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Online theft: Capitalism’s illegitimate child

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Digitial Economy

32 lakh Indian debit card details have been stolen. Passwords of 50 crore yahoo email accounts were taken. These are some headlines on information theft. Their volume and economical impact keep increasing.

Why such information is stolen? What is the motive of thieves?

Earlier, our property and savings would be safe as cash in chests or as jewels or in banks. They are also invested in expensive household articles, vehicles, or in immovable properties like land and houses. We had to go to the bank in person or give a cheque to transact in money. The thieves have to observe a target victim, their house, their movements for many days, choose the way, day and the moment, break open the house, neutralize the inmates, break the safe and then rob.

Nowadays, salaries are deposited in the bank. We use ATM and online banking to access our cash as and when needed. Whoever possesses the digital key (i.e. password) to the bank account is the owner of that account and can use it as he pleases. That’s why, stealing this information is nothing but stealing the property. If one gets hold of the debit/credit card details, one can steal lakhs and crores from the safety of one’s own office. If one gets access to emails, information in them can be used for the robbery. If medical insurance details are available, one can use them fraudulently.

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Even non essential details can be used as bait to elicit key information. Australian IT expert Dr. Dreffus says that a third person with access to email communication between two persons can use those details to fraud them.

For example, some call centers in Ahmadabad have collected personal information about many people in US, contacted them claiming to speak from US Internal Revenue Service. They swindled around $30 crore (around Rs 2,000 crore) from around 15,000 people. An enterprising con-man named Thakkar alias Shaggy amassed around Rs 1,500 crore in the last 5 years through these operations and invested in real-estate in Ahmadabad.

Aadhaar card, phone number linked to it, online orders using that phone, payments through cards, booking call taxies, details of ration card and gas cylinder connection, all collected around Aadhaar is such a ready booty for fraudsters. Using these cache of information they can pull a daring heist anytime on individuals or institutions.

What you do (Whatsapp), whom you are in contact with(friends & contacts list), where you go (GPS), what you buy (purchase online or in supermarkets using credit card or loyalty card), what diseases you have (hospital records, medical insurance records), where your children study, who their teachers are, when your children go for school excursion (school website) and so on, aggregation of all these data is by the state.

Indian government is forcing bank accounts and cashless transactions on everyone. Through Aadhar number, all personal information, bank accounts, and transactions are linked to one number Established in 2009, Aadhar authority had issued 107 Aadhaar cards so far spending Rs 7,659 crore.

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Dr. Dreffus says that we should not think that only those who commit crimes should protect their personal information. Having your personal details under your control is equivalent to having your life under your control.

The data collected by government, corporates and banks are stored in their databases. Internet and corporate networks provide access to exchange such data. Such a system allows leakage of information by its very design. Even if one were to plug all loopholes, build firewalls against attacks, implement strict audits and surveillance of suspicious activities, in practice even all of them together prove ineffective.

A cracker planning to carry out an attack need not do that directly from his computer. He can deploy a malware or a virus or a script called worm among others in widely spread computers. To pull off such a data heist, one need not have big networks like Italian mafia or Mumbai underworld. For a few hundred dollars you can get the software or person capable of attacking a particular target. Capitalism has taught everyone that money can be earned by any means.

The information that Indian card details have been stolen and used in US, China, Indonesia and Russia came to the knowledge of the banks only from customer complaints. Even after getting the news they delayed for 2 months before informing the customers and regulatory authorities. Similarly, the yahoo email details were stolen in 2014 itself. But the notification from yahoo regarding this came out only after 2 years.

Well-known antivirus expert Mr John MacAfee says that the governments, which should take responsibility for such losses, use such events to accuse their enemies and declare their friends as clean. The recent Indian propaganda that China tried to steal Indian bank account details and that Pakistan hackers attack Indian sites are some examples.

Moreover, governments, banks and companies blame the users themselves and allege that they stored the password online or clicked a wrong hyper link which led to the attack. These institutions refuse to take responsibility for security of the data collected in their databases. Government also evades its responsibility. The state uses data collected through deception from their citizens for political oppression and economic exploitation.

All these show that the state is incompetent and unwilling to guarantee security of personal information of its citizens. Why should we carry the burden of such incompetent structure which is not even capable of protecting us?

Series Navigation<< Aadhaar: Indian for sale! A tool of suppression in ruling hands!eWallet or digital robbery >>

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