Training trouble hampers virtual policing

Training trouble hampers virtual policing

New Delhi: One day in 2007, the email account of Amita Singh, chairperson of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Study of Law and Governance, was hacked and distress mails sent to her friends and relatives seeking money.

Singh went to the local police station where she was told a case couldn’t be registered; the policemen there said they had never dealt with a case such as hers.

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Singh went public with her problem and a week later, senior police officers intervened and transferred her case to a specialized wing of the Delhi Police dealing with cyber crimes.

The case is yet to be solved.

In May, the same thing happened to a senior journalist who did not want to be named. She wanted to register a complaint with the police, but was dissuaded from doing so by her colleagues who assured her that nothing would come of it.

Nothing would, agrees Singh.

“People do not have faith in the current system—on whether action will be taken on their complaints. For the police, our data is not that important." They are more likely to take instances of cyber terrorism seriously, Singh adds.

The National Crime Records Bureau says 420 cases were registered under the IT Act in 2009 compared with 288 in 2008.

In addition, 276 cyber crimes were registered under the Indian Penal Code in 2009, up from 176 in 2008. Two out of every three offenders were between the ages of 18 and 30.

After the government enacted the IT Act in 2000, police departments in New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Lucknow, Gandhinagar, and Gurgaon started to establish cyber wings.

In 2001, Karnataka converted its cyber crime cell into a cyber police station. But the real change came only after nine years when in August 2010, the police department in Hyderabad established an exclusive cyber police station to deal with real crimes in the virtual world.

The station is headed by an officer of the rank of deputy superintendent or assistant commissioner of police, has two cyber investigation teams and has a total of 19 policemen, some of whom staff a cyber crime lab.

The station will deal with unauthorized access and hacking, trojan attacks, virus and worm attacks, email-related crimes (email spoofing, email spamming, email bombing, sending threatening emails, defamatory emails, email fraud, phishing), denial of service attacks, distribution of pornography, forgery, IPR (intellectual property rights) violations, cyber terrorism, and banking and credit card related crimes.

Policemen investigating cyber crimes are usually trained at the training centre of their state. A few are deputed for advanced training at the Central Bureau of Investigation’s academy in Ghaziabad.

In Delhi, for instance, policemen who investigate cyber crimes are trained at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.

The six-week training programme in cyber crime investigation and computer forensics that they go through focuses on digital fraud, incident response systems, computer forensics, cyber law, email crime and cyber forensics, credit card fraud, forensic tools, email tracing, forensic data computing, and scams originating from letters purportedly written by people in Africa.

Most police departments follow a similar approach. In Mumbai, policemen investigating cyber crime also go through a refresher course run by IT industry lobby group Nasscom.

Such training is usually inadequate, say experts.

Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate who specializes in cyber law, said investigations “suffer because of lack of good quality cyber experts and investigators. In the last 15 years, there have been only three reported convictions in cyber crime cases."

Under the IT Act of 2008, and the Indian Penal Code, punishment for cyber crime could range from three years to a life term (the latter is for cases related to cyber terror) and also involve penalties of between 1 lakh and 10 lakh.

Delhi’s top cyber crime investigator defends the police’s record.

“Our officers are aware of cyber crimes; less conviction does not mean that we have failed. Cases are still in trial and there has been no acquittal due to lack of evidence," said additional deputy commissioner of police Rajan Bhagat.

Bhagat, Delhi’s first cyber police officer, says complaints can be registered at any police station.

“The complaint can then be forwarded to the police station under the cyber cell of Delhi Police’s economic offences wing (EOW) for further investigation. Delhi Police’s special cell (an elite wing that handles terrorism-related cases) too has a police station to investigate cyber-related crimes," Bhagat said.

Still, even the government admits India’s cyber crime fighting infrastructure is inadequate.

“Cyber crimes are growing at a very fast speed and the country does not have adequate infrastructure and expertise to handle them," a top home ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Last year, cyber-fraud cases added up to 5,800 crore while total online transactions were about 13.5 trillion. We have just 40 cyber experts in the country when the immediate need is of 600 people."

The home ministry official said the government has decided to set up a national centre to train an army of cyber experts in the country. A specialized cyber police station in each state is part of the plan.

According to this official, the plan was drawn up last month during a meeting of representatives from the states with former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, who retired on 30 June.

The national centre will come up in Hyderabad. “The centre will be equipped with the latest equipment and software to crack such (cyber) crimes and will be an apex body to deal with all cyber-related issues," the home ministry official said. The project is expected to cost 80 crore in the first phase and 600 people will be trained in the first year.

As for the specialized police stations, the official said that the “the home ministry will fund states for the first three years for procuring infrastructure and equipment under the police modernization plan".

Hyderabad may become a hub of initiatives to fight cyber crime.

The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad, the Indian Police Service training institute, plans to create a separate centre for cyber crime within the school.

Though the academy currently has sessions on cyber crime as part of its curriculum, this new centre will be open to officials from the judiciary and investigating agencies, including those from the customs and excise tax departments and the Enforcement Directorate.

“There is a need everywhere for people to be enlightened about cyber crime," said Vipul Kumar, additional director of the academy.

The police will need to get smarter because such crimes are getting increasingly complex, said Ankit Fadia, an independent cyber security expert and ethical hacker who has conducted training sessions at the National Police Academy.

“One of the tricks used by criminals, mostly terrorists, these days is steganography, by which one can hide a password-protected word or an excel file under a photograph, which can go unsuspected," he said.

According to the home ministry official mentioned in the first instance, plans are also afoot to set up more cyber forensic labs to investigate high-profile cyber crime cases, which require a great deal of expertise. The department of information technology has eight such labs and Nasscom too runs similar facilities in some states.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the country’s premier investigative agency, sent 20 of its officials from the cyber wing to the US last year for advanced training.

“There is a plan to strengthen the CBI cyber lab and set up one in the elite National Investigation Agency (NIA)," the second official added.