CYBER SEXTORTION: ANOTHER RAGING PANDEMIC
Author: KaustubhKumar, I year of B.A., LL.B. (H) from National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
Co-author: Hani Dipti, I year of B.B.A., LL.B. (H) from Chanakya National Law University, Patna
Sextortion, being a neo-logic word made up of two words that are “sex” and “extortion”, that denotes the possibility of propagating intimate sexual materials to coerce a victim to perform certain unlawful demands like gaining sexual favours, demanding ransom, etc. According to the cybercrime portal of the Indian government, Sextortion can be defined as when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material using an electronic medium if he/she does not provide images of a sexual nature, money or, sexual favours. Sextortion is widely as well as a frequently used form of cyberattack, where cybercriminals extort money from individuals by claiming that they have compromising pictures or evidence of the sexual activities of that person. The attacker threatens them to share such pieces of evidence with the friends and family of the victim unless they pay the ransom money as demanded. It fears the victim of Sextortion that if his/her videos, chats, or images got leaked and came out on the social media platforms, then it may lead to the social outcast and ostracization of that individual. Sextortion email is identical in form as any other phishing mail. It is just a type of a subcategory of ransomware emails. It includes malware that shall hack the system if you accept or activate the link sent.
Different researchers of Sophos, a British cybersecurity firm, tracked millions of spam emails of sextortion sent between September 2019 and February 2020. From the findings, they elucidated that India is among the top 10 sextortion mail source countries. According to the report, India is placed at fifth position with 3.73 percent of all sextortion emails, preceded by Vietnam at the first (7.01 percent), Brazil at second (5.89 percent), Argentina at third (4.76 percent), and Korea at fourth (4.76 percent). The Sophos Labs report also highlighted that the scams exploited global bot-nets to ship these mails around the world.
The trend nowadays is to use cryptocurrencies extensively such as Bitcoins as the mode of digital currency as it is almost untraceable. Cyber-attackers mostly extort in this medium, so that the funds can be used for all other cyber-criminal activities on the dark web. Sophos Lab researchers worked with Cipher Trace to track the transactions of the money from the attackers’ bitcoin wallets. They found that the extorted funds were used in various other illicit activities such as buying stolen credit card data and transacting with dark web marketplaces. Other funds were moved through a series of wallet addresses to be consolidated, put through ‘mixers’ in an attempt to launder the transactions, or converted to cash, the report said.
CATEGORIES BASED ON THE FORM OF SEXTORTION
1. Minor focused on cyber sextortion offenders: The criminals choose minors under 18 years of age to commit the offence. Some offenders are paedophiles whose sexual desires are mostly focused on minors. Preferential Paedophiles target minors to fulfil their unlawful sexual desire by frightening the victim to provide the offender with more sexually explicit content. Sometimes the offender compels the victim to share nude pictures of their younger siblings. The crucial aspect of the problem is that both the offenders and victims are strangers. On the other side, Situational child sexual offenders target minors for extorting money through various means.
2. Cybercrime cyber sextortion offenders: Cybercrime cyber sextortion offenders, mostly rely on technologies that facilitate scams and hacking to corrupt or steal photos from victims’ mobile, laptops, etc. and compel them to give more. Cybercrime cyber sextortion perpetrators display no age bias for the victims and abuse both adults as well as minors. This kind of sextortion includes a sense of authority and influence on the victim, exercised and preserved by the fear of transmitting images by technological means on various online platforms.
3. Intimately violent cyber sextortion offenders: In this type of Sextortion, present or former romantic partners were browbeaten by intimately abusive cyber sextortion perpetrators using photographs that they captured during their intimate relationships. Their demands were not likely to be sexual and focused on controlling the actions of the victims. They mostly ask for the ransom money in such type of offence and make victims a part of the vicious cycle of blackmailing and gaining money.
4. Transnational criminal cyber sextortion offenders: Transnational cyber-sextortion criminals are distinct from other cyber-sextortionists as they commit the offence being part of an organization involved in crime as a business or for-profit and primarily targeted men. The transnational organizations also employ scams in which strangers pretend to be a man or woman on the internet, engaging in online web sessions with victims and haphazardly threatening them to release a recording unless money is provided.
SURGE IN THE CASES OF SEXTORTION AMID CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN
During the lockdown in India to prevent the surge of Coronavirus, a huge surge of Sextortion got proliferated and migrated from the western nations to the South Asian nations. According to the British cybersecurity firm, India is among the top 10 sextortion mail source countries. Sextortion was spreading at much higher than its original pace over the past several months and nowhere is it more serious than in India. According to the data released by PornHub, India has been leading in porn consumption during the coronavirus lockdown. This relates to sextortion through the way of Porn Scams.
Coronavirus app-based sextortion was another method that gained popularity at the time of Coronavirus lockdown. The perpetrators made an application or website stating that it will alert you instantly when one infected with coronavirus comes near you. Then the app asks for lock-screen access and device administration rights to access everything the user does on their phone. With the help of this, they can track the website user visits and use that info to extort money from them. These coronavirus-related sextortion emails are on the rise recently and victims are coerced to fulfil the ransom demands of criminals.
During the lockdown, hackers also preferred another method of sextortion with the help of dating apps and video calling apps. The perpetrators used the private photos of the victims to extort money. It begins with two strangers chatting on a dating app. Soon enough, the scammer tries to move the conversation to an intimate chat or sexting, through messages as well as on video calls. The scammer convinces the victim to send nude photos or videos, that are used later for blackmailing the victim. As per the data released by the National Commission for Women (NCW), from 25 March to 25 April, they received a total of 412 authentic grievances of cyber abuse. Of these, as many as 396 women’s complaints were severe in nature, ranging from harassment, indecent exposure, unsolicited pornographic images, threats, malicious emails alleging their account was hacked, demands for ransoms, extortion and more.
As said, ‘Prevention is better than Cure’, states it all that it is necessary to take some preventive measure before the problem rattles the society. Thus, remedies that should be taken into consideration might:
1. Raising awareness about the issue and making sure that people know such conduct is punishable:
Awareness campaigns must be launched so that the ignorant section of society may also come to know about the problem that may engulf them next. People must be made aware that if they report such incidents, they will not get stigmatized in society as well as their information will be kept confidential. To do so, gender-neutral reporting should also be used to generate confidence and trust in victims. Legal, Institutional and Community protection mechanisms should be installed for the victims along with legal and psychological support to encourage victims in filing complaint and hold the criminals accountable within the purview of the law.
2. Explicit Legislation should be enacted to cover and recognize the conduct within the realms of law:
To tackle a problem, it should be defined within the framework of the law. Indian Legal Frameworks are mostly inadequate which may lead to difficulties in the administration of Justice to the individual as well as it may help the offender on the other way through various loopholes. Indian laws do not define Sextortion. Such criminal acts should be taken into consideration and by recognizing them explicitly in the Indian Penal Code, severe punishments should be incorporated.
Victims may face a lot of hurdles that may prevent them from getting justice. This at first takes place with ignorance of their rights (in cases of minors), then the fear of reprisals, lack of legal assistance backed with inadequate legislation. Legislators as well as adjudicators should play a vital role in alleviating these hurdles and help the victims by administering justice to them.
It is essential to have a law that explicitly tackles the crime of Sextortion and offences related to it. It is crucial to understand that the crimes of Sextortion are not just limited to the cyber world, but also occur in relationships of employment, education, family, etc. Both genders are affected by it while in the ratio between males and females, females got more affected as per the data of NCRB. If the act of Sextortion is not described and the punishments are not expressly laid out, it would be difficult to charge the perpetrator and hold them accountable. It is necessary to have dedicated personnel and trained officers who can trace, track, and nab the offenders, and simultaneously be able to offer the right kind of help to the victims. A formal and confidential system to register a complaint is required. There is a further need for bolstering the law to maintain the pace of the legal system parallel to technology.