Opinion: Electronic devices are risky for women and children

New owners of Android devices, especially children must be sensitised about the risks of cyber security issues and data breach. Photograph:( Others )

Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India Nov 30, 2017, 06.23 AM (IST) Dr Debarati Halder

As I have observed for a long time now,  ‘explosions’ of different forms of online victimisations targeting women and children are very common. What we need to be aware of is, victimisations or harassments do not always generate from either social media interactions with others or photo sharing apps like Instagram.

It may generate from electronic devices too, especially, when the same has been ‘hacked’ or some spyware has been installed in it, or it has been ‘infected’ by some virus like the ‘time bomb’. The latter may deactivate the whole computer system after a certain point of time and without any prior notice.

I, myself, had a bitter experience with this virus once upon a time when my computer crashed with all important projects half done. But what is terrifying, particularly for women and children is when a spyware gets installed. Often I get to see women and teenagers complaining about sudden opening of camera devices in the electronic device, including the phone, prior information about geolocation of the owner of the device and, in some extreme cases, people have also complained about the ideas being executed by others before the same can be executed by the original owner.

Installing spyware in devices can be done by sending an email attachment and sending malicious hyperlinks.
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It may so happen that when a victim comes to the police with such complaints, the police may consider the complainer as an insane person who may want to waste the time of the officers concerned. But, in fact, such misuse of technology is a reality which everyone, including the owner of the device, must understand.

Installing spyware in devices can be done by sending an email attachment or even by sending malicious hyperlinks with text that may convince the receiver to believe that the mail /message/attachment is something important to be opened and viewed.

In certain occasions, even if the device is updated with anti-spyware software, the receiver of such e-mails may receive secondary messages to open or install features which will save the data from being deleted or from any other security breaches.

The problem is acuter for new handlers of Android devices, children and, in some cases senior citizens, who may have newly acquired such devices. Devices handled by children are most prone to security breaches because children may try to download games and songs from various sources. Such games may themselves be spyware software.

I have observed in several cases that the owners of Android devices have actually faced problems because of being perpetually logged into email accounts or Facebook profiles. It is for these reasons that we get to see so many online suggestions and advices to log out from all accounts in all devices after finishing the work, or never to open malicious and suspicious emails and attachments.

Information and digital communication technology users have become more alert than before but we should not undermine ‘accidents’.
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We need to understand that even though our Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008) provides the mechanism to criminalise an unauthorised access to computers, devices and data, the burden of proof always falls upon the victim. In case such infected device has been used to create a great financial loss to the owner of the device as well as to others, it may be a cumbersome affair to get the chain of evidence.

Given the fact that information and digital communication technology users have become more alert than before, we should not undermine ‘accidents’. New owners of Android devices, especially children must be sensitised about the risks of cyber security issues and data breach. They should be cautioned and instructed so as not to manhandle devices. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).

Dr Debarati Halder

Dr Debarati Halder is the honorary Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling. She is professor of law at Unitedworld School of Law, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.