DU data leak: Students lodge FIR yet feel unsafe and stressed

Delhi University students had complained of data breach when admit cards were uploaded online, and female students say that they are still feeling unsafe and stressed out. Experts suggest how they can keep themselves calm.
Many Delhi University girls are facing harassment and mental stress due to calls and messages from unknown numbers since the data leak has been reported.(Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purpose only))
Many Delhi University girls are facing harassment and mental stress due to calls and messages from unknown numbers since the data leak has been reported.(Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purpose only))
Published on Jul 17, 2020 08:00 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAprajita Sharad (Inputs by Naina Arora and Ruchika Garg), New Delhi

“Imagine how you’d feel if you picked up your phone expecting to see a message from your friend, but instead received a message from an unknown number that had explicit content. This is how it began. Initially there were calls from coaching centres and some fake companies but after a few days I started getting many objectionable and lewd messages that were not acceptable at all,” says Rashi Sahu, a Delhi University student who is one of the many girls who is facing a tough time since the incident of a massive data breach of students’ details has been reported.

The struggles for Sahu, and many others like her began when DU reportedly issued students admit cards for exams on its website. Soon phones of students, specifically girls started ringing, and unknown numbers raised eyebrows. “I shared this concern with my friends who told me that this is not only happening to me but there are many other students who are facing the same issue. We eventually realised that these lewd calls and messages were a result of data theft from DU’s website,” adds Sahu.

“People call and say either you talk to us or we may do something that will ruin your future. These calls are all from unknown numbers.”
– Diksha Yadav, DU student

Some students say they have been receiving threat calls as well. “People call and say either you talk to us or we may do something that will ruin your future. These calls are all from unknown numbers. I also got many WhatsApp messages and e-mails that were explicit in content. I feel so unsafe. Who should I go to?” asks Diksha Yadav, another DU student.

Recently, some girl students, who had opted for online exams, took to social media to complaint about their harassed state due to non-stop calls and messages from unknown numbers. Elucidating on how this all began, Arun Hooda, a student of LLM at Faculty of Law, says, “When I tried to log in, to access my admit card, I noticed that it’s very easy for me to access the admit card of any other student by just changing a few numbers on the URL. Even the gateway password that we got for downloading our admit card was quite easy to guess, as it was a combination of certain college codes, and the year of admission along with other generic details. In the previous years, the printed admit cards that we used to receive never had students’ phone numbers. However, that’s not the case with the online admit cards issued this time, and we are can’t even think about the repercussions this can have if confidential data gets exposed to those who thrive on cyber crimes!”

“In this case, students can file a police complaint as the leakage of data is a breach to their privacy and sensitive information disclosure,” says Mukesh Choudhary, cyber crime consultant with Jaipur Police, adding, “If the website is managed by a private body, the victim can ask for a compensation of upto 5 crore as per section 43A of IT (A) Act 2008. But, it’s not applicable if government body is involved in its complete management. Timely Security audit for the website and servers of government departments are necessary to maintain privacy and security averting such threats.”

Hooda, who escalated his concern to the DU authorities, after seeing a possibility of a larger breach due to unlocking of admit cards online, adds, “Through unlocking the admit cards, anyone can also access the original admission form that a student would have filled at the time of his or her admission, which contains details such as Aadhaar card, bank account number, address, etc.”

“When we linked the course of events, that’s when we understood that this was happening due to the online admit cards. DU then issued a unique key password to all students. However, that has also been breached in no time.”
– Akshay Lakra, an LLB student

Akshay Lakra, an LLB student at the Campus Law Centre, escalated his concern through social media, and tells us that “As soon as I voiced my concern on social media, many female students approached me confirming that they were receiving calls and obscene messages from unknown numbers. When we linked the course of events, that’s when we understood that this was happening due to the online admit cards. DU then issued a unique key password to all students. However, that has also been breached in no time!”

Hooda and Lakra had then filed a police complaint regarding the issue. “We resolved to take this up legally,” says Lakra, adding, “We have tried to reach out to both, DU authorities and Delhi Police to explain how students are distressed over the matter to highlight the risks and problems involved. But, when just the online uploading of admit cards has led to theft of students’ personal details, then how do we expect that DU is capable to conduct online exams without any hiccups?”

“Data theft cases are generally through unverified or lesser-known websites or domains available on internet. While visiting any domain, double-check if you’re on the right page. Don’t lackadaisically do any web surfing, like in this case they submitted data.”
– Karan Goel, ACP, Cyber Crime

Though students have filed a police complaint regarding this issue, but continue to remain stressed about the situation. Karan Goel, ACP, Cyber Crime, Gurugram, says that in cases such as these, “Victim should come out in open, and not be embarrassed about it. It can happen to anybody. Dialogue is very important with parents and law-enforcement agencies. Data theft cases are generally through unverified or lesser-known websites or domains available on internet. While visiting any domain, double-check if you’re on the right page. Don’t lackadaisically do any web surfing, like in this case they submitted data.”

Adding to this, Harleen Kaur, a Delhi-based psychologist, suggests, “If you are confused about what’s happening, reach out to someone. Report anonymously if you like, but act on that gut feeling which is making you uncomfortable... It’s important to report as well as talk about it so that the youngsters who are at an impressionable age don’t feel helpless.”

If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist. Call helplines: Aasra: 022 2754 6669; Sneha India Foundation: +914424640050 and Sanjivini: 011-24311918

Author tweets @FizzyBuddha

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