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: