Nepal calls for regional cooperation to fight cyber crime in South Asia

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Cyber offences are usually committed in tech-savvy countries but with increased Internet access and smartphone use across South Asia, government data show that full-fledged organised and coordinated hacking networks are emerging in the region.
In Nepal’s virtual world, no one is safe; hackers have prayed upon commercial, government and private websites.
As the number of hacking incidents has been on the rise, officials from the Ministry of Science,Technology and Environment (MoSTE) in Nepal have urged stronger South Asian cooperation against cyber threats.
“Cyber security must be strengthened in South Asia. We will put the topic on the table during the upcoming SAARC summit,” Ram Adhar Shah, joint-secretary at MoSTE, said in an interview with Xinhua on Sunday.
The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit will be held from Nov. 22 to 27 in Kathmandu. Heads of state from the regional block will discuss topics ranging from regional connectivity and investment to terrorism and security.
Government websites in South Asia are increasingly being hacked by local and international cyber criminals. Recently, the Office of the President website was defaced by a Turkish hacker challenging the government to narrow security gaps on Nepali websites.
Shah told Xinhua that the government is tackling its cyber vulnerability through the Nepal Government Enterprise Architecture (GEA), a set of guidelines meant to ensure that all information systems developed by government bodies are secure, uniform and can communicate with each other.
But experts believe that compared to other South Asian countries, such as India, Nepal’s cyber security defences are unable to face increasingly complex threats.
“Government websites in Nepal have become easy targets for international hackers because of their low security measures,” Ankit Shrestha, a network engineer at Information Security Systems Nepal,(ISSN), told Xinhua.
According to Shrestha, Nepali websites are particularly vulnerable to SQL injection attacks allowing hackers to add their own content which is later served to unsuspecting users of the compromised site.
As Internet penetration deepens in the country, experts believe that cyber crimes are expected to further increase at an alarming rate.   “To improve their cover security, people should perform security audits before launching websites and strengthen their privacy settings,” Shrestha said.
Experts also advised the Nepal government to train so-called “ white hats” or ethical hackers who fight back against online threats by stepping up network security and identifying loopholes in company or government systems.
Information technology (IT) has changed almost all aspects of human activity in Nepal. While most Nepalese have taken advantage of the advances of technology, some of them are still unable to respond to cyber crime. The fact remains that Nepal has been lax in going after cyber criminals despite a law penalizing hackers.
Since 2004, when the Electronic Transaction and Digital Signature Act was passed, the government declared hacking, stealing data, pirating software and posting defamatory information online as criminal and civil offences. Under this law, cyber offenders can be punished with up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 50,000 Nepali Rupees (about 500 US dollars) based on the crime’s severity.
Cyber crime in Nepal, compared to other South Asian countries, however, remains low risk, given that what occurs in virtual space has often no or little repercussions offline or in the real world. Most cyber criminals are still on the run. New cyber crime offences happen almost on a daily basis but the legal system lags behind in offering protection to institutions and individuals alike or in going after offenders.
Cyber crimes have penetrated South Asian society not just government institutions and businesses.
An example is the dramatic increase in cyber bullying and cyber stalking cases in the region. The number of women being harassed online is on the rise but weak law enforcement and lack of awareness means that many do not seek help and are left oppressed by embarrassment and fear. To protect government institutions, businesses and citizens, experts underscored the need to form a South Asian body to regulate and monitor websites and protect them from hackers.

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