Cyber Crime Cell: Harassed and tangled up in phishing net

Officials fighting cybercrime find it difficult to book offenders because of lack of knowhow
in dealing with cases like these. Others feel government is yet to wake up to this problem.

Published: 11th June 2017 04:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th June 2017 04:40 AM   |  A+A-

Image for representational purpose only.

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Cyber Crime Cell in Chennai itself gets close to 25 complaints a day broadly involving phishing calls and online harassment of women. Experts said it won't be wrong to peg the number of complaints in the state at around 400-500 a day.

They said this is a gross underestimation, as many people do not file a complaint with police. However, the cyber cell is finding it hard to keep up with current load of complaints.

Cyber crime is a constant threat in modern society. A threat that many experts believe, we are not fully equipped to deal with — in terms of awareness and also how institutions like the police can deal with this sort of crime. “It's very taxing,” said P Sekaran, an officer working with the Cyber Crime Cell.
“We've 10 investigating officers of which four are inspectors and other six sub-inspectors. This in itself is over sanctioned strength, but still not enough. The government clearly has not realised the magnitude of the problem.”

With government’s increased digital push and lives being led more in the virtual world, all of us are at risk. “Everyone is at risk, the key is to be aware and alert,” said A Loganathan, another officer with the Cyber Crime Cell. “Phishing calls are the most common offence. And we've had cases where even bank employees who caution other people have fallen prey to fraudsters.”

Cyber attacks now occur across devices connected over internet, and are no longer restricted to PCs. “The most recent wave of attacks was on mobiles,” said Atul Gupta, Partner, IT Advisory and Cyber Security Lead, KPMG in India. “This is because there has been a significant increase in digital payment using mobile devices. With the increased adoption of technologies across devices (connected devices), there is heightened risk across these devices of falling prey to cyber attack.”

There has also been a spike in number of cases since demonetisation. “The number of complaints have gone up since note bandi,” Loganathan said. “More transactions were done online and it was an open field for fraudsters, as many who were previously not doing online transactions were suddenly forced to do them.”

There is also another channel of payment catching the fancy of many — bitcoins.

“Bitcoin is a digital currency,” explained Gupta. “RBI has cautioned people against using it, as it's known to be a preferred mode for cyber criminals, and this was evident during the recent Ransomware attack (Wannacry). This being said, there are bitcoin exchanges available where users can get bitcoins.”

Not easy on officers

Are our institutions equipped to deal with surges in cyber crime? Cyber Cell officers have a tough time, due to bandobast duty whenever required. “We were there on all days during jallikattu,” said Sekaran. “It’s hard to juggle both responsibilities, as invariably one takes a backseat. Our investigation is hampered when we have to do other work. We need to have an exclusive cell with more officers joining us to lessen the burden.”

To file a complaint, one must approach the nearest police station or submit a grievance at the commissioner’s office in Chennai, which will be directed to the Cyber Cell. “The foremost issue is that those at police stations don’t know how to handle cyber crime cases,” said both officers.

Social media frenzy

Social media has made the world a smaller place. But cyber crime experts warn to be careful of what pictures and videos are put up or sent as personal messages.  “Once out, it's in public domain and there's every possibility that it can be misused,” said Loganathan. “People, especially women, need to be careful about what they put up online, and what they send.

We have had cases where Class 8 girls and 40-year-old women send topless or nude photographs to men, who later put these up on porn sites or circulate them once things have turned sour.”

In sensitive cases like these, police said the women don’t press for criminal charges, but rather just want the pictures to be removed. In most cases, an FIR is not filed.

Legal issues

Currently, cyber crime falls under the realm of the IT Act, which was amended later. Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal said the amendments were flawed, as the new ones made Indian cyberlaw a “cyber crime friendly legislation.” He criticised it saying a majority of cyber crimes under the Act were bailable offences, which would “pave way for India to become the potential cyber crime capital of the world.”

While most experts agree the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 is dated and needs to be updated, others feel its complete potential has not been tapped yet. “The IT Act can be improved, but we're not harnessing it to the fullest,” said NA Vijayashankar, cyber law expert.

“The law provides for police to hold intermediaries like banks and mobile phone providers liable for cyber offences. However, the police is not tapping this clause.”

The IT Act has clarified the definition of an ‘intermediary’ by specifically including telecom, internet and web-hosting service providers. Further search engines, online-payment sites, online auction sites, online market places and cyber cafes are also included in that definition.

“At the moment, we have irresponsible intermediaries, as they pass the buck and face no pressure,” said Vijayashankar. “If the police puts pressure on these intermediaries, they'll be forced to take cyber insurance, which'll also help with cross-border cooperation for cases that involve offenders in other countries.”

Another challenge those working in the cyber crime wing face is international law. There are others who feel that international cooperation, though important, is secondary. They said it is essential to first make use of the existing law. “Cyber law can be complex when the offender is from another country, as the offence has to be recognised by the law in both countries,” said Vijayashankar.

“When it comes to obscenity, this becomes tricky as it could be classified as 'adult content' in another country. However, in most cases of terrorism and financial fraud, most countries oblige. It's only in countries like Nigeria and erstwhile Russia, where law enforcement is weak, that it poses a challenge.”

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