As India’s first cybercrime investigator, Dhanya Menon talks about how she coped with the contrasting developments in her life — from completing her BTech, trying her hand at business and finally doing a one-year diploma in cyber law; to why youths need to understand the proper use of the Internet as what seems harmless to the naked eye, could turn into a problem most of the time. Excerpts:
From completing BTech and doing a normal job, to taking care of business, to pursuing one-year diploma and starting off with a new career in the field of cyberlaw — you have faced several contrasting junctures in your life. How do you judge them and how do you feel it has been able to shape you into who you are today?
Personally, I feel every individual has to go through some crucial junctures, decision-making and a turning point in their lives. The funny part of my journey is that the field in which I am working now was never a part of the plan. In fact, I never thought about it as well. It was my grandfather’s choice that I study cyber law and he supported me throughout. It has definitely taught me a lot and last but not the least, I gradually fell in love with cyber law. I think unexpected and unplanned things aren’t that bad too.
Even today, society is blindfolded to a certain extent as they cannot see a woman as Inspector and in a leading position. Cybersecurity and cybercrime are two areas which are risky and involve a lot of challenges. Being the first woman cybercrime investigator, how do you handle threats and challenges that come your way?
Since the day I have entered this profession, I was completely unaware of what lay ahead of me. Maybe it is difficult for anyone to gauge the challenges that the future holds for them. But one thing that kept my hope and spirits high was that I was ready to face all the challenges that came my way. The best part was, I was never in a hurry and took one step at a time. Moreover, I was a dancer and that has taught me to be ready for challenges and surprises. I was accepted and I performed my duties well and gave my best efforts, dealing with whatever came my way. I believe I was trained to deal with surprises my entire life.
You are always under a lot of pressure and the field in which you are working in entails a lot of provocations and summons. Being the first lady officer investigator of cybercrimes and cybersecurity also calls for added threats. How do you maintain the right balance between a challenging professional job and your personal life?
Being a single mother and coming from a semi-urban region, my life has been through a lot of ups and downs. My parents were extremely cooperative and supportive. Maintaining the right balance between the two worlds is difficult but I am determined to make it work and take it in the right direction.
We know that cybercrimes of today often have their roots in digital technologies. The advent of hi-tech and technology and fast speed allows people to misuse e-services and technology and cause harm to others. What do you think are the potential risk areas of digital technology?
The major problem of digitisation does not lie in technology but on its usage. Today, youngsters are not aware of the proper usage of digital technology. Internet was designed to make our lives easier and to help us out, but the problem arises when it turns into an addiction and misuse begins. For this, it is very important to make people aware of the negative sides of the digital technology so that they do not use it for any wrong purpose and make use of the technology in ways which are not helpful to us. People should use technology in a responsible manner. The use of digital education and its benefit should be imparted to everyone to reduce the risk areas associated with digitisation.
The Central government had set up the National Informatics Centre – Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) and the Home Ministry had set up the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (14C) to combat cybercrime in the country. Do you think setting up such groups are enough?
Just like the existence of laws, there are loopholes too. Similarly, having the availability of technology is not enough. We need to know about its pros and cons as well. This is why it is important to learn its use and at the same time, work towards spreading awareness about the same. Digital education and literacy are most important so that we can control cyber situations in the country.
India’s cybercrime reporting portal has received a whopping 33,152 complaints in just five months and 790 FIRs have been registered (as per February 2020). A lot of technology companies are hiring cybersecurity officers and workers to ensure that no security breach takes place so that they can combat cybercrime in the country, in a coordinated and effective manner. According to you, where is the root problem of cybercrimes?
The root problem of cybercrimes lies in its usage since people still do not know how to use the digital platform wisely. We have strict and stringent laws, which obviously can be broken. Anything that may seem harmless to a regular person can quickly turn into a crime of great proportion. Almost 99 per cent of what you do online could turn into a huge problem.
E-governance and e-services such as procurement of Aadhaar documents online, passport application and other services have definitely made lives easier. But it also poses a huge threat to Right To Privacy and security breach of data. How do you gauge the importance of having e-governance and at the same time ensure the right balance between e-services and safety?
Security breach not only happens through posting the Aadhaar card details online but it also includes other personal information which is posted online on various social media sites. If people are concerned about their private details being shared with governmental officials online, that’s mandatory and any security breach taking place can be fought against and reported immediately. The concern should be regarding social media sites and other online spaces where people voluntarily declare their private details. Here again, the usage knowledge is important regarding what to post and what not to.
You are a recipient of the Rashtrapati Award. How does it feel?
The day I received the award, I felt I had a lot more to accomplish. I felt I was too young to receive that recognition. There were many people inside the hall, who had seen much more in their lives and their stories made me realise I needed to see more and experience more. However, the happiness that the award brought with it, gave me a sense of fulfilment. Even when I solve cases, it is a whole new experience. I cannot differentiate whether getting awards make me happy or the work that gets me there. The two are equally important and there is no comparison.