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Beware! You too can become a victim of cybercrime
By Amber Shahid
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 09 - 03 - 2010

Nida Ahmed, 23, woke up with a telephone call requesting prostitution services followed by numerous similar calls. By taking a few of such calls, she realized that she was a victim of online defamation – a cybercrime. Someone had posted a prostitution ad on a classified ads' website with her name and contact number in it.
Cybercrime is a crime committed through information technology tools like mobile phones or more significantly through computers, using the Internet. Criminal activity may include the free illegal downloading of files from the Internet, stealing money from online banks accounts, or even non-monetary crimes like hacking personal or professional IDs or websites, creating offensive websites with pornography, drug trafficking, smuggling or - in extreme cases - the encouragement of terrorism. It can also include threatening or blackmailing people and attempts to defame them and damage their personal or professional reputation.
Ahmed told Saudi Gazette that she contacted the classified ads' website's management as soon she traced the location of the ad, reported it and asked for details. “Unfortunately, it did not help me as the information about the abuser was not enough. The abuser posted the ad from South Africa with an anonymous ID. I was reluctant to file a case on this little knowledge,” she said.
Saudi Gazette spoke to expatriates.com, a popular classified ads website via email to know what a victim must do immediately to deal with defamation attempts. Jim, the website's representative replied: “We encourage our users to report abuse at our email address. However, at our discretion, our privacy policy allows us to disclose information to the claimer if we believe it is appropriate.”
According to their privacy policy, the website's management discloses information about its users to law enforcement agencies or others if they are found abusive. “It is practically impossible to completely stop someone who is intent on placing an abusive ad. However, charging a small amount could prevent abusive ads. We are considering this option,” added Jim. Majed Garoub, the Chairman of the Saudi Legal Center for Training suggested that cybercrime should be reported to the relevant security authorities or at the Commission for Investigation and General Prosecution.
Garoub explained that there are many difficulties in proving the cybercrime. “There is difficulty in identifying the beginning of the occurrence of the event, as well as its geographical location given the speed with which it is passed on from one system to another in mere seconds and to geographical locations thousands of miles away from each other. Secondly, Internet crime leaves no trace after its occurrence. The investigators may not be technology-savvy or have the relevant technological expertise. Lastly, cyber criminals often commit their crimes in a highly intelligent manner,” he explained.
When asked why victims do not lodge complaints against cybercrimes he said, “Internet use in the Kingdom is still not widespread, and law and knowledge of the law in this respect is extremely scarce. Internet crimes are relatively few and are yet to reach a level where they present an urgent problem.”
Trend Micro (TM), a firm specialized in network antivirus and Internet content security, declares that 796,000 cases of computer system crashes instigated by hackers were recorded in nine months in the Kingdom until November, 2009. It also reported that the Kingdom stood first in cybercrimes in the Gulf with a 64 percent share of the total crime committed in the region.
In pursuit of public cybercrime awareness, the government and nongovernmental organizations have hosted numerous conference and training sessions recently which have attracted many researchers, legislators and civilians. Addressing one such conference this year, deputy governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) for Legal Affairs, Dr. Daifallah Al-Zahrani, said that King Abdullah has stressed for CITC to prepare separate legal regulation for cyber crimes to protect information security, the national economy and public morality.
“Punishments vary according to the crime. A prison term of up to a year and fines of up to 500,000 riyals are given for the following: Eavesdropping on Internet communications or computers – without authorization – or copying or blocking; Illegal accessing in order to threaten, blackmail, or bribe, even if the act instigated through bribery or blackmail is itself legal; Accessing a site illegally or accessing a site to change its design or cause damage or alterations or occupy its web address; Invading a person's private life through abuse of mobile telephones equipped with cameras or other means and slandering of others or causing them harm through the various means of information technology,” explained Garoub.
“A prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of up to 5 million riyals are available for offenders who: Set up websites or computers for terrorist organizations, or publicize to assist communication with terrorist organization leaders or members or to promote their ideas or encourage their financing; Publish information on how to manufacture incendiary devices or explosives or any tools for use in acts of terrorism and illegally access electronic sites or computer systems directly or through the Internet, or access computer systems to obtain data sensitive to national or international security or the national economy.”
Of late, the government has started giving this growing phenomenon considerable importance. In January, the Ministry of Interior recruited 10 security officers in Riyadh who will provide intensive specialist training courses to criminal security personnel. The squad will be using the latest technologies to expose the perpetrator of the cybercrime. Units will be launched soon throughout the Kingdom for establishing specialist cybercrime units.
Earlier, the case of the defamation of Saudi female journalists in an online newspaper in May 2009 became a landmark incident which made legal bodies take some serious action in this area of legislation.
Immediately, the King Abdul Aziz foundation along with Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah trained 46 girls under the “Mawhiba” program to protect themselves and their families from cybercrimes like identity theft, invasion of privacy, and methods of blackmailing and deception through the Internet.
Studies about the usage of the Internet in the Kingdom suggest that 50 percent of Internet users are below the age of 20 years and most online criminals are aged between 14 and 38, and are motivated by psychological and financial reasons.
Al-Zahrani indicated two types of cyber criminals. The first type is young people who access other databases out of curiosity. The other type is also young but they have a more sinister purpose. “They attack other computers for information for financial (fraud), personal (threatening, blackmailing) or doctrinal purposes. This type of cyber criminal is the most dangerous,” he stated. He lamented the fact that victims of cyber crimes usually do not report to authorities fearing for their reputation or for other personal reasons as the hackers may be blackmailing them.
Psychologists believe online criminals are weak and sick who use information technology to slander people. Dr. Abdul Azim Khan, a psychologist told Saudi Gazette: “Innovative technologies adversely affect society. Fortunately, we have a very fast and easy approach to expressing our thoughts and beliefs through the Internet nowadays. Everyone is desirous of acquiring a quick result and the availability of the Internet provides this opportunity with zero disturbance. The anonymity of both the searcher and the propagator make it even more tempting for people to fall prey to cybercrimes.”
“The best way to avoid such problems on an individual level is to keep a check on one's inquisitiveness; not entertaining anything if it is not related to you or within the scope of your moral horizons. Your views and thought-processes should be checked in the light of the Holy Qu'ran,” he advised.


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