Online women abuse is on the rise

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Mallika (name changed) was one of my friends. She was known to be a ‘timid girl’, who spoke softly and judiciously chose her words. Probably for her introversion, she was very reticent about what had been done to her. The incident came to light much later. It was too late but on insistence from her well-wishers, she finally gathered up courage and complained against the whole incident to police. In the meantime, her boyfriend had been sharing her ‘private pictures’ widely but her initiative finally ended him up in jail. Mallika was devastated by the betrayal. The treachery came from somebody whom she had loved and shared her private moments with. And our society’s, anachronistic male ego had made it worse stamping her as a ‘bad girl’. Mallika had to sell her ancestral property in Kolkata and leave for other state. She even tried to end her life. But could that have ended this vicious cycle of malice?

Mallika is just one example how women become victim of malicious intent. Internet now has become a new ground for violations of women’s rights. Malicious ex-lovers and jittery boyfriends, after breaking up with their partners, upload their personal pictures . Blackmailing these women has fast become an obnoxious trend. Only a few women muster courage to go to police and file complaint against the troublemakers, who in most of the cases succeed in causing enough damage to the character of their target. They make private moments of a person public in no time via widely used social media and the ubiquitous porn hubs that dump anything coming from the users.

The number of this type of human rights violation top the chart, according to Abir Ranjan Atarthi, a cyber-security engineer with a reputed IT farm, who assists Calcutta police in resolving cybercrimes. Calcutta is simply a dot in the world of malice. This type of privacy violation has been spreading like a fire in the forest. Now anyone can hear and watch you secretly. The remedy is possibly the worst of its kind. You need to cover the mike, webcam, headphone, speaker and any other input, output device fixed in your laptop or phone with a tape before you go ahead with private moments.

Is it possible? Yes, indeed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation sells a specially designed sticker set for this purpose. And it happens in the worst scenarios where big guys are involved! Probably for that reason the Chairman and CEO of a social networking giant used to cover his laptop webcam and mike with a tape! You have guessed it right — it was Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not the case of a single billionaire. He might want to protect his privacy at any cost and took that drastic step after trusting none available in the market and people might see a design pattern of desperation involved in that hacking-phobia, in general. But for women the scenario is worst.

Our privacy can be compromised any moment in the binary sphere. We don’t know where and when it will strike. And in the end, the big and bleak question is staring at us blankly and asking “Are we really secure in the virtual world?” In case of women, are they really safe from their boyfriends, lovers and even strangers with a camera phone?

There are stories of women who simply don’t trust their boyfriends or lovers and make them undress before they do the same! A spy camera can be installed anywhere – pen, collar button, frame of glasses, belt – the list is endless. That way, men too risk of becoming a target.

A recent paper published by the researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel has declared that “malware can turn your computer into a perpetual eavesdropping device. At a press conference, they demonstrated how most PCs and laptops were susceptible to this type of attack. “A malware called SPEAKE(a)R, for example, can reprogram output devices like headphone, earphones and speakers into input devices. It creates a vulnerability that can be abused by the hackers any time,” said Yuval Elovici, the director of BGU Cyber Security Research Centre (CSRC).

And as an example of this exploitation, head of Research and Development at the CSRC Mordechai Guri put forward the instance of Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook. Mark was being seen covering his laptop mike and webcam with a tape in a widely circulated picture. Guri has mentioned, quite ironically, “You might tape up the mike, but would be unlikely to tape the headphone or speakers.”

This paper can be downloaded from the Cornell University website where researchers have shared a ‘lesser known truth’ — the audio chipsets in modern motherboards and sound cards include an option where one can change the function of an audio port with the help of a specially designed software. There is a type of audio port programming which is usually referred to as jack retasking or jack remapping.

World Amnesty has already warned us about several surveillance tools that have often been used by the top spy masters. You’ve probably heard of MUSCULAR, OPTIC NERVE, MYSTIC or PRISM. You, probably, have come to know about the widely known and debatable facts where American senators were given special power to investigate National Security Agency’s role in GCHQ ‘Optic Nerve’ spying. It involved mass collection of Yahoo webcam images done by British surveillance agency GCHQ. What GCHQ had ‘been accused to have’ done seemed quite normal after the Israeli researchers proved that software could really play havoc in re-tasking or remapping the program of a hardware chip.

There are tools available in the market to help you lose a surveillance tail and they are legal. Surveillance technology makes it simple enough to hide video camera, GPS monitor, Audio Bug in almost anything — a public bathroom ceiling fan, teddy bears, key chain — anywhere, you can name it. If it fits, the recording process is on.

The Mac users feel safe with the green LED light and think no malicious activity is going on. Former national security agency (NSA) hacker and NASA employee Patrick Wardle has proved them wrong and discovered how it’s possible for Mac malware to exploit an active SKYPE or FACETIME connection to spy on the innocent users. What Israeli researchers have discovered recently is only a general truth — there is no smoke, without fire.

When we watch the smoke of debate on keeping freedom intact online the fire of surveillance silently burns with embarrassment. A private user always wants to communicate ‘privately’ with friends and wants to keep his/her privacy intact. Will she go for Air Gap computer security? But that is only used to isolate confidential data from an online network for higher security. If she opts for that, the whole concept of sharing and caring through Internet melts down. And it’s being melted down by the malicious lovers or the jittery boyfriends. The impact of this type of attack on privacy is no less than the physical one.

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