What an App tragedy!

Let’s start with some startling numbers: Facebook has 2.5 billion users in the world. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has over 1.5 billion users worldwide. Sometime in October last year, over 50 million Facebook accounts were hacked and these users suddenly found that their search history, location data and information about relationships, religion and more were in the hands of unknown cybercriminals. True, it was not financial data like one’s bank account number, but this is information that is useful for ‘knowledge-based authentication’, which is definitely important for setting up accounts. Even after I read about this breach last October, I was unprepared to be a victim. You always think cybercrime and identity theft happens to others. Moreover, you assume that any uncharacteristic and outlandish request for money emanating from your online account, would be treated with suspicion by family and friends and they would authenticate the request with you before falling prey to the hacker. Sadly, when my WhatsApp account was hacked recently, I found out that all such assumptions are incorrect. There is a slippery-fingered hacker waiting right around the cyber-corner to modify the algorithm that drives your social media toolkit and take over your account and therefore your identity too. From there it is a terrible roller-coaster as you fight the invisible enemy.  In my case, several friends fell victim to a hoax message from my hacked WhatsApp account, asking them to help me by quickly transferring some money to a particular account since I was in a meeting and could not get out to do so myself and had to meet a critical deadline in the money transfer. By the time I was alerted and had reported the matter to the Electronic Crimes department, some friends in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had sadly lost some money.  But there was worse to come. I found myself locked out of my WhatsApp account, a communications tool that I relied on heavily.  I had to create an alternative account and literally add my many contacts to it and inform everybody on my list about the episode and change of WhatsApp number so that I could protect myself and them from further depredations of the hacker.   There is a saying that we should beware of anything that is free and too good to be true. I guess the many advantages of the so-called ‘free’ programmes like WhatsApp which are so easy to use and so convenient blind us to the dangers of exposing ourselves on such open platforms. This is what we get from the risks of using them and making them control our destinies. For this, there must be new controls, guarantees, legal procedures and legislation. I am a much wiser person today but what does it say about our heavy dependence on technology that I am still on WhatsApp and all social media? Old habits die hard even if they are dangerous..

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