'Spam capital' India arrests six in phishing probe

A girl uses Facebook in India Every month, Indians are adopting the internet in their millions - but growth is attracting crime

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Police in India say they have arrested six foreign nationals suspected of defrauding hundreds of people using text message and email scams.

Scam victims were duped after being told they had won a lottery.

Authorities seized 14 laptops, seven memory sticks and 23 mobile phones, as well as fake documents and cash.

The arrests come after security firm Kaspersky reported that India now sent more spam than any other country in the world.

Police said the six men, all Nigerian, would be remanded in custody until 12 January.

The arrests signal attempts to crack down on a growing cybercrime problem in the region.

Mumbai-based internet security specialist Vijay Mukhi said poor enforcement of laws meant spammers could act with impunity.

"We have an Information Technology Act that was introduced in 2000. But we don't have any convictions under it and it's silent on spam," he said.

Analysis

The crackdown is being seen as a positive sign in India where the officials have been accused of not keeping up with cybercriminals.

Indian companies are now taking cyber-threats seriously as a number of recent surveys have pointed out that there appeared to be a considerable lack of preparedness to counter such threats.

Indian corporations lost an estimated $27.8 million (£17.8m) in the first half of 2011 due to phishing attacks, said RSA, the security division of data specialist EMC.

It is not just corporations but individuals too who are targeted as Indian internet users spend more and more time on Facebook, Google and Yahoo.

So increasingly, the attacks happen on social networks.

The threats mainly relate to intellectual property theft, online banking or trading frauds and phishing attacks.

In December 2011, hackers broke into the official website of India's ruling Congress Party and defaced the profile page of party president Sonia Gandhi with a pornographic message.

Though India has laws aimed at tackling cybercrime, many internet users feel it is not used effectively.

Even when arrests are made, very few people actually get convicted.

The police have recorded a little over 3,000 cases of cyber crime between 2007 and 2010, under various sections of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

"If I'm a spammer, I would rather spam from India to India and the rest of world because nothing will happen to me."

Free rein

In its report, Kaspersky said 14.8% of all spam email sent in the three months prior to the end of September had originated in India.

Darya Gudhova, Kaspersky's spam analyst, said a lack of security awareness had given spammers free rein.

She added that there was a growing level of cybercrime activity in developing regions such as Asia and Latin America.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) estimates that the country has more than 112 million internet users, the third largest in the world after the US and China.

About seven million new users are being added every month, the IMAI said.

David Emm, a security researcher from Kaspersky Labs, said this growth was making life difficult for the authorities - but believed the arrests signalled a strong sign of intent from the Indian government to get a grip on scammers.

"One of the good things is that they are taking it as a serious issue," he told the BBC.

"Cybercrime activity is breaking out of the western European theatre and starting to affect other parts of the globe because of the massive growth in IT.

"[In Europe] we've had cybercrime legislation for a long time with lots of expertise and history of dealing with it - but if you go to other areas like Brazil or India, you find they don't necessarily have specific cybercrime legislation."

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