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Credits: The Hindu

The increasing use of laptop and mobile phones among today’s youth has had a worrisome consequence — it has given sexual predators, paedophiles and other criminals a way to zoom in on the vulnerable targets.

Mansi Shah (name changed), a 12-year-old Mumbai school student, received lewd messages and pornographic material on her WhatsApp from an unknown number. However, her parents were unable to file a complaint as the sender had deleted the messages.

The American social media giant launched a feature last year that allows a sender to delete messages, from conversations or group chats, up to seven minutes after sending. This feature has its own disadvantages as there is no evidence of the content of the message and further it remains in an encrypted form with WhatsApp, making it all the more difficult for law enforcement officials to nab the culprits.

In many cases, parents and children are not aware that such cases are tantamount to serious offence and need to be reported.

Challenges faced by police

Talking to BusinessLine, Balsingh Rajput, Superintendent of Police (SP), Cyber Crime, Maharashtra, says cyber crimes against children and women account for about 30 per cent and are growing at 0 per cent every year.

Rajput, who heads the overall execution of Maharashtra government’s cyber project, says that of late people have started reporting such crimes; In most case, the accused is known to the . Cases of cyber crimes have increased in the last five years, he adds. Significantly, the Centre has been focussing, during this period, on improving internet penetration in the country.

“The nature of crime (against children) remains the same, but the way has changed. Offenders are now using technology to get close to children. From rapes to child trafficking to selling contraband (drugs) near schools and colleges, these predators befriend their targets mostly on social media,” points out Rajput. Most cases go undetected as multinational internet giants and social media companies refuse to share information with the police.

Rajput says the Mumbai police busted a secret group, operating out of Mira Road, for circulating images, pictures, location and information about children for child trafficking and pornography.

“They used to share and sell pictures of child rape and sodomy through such as Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc, and used to make money out of it. In this case, one of the gang members turned informer and we were able to arrest most of the members,” he recalls.

In most cases, it takes a lot of time just to get the information as the police and cyber cell officials need to trace the IP addresses and get hold of the devices (laptops, computers, mobile phones etc), involved in the crime. In most cases, the IPs are located in some other country.

Technology evolution and innovation make it more challenging to detect cyber crimes. “I feel localisation will help prevent cyber frauds to a large extent but we need more stringent laws for cyber crime against children and women, “ says Rajput. Also, information sharing between countries and within the country needs to be strengthened.

Cyber law , meanwhile, feel the low detection of cyber crimes is also due to lack of technical knowledge among the police staff and that there should be more training centres and courses so that they can upgrade themselves.

They cite the infamous Blue Whale Challenge, and stress that parents need to be aware of what games their children in the virtual world. (Blue Whale Challenge, created by 21-year-old Russian Phillip Budeikin, has claimed an estimated 130 lives across the world during 201-2016, according to recent reports.)

Experts also believe that many online gaming apps targeted towards children do not adhere to basic privacy principles.

‘Most mobile apps unsafe’

Arrka Infosec Arrka), which specialises in data security and privacy, in a recent study, found that more than 86 per cent of the mobile apps targeted towards children are not safe. Lack of consent, excessive permissions and needless privacy-intrusive features like in-app ads and purchase options make children’s apps unsafe, says the study titled “State of Privacy of Indian Apps and Websites – 2018.”

Shivangi Nadkarni, CEO, Arrka, says in the study that “though per cent apps took ‘NO’ permissions at all, 100 per cent of the apps tested had links to other apps and 71 per cent of the apps had access to storage. It was also found out that 56 per cent of the permissions accessed were not required at all.“

There is also the issue of privacy and its legal enforcement in the cyber world. The IT (Amendment) Act 2008 has 22 sub sections that do not explicitly cover children. For example, there is Section 66 & 67 which covers this under cyber stalking (and Sections 65-72, generally speaking), and it is similar for other sub-sections which partly cover children. Sonam Chandwani, Managing Partner of KS Legal, points out that with crime going digital, the major issue is over jurisdiction as the perpetrator may not be in the same city, state or even country as the victim.

“We must to look at the issue of cyber crimes against children more granularly,” says Arindrajit Basu, Policy Officer at the Centre for Internet Society, Bengaluru. Basu says that even though legally, there are the relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 and the Information Technology Act, there is confusion when it comes to dealing with cyber crimes. “As author Richa Kaul Padte suggests in her book Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography, the conservative ways with which pornography is looked at in India prevents us from formulating healthy and progressive legislation on it,” notes Basu.

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