The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crime cafe

Amit Pandey, a businessman, didn’t smell a rat when a woman accused him of sending objectionable emails. Although his explanations fell on deaf ears, he didn’t realise the gravity of the situation until he was hauled to the local police station where the woman had lodged a written complaint. But luckily for Pandey, investigations revealed that somebody had hacked into his email account at the neighbourhood cyber cafe he frequented and was sending offensive emails at random.

Another victim of hacking is Simran Kaur. The 23-year-old MA student was devastated when she realised that her email account had been broken into.

Both incidents highlight the grave risks public computer users are exposed to. Significantly, National Crime Report Bureau (NCRB) statistics reveal that hacking, identity theft and breach of privacy are the most common cyber crimes committed daily across India. Although the bureau claims that cyber crimes are on the decline, its own figures show there is no drop in the number of breach of privacy cases. Experts warn that the problem will worsen as Internet penetration increases and the number of public computer users shoots up.

Cyber cafes are mushrooming all over to cater to a growing clientele who can’t afford a computer or an Internet connection at home but whose professional and personal lives invariably revolve around it. Cafes are now an integral part of every locality, like a drug store or a beauty parlour.

Until recently cafes were unobtrusive little business enterprises humming with activity where people from all walks of life quietly rubbed shoulders in air-conditioned comfort. But today the spotlight is on them after a terror email was sent from a cyber cafe in Salt Lake, triggering panic in Calcutta close on the heels of the blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad.

Since then law enforcers, cafe owners and the growing army of cafe users are virtually on red alert. This month (August 4) the police summoned 800-odd registered cyber cafe owners to cajole them into installing biometric software. “Its installation would help store client details. Customers would have to give their fingerprints and get photographed. All this would be stored in a database which would come in handy for cracking cyber crime cases, particularly in tracking down law-breakers,” said Naseem Ali, a senior Calcutta Police officer, who has solved several cyber crime whodunits over the years.

With police officers breathing down their necks to make sure that they comply with the rules, cafe owners are feeling the heat. Some say that their business is suffering. “Local police officers come to check the customers’ register at least twice a day. We don’t allow anyone to surf the Internet without a photo identity card. It’s also mandatory to submit a photo copy of the identity proof for our records,” says Mohammad Nasim, manager of Happy ezone on Ripon Street.

But everyone is not happy with the new rules. There are misgivings aplenty. Says Bibek Majumdar, a bank official who is a regular at a cafe near his home, “The details on my PAN card, submitted to the cafe as proof of identity, can be easily misused.” And Majumdar has a valid point. “One can reduce the risk by submitting a photocopy of the PAN card directly to the cafe owner instead of jotting the details in the users’ register which is accessible to everyone,” said Zafar Ahmed, who runs Compunet on Elliot Road.

It’s not the handing over of the photocopy of the identity proof alone that exposes users to unavoidable risks.

There are other lurking dangers most users are not even aware of. For instance, keylogger software copies anything that the customer keys in. It’s not difficult to imagine the consequences of such a breach of privacy. Experts, therefore, warn of any credit card purchases while using a public computer.

“Very often the auto complete feature of a public computer may be turned on. This enables the computer to store usernames and passwords,” warns Rudra Kamal Sinha Roy, senior security analyst, iViZ Techno Solutions Pvt. Ltd, Calcutta. To ensure that your information is not stored, test the public computer by typing in a bogus username and password. Then, close the browser and go back to the site, and try typing the same bogus username and password again to see if it auto completes, that is, if it was stored. If so, don’t use any real information on that computer.

Another way of protecting your personal information is to erase the history before leaving the cafe. “The best way to protect one’s details is by checking whether the cookies were stored or not. Delete the cookies and temporary Internet files,” says Ahmed.

A good strategy for safeguarding one’s username and password is to use Windows on-screen keyboard while entering the details.

“To activate Windows on-screen keyboard, press Windows + U and select on-screen keyboard to enter the passwords. To do so go to start menu>accessories>accessibility and there you will find it or as a shortcut press Windows + U,” explains Roy.

However, all these measures might come a cropper at times. So is there a golden rule?

“If you are using a public computer, the best way to shield yourself is to keep changing the password frequently. Make sure that the password is a difficult one with different characters and do not forget to delete all the documents that you have stored in the computer before stepping out of the cafe,” says Jawed Shamim, deputy commissioner of Calcutta Police, detective department.


safety net

1. Check if the cyber cafe has a valid licence to operate — all government websites have a list. If possible, visit cyber cafes that are well known instead of home-run ones.

2.Ensure that the software is updated and genuine. You can check that yourself or ask for a confirmation from the owner. Ensure that it runs updated antivirus and antispyware.

3.Don’t log in to your bank accounts or key in your credit card details from a cafe. Do not tick on the “always” remember option while entering your mailbox or chat.

4.Always delete temporary Internet files. If you have downloaded any files, delete them before leaving.

5.Never let anyone type your password for you. Change your password regularly if you frequent cafes regularly. Sign off before offering your seat to the next user who’s been eyeing your terminal impatiently.

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