Caution is the password to counter cyber snooping

Cyberspace is full of options and they can reach you even via a smartphone received as a gift

Seven years ago, a Malayali living in the United States approached a cyber expert here with an offer of kh1 lakh per month for snooping his wife. Four years later, another man from Singapore approached the same person with a somewhat similar mission, with only four times the previous offer.

“He didn’t even disclose if the woman was his wife, his girlfriend or someone unrelated. It was as if the charges were also for not asking questions, ”said the expert who turned down the two offers, which were downright illegal.

As worrying as it may sound, espionage, cyber experts observed, was a commonly deployed tool. “It is widely used in the corporate world to prevent the leakage of company secrets. The legal profession is not exempt because rival clients are being spied on. Private detectives also use it for their clients, ”said Nandakishore Harikumar, who runs a cybersecurity start-up.

The “snooping couple” that partner smart devices are spied on is also not uncommon. Having the partner click on a seemingly innocuous link under certain pretenses will help install the malware remotely on the targeted device.

Path to espionage

“While spyware like Pegasus is too expensive, a lot of malware is either available at a much lower price, or its sources are freely accessible on the Dark Web, which an effective hacker can customize into a powerful tool. Since this malware can be bundled with popular apps, it can easily creep into the device without being noticed. While microphones and cameras in smartphones are the most targeted applications, keystroke trackers that help crack passwords are also widely used, especially in phishing attacks, ”said Mr. Harikumar.

Rahul Sasi, a cybersecurity expert, said gifted smartphones can be embedded with such malware or spyware, sparing authors the difficulty of installing it remotely.

Update help

“Updating the device’s operating systems (OS) and verifying the authenticity of applications before installation are basic tools to counter malicious cyber attacks. A device with an outdated operating system is all the more vulnerable, ”he said. Using a secure virtual private network that hides IP credentials and not clicking on unsolicited links are other precautions.

Prasanth Sugathan, lawyer and legal director of Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center India, said that with the exception of access to devices by law enforcement agencies authorized under the Telegraph Act or of the Information Technology Act, any such access is considered “unauthorized”.

Elusive proof

“Section 43 (a) of the Computer Law deals with unauthorized access to a computer, while Section 43 (c) refers to the introduction of any contaminant or computer virus. Article 66 provides for imprisonment and a fine of up to 5 lakh for the offenses listed in article 43, ”he said.

Mr Sugathan, however, said cases recorded under these articles rarely result in convictions because charges are difficult to prove due to deficient cyber-legal evidence. “Cybercrime is not yet fully developed here and there are few agencies with the expertise,” he said.

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