International Webinar on Covid-19: Emerging Cyber Threats, Psychological Dimension and the Way Forward



On 26th June 2020, the Department of Social Work (St Xavier’s University Kolkata – SXUK) and International Justice Mission (IJM), Kolkata, jointly organised International Webinar on Covid-19: Emerging Cyber Threats, Psychological Dimension and the Way Forward for Students. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.


The two-hour webinar began at 3 pm. In his opening address, Fr Felix Raj, Vice-Chancellor, SXUK said Covid-19 crisis has paralysed all sectors of life – health, education, economy and social.  However, we must journey together as a community to overcome this crisis and cannot allow Covid to destroy our spirit.  We must remember each crisis opens up a window of opportunity and each fall has a rise. He said besides Covid, the biggest crisis today is increasing Cyber Threat which is particularly dangerous for children and women.


On the panel there were four eminent speakers who shared their expertise. The first speaker was Dr Varun Kapoor (IPS – Madhya Pradesh), who has 29 years’ experience as a police officer and has worked in 5 continents in narcotics, cyber crime, etc.


Dr Kapoor (second from left – the first police officer in Asia to receive honorary degree in Cyber Security) said the topmost threat today is to cyber security and therefore public security.  While traditional crimes have gone down as most people stay indoors due to Covid, cybercrimes are going up very fast, which jumped by 77% in India – U.P. being the highest followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka.  Cybercrime takes place between the perpetrator and the victim’s device (smart phone, computer), without any physical interaction with the victim. The crime takes place based on his/her personal information given by the victim, through talks, posts, etc; through Commerce (online banking and online shopping); through Social Networking (known and unknown). One has to be very careful while social networking – personal photos/videos can be morphed and misused.  He said the world is being torn apart by irresponsible social networking and reckless Transmission (forwarding, uploading, sharing, liking without thinking) can land one in problem Under Section 66F of Information Technology Act, 2000:  Whoever commits or conspires to commit cyber terrorism shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to imprisonment for life.


Data-based corporations, sifting through 2 trillion searches on the Google every year, cull our information and sell it for billions of dollars, without us knowing it. They gather this data from our smart phones, WhatsApp and Social Network activities.


So, to fight this growing menace, one needs common sense which is, not to accept or have any contact with or click on links provided by unknown sources.  In a Virtual World where no one is safe, we are responsible for our security. He emphasised Security is a habit, not a choice. Key to counter this threat is citizens’ awareness and immediate response by reporting a cyber crime to the local police station of jurisdiction or Cyber Cell if inter-state or international crime is suspected.  Every state, including the Central Government, has its own cyber crime portal. Digital footprints (the user's unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications manifested on the Internet or on digital devices) help cyber experts track down the cyber criminal as these footprints cannot be hidden or erased by a user or cyber criminal.


Dr Kapoor spelt out Five Cyber Safety Mantras: (1) Develop a mindset of safe digital habit (2) Avoid shortcuts – Offer of plum job, lottery win – there is no free lunch  (3) Not to press any link without being certain (4) To have full knowledge about the contents first before Liking, Forwarding or Posting any message.  (5) Not to trust anybody blindly in cyberspace.


The second speaker was Dr Nilanjana Bagchi, Head of Psychology, Bethune College. She said we are fighting Covid-19 which is an invisible enemy. She said that due to Covid, young adults are locked inside their homes and are not able to connect as before, with their peers physically.  This is having Psycho Social Ramification on many.  She revealed that the average Indian browses through her/his laptop at least 41 times a day;  more so young adults. The more one uses the internet to maintain peer connectivity, in the absence of physical connect, the greater are the chances of getting victimised. Young people have an enormous appetite for technology and being gullible, this gives more chances of getting victimised, emotionally blackmailed. In this Multi-taskers are at a greater risk, as they are prone to making more errors.  She said that one has to be careful of “Locus of Control” – Who is controlling one’s life. We all have inflated ego, we think our information, photos etc are safe and no one can infiltrate into them. Thus we fall into the trap of cyber criminals. As youths value liberty over security, loss of self control especially during online banking and shopping, can land them in problem and cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) after getting victimised. She warned one must be very careful about one’s DP/Profile (sexual appeal, showing off etc).  She said if one becomes a victim of cybercrime, instead of blaming oneself, one must take control, be extra cautious and take more cyber security measures. She advised consulting a professional in case the trauma is too much to handle.


The third speaker was Dr Mubarak Rahamathulla, Lecturer, University of Western Australia. His topic was Internet Gaming, a very popular pastime, encompassing all sorts of games namely Candy Crush, Angry Bird, Minecraft, etc.  He said internet game was actually an addiction in the guise of fun. To get rid of this addiction there were Therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other stimuli.  The Usual Trap is a friendly email with a link for a free game. Internet Gaming is a 160 billion dollar industry. In some games, money is added say Rs 10,000 for getting certain points. It’s a Reinforcement game – it brings one back into the game as an addict. Reward of money acts as additional addiction, besides peer pressure/acceptance.


The fourth speaker was Mr Mike Moran, National Police Service Ireland.  His topic was Online Sexual Exploitation of Children. He said this is a major menace in the West and warned it was increasingly becoming rampant in India. He said Child Pornography flourishes through CSAM – Child Sexual Abuse Material which is Possession, Distribution and Production of child pornography.  CSAM cannot take place without actual child sexual abuse. It is a CLEAR BREACH OF LAW.  Mr Mike said 85% – 95% child sexual abuse takes place within the family.  The perpetrators lurk in the family/community itself. As per the data revealed by IJM, 24 Lac children were abused in 2017 alone, 75% being girls. 


In keeping with the concern raised by Dr Varun Kapoor about increasing cyber threats on Indian public security, on Monday 29th June, the government of India banned (temporary measure) 59 Chinese applications including top social media platforms such as TikTok, Helo and WeChat in order to counter the privacy security posed by these applications."This move will safeguard the interests of crores of Indian mobile and internet users. This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace" said Ministry of Electronics and IT.


The ban comes in view of a Chinese law which requires companies of Chinese origin to share data with China's intelligence agencies, irrespective of where they operate. 

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