“The figures are alarming. And those are just the reported cases.”
Cybercrimes are on the rise, and we are all at risk. The Department of Justice—Office of Cybercrime has reported a significant spike in“cyber tips,” from 400,000 in 2019 to 1.2 million in 2020, the first year of the global pandemic. When restricted mobility and recurring long lockdowns forced everybody to go digital, this online-all-the-time behavior has exposed all netizens, whether child or adult, to a myriad of risks not limited to cyber theft. Cyberbullying is rampant and a significant cause of mental illness in minors. Even adults are not spared, especially public figures and journalists who often get swarmed by amoral trolls or irresponsible “cyber-bums”.
According to data from the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG), the most prevalent cybercrime is libel with 3,291 cases during a seven-year period until June 2019. This is followed by 2,970 online scams, 1,427 cases of photo and video voyeurism, 1,263 computer-related identity thefts, 1,187 online threats, 712 system interference or hacking, 511 in unjust vexation, 346 illegal access, 273 cases of robbery with intimidation, and 269 incidents of ATM and credit card fraud. Concerning as these figures may be, I believe the actual cybercrimes that were committed are much higher as these only account for officially reported cases.
The boom of e-commerce and cashless transactions via e-payment platforms has spawned a rapid increase in the hacking of online accounts of even major banks that supposedly have the resources to ensure the deployment of the best cybersecurity measures. Though our anti-cybercrime authorities have reported several arrests, aggressive and sophisticated hacking syndicates are able to adapt their attacks circumventing even the most advanced cybersecurity technologies by cunningly exploiting the careless online habits of online consumers.
The Bankers Association of the Philippines estimates a whopping P1 billion was lost in 2021 because of cyber fraud. Cybercriminals are able to get into our emails, text and other messaging apps, and social media feeds with creatively innocent looking baits crafted to fool us into giving sensitive personal information and data that will compromise our e-banking, credit cards, and e-payment accounts.
If you are not aware of ransomware, this can be the most damaging malicious software (malware) especially to businesses as falling victim to an attack will deny access to whole database systems with threats to leak sensitive information to the cloud or loss of all data unless an expensive ransom is paid to the perpetrators— a cyber version of kidnapping but with a company’s computer system and data as the hostage. Operations of enterprises can be disrupted causing huge losses with every minute of downtime. Victims fall into a dilemma of just paying the ransom and recovering their system as soon as possible instead of reporting the incident to authorities.
In a statement by consumer advocacy group CitizenWatch Philippines, co-convenor Atty. Tim Abejo calls on all Filipino consumers to become responsible digital citizens to protect themselves from internet-based crimes.
“While there are existing laws against cybercrimes, the government and the private sector must work together to educate and empower the people against falling prey to cybercriminals,” he said.
Atty. Abejo proposed that private sector interventions should even be incentivized especially when supportive of the education sector and its nationwide network of public and private education institutions as the lead for training a cybersecurity conscious workforce.
As private enterprises and its stakeholders are actually the lucrative targets of cybercrimes, it makes perfect sense that we are seeing more pro-active engagements initiatives such as Globe—which has evolved from its telco foundations to a digital solutions company—complementing the K to 12 curricula of the Department of Education with its Digital Thumbprint Program. The modules give knowledge of digital citizenship and cyber safety by studying online behavior and helping students navigate the inherent risks of the internet.
Government has been trying to beef up safeguards with a range of laws. There is the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Data Privacy Act, the Sim Card Registration Act, the Special Protections against Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Law and pending legislations like the Financial Products and Services Consumer Protection Act, and the Internet Transaction Act.
While laws are important, the government’s capacity to enforce needs to be quickly developed. Access and building the PNP-ACGs capacity to deploy anti-cybercrime technologies will need serious funding allocations and partnerships with cybersecurity providers. As it is they could hardly cope with thousands of cybercrimes being committed with only a force of 200 personnel which is 600 short of their mandated total strength.
The growing cybercrime threat must be fought with an all-of-society strategy. Government and the private sector must empower people to be digitally smart netizens. We are actually the frontliners in combatting cybercrime and must be ready to act and strike back at these online predators.