India Is One of the Worst Countries For Cyber Security; Here’s How It Affects Women
Women are the main targets for revenge porn and credit card fraud.
Cyber security has been a problem for India for years now, and despite the government’s efforts to apprehend cyber criminals, it seems like the country’s lax security continues to put its citizens at risk. A report by consumer tech review firm, Comparitech, researched and ranked 60 countries on the basis of their cyber security, from least secure to most. India came in at 15, far below the average, with countries like Azerbaijan, Egypt, Ecuador, and Romania surpassing it.
While lax cyber security will put all citizens at risk, women are especially targets for certain kinds of online crimes. And India’s ranking as one of the worst countries in the world confirms that the internet is still not a very safe place for women. Profile hacking and photo morphing are common, in which photos of girls and women from public profiles or hacked accounts are be tampered with, often to portray those women in compromising situations. The doctored images are then either used to publicly humiliate women or blackmail them for ransom money.
Scams and credit/debit card fraud specifically target women (often in the 35-45 year age bracket). “The modus operandi has changed with time, from cheating people with lottery and phishing email scams to targeting people, typically middle-aged women, through social media, especially Tinder, WhatsApp and Facebook messenger,” a senior cyberpolice officer told The Free Press Journal. By befriending women on these social media platforms, criminals first gain women’s trust, and then ask to share personal data or ask for money.
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Online abuse and cyberbullying has been shown to disproportionately affect women, especially when they’re outspoken. Trolling can lead to doxxing — i.e. revealing a person’s name, address, and other personal details — either by hacking or by analyzing information people have posted online to identify who they are, leading online harassment to real, physical consequences. And revenge porn, either by leaking photos with lax privacy settings or morphing photos, is especially targeted at women. Because of the stigma around pornography (no matter that its not consensual) most of these cases go unreported; when women do report, they are blamed for posting photos of themselves online in the first place.
Women are also affected by general cybercrime, of course. Corroborating Comaritech’s ranking, the Global Risk Report 2019 released by the World Economic Forum last month showed that India faced the largest data breach in the world, with more than 1.1 billion people’s Aadhaar IDs accessed due to “lax cyber security protocols.” With the increasing number of smartphone users, and a corresponding lack of digital education about malware, fraudulent messages, or bots and fake accounts, the likelihood that people’s data will be stolen is arguably increasing.
In an all-India criminology conference held in Tamil Nadu on 4 February, the topic of cyber security was of dire concern. Syed Umarhathab, secretary of the Indian Society of Criminology, pointed out that of the 100 papers presented at the conference, 40 were about cyber crimes. “This serves as an example of how prevalent cyber crimes are in the country,” he said. The solutions suggested, however, ranged from problematic to pragmatic. “Everyone should know that no matter what, women should never allow sexual acts to be shot,” said P Madhava Soma Sundaram, chairman of the Indian Society of Criminology and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. But rather than pursue crime prevention by way of censuring women’s choices and curtailing their activities, the state must ensure the security of people’s data, educate its citizens about digital dangers, and promote efficient ways to detect crime online.
In a press statement in January, the Ministry of Home Affairs laid out the country’s Cyber Crime Prevention Against Women and Children (CCPWC) scheme, which includes an online cyber crime reporting platform, a national-level cyber forensic laboratory, and a capacity building unit. In addition to this, awareness campaigns will outline what counts as a crime, in accordance with the IT Act, and provide materials to be introduced to schools and radio campaigns, as a proactive measure against cyber crime.
But while these measures are yet to be effectively implemented, the statistics within India show no sign of change. In Mumbai, about three to four cases of cybercrime are registered each day; in the past two years, out of 2,723 cases, the police only managed to solve 362. Which goes to show that unless India is able to provide awareness and education for internet users, especially women, and implement up-to-date legislation and facilities to secure data, its citizens will certainly be at risk.
Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle's culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She's also working on a memoir about her family's journey from Iran to India.