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Operation P-Hunt 20.1: How tech savvy Kerala police is cracking cyber crimes amidst the pandemic

By Manoj Abraham IPS
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Thiruvananthapuram, June 28: The COVID-19 pandemic has made life very restricted. It means that people are most of the times inside their home and there is lack of free movement.

Operation P-Hunt 20.1: How tech savvy Kerala police is cracking cyber crimes amidst the pandemic

This has also led to huge increase in internet activity all around the globe, through online classes, work from home, digital banking etc and an increase in the use of the social media.

In short the lockdown has led to increasing digital usage, which in turn has had a totally different impact on cyber crime trends, particularly in relation to pornography and child crimes.

Kerala Police CCSE (Countering Child Sexual Exploitation) Team, functioning under Cyberdome started a digital analysis of the virtual trends during the pandemic period. The basic trends that can be derived in the behaviour of internet users, due to the lockdown and connected restrictions in Kerala are as follows.

1. There is a increased online activity seen from Kerala by those seeking child abuse material on the net, and particularly the darknet. The platform used by Kerala Police to identify such accused looking for CSAM has drastically increased during this period.

2. In the darknet chat rooms also, this demand for CSAM has increased drastically and is clearly evident.

3. A similar trend is found in porn groups operating over Whatsapp and Telegram and number of such groups have increased drastically during this period.

4. Use of malware to activate the webcams of the victim and to steal information of children has also been reported in many parts of the country.

5. Many obscene pictures, videos inside household, flats etc have been uploaded in recent times, which clearly shows that most of the pictures have been taken and uploaded in the said period.

6. Abuse of children locked up in their homes is evident and from the pictures/ videos being uploaded and shared, during this period.

Understanding the gravity of the problem and the fact that children are being continued to be exploited, the State Police Chief, Loknath Behera, IPS, directed the CCSE cell of Kerala Police to go into a high tech mode, to identify the persons downloading/ uploading CSAM material from the internet. IP address were collected using specialised software and persons sharing such pictures on social media handles were traced using different tools. Many groups operating on Telegram such as SREYAYUDE, THAVALAM, THANASERTHA, KAMBI FAMILY, MANTHANGA GIRL, operating with more than 200 odd members each from the State, were identified and listed out.

As a part of this covert drive around 117 such locations were identified throughout the State. The State Police Chief, then analysed the information and considering the seriousness of the matter, directed the ADGP and Nodal Officer, Cyberdome Manoj Abraham IPS, to plan for a covert operation named P-HUNT_ 20.1, to bring the culprits to book. The information was then collated and passed on to the IGP South Zone Harschita Attaluri and IGP North Zone Shri Ashok Yadav, who in turn mobilised 117 teams under the District Police Chiefs, having members of cyber cells, technical experts and women component.

Under the operational supervision of IGP Crimes S Sreejith, simultaneous raids were conducted throughout the State, on Saturday June 27 from early morning onwards. The raids were organised under the direct supervision of the District Police Chiefs and they are assisted by the shadow teams, women personnel and a specially trained cyber Team.

The raids were highly successful and as a part of the operation, the teams could seize 143 devices- which includes Mobile phones, Modems, Hard Disks, Memory Cards, Laptops, Computers etc. with graphic and illegal videos and pictures of children. The distressing part of the same is that many of the videos/pictures appear to be of local children, ranging in age group of 6 years to 15 years.

Based on the recovery of the devices with the CSAM material, 47 arrests were made and this includes youth working in good professional jobs and most of them are IT savvy, which is the reason why they were using all kinds of encrypted handles to upload and download the material. Some are suspected to be involved in the trafficking of children also as there are many chats to this effect in their devices.

In the raids conducted all over the State, a total number of 89 cases were registered all over Kerala.

The details of rest of the people involved in circulating these images and videos are being further collected. Groups operating with +92 as admins are also monitored. Strong action will be taken against all the individuals involved in this racket, continuing our policy of zero tolerance in these matters.

The technical assistance for the collection of information was led by Shyam Kumar A , Operations Officer, Cyberdome and he was assisted by Renjith RU, Azarudeen A, Vaisakh SS, Cliff Fernandez J, Anuraj V, Satheesh S, Rajesh.RK, Pramoth A , Rajeev RP all members of the CCSE Cyberdome Squad.

The State Police Chief had constituted the "CCSE( Counter Child Sexual Exploitation) Unit for Kerala Police'' with special emphasis on preventing online Child exploitation and child pornography on the net. This Unit has become fully functional from January onwards and works full time on preventing and detecting online crimes against children. The Team works in close contact with the "INTERPOL-Crimes against Children Unit and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC).

It should be noted that as per the current law, viewing, distributing or storing of any child pornographic content is a criminal offence can result in, up to 5 years imprisonment and up to Rs 10 lakh fine.

Kerala Police seeks the support of the community, in this project and if any member of the public comes across any such channels or groups that spread child sex-related content, we urge you to please inform Hi Tech Crime Enquiry Cell, Cyberdome or Cyber cells at the earliest, considering "Child security as the responsibility of every member of the society".

(Manoj Abraham IPS is Additional Director General ofPolice & Nodal Officer, Cyberdome)

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