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Byte by Byte

Gopika Vaidya-Kapoor | February 18, 2003 11:20 IST

In the world of cyber crime, evil bytes are fast replacing whizzing bullets. The Indian authorities are aware of the fight ahead. But the future does not look optimistic, shares experts

Life is about a mix of good and evil. So is the Internet. For all the good it does us, cyberspace has its dark sides too. Unlike conventional communities though, there are no policemen patrolling the information superhighway, leaving it open to everything from Trojan horses and viruses to cyber stalking, trademark counterfeiting and cyber terrorism.

Given the unrestricted number of free Web sites, the Internet is undeniably open to exploitation. Known as cyber crimes, these activities involve the use of computers, the Internet, cyberspace and the World Wide Web. "Any criminal activity that uses a computer either as an instrumentality, target or a means for perpetuating further crimes comes within the ambit of cyber crime," says Supreme Court advocate and cyber law expert Pavan Duggal.

While the worldwide scenario on cyber crime looks bleak, the situation in India isn't any better. There are no concrete statistics but, according to Duggal, Indian corporate and government sites have been attacked or defaced more than 780 times between February 2000 and December 2002.

He believes that despite the Information Technology Act, 2000, there are still several grey areas that exist within the law. "The IT Act, 2000, is primarily meant to be a legislation to promote e-commerce. It is not very effective in dealing with several emerging cyber crimes like cyber harassment, defamation, stalking and so on."

Duggal believes that what we need is dedicated legislation on cyber crime that can supplement the Indian Penal Code. His views are echoed by Mumbai-based lawyer and cyber law specialist Prathamesh Popat, who says, "The IT Act, 2000 is not comprehensive enough and doesn't even define the term 'cyber crime'". In fact, the Act cites such acts under a separate Chapter XI entitled 'Offences', in which various crimes have been declared penal offences punishable with imprisonment or a fine.

Cases of spam, hacking, cyber stalking and email fraud are rampant and, although cyber crimes cells have been set up in major cities, Duggal believes the problem is that most cases remain unreported due to a lack of awareness.

The good news is that, despite these limitations, cyber crimes are detected and culprits are being punished. In October 2002, the Delhi High Court restricted a person from selling pirated Microsoft software over an Internet auction site. Recently, Duggal argued and won a case at the Metropolitan Magistrate in New Delhi, involving an online cheating scam where the accused was charged with using a stolen credit card to buy products from a Sony India Private Ltd Web site.

In cities such as Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai, where cyber crime cells do exist, there is potential for improvement. "Law enforcement agencies are not well-equipped and oriented about cyber crime yet. There is an immense need for training, and more cities need to have such cells," says Duggal. "We need to create special tribunals headed by trained individuals to deal solely with cyber crimes, but with powers to levy heavier penalties in exceptional cases," adds Popat. "Unless there is solid deterrence, cyber crime will rise steeply." There is also a need for IT-savvy lawyers and judges, as well as training for government agencies and professionals in computer forensics.

So, when can consumers approach a cyber crime cell? What are victims to do? And how does one maintain security online? "Any and every incident of cyber crime involving a computer or electronic network can be reported to a police station, irrespective of whether it maintains a separate cell or not," says Popat. The aforementioned Chapter XI lists a number of activities that may be taken to constitute cyber crimes. This includes tampering with computer source code, hacking, publishing or transmitting any information in electronic form that is lascivious, securing access to a protected system, and breach of confidentiality and privacy.

Saileshkumar Zarkar, technical advisor and network security consultant to the Mumbai Police Cyber crime Cell, advocates the 5P mantra for online security: Precaution, Prevention, Protection, Preservation and Perseverance. "Take security seriously," he says. "If you protect your customer's data, your employee's privacy and your own company, then you are doing your job in the grander scheme of things to regulate and enforce rules on the Net through our community."

Awareness is important, and any matter should be reported at once. More importantly, users must try and save any electronic information trail on their computers. That's all one can do, then, until laws become more stringent or technology more advanced. You've been warned.

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