EXCLUSIVE: Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2021: Experts tell us how one can stay safe from being trapped online

Updated on Oct 20, 2021 07:53 PM IST  |  111.7K
Cybersecurity awareness
Experts tell us how one can stay safe from being trapped online

Your phone blinks. A new notification. You open it to see a friend request from a young attractive person. You clicked on ‘accept’ and a new friend added to your list of not less than 200 online friends.

How many of these online friends do we know personally? Only a handful, maybe.

However, you start chatting with one such friend who claims to be from a foreign country. Your vibes match, and you find a good connection. Messages turn to calls, and calls turn to video calls. It’s been a couple of months since you two are chatting. One fine day, your friend asks you to share your address, s/he wants to send some gifts. What would you do? Of course, you will share it, because after all you trust him/her.

With the Cybersecurity Awareness Month going on, Ehraz Ahmed, a 25-year-old, security researcher and ethical hacker who has saved the private data of over 700 million users, tells you that online crimes are increasing day by day. You get friend requests or invitations to join a live video and it is all a scam. “The is one of the most recent scams that is growing by leaps and bounds today. These people who claim they are from foreign countries, often, live in India, and use foreign numbers to trap you. When you share your address with the perpetrator, not knowing what awaits you, you will get a call from a person claiming to be from the airport customs department, informing you that your parcel has arrived. You will then be asked to give a particular amount of money to receive your gifts. The amount will keep on rising citing several reasons and you will be trapped in this web,” points out Ahmed.

cybercrimes are on a high

In order, to save yourself from being trapped in this dark web, one has to stay vigilant on social media. “The only thing to keep in mind here is to avoid accepting friend requests from strangers. See your social media profile as a private thing, just like any other document of yours. And why not? You have put so much details out there, your day-to-day activities can be traced from there and so much more. Several malicious entities can enter your friend list, extract your personal information and can blackmail you for money,” says Ahmed.

If you have made your profile public, for some reason, make sure that your personal information is still hidden, suggests Ahmed.

He adds that if you get a request and are asked to do video calls, avoid it at all costs. “This can be a scam. Your private moments can be captured, and you can be later asked to pay a ransom for them to not make the videos and photos viral. It goes without saying that one should never accept any invitations for physical meetings with strangers. Even if you plan to do it, think about the worst. You can be kidnapped, robbed or even sexually assaulted,” says Ahmed.

Moreover, never click on any suspicious links or ads. Never surf websites that are not trusted. Secure your PC with a good antivirus. “If you receive an email from an unknown person, or ID, do not open it, and never download any files from it. They may be containing viruses. Protect your social media accounts with Two-Factor authentication. It’s a good way to secure all your accounts,” suggests Ahmed.

cybersecurity awareness

While doing online transactions, never save your passwords, or credit and debit card details, if you don’t trust the website or application.

The fact that India reported a jump of 11.8 percent in cybercrime cases last year, as reported by National Crime Records Bureau, makes it imperative to not take cybersecurity for granted.

*Trigger Warning*

Online fraud is not the only cybercrime that is rocking the cyberworld. The recent case of a 28-year-old who reportedly travelled 300 km, from Kollam to Kozhikode, to meet her online friend, who then drugged and raped her along with three others, is an eye-opener for us to think twice before putting our trust into someone we barely know.

This was not it. The 4 accused went a step ahead and filmed the whole act before dumping the woman to another location.

So, why does one make friends online? Where does the idea come from? And how like businesses, work and shopping, friendships, too, have gone online?

Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist, tells you that the whole idea of making friends online comes from people who are hesitant in talking to people in real life. “They see their screens as a good curtain to hide, but still manage to socialise, digitally. Also, some of these people have suffered some kind of bullying in their lives, which has taken away their confidence of meeting people and being friends with them. For such people, online friendships come to their rescue,” says Sharma.

Not only this, but people who have been or are lonely, find no other way, but to go online to seek friends. “Again, here they find it easier to reach out to people. The fear of being judged is comparatively less. Even if they are judged they know, they can simply block the other person, or just delete their ID. Then, there are people who are extroverts and they like to make new friends. With social media being the solution to many things today, they too, go online to make friends. However, it is all in good spirits except for a few,” says Sharma.

The idea of online friendships, he says, is not at all bad. “In fact, like I said, it helps people to broaden their horizons, make friends and connect,” asserts Sharma. It is only because of some people who use technology only to nurture their evil thoughts, ideas and dreams, that these crimes make people question the existence of everything in life.

cybersecurity awareness 1

Rishika (name changed), a college going student, tells you that it is out of boredom that she started using social media a few years back, but slowly it became more of an addiction. “Earlier, I never thought of accepting someone as my online friend. But then I saw people around me doing it and they actually earned friends for life, and I, too, started doing it. Now, I have more than 800 online friends. However, I make sure that I am not putting my whole life out in public,” she says.

What does the law say?

While technology was used by the accused to lure the woman into meeting him, Shohit Chaudhry, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court, Shohit Chaudhry & Associates, says that the offence here is the crime against woman. “Section 354 to Section 354D and Section 376 of the IPC covers these crimes. In fact, amendment to Section 354 and insertion of Sections 354A to 354D were done after the Nirbhaya incident. The legislature has provided punishments for specific crimes against women. Even if you see a woman with malicious intent, it is an offence of Voyeurism, as defined in Section,” says Chaudhry.

The difference in this particular case, Chaudhry says, is the use of technology. “The Information Technology Act covers all the cybercrimes. Suppose, if the person has hacked into a woman’s computer and has misused the material therein, the IT Act will take care of it. However, in this case, while the accused reached out to the survivor through technology, the primary offence remains the same,” explains Chaudhry.

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What needs to be done?

This brings us to the point that even after stringent laws against rape, cyber harassment and molestation in place and the justice served in the Nirbhaya case being a prime example, what makes the perpetrators commit these crimes. Do they not fear the law?

“My point, not as an advocate, but as an individual is that if you see, the topic of sex is still a taboo in our society. See, Scandinavian countries and the countries like the Netherlands, rate higher on the happiness index; these countries rate higher on issues like women empowerment and women are equally treated as men, if not better. These are the societies where every individual and their personal space is respected. In our society, the reason behind the increasing rape cases is the lack of dialogue. Sex education is not even a subject in our schools. At most, we conduct a 1-hour guest lecture once a year, with everyone being so uncomfortable about it. Add to it, the comments from several politicians that say, ‘rape happens because of girls wearing jeans out in public’,” opines Chaudhry.

The change, he says, has to come from the grassroot level. “The laws that are in place only talk about what will happen after a crime has taken place. But what about how to prevent it? For this, we need to not only educate people but sensitize them. This has to start from a young age. Take for example, gender sensitization being taught to a 12-year-old boy, and on the other hand to a 40-year-old man. Who do you think will become the driver of the change? For the middle-aged man, gender sensitisation is merely restricted to words, but for that young boy, he will grow up to become a gentleman,” says Chaudhry.

Disclaimer: If you know someone who is suffering from some online threat or is a victim of it, reach out to a nearby police station, cyber cell or a cyber expert for immediate help.

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