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November 5, 1999


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The mouse in the gumshoe: Karnataka's Corps of Detectives has raised a cyber crime squad. M D Riti in Bangalore

If someone were to steal your Internet time, could you ask your local police to catch the thief? If you live in Bangalore, you could.

Email this story to a friend.

The Rajajinagar police station in the city has registered its first case of Internet time theft...

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And the Karnataka Corps of Detectives, the state version of the Central Bureau of Investigation, has just launched its own cyber crime squad.

The squad will deal with problems like hacking, phreaking or phone hacking, time theft and the use of Internet for militancy activities.

Director General of Police V V Bhasker heads the Corps of Detectives in Karnataka: "We thought it's only right that the country's first cyber crime squad should be set up in Bangalore, which is widely acknowledged as India's cyber capital."

He believes that "The amount of money that can be stolen through cyber crime is much larger than that can be stolen by all the conventional crimes like dacoity, mugging and housebreaking put together. We estimate that it could become 10 times the Rs 25-30 crore (Rs 250-300 million) lost through conventional crimes now. It might not be rampant yet, but it's better that we get into the act now and get ready to fight it as it begins."

Karnataka's new computer enthusiast Chief Minister S M Krishna launched the squad. As of now, it comprises just two police officers: DIG Kishore Chandra who will head it and SP Balaraman of the Computer and Technical Services.

They hope to induct another four or five personnel over the next few months from within the force.

These officers will be handpicked for their aptitude and will then be trained extensively in India and abroad to tackle crime that involves computers and electronic networks.

The squad lists several specific computer crimes that it proposes to include in its ambit:

  • Hacking,
  • Fraud through programme manipulation,
  • Tampering with cash dispensers,
  • Computer forgery and altering bank transactions,
  • Use of Internet for militancy or destructive activities,
  • Pornography,
  • Email abuse,
  • Gambling and betting,
  • Spoofing and masquerading,
  • Phreaking,
  • Interception,
  • Time theft,
  • Unauthorised access,
  • Alteration of data through introduction of viruses,
  • Logic bombs,
  • Computer sabotage and vandalism of hardware, software and PC accessories,
  • Theft of trade secrets,
  • Use of online bulletin boards for material relating to criminal offences,
  • Use of computer systems or networks to store, exchange, distribute or transact indictable material and, of course,
  • Offences related to e-commerce.
Already, the two-man squad is feeling the heat. Barely two days after they set up shop, the chief minister enquired about he status of the team!

Balaraman told Rediff: "We are delighted by his interest because it will give the police force the necessary motivational push to get it operational quickly."

The unspoken, of course, is about the bottom line. Sanction of money might come quickly and this could be used to buy whatever equipment needed, or pay for training overseas.

Bhasker says: "We are already in the process of identifying the right officers, even in the ranks of sub-inspectors or inspectors. We are willing to sponsor them to complete postgraduate courses like MCA, and then propose to send them abroad to get trained with organisations like the FBI, Interpol and leading forensic laboratories in the detection and prevention of computer crimes."

The police endeavour to equip themselves to deal with cyber crime does not stop with the formation of this small squad.

The real thrust of the effort will be to educate station staff, right from constables upwards, in the basics of computer crime, as it is the neighbourhood police station that will have to actually register a complaint of computer crime.

Chandra says: "Of course, victims are welcome to directly approach us, and we will complete the procedural formality of getting their complaint registered at a station. But we want computer users to be able to avail of help at a very local level."

It is natural that this squad should come under the purview of the COD, as it is this 25-year-old organisation that deals with white-collar crime in the state and also anything that might not be strictly localised.

The COD also organised an all-India conference on the police's role in solving computer crimes in July this year to which they invited police officers from all over Karnataka.

India has extremely strict laws for the protection of intellectual property rights, but these laws tend to remain on paper.

Software piracy is rampant despite the reduction in software import duties for application software and absence of excise duties on local software.

A NASSCOM study attributes the losses to the rapid growth in the size of the domestic market, but claims that the percentage of software piracy in the country has come down marginally. The software industry annually loses billions of dollars worth of business globally to piracy. End users of pirated software run the risk of incomplete documentation, non-existing after-sales support, missing upgrades and updates, and of course, the threat of a computer virus. But they still find it worthwhile to use pirated software.

A similar effort to train police personnel in computer crime solving, but on a very much smaller scale, driven purely by the enterprise and initiative of one individual, was made in Karnataka last year.

This particular effort was entirely the brainchild of Bhasker Rao, superintendent of Kodagu district, which houses the police-training academy.

Rao introduced a dimension of cyber crime detection training into a programme to teach constables to handle PCs for use in police stations.

When Rediff asked him whether constables had the knowledge or skills to make good use of such training, an indignant Rao had said: "My boys have all either passed pre-university or are graduates. They are very receptive and ready to absorb knowledge. If they eventually turn out poorly trained, the fault lies with the trainers not the students. Discipline has become a one-way flow, from officers to lower personnel, and the human resource potential of the ranks is never tapped."

Sadly, none of Rao's boys' special skills seem to have been put to use in Karnataka. "We need more than the efforts of motivated individuals if we want to really tackle the growing problem of cyber crime," says Bhaskar. "That is why we decided to bring all such efforts under one common roof and section."

Interestingly, the police define cyber crime as "the use of the computer dishonestly for personal gain or wrongful loss to others. When noticed, such cases will have to be registered by the police, investigated and detected for its logical conclusion by bringing the criminal to book".

The cyber squad, however, much training it might be given, could never still hope to keep pace with technology as it develops. The police are aware of this, and so have wisely decided to form an expert group that can advise them properly on every case.

Several of the city's leading infotech companies, like Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Microland, as well as academicians from the Indian Institute of Science, will form this group.

Interestingly, the police have already promised a fee of up to Rs 50,000 per case to this expert group.

"But police officers will still form the core of the actual squad, as they are well versed in evidence collection, preservation and presentation in court," points out Chandra.

He says: "A strong police orientation is a must in such areas. We would also have involved lawyers, but legislation is not yet clear or specific in the area of cyber crime. We are waiting for the new cyber laws to be passed and would be happy to help drive the direction of these laws as well. For example, digital evidence is not acceptable anywhere now and this is an issue that we must reconsider."

The squad also hopes to develop a network with international crime fighting organisations like the FBI and Interpol, as cyber crime has no geographical boundaries.

"The Interpol headquarters at Leons in France, for example, has a novel method of collecting information on computer crime, and it has circulated this information to the whole country," says Balaraman.

He says: "We would like to interact with such organisations, and upgrade our methods of detection."

But if the police hope to be one up on cyber criminal, they must also have the latest hardware. How can a department that is always complaining about the lack of funds to buy equipment hope to achieve this?

Will they consider accepting hardware or software gifts from the IT industry? "This is a sensitive issue and it is difficult to make a blanket declaration on it," says Chandra ruefully.

"The police in other places like New York does have sponsorship to a great extent already and we too in Karnataka now use patrol vehicles given to us by companies," he points out.

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