of cybercrimes had also shot up exponentially all over the world.

“Pakistan is no exception to this phenomenon which can be gauged from the fact that FIA which is an authorised agency by law to deal with the cybercrimes in Pakistan has received 84,764 complaints in 2020, 300 per cent more than the complaints received in 2019.”

He further said the major instrument used in the commission of cyber-related financial frauds in Pakistan was the availability of fake SIMs, activated through fake thumb prints using silicon papers.

“All branchless banking and online frauds are committed through these fake SIMs. The medium used by the fraudsters are through call /SMS, email, whatsapp, Facebook, spoofed websites and skimming devices,” Mr Qureshi said and added mode of transfer was mostly branchless banking, IBFT, ATM, Credit Card and crypto currency.

In 2021 only, more than 60,000 fake activated SIMs, 6,700 silicon thumb impressions and 3,000 silicon sheets were recovered during crackdown in different parts of the country.

“Despite shortage of resources, the FIA cybercrime wing is making consistent efforts to cope with these multidimensional challenges,” Mr Qureshi said.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2021

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