The cyber crime scenario in our country does not truly reflect the existing situation on the ground. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2016 a total of 12,187 cyber crime cases were registered all over India when compared to 11,331 cases registered in 2015. There was 20.50 per cent increase in the number of cyber crime cases in 2015 over 2014 and 6.3 per cent increase in cases in 2016 over 2015.
As far as the number of cybercrime cases is concerned, Uttar Pradesh with a figure of 2,639 registered the maximum number of cases followed by Maharashtra (2380), and Karnataka (1101). Tamil Nadu registered 172 cases in 2014 which dropped to 142 in 2015 and marginally increased to 144 in 2016. Among the Metropolitan cities, Mumbai with 980 cases stood first followed by Bengaluru 762 and Jaipur 532. Chennai city with 26 cases was ranked 16 among metros.
During my last assignment as Additional Director General of Crime Branch CID, a woman with tears in her eyes walked into my office and narrated how her husband had been ripped off Rs 45 lakh over WhatsApp, on the promise of employment in Auckland, New Zealand. In short, we detected this case and recovered a portion of the money.
During this tenure, the Cyber Cell witnessed several different types of cases including a case of child pornography where the accused was detained under the Goondas Act. The point I am trying to make here is that - Tamil Nadu state in matters of cybercrime is no different from rest of the world, social media users in Tamil Nadu are as vulnerable to cybercriminals as elsewhere and their susceptibility to cyber crimes such as cyber-stalking, harassment, hacking, spoofing, cheating, fraud, spamming, squatting, trespass, white collar crimes, embezzlement, spying, child pornography, cyber trafficking, identity theft, cyber-bullying etc. is no different from other places.
When it comes to maintenance of law and order, widespread adoption of social media in Tamil Nadu has proved to be a double-edged weapon. On one hand the social media in Tamil Nadu helped volunteers make tremendous contribution during the Chennai floods in December 2015 as well as in the aftermath of Cyclone Vardah, while on the other hand social media played a sinister role in helping expeditious dissemination of fake messages which unfortunately culminated in incidents of lynching of a few men and a spate of assaults, centred over the paranoia of child trafficking rumours in the Northern districts of Tamil Nadu.
Social media seems to have turned antisocial at the hands of rumour mongers with more than 20 cases of lynching being reported in the last two months in our country. When it comes to protests, Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of agitations in the entire country. The state witnessed 20,450 agitations in 2015. The advent of social media appears to have added fuel to the existing fire, by helping organisers and opposition parties congregate multitudes swiftly, easily, cheaply and efficiently —whether it be for a cause like Jallikattu or for spreading the message of revolt against the policies of the establishment.
Quite obviously, social media played a crucial role in mobilising and engineering some of the major agitations here such as the protests against the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, the hydrocarbon project in Neduvasal, Pudukottai, the Neutrino Observatory in Theni district, the Jallikattu ban throughout Tamil Nadu, the Cauvery river dispute and Sterlite project in Thoothukudi, among others.
Tamil Nadu Government is taking several measures to tackle cyber crime and defend the state against the growing menace of cyber attacks. It has decided to set up Cyber Crime Police Stations in all the districts and cities. A cutting-edge technology centre called “Cyber Arangam” has been planned to be set up at Chennai at a cost of Rs 3.24 crore to help police develop cyber resilient eco-systems through synergies with the best minds available in the IT sector.
The Government has recently sanctioned a Cyber cell exclusively for the Department of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption apart from the existing cyber cells at the CBCID and Chennai City Police headquarters. In spite of the steps being taken by the Government, We have to acknowledge the challenges that exist in tackling cybercrime in our country.
First and foremost challenge is the reluctance on the part of the cybercrime victims to report cases. Only 142 cases were reported in the entire state of Tamil Nadu and only 26 cases were witnessed in the Metropolitan city of Chennai in the year 2016. The National Crime Agency in the UK has reported that cyber crimes have surpassed traditional crimes like burglary and car theft in UK. If the reporting of cyber cases is improved in India, the scenario of cyber cases outstripping traditional cases could be true here as well. Another disturbing factor is the extremely poor conviction rate in the few reported cases due to of lack of adequate technical expertise on the part of police officers to investigate cybercrime cases and elicit cyber evidence. Most of them lack knowledge as to how the domains and servers work.
Another serious issue confronting the investigation of cyber cases is the fact that 80 per cent of the cyber crimes happen on the international servers. If a crime takes place on a Facebook server, there is nothing we can do about it, if the Facebook refuses to release the data. Before the advent of Facebook, social media site Orkut was quite popular in Brazil. Googles Orkut platform became very convenient for cybercriminals in Brazil to commit crimes ranging from child pornography to executed kidnappings and murders.
When the Brazilian Court ordered Google to share the data, Google refused to co-operate citing the absence of jurisdiction. In our own country, Orkut had run into similar problems for propagating hatred. It is therefore obvious that there is a requirement to have a uniform and globally accepted Sovereignty, Governance and net neutrality. On the legal front, though India has an effective IT Act, some amendments are imperative in the Indian law to effectively support the IT Act.
If we decide to not give a damn to cyber criminals, we would be doing so at our own peril. We should not forget the kind of havoc the ill-gotten gains of cybercrime wreaked on the city of Mumbai in 2008 during the terrorist siege by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The entire operation was funded by a Filipino hacking cell working on behalf of Jamaah Islamiyah an associate of Al-Quaeda. Millions of dollars ripped off by the cybercriminals recruited by it were channelled to their manipulators in Saudi Arabia who in turn laundered the funds to the Lashkar-e-Taiba team in Pakistan, which executed the brutal onslaught against the City of Mumbai.
Ten men, armed not just with weapons but with technology such as Blackberry phones, Skype, Google Earth and GSM handsets, were able to bring a city of 12 million people, the fourth-largest metropolis on earth, to a complete impasse, in an event that was telecast live the world over. Guns and bombs are not new in terrorist operations but these operatives who accessed the power and brilliance of technology and social media were a new breed altogether. Social media and technology was their new found arsenal.
They proved they were capable of collecting open-source intelligence mid-attack not just from broadcast media but also by mining the internet and social media in real time. The intelligence so gathered was leveraged to kill more people and outwit the authorities. This was in 2008, we can now imagine what the cybercriminals and terrorists would be capable in the present era of exponential technologies like artificial intelligence, 3D Printing, robotics, nanotechnology etc in case we fail to take action to rein them in? (Concluded)
(The writer is DR K. JAYANTH MURALI Additional Director General of Police and Director, DVAC, Chennai. The views expressed in this article are that of the author and not of the government)