Today, we live in a world that is much civilised and disciplined. However, most of the discipline we see around is governed by various constitutional laws created and implemented by the government and upheld by the judiciary. Formal rules are essential for the public realm’s governance and oversight, the offline space. The same is true for the virtual world or the online space, more commonly known as the Internet.

In the 1970s, the Internet was born in the United States, and since then, it witnessed a sea change. The invention of the Internet changed how we communicated and revolutionised how we transact for commercial purposes or how we share data or how we bank or how we entertain ourselves or how we travel, and so on. As per conservative estimates, over half of the world’s population, over 4.5 billion people, will have access to the Internet by the end of 2020. This is the right side of the story. With the emergence of technology and the rapid commercialisation of the Internet, the world that barely was beginning to understand it more started witnessing unlawful activities, some even too sophisticated, in this new realm as well. The so-called cyberspace was largely ungoverned as the Internet was invented initially only for research and development. Being a new tech marvel, the authorities, particularly in developing countries, grappled to deal with this not so right side of the Internet. The virtual space also needed a law for governing it and preventing innocent users from falling prey to the perpetrators’ unlawful motives, referred to as cybercriminals in modern-day terms.

Yes, you heard it right! Similar to the physical world, the Internet is also vulnerable to crimes. As we progress, we will have more insights into several aspects of cybercrimes and related legal provisions that netizens have. But for now, let us understand what is cybercrime and cyber law? 

Cybercrime is defined as an unlawful activity done by an individual or organisation or a state in which an electronic device,  e.g., a computer, is used as a tool for committing the crime or used as a target, or even both. Let me further elucidate on this. Cybercrime can be of varied nature – defacing a website, stealing confidential personal information or intellectual property, distributing malware or viruses, denial of services, cracking passwords to gain unauthorised access to accounts, and so on.

Similarly, the law used for governing the Internet space and related technologies is called Cyber Law. This type of law is meant to protect people who use the Internet for availing online services. Irrespective of the nature of cybercrime, countries needed laws to regulate the Internet. As per historical data available, it is in the 1970s when the first-ever Data Protection Act was enacted in Germany.

Cyber Law provisions vary from country to country. They include provisions to regulate criminal activities like hacking, financial fraud, counterfeit merchandise, pornography, child porn, online betting or gambling, sale of banned substances, email spoofing, online intimidation, defamation, and cyberbullying stalking, email bombing, etc.

To understand Cyber Law and why it is needed, we should first have an understanding of the classification of cybercrimes that can be done under the following categories:

Cybercrimes against Individuals – Hacking, Email or SMS Harassment, Cyberstalking, Revenge Porn, Defamation, Cracking, Email or SMS Spoofing, Card Cloning, Identity Theft, Breach of Privacy, etc. that are targeted towards individuals for unlawful gains.

Cybercrimes against Person Property – Cyber Squatting, Intellectual Property Frauds, Cyber Vandalism, Hacking Computer Systems, Distributing Viruses or Malware, etc., all affect a person’s property for illegal financial gains.

Cybercrimes against Governments – This is like one state actor committing online crimes against a rival state actor and include Cyber Terrorism, Cyber Warfare, Hacking Critical Information Infrastructure for accessing confidential and secret information, etc.

Cybercrimes against Society – This is a type of crime intended to harm a large section of the people. This includes Cyber Trafficking, Online Gambling or Betting, Pornography, Child Pornography, Financial Crimes, the Sale of Illicit Substances, etc.

With more and more adoption of the Internet, such online crimes are bound to spiral upwards with the potential of affecting any individual or entity or state actor and hence there exists a need for a robust cyber law framework.