TOOLS OF HER TRADE Dhanya Menon at workin her office in Thrissur
You have won two-and a half million euros, says an email from. who cares who when your mind is reeling counting the zeros in such a huge amount. The only thing that's keeping you from the said amount is `a measly nine lakh' rupees as processing fee, after all you ARE getting the `internet cheque' that will land you the two and a half million euros. At `internet cheque' most of us would see through the con (that is if you have read this far) and hit delete and then there are some who succumb.
I say, Internet cheque? That's too much of a cock and bull story. No, says Pattathil Dhanya Menon, cyber crime investigator. "That kind of money is an extremely huge amount for a person to be able to resist. People fall for such lottery scams all the time, all over the world," she says. Dhanya is probably the country's only woman cyber crime investigator, working in tandem with several agencies.
Coming back to the original story, the payment has been made, the `internet cheque' turns out to be bogus because there are no such things as internet cheques and there is no real person. This is where people called cyber crime investigators come into the picture. This sounds like stuff of some sci-fi book or flick. But no, says Dhanya again.
There is a new kind of criminal out there, the kind who uses technology adeptly. Therefore an ATM card, an email id, a phone number (generally a cell phone number) or an Orkut or a Facebook (for identity theft) account will do. Phishing is old news, there is Orkut abuse, for instance, which is creating a fake id in the name of the person who is to be tarnished and then posting all kinds of damaging information or lies and photographs too.
With all this technology crank calls too have evolved. "What generally starts out as a prank by college students, generally, gets out of hand. They just dial numbers at random and if one of the numbers connects to a woman's phone then the woman's had it. A husband may not appreciate his wife getting calls from strange men, late in the night. The implications are huge," says Dhanya.
Choice of career
Talking about creating a fake identity on a networking site, Dhanya got a surprise last week. "I have this habit of running checks on social networking sites to see if there is anything on me. What do I see last week? My fake profile on one of the sites. I am very close to finding who it is. If it can happen to me then what about the others?" Crank call is in the singular for her, for the moment she tells the person at the other end what she does for a living and there ends the call.
Not everybody, actually hardly anybody, wants to be a cyber crime investigator. Dhanya attributes her choice of a career to chance or destiny. She happened to be in Kochi on a weekend when a workshop on cyber crime was being organised. "That workshop got me hooked. I got curious about the whole thing. The more I read up on the Net, the more I was drawn to it," she says. This MBA is a B.Tech in Computer Science from the Open University of British Columbia. Her technical background helped.
Her grandfather P. B. Menon, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, goaded her to study cyber crime further. Dhanya joined the Asian School of Cyber Laws, Pune and after a year earned her post graduation in Cyber Laws and became a certified cyber crime investigator. And since 2007 her work took her to other parts of the country and the world sometimes, but rarely to her home state. "But things are different now. I am getting more work here but not enough to set up an office. Also I need people to assist me and that unfortunately is not possible because there are very few people doing this here or in the country for that matter."
She says the public needs to be educated about many things regarding this, if cases are to be solved. Say, it is a case of crank calls or obscene calls, the tendency of the victim is to switch off the phone or stop using the number out of sheer fear. That compromises the evidence, "because not using the phone (because of the calls or the texts) will lead to the charge going out and the phone dying out. Or some people will change the SIM card from the phone on to another phone. Therefore the numbers on the call register or the text will get deleted. And then prosecution becomes difficult." The key is to keep using the phone and keep it active, says the expert. Pilferage of data, attrition, information theft.in short things which can shake the foundation of a firm comprise cases involving corporates clients.
"This career is like all those Sherlock Holmes novels that I read as a child. This is exciting," Dhanya's eyes light up as she describes what she does. But there is a slight hitch in all this, "The challenge is not finding the perpetrator or cracking the crime. The jurisdictional challenge of reaching a criminal who is in a different geographical location is the biggest road block. A uniform law code is an impossibility, therefore something like pornography may be legal in some countries but in some others illegal. So what do we do?"
Some precautions may help in protecting yourself from cyber crime, says Dhanya. Be careful of how you handle the following things and to whom you lend these to: