In yet another shocking data leak, three persons have been arrested in connection with the alleged data theft of nearly eight lakh students in Chennai.
The leak was brought to the notice of Chennai Police Commissioner AK Vishwanathan by the Director of Government Examinations, Vasundhra Devi. Vasundhra had alleged that a database of names, phone numbers and other details of students in Class 10, 11 and 12 had been "sold" through a website. The students had taken their examinations in March this year.
According to the complaint, the data was accessed through their schools and was sold on commercial websites. It was reportedly stolen for commercial purposes.
The theft was discovered when parents of examination candidates began receiving targeted phone calls for college admissions. The Central Crime Branch is investigating data theft, personal identity theft, cheating, as well as conspiracy.
According to the police, 39-year-old Praveen Chowdhury, the proprietor of Nari Technologies Private and 32-year-old Sudhakar of IT ACUMENS had together designed over 10 websites, where they uploaded the database of the students and sold it to private companies.
The police have found that Venkata Rao of K Square India Technologies Private Limited had purchased the details for commercial gain.
The police arrested all three on Friday.
Speaking to TNM, a senior investigating officer said, “We see a pattern of such leaks taking place recently. We haven't been approached to investigate targeted messaging and advertising. The data was collected by a government agency and was leaked to a private agency. The students have to compulsorily give this information, so they can’t be blamed. But they need to be careful about giving out other information.”
The data, estimated to be of eight lakh students, was collected by the School Education Department for issuing hall tickets and declaring results.
However, the implications of the data leak cannot be understated. Privacy activists have slammed the government’s cyber infrastructure.
Speaking to TNM, Rohini Lakshané, Director (Emerging Research) at The Bachchao Project says that a data leak of this sort puts minors at risk because a majority of the students writing Class 10 and 12 examinations are likely to be under the age of 18.
Citing the case of widespread sale of women’s mobile numbers at recharge shops in Uttar Pradesh, she says, "Their information was sold for as little as Rs 50 to men who used it to make harassing phone calls and stalk them. The leaked databases of TN students contain personally-identifiable information that would be a goldmine for such miscreants."
Rohini stresses that the impact of the leak cannot be overstated, as it puts them at risk.
“The names of their schools etc are known, so they can be physically stalked as well. Even those kids who are not legally minors will still be below 20 years of age. So, they are young and vulnerable. The hall ticket might mention their gender, so it would be easy to identify girls,” she says.