Public cautioned about cyber-crimes amidst coronavirus

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has cautioned the public on cyber-threats with the global surge of digital crimes and work-from-home culture around the world during the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

“Most of the Bhutanese are not internet security conscious and are not keeping abreast of latest internet crime and their preventions measures and they are therefore, gullible,” said Lieutenant Colonel, Cyber Crime Unit, Crime and Operations Division, Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), Kuenzang Dorji.

According to the Bhutan Computer Incident Response Team (BtCIRT), a team that enhances cyber security under information and communications ministry the lack of awareness on cyber threats among Bhutanese increases the vectors that target the victims. 

The most common cyber-crimes reported in the country are phishing where cyber-criminals send links and lure their victims to give username and password of mails and social media accounts and use them for malicious purpose, said Kuenzang Dorji. Another is libel in social media platforms.

Additionally, Vishing, fraudulent voice calls that Bhutan Telecom alerted against through sms, and web defacements and vulnerabilities found in systems (computers, operating systems, web platforms, network platforms) are also cyber threats in the country, according to BtCIRT.

However, the RBP has received only one complaint on cyber-crime during the pandemic as of now.

Earlier, last month the RBP’s Facebook page shared about the complaints received on Facebook messenger app being hacked.

“The messages or pleas for financial help were sent out from the hacked accounts to unsuspecting friends requesting them to deposit money to different bank accounts within Bhutan. The case is under investigation,” the post states. 

The BtCIRT also reported a handful of cases ranging from ransomware that are designed to lock them out of their critical systems in an attempt to extort payments, website defacements and phishing emails received by the government officials.

The RBP are advocating public on cyber-crime and its prevention through their Facebook group and page, said Kuenzang Dorji adding that they communicate with the financial institutions on good practices and suggest means to protect their client’s finances by introducing extra security measures to prevent fraudulent transfer of money because of phishing.

He added that the Crime and Operations Branch, RBP also communicated with the Department of Law and Order, home ministry to alert the ministries and individuals that are in the forefront of combating COVID-19 pandemic on the existence of worldwide internet scam and prevention measures.

Similarly, BtCIRT also coordinates with system developers in fixing vulnerabilities in their systems.

Additionally, the team disseminates information on the latest threats and vulnerabilities, creates awareness and the team is exploring means to create awareness through Bhutan Broadcasting Service.

The RBP and BtCIRT has asked the people to avoid being scammed by securing their social media accounts and safeguarding one’s personal information and not to click on strange links or open unfamiliar attachments.

Moreover, they suggest backing up all-important files frequently, and storing them independently from one’s system, use of strong and unique passwords for all systems and updating them regularly, ensuring one has the latest anti-virus software installed in their systems, avoiding video-chatting with strangers one meets on the internet to prevent being victims of sextortions.

“Humans are the first line of defense, it is best to act as a human fire wall to aide technical fire walls already in place,” said Kuenzang Dorji adding that one should be cautious and inculcate the habit to verify anything suspicious.

“In the age of information, ignorance can be a costly choice,” he added.

Cyber-crimes in Bhutan are dealt as per the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004, and Information, Communications and Media Act of Bhutan 2018.

As of March 31, 2020, Bhutan has 736,002 mobile subscribers and 710,541 internet users including mobile and fixed internet, according to Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu