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Phishing: An Introduction

Phishing is a form of cyber deception where fraudsters masquerade as trustworthy entities to dupe victims into divulging sensitive information. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), serves as India's primary legislation governing cybersecurity and contains several provisions addressing phishing.



Phishing and the IT Act, 2000: Legal Analysis

Phishing predominantly falls under Section 66 and Section 43 of the IT Act.

Section 66: Computer-related Offences

Section 66 criminalises activities that, through a computer resource or a communication device, dishonestly or fraudulently cause damage or loss to any person. Phishing attacks, which utilise deceptive emails to cause financial or data loss, thus, are punishable under this section.


Section 43: Penalty for Damage to Computer, Computer System, etc.

Section 43 penalises anyone who causes unauthorised access or damage, introduces contaminants, or disrupts any computer resource, steals or downloads data, and diminishes its value. Phishing attacks often involve illegal access and data theft, making them punishable under this section.



Case Laws on Phishing under IT Act, 2000

The Indian legal system has seen numerous cases of phishing, reinforcing the need for strong legislative protection against such cybercrimes.

  1. Avnish Bajaj v. State (NCT of Delhi): Although not a phishing case, this landmark case helped solidify the scope of Section 66 of the IT Act. It was concluded that intermediaries could be held liable for offensive content, thus indirectly impacting phishing, where fraudsters often use third-party platforms to carry out their malicious activities.

  2. SBI Cards & Payments Services Pvt. Ltd v. Rohidas Jadhav: In this case, the defendant was held guilty for a phishing attack where he procured sensitive credit card information, constituting unauthorised access under Section 43 of the IT Act.


Preventive Measures against Phishing

While the IT Act provides punitive measures against phishing, taking preventive measures remains critical:

  1. Educate & Inform: Awareness campaigns about the nature and risks of phishing attacks can help individuals and organisations stay vigilant.

  2. Email Filters & Anti-Phishing Toolbars: Tools like these can alert users of potential phishing emails and websites, thereby acting as the first line of defence.

  3. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enabling 2FA can provide an additional layer of security even if initial login information is compromised through phishing.

  4. Regular Software Updates: Keeping operating systems, browsers, and security software up-to-date can help ward off attackers who exploit software vulnerabilities.


Consequences of Phishing under the IT Act, 2000

Section 66 of the IT Act stipulates imprisonment for up to 3 years, a fine of up to INR 5 lakhs, or both, for computer-related offences. Similarly, under Section 43, the perpetrator is liable to pay damages up to INR 1 crore to the affected person.



Conclusion

In the age of digitisation, phishing poses a significant threat to individuals and organisations alike. The IT Act, 2000 provides comprehensive legal remedies against such cybercrimes. Through a combination of legal measures, technological safeguards, and increased awareness, India is consistently striving to create a robust defence against phishing and similar cybersecurity threats.

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