Social networking sites and apps have become a part of our life. Youngsters, middle aged and elderly guys have made them an important element of their existence. India has been one of the country where social networking apps have taken a higher pedestal.
According to Whatsapp no information of any subscriber is stored by them, but with Facebook taking over Whatsapp there is lot to ponder on data security policy. Facebook incidentally stores information about its subscribers on their servers, so the information about whatsapp being stored cannot being ruled out. Once any user gets subscribed to any of the social networking app his / her information is stored by the service provider, irrespective whether the subscriber deletes his account or not.
Crimes through social networking whatsapp has already started in India. In Pune a group in whatsapp started broadcasting and sharing information of a religion in a derogative manner. On the complaint filed by one of the member of the group, the cops took cognizance of it but were not able to trace out the origin and the original sender of the message. In another incident a prestigious University in India had its paper leaked on whatsapp. Luckily in this case the cops were able to zero in on the culprits and book them.
The investigation techniques used in this case was to go in a reverse manner till you catch hold of the original sender of the message. This is a crude form of investigation, because whatsapp never provides data to law enforcement agencies of the perpetrator of the crime. During the ongoing elections lot of substandard information was been transmitted in the name of politicians, political parties etc. Many a time’s false information was also broadcasted for attracting the attention of the voters. All of the above are serious offences and can be booked under Information Technology Act 2008.
We Indians are very sociable people. We are bought up in a very emotional and bonded culture and hence socially getting connected comes inherently by nature, but the darker side of these apps are not known. Many users of whatsapp are not aware that without their SIM card their account can be used.
In one of the incident happened in Mumbai a boy and a girl were very close friends and were hooked up on whatsapp. Few months later they broke up and the guy migrated to Pune in search of job. Few days later the girl started getting lewd messages from the guy she had broken. The messages were obscene. Initially the girl overruled the messages but when the frequency of these messages increased she lodged a complaint with the police. The cops summoned the guy and started interrogating him. The guy pleaded that he has not sent the messages but there was no respite. Luckily the case was handed over to me for technical and legal assistance. The boy came to my office and after asking him questions and doing a bit of mobile forensic it was proven that the boy was not the culprit. The investigation revolved upon the misuse of his whatsapp account. He had his SIM card with him but still messages were going through by committing identity theft by the perpetrator.
In whatsapp whenever a user gets subscribed it is the IMEI number of the mobile which gets stored at the server end. The guy after coming to Pune was operating on a new mobile instrument and the old instrument he had given to his friend. While giving to his friend he had removed the SIM card but forgot to delete the account. His friend started using the mobile instrument with his SIM card, but since the original account was not deleted, he used the account with his new SIM card. To whoever he used to communicate on whatsapp his friends number used to go and the girl also was victimized thinking that the lewd messages were passed on by her ex-boyfriend which in fact was not? This is one of those drawbacks whatsapp has and it is high time that people become aware of such type of breaches taking place.
In another case a house was burgled in Mumbai, thanks to Whatsapp. One of the family staying in the society went for a vacation. He had a whatsapp account and in his status tag it was written that “He is going for a vacation to Australia”. The number of this person was available with the watchman, who was also on whatsapp. He saw the status tag and passed on the information to the burglars to commit the crime.
Before any individual / group want to go on any social networking app, here are few checklist points:
• Be aware that your information is in public space
• There is no authenticity or guarantee that your information / messages are safe
• Post information which is legally binding
• Any information / video targeting any individual or group which is obscene, derogative, lewd, pornographic, hatred is an offence and is liable to be booked under Information Technology Act
• Promoting any type of information which is fake, attracting or tempting people into believing false comments is a serious crime
• Don’t be a party by appreciating any message or video which is legally binding
• The admin of the group is the moderator and hence it is his responsibility to ensure that people under his group don’t promote anything which is illegal. Failing to do so may attract punishment for the moderator and the members of the group
• Never pass critical information such as phone numbers, bank account details, passwords and important documents through social networking app. There are hackers waiting patiently to steal your information
• Before selling old mobile or giving it to any of your friend or family member, ensure that your account is deleted. Format the mobile and then give it to others. Else you could become a soft target of identity theft
• Never use any services which includes free server space. Your information, photo’s stored on these server can be misused resulting not only in monetary loss but also loss of reputation and image
• Whenever you are using a mobile instrument of your friend, check whether he / she has a social networking account. If so delete the account and create your new user account. Using somebody’s social networking account is a serious punishable offence. In case you are android user then do the following: Go to Menu Button > Settings > Account > Change Number and enter current whatsapp phone number in the top box and then enter your new phone number in the lower box and then Tap Done to continue
• Never disclose personal information through the status tag
• Never allow a child below 16 years to use any social networking app. This is the responsibility of the parent and should be followed diligently
• Be safe and add friends in your group whom you know
• Offences under Section 66, 67, 72, 43 of the IT Act can be registered against the offender. Some of the sections are non-bailable and cognizable
Finally it is your matter of luck and don’t stretch your luck too far. Limit your communications through social networking app, otherwise the hands of the law enforcement agency are too long and wide to catch the perpetrator of the crime.
( The writer Dr.Harold D’Costa is CEO – Intelligent Quotient Security System. He is also Advisor to Law enforcement agencies across India on Cyber Crime related matters.)