Anti-Piracy Trick on Kashmir Files Free Download Fools Police and Media: Real Cybercrime Needs Similar Attention
A few weeks ago, the movie Kashmir Files was released to an unprecedented blaze of publicity. State governments controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) competed to give it tax-free status; the prime minister (PM) and top political leaders spoke about it and special shows were organised across India. This column is not about the controversy over the film but an interesting trick that has been employed to stymie piracy and illegal, free downloads of the movie. Unwittingly, the police have led the publicity effort by issuing warnings about the scam. The media, in turn, has been broadcasting the warnings without checking. 
The publicity trick involved a short and effective video that exploits the fear factor. It shows a girl being added to a WhatsApp group, ostensibly created to share and circulate the latest movie downloads for free. On the list is the recently released Kashmir Files, so she is tempted and is about to click on it when there is an incoming call. The caller is a distraught friend who tells her that her phone was hacked when she clicked on a free download link for Kashmir Files and all the money was stolen from her bank account. Watch the video here: 
Kashmir Files Warning
The message is fake. Your bank account cannot be emptied merely on downloading a pirated video. But, stunningly, the police across India—from Haryana to Telengana—were either conned or ‘persuaded’ to tweet the video from their official handles or issue warnings about this specific scam in statements to news agencies and the media.
Let us examine this in some detail. All cyber fraud operates on two emotions—fear and greed. There are plenty of ways to induce fear: your account or credit card is blocked or will be blocked for delayed payment, failure to update KYC (know-your-customer) data, because you were watching porn, etc. The fraudsters either frighten you into clicking on a link (which helps plant malware or take you to a spoof website where you end up sharing details of your bank account) or to get you to call a number where a smoothing scammer persuades you to part with information. The fear-factor fraud works well with senior citizens and those who are not very savvy with apps and technology.
The far more successful fraud is playing on people’s greed. There are tens of thousands of these frauds running simultaneously across the country and they find new victims everyday with just a slight variation to their dubious tricks to ensnare people. From job offers, to sure-fire trading strategies, insurance fraud and even petty fraud devoted to false helicopter bookings, liquor delivery, free coupons, movie downloads, etc. There is a website called The420 that is devoted to warning people who care to look before they are lured into these schemes. Despite warnings and thousands of media reports highlighting such frauds, greed is such an overwhelming emotion that it finds new victims every day and people have lost tens of thousands of crores of rupees to fraud and Ponzi schemes. 
The Kashmir Files Video
Since most Indians have little respect for intellectual property, downloads and circulation of pirated movies and pdf copies of books is routine and rampant. Most people don't even understand how wrong it is or the loss inflicted on producers and publishers from piracy. So, using a video to prevent people from downloading the movie was a very smart and effective strategy. However, the video projects a false idea for two reasons. 
First, free download links can be used to plant malware, but it cannot instantly hack and empty your bank account without an overt follow-up action on your part such as sharing a password. Our banking system is not so flimsy. Yet, police across India were merrily issuing warnings to the media and posting the video on Twitter, complete with the hashtag of the video-maker. Who induced the police to do this? Were they only pleasing their political masters by jumping on to the Kashmir Files discussion one way or the other? 
Secondly, there are no victims. The police officer widely quoted in media reports about this so-called fraud, admits as much; but it is glossed over by alluding to the proliferation of cyber fraud in general. He is quoted as saying: “There has been no specific case here yet in which the movie's name has been used but there are inputs regarding such methodology being used by conmen for hacking into people's phone or duping them of money.”
He then goes not to mention that three people who were duped of Rs30 lakh recently, but not through this. Somehow, the number finds its way into the headline and is quickly twisted by other content generators to claim that people lost Rs30 lakh by downloading this particular film. One site even claims there are 30 lakh fake links of the film going around!!
Popular movies and television shows are, indeed, targeted by cyber criminals to develop scams. But they usually plant malware to access data or lure people to part with information in exchange for the free download. In June 2020, McAfee, the anti-virus company, released a list of 10 movies and television shows that were (How Entertaining Ourselves at Home Has Become a Risky Business) used by cyber criminals to plant malware. This was immediately after global lock-downs forced people to stay at home in the initial days of the COVID pandemic. Even McAfee does not say that clicking on the links emptied out bank accounts. In fact, the article seems more about marketing McAfee Total Protection and McAfee Webadvisor than warning about scams.
If a much-talked about video leads to public awareness and dissuades people from their casual support of piracy, it is a welcome development. But wouldn’t it be nice if the police showed similar alacrity in warning about other cybercrimes and working harder to shut down at least those that are controlled by overseas entities and are laundering money out of India?
There isn’t a day when people do not receive WhatsApp messages promising easy money through games, trades, work-from-home offer and freebies. In most cases, you are asked to deposit some money to participate in the scheme and, in the initial days, lured to part with more by showing results. That is typical modus operandi of a Ponzi or pyramid scheme. The money lost runs into thousands of crores of rupees.
Ashish (name changed), who lost Rs2 lakh to a part-time job scam, launched his own personal investigation which revealed that the scam where he lost money was operating out of Hong Kong and China. Those communicating with him used Google translate to communicate with victims, through Indian WhatsApp numbers, which he believes were hacked. 
An Indian number gives access to potential victims here; but the transfer of money outside India needs a far more organised effort. Money collected from victims is deposited into bank accounts, routed through money mules (people who allow their bank account to be used for routing funds) and transferred to shell companies before it can be transferred overseas. Ashish, who is tech-savvy, tracked the funds to several shell companies with accounts and UPI IDs with leading Indian banks. Given the onerous documentation for a legitimate business to get a new bank account these days, one has to wonder how thousands of cyber criminals have no problems opening and closing routing accounts. 
All this is the domain of the ministry of corporate affairs, the police, the department of revenue intelligence (DRI) and the hyper-active enforcement directorate (ED). And, unlike money laundering by business, the cyber criminals are openly active on YouTube getting influencers to post scores of videos luring people with the promise of quick riches. 
Yet, barring the work done by the Telangana police under former additional director general of police, VC Sajjanar, one has rarely seen a concerted drive by the police to crackdown on cybercrime in a manner enough to silence them for a while. If a fake anti-piracy fear-mongering message could get so much action, surely victims of other scams have a right to expect more from Indian investigation agencies and the police! Not everybody can come up with a smart trick to prevent piracy!
4 months ago
What is the purpose of this article? It only helps those who want to watch the Kashmir Files movie online through a pirated video by removing their fear factor.
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