Dhanya Menon, India’s first cybercrime investigator, gets President’s Award

When Dhanya Menon opted for a certified cybercrime course, way back in 2004, everyone around including her family tried to dissuade her. ‘What on earth is cybercrime, how will you ever get a job?’ were the questions thrown at her.
Dhanya was also the only woman in her class, and continued to be so for many more years in her field. “It was only after Kerala Police invited me to be one of the trainers for the installation of their Hi-Tech Cell that my family realised I am doing something worthwhile,” says the Thrissur native.

Dhanya, who started out with dealing eight cases a month in 2008, is bombarded with nearly 200 cases a day today, some of which are of national importance. And on Saturday evening, she received an award at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan from the President himself; she is one of the 100 women achievers, chosen to receive the national award instituted by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare.
“I would give all credit to my grandfather, Supreme Court advocate P B Menon, who literally forced me to take up the course. He was that far-sighted,” recalls Dhanya. “But two years into my course and I was hooked. I realised that the world of cybercrime is worse than fiction, and studying it became more a cause than a means to a profession. I wanted to be the reason a victim could sleep in peace.”

Ask her about her experiences of working as a cybercrime investigator for 14 years and she says, “We deal with cases of phishing, leaking of private photos, data retrieval and protection for companies on a daily basis, but the saddest is when children and young people fall victims. I have come across children as small as five years old who fall into sex and drug traps. Exposure to unwanted data causes lifelong damage at times, and women and men are equally affected. Most people approach me only at a stage when they are unable to take the blackmailing anymore.”

She recalls a case about a young girl who was exploited sexually to such an extent that she had no particular feelings about it. “You hear of one extreme case in the news, but 200 other children would have fallen in the same trap.”

For the same reason, Dhanya has now initiated a series of awareness classes in schools, to teach children about how they can protect themselves from virtual predators as well as the Dark Web. “There is no stopping the tech-savvy next generation. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to go about the awareness campaign properly as neither parents nor schools think it important,” rues Dhanya, who is also a classical dancer.

It’s also sad that what she does ends up as a post-mortem job, she feels. “People ask me to redress an issue, when they could easily have prevented it with adequate security. I get at least three cases of ATM pin leaks a day,” she says, while making it clear that a cybercrime investigator does not take complaints, but only assists with the evidence and legal records. “We don’t run a parallel policing agency.”

Meanwhile, ask her about privacy in the age of social media and she laughs. “Hundred percent privacy is a myth. We have all willingly handed over our photos and location to companies abroad. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

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