Cybercrime has changed the rules of chor-police. From his vantage point as Director General of Police, Uttarakhand, Ashok Kumar has seen the criminal landscape change at lightning speed. Robbers are still breaking and entering, but now, they’re sitting behind screens in a house in Cameroon or a cafe in Nigeria and masking their IP addresses. Their targets are passwords, bank accounts and identities.
The top cop’s latest book, Cyber Encounters: Cops’ Encounters with Online Criminals, which he co-authored with OP Manocha, former scientist at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), gives the reader a lay of the land—up close and personal.
From honey-trapping to phishing and holding websites to ransom, criminals have adapted to newer ways of making money and scamming people—from afar.
“Crime has become global, life is online,” said Kumar at the launch of his book at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi on 20 April. It documents 12 short stories of cybercrime based on true events, with a foreword by Amitabh Bachchan.
Professor Dr Vikram Singh, Ex-DGP, UP, Lt Gen (Retd) (Dr) Rajesh Pant, National Cyber Security Coordinator, PMO, Sanjay Arora, Delhi Police Commissioner, DG ITBP Anish Dayal Singh and DG NHRC Manoj Yadav and Aman Gupta, co-founder and CMO at boAt lifestyle were part of the panel.
Students, alumni and professors were eager participants in a discussion organised after the release of the book.
“Crime does not have boundaries. Earlier, if a criminal escaped from Delhi, you might find him in neighbouring states. But in cybercrime, criminals often are not even located in the country,” said Kumar.
IPS officer Ashok Kumar is no novice in the publishing industry. His non-fiction book, Khaki Mein Insan received the GB Pant Award from the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) and the Ministry of Home Affairs. He has also authored Challenges to Internal Security of India.
Scriptwriter Advaita Kala, who was moderating the hour-long panel discussion, asked Kumar if the incident of his bicycle getting stolen at the IIT campus inspired him to become a police officer, and received claps and laughter. Kumar, however, clarified that the incident did not prompt his choice.
The conversation quickly moved back to cybercrime. Kumar referenced the Netflix show Jamtara, based on real incidents of phishing, which offers a glimpse into how much cybercrime has progressed in the country. He mentioned how it takes a single phone call for scammers to get access to bank accounts. The challenge is much bigger because even tracking accounts often leads the police to wild goose chase. Fake Ids are rampant, and even Aadhaar is being duplicated, especially of disadvantaged people, who have no idea that their identity is being stolen.
It has now become the easiest way to earn money. “People are doing cybercrime courses whose fees are more than IIT fees,” he said.
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OTP safety and Shark Tank crowd
Kumar’s choice of writing the book was inspired by the many cases he has been involved in. He was spurred by the idea of not just talking about cybercrime, but also sharing helpful tips about preventing oneself from becoming a victim. That is when he sought the help and advice of the co-author Manocha.
“Nothing is 100 per cent safe on the internet,” he said. And nobody is immune to cyber-attacks—not even Kumar.
“Someone made my fake Facebook profile and asked my friends for money. So, you can imagine what the situation is like,” he answered in response to an audience query about internet safety.
Aman Gupta narrated that his own website had been replicated by hackers. People lost a lot of money in buying what they thought were boAt products at discounted prices.
There was clamour among the audience as many wanted to ask questions to the distinguished panel. But only a few lucky ones managed to get their queries, concerns and curiosities answered. A retired income tax officer wanted to know about the risk of sharing OTPs.
Kumar offered two tips as a general thumb rule–to remember that OTPs are a way of debiting money, and to take a five-second pause before clicking on pop ups or tabs, to avoid initiating access to any phishing attempts.
However, it turned out that not everyone in the audience had cybercrime on their mind. One of them took advantage of the audience question round to ask Gupta about how he can find an investor.
Gupta replied that the third season of Shark Tank will go on the floor soon.
The talk concluded with many jostling for space on the stage—for a selfie with Gupta.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)