RACY CASES-63 Phishing in dangerous waters


V Pattabhi Ram and R Chandrasekar

Sneha worked as a journalist. That meant she could work flexi time.  Her miah Vicky wasn’t all that lucky.  Okay, he was a hot shot corporate executive.  But he was wedded to his office 24X7.  Even as he was grabbing his final piece of sandwich, in a tearing hurry eager to be at office before the crack of 9 am, Sneha said, “Vicky don’t forget to transfer money to Dad’s account; today is the first day of the new month.”

How could he forget?  Yes, he would do it he told himself.  He thought about the various meetings scheduled for the day.  First there was the vendor presentation, then the in-house weekly meeting, and finally a review of the new product launch ……. he wished he could occasionally escape to the Himalayas like a famous movie star does every year. Well, this was the flip side of a being a highly paid marketing manager.

The moment Vicky entered his cabin, things started rolling. “Sir, the vendor is ready with his presentation.  It is at the conference hall on the first floor” said Dolly, his doe eyed secretary.  He wondered how he could have managed office minus her. “I will be there in a minute. Could you organize the weekly meeting immediately after this?” replied Vicky. He picked up his laptop and entered the conference hall. 90 gruelling minutes later he found himself in the weekly meeting which reviewed the activity of the past week and formulated the plan of action for the coming week.

By the time he was out of it, it was quarter past 2 and he realized how terribly hungry he was.  Even as he grabbed his lunch, he remembered what Sneha had told him in the morning; that he must transfer money to his dad. This was one thing he did religiously each month. Earlier it used to be money orders, then demand drafts and now internet banking account had made his job easy; for funds could be transferred at the click of the mouse.

His next meeting was only an hour of later. That gave him the time to browse his mails and he logged on to his internet banking account. The internet connection was surprisingly very slow.  It was on such occasions that he felt that going to the bank in person would be quicker. Also the enormous number of user-ids, passwords, PIN numbers that one had to remember — especially complex settings which requires combination of alphabets, numbers and special characters — he wondered where it was all headed.

It was then that he got a message on his web-browser stating “There is a problem with your internet banking account.  Please enter your bank account number and PIN to enable the administrator to rectify the problem.” Suddenly the intercom rang.  Dolly was on the line.  She told him that the senior managers had assembled for the product launch review. Vicky cursed his bank and the wretched technology — quickly entered his account number and PIN. The screen reverted to the home page of the Bank and he had to log-in again. He executed the transaction.  Fortunately this time there was no problem and he rushed to the review meeting.

That Sunday  Vicky woke up rather lazily even as Sneha walked in with a steaming cup of coffee and the newspaper in her hands. As he was enjoying the brew, his father called up to inform him that his account had been credited. Vicky felt emotional —  Could he ever pay-back for all that his parents had done?

Then as he was flipping through the papers Sneha drew a long list of pending things. Suddenly an advertisement from his bank caught his eye. It read “Your bank would never require you to disclose your user-id and PIN number of your internet banking account. Beware of Phishing”.  This shook inside out and he rushed to his computer fearing the worst.

Fortunately his account stood correct.  Luckily he didn’t have too much of balance that could be topped of! He immediately decided to change all the security numbers; the login, password, user-id etc.  How nice it would be if the bank could execute transactions only if they came from a specific number of telephone lines he asked himself.

When Wafers heard of this from Sneha she began to realize how the death of privacy was invading people in every facet of life.  The other day she was chatting with her engineer friend China.   She was an avid user of g-mail.  She was once hooked to hotmail but no longer.  She had grown out of that infatuation and now was truly and really in love with G-mail. After all, it gave her the opportunity to store all mails, helped her retrieve it at call, search the world-wide-web and what not. She was simply bowled over by it.   Oh, the techies do such innovative work; we accountants only pass entries had been her refrain!

But what really got her goat was the sponsored links that popped up on the right pane whenever she sent or received mails.  And my God, how damn close to the content of the mail they used to be.  She had once mailed her dad about her preparations for the exams, about how she would like to go on a holiday with him post exams and what kind of a career she had in mind for herself.  And presto propping up on the right pane was sponsored links on “how to prepare for the exam”, “free trips to Singapore”, “Take these psychometric tests” and “Changing rules of the career market”.  Boy, while that was exciting she believed that it amounted to someone reading her text.

China said that it reminded him of George Orwell’s famous book the “Animal Farm” where he had spoken of the “big brother” watching and of how “some pigs are more equal than others”!  The Internet said China was the big brother; enticing you to get into it, hooking you into it and then watching your every act and activity.  You weren’t really safe on the Net.  Anyone could write anything on the Net and hide behind anonymity.  If you didn’t front for others and identified yourself then your every conversation, every scrap of information is known to someone somewhere in the world.

Nothing then was really safe.  Nothing then was really private.  As a famous TV anchor often says, “Hamam may sab nange hain.”  The Net can be your friend but in improper hands it can turn out to be your greatest foe.

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About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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