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If mobility and other restrictions weren’t enough, online space too, is now becoming a forbidden entity for Pakistani women. —Creative commons
If mobility and other restrictions weren’t enough, online space too, is now becoming a forbidden entity for Pakistani women. —Creative commons

Pakistan has the highest teledensity (75 per cent) in the region and the cheapest rates for radio internet to have ever been offered (3G/4G LTE Data Plans for as low as $5/10GB). With over 40 million smartphone users, a very healthy chunk of the population is virtually online.

On the one hand, this is indeed a good omen, but on other, it also provides the rotten ones among us with easy and swift access to high speed internet, thus enabling them to carry out their activities with ease and impunity.

And as always, it is largely women who are at the receiving end.

If mobility and other restrictions weren’t enough, online space too, is now gradually becoming a forbidden entity for Pakistani women; in fact, to some extent, it has already.

The modus operandi of the proverbial rotten bunch is pretty basic – they set up multiple digital identities that allow them to collect personal information, mainly of women, in order to harass them online and in the real world.

A growing grey-to-black market of cheap and accessible software and hardware, furthermore, allows anyone to infiltrate mobile devices and computers, in order to track someone's social movements.

Needless to say, this places people, especially women, at great risk.

7 measures you can take to protect yourself

Here are the seven of the most efficient practices that a user should follow to a) avoid chances of harassment through the use of personal data, and b) take appropriate counteraction in case of being harassed online.

1. Choose strong passwords and change them regularly

Never discount the importance of password strength. Also, enable a two-step verification on all the online platforms that offer this feature (Facebook, Twitter and Gmail do); it serves as a crucial second line of defense in saving your online accounts if the hacker has successfully cracked your password.

As soon as you feel someone has used your account, change the passwords for all your accounts, not just the one that was hacked. Otherwise, it’s very easy for the hacker to follow a password pattern and get into your other accounts as well. You can somewhat avoid this by having very different passwords for each account.

2. Report to the authorities immediately

Once you have changed the passwords, report the hacking of your account to the relevant site. If you are unable to get back the control of your account, this will become even more important. All the larger websites normally do respond swiftly.

3. Alert family and friends

After reporting, it may take the site a little time before you get a response. Try to contact your family and friends to let them know of this occurrence so that they don’t communicate with your hacked account.

It is very Important to inform your family members, including your parents and guardians, of this, especially if you believe things could go awry later on. Having your family’s confidence before things take the wrong turn is crucial.

4. Do not cede to the blackmailer's demands

If the harassment has turned into blackmailing and the hacker is demanding money or anything else in return of your private data, do not hand over the money. Do not give in.

There is a high probability that they will try to blackmail you again, and you can never be sure that they have deleted all the copies of your private data.

5. Report the harassment to FIA — they are highly active

In case of cyber harassment or blackmailing, report to Federal Investigation Agency’s National Response Centre for Cybercrime. You will need to give them your details, as the NR3C doesn’t accept anonymous reports for obvious reasons.

This is a must, as you would want to have an official complaint lodged against the criminal. FIA’s NR3C department is very active and prompt in dealing with such cyber crimes, and will possibly be the best agency that can help. [FIA's helpline: 9911]

5.1 In case you are a minor, ask your guardian to lodge the complaint on your behalf. You can also get help from friends or teachers who can lodge a report on your behalf, if you don’t want to involve your family.

5.2 Remember, reporting the crime isn’t only important to safeguard yourself against future harassment – it will ensure that no one else is subjected to the troubles you endured.

5.3 You can report the cyber crime by either filling the online form or sending them an email with all the required information along with the evidence of harassment (screenshots of conversation or logs of e-mails) to this e-mail ID: Helpdesk@Nr3c.Gov.Pk

5.4 It is also important to note that threatening calls do not come under the mandate of Nr3c. To address this issue, one needs to lodge a complaint to your nearest police station.

6. If your friend is a victim, extend support

For peers of the victim, it is essential to support the victim of cyber crimes, as most don’t receive support from their family while going through the trauma of cyber harassment.

For the victim: if you cannot take your family in confidence in case of blackmailing, contact your friends or anyone else in your support system. You will probably find someone who will be able to help you with correct guidance and support.

7. Try to locate the attacker if possible

Family and peers also need to help the victim reach out to the authorities of the university, college, workplace, or any other institution which you think the attacker belongs to. As victims are usually terrified in these situations, it is important for peers and the family to take charge and report to any official agencies and places where the hacker(s) works at, if known.

In case you need further information or assistance, you can always refer to the Hamara Internet website. It has a knowledge base on how to deal with online harassment.

Hamara Internet is part of a Pakistani campaign initiated by the Digital Rights Foundation, which aims to protect Pakistani women against cyber harassment and promote a better understanding of using secure internet and mobile technologies.

The lack of support and a belief that they will be unsafe if they speak out, impacts the already small portion of the female Pakistani population that has access to the internet, as families will often try to restrict further access, once these cases are reported.

Access to the internet has become vitally important for women, not just in Pakistan but around the world, as a means of expressing themselves freely, and to also seek out educational and economic opportunities.

To deny or discourage Pakistani women from gaining access to the empowering platform of the internet is something that the country cannot afford. It is essential that the government and civil society work together to raise awareness about digital security amongst the general populace, with a focus on strengthening the legal support framework against cyber-crime.

However, rather than implementing vaguely-defined legislation with lots of loopholes and room for abuse; and that can see minors as young as 10 years old being prosecuted, the government and civil society must work on massive awareness initiatives and legal remedies that are proactive and provide safety, support and confidence to victims.

The capacity to tackle and solve the problem of cyber-crime and cyber-harassment in all their forms must be built upon strong foundations, if we are to deal with cyber-crimes in their infancy.

For further information on online protection:

Author Image

Nighat Dad is an Advocate of High Court and the Founder of Digital Rights Foundation.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

gras Sep 11, 2015 05:40pm

This article discusses an important issue

Mansoor Salim Sep 11, 2015 05:43pm

Outstanding article in my opinion. The first point, "Choose strong passwords and change them regularly", is something we ignore at our own peril. And I'll add another advice, "Do not think the Internet is a buddy you can confide in, what you do on the Internet can/will be available to your grand-grand children to be proud/ashamed of."

ak Sep 11, 2015 11:53pm

I m sorry Nighat but I am going use some very harsh words here. A large percentage of girls who are online or on FB like sites are downright foolish and 'deserve' to be exploited by predators. They simply refuse to listen to husbands/ brothers / fathers about the dangerous pitfalls of online life. They think men are nobody to sermonise them and that with their new found online freedom, they have 'arrived'. Believe me, even without the use of hacking tools,( Sorry it does sound a bit crass) , I myself have been offered nude selfies by at least 10 different women in the last 2 years after just basic interaction online. And mind you, these women range from single teenagers to middle age mothers of teenagers ! Can U blame a guy for pursuing a woman who is ready to send nude pics within 2 days of getting acquainted ?

ak Sep 11, 2015 11:53pm

Women have gone bad in our society. Men are where they always were. I m all for equal freedom of sexes, but it seems women have no grey matter in their heads ! That is why sensible husbands dont allow their wives to have independent FB accounts, and sensible wives say the husband is right on this one. U know the smartest women will always tell U that girls/ women need a leash, else they will destroy families and respect in no time !

usman777 Sep 12, 2015 04:25am

Another tip is don't take racy pictures on your phone. The data privacy at the mobile phone companies is TERRIBLE in Pakistan. Your entire chat history can be provided if senior officer in the company asks for it.

Rahi Sep 12, 2015 05:09am

I do not agree with last point... dont take matters in your hand i.e. do not try to find the attacker (even if possible).. thats not your job.

El Cid Sep 12, 2015 06:55am

A mathematically constructed password cannot be breached except by the brute force of a super computer...and even that would take a very long time. Ordinary computers and programs will take hundreds of years to break the one I have developed.

El Cid Sep 12, 2015 06:59am

Here is a revelation: There are very many women and girls of all ages and matrimonial status who are themselves predators on the social media. Many are looking for a clandestine relationship and many for just a quickie. I kid you not. It takes a very strong man to turn down some of the stuff they post to you.

Salim Sep 12, 2015 11:31am

No one can clamp down any human, human nature - what you are stopped from doing, you want to do it and its like a revolt. Grass root ethical education is necessary to understand what is right and what is wrong from society's point of view. Respect for one's privacy is necessary - Invading one's privacy can be as simple as staring into other car on red light. Teach yourself and kids. Else we will need more prisons than educational institutes. Psychologically speaking starring, groping, stalking someone is considered as a disease; some western nations treat it as a disease; if it turns out to be chronic, those are treated in medical institutes ... not in prisons.

Muhammad Ayub khan Sep 12, 2015 12:27pm

@ak I am agreed with you!!!!!!!

Malik Sep 12, 2015 12:58pm

Instead of iPad and iPhones make sure your minor uses a desktop computer in the lobby not bedroom so that you can monitor what they does on the Internet. Many times we as parents give all the gadgets without any supervision and they in their bedrooms can browse and see what ever they like in the unprotected Uncensored Internet we have.

Nabiha Meher Sep 12, 2015 05:27pm

Good job Nighat. Thank you for this write up. It will be immensely useful.

Nighat Dad Sep 12, 2015 07:26pm

@AK: Actually women need safety from patriarchal mindset first.

ak Sep 12, 2015 11:28pm

@Nighat Dad U know Nighat, you sound exactly like the kind of girls I feel really scared about. If a guy tries to tell you to be very careful about your activities online, esp with strangers, you start complaining about 'patriarchal attitudes'. I have tried reasoning with lots of girls and in the most polite ways, but most haven't cared. And in time, most of them have had nervous breakdowns and/or failed marriages ! They end up leading on strangers, who then extract a heavy price on their mind and body.

ak Sep 12, 2015 11:29pm

Please don't make it sound like 'how can a guy tell me what to do and what not to do' . I love you girls a lot. I have a lovely wife, a growing daughter and four amazing sisters. You know how it is for a brother of four middle class sisters growing up in our cities. I speak from experience. I have seen women ending up a total psychological mess after entering into physical intimacy with strangers or half acquaintances. I m not saying guys dont suffer, they do too. But women are way more emotional and vulnerable. Don't even ask me to relate to you how I have seen marriages and families decimated by naïve women and their secret online lives. Shun that unwanted attention from any stranger the first time and every time. If you are seeking love, do that in the real word. The internet is far too fake and unreliable a place for even a fling. Stay safe honey.