Computer Crime Research Center


Rumours seem to be spreading like wildfire through SMS

Date: January 06, 2008
By: L. Srikrishna

Chennai: As if the regular law and order challenges faced by city police were not enough, rumours spread through text messages (SMS) and hoax telephone calls are keeping the police on their toes at the most odd moments.

Rumours seem to be spreading like wildfire through SMS and the damage is done even before the custodians of law get their act together and contain the potential injury it could cause to societal peace.

If it is about a political leader’s health condition one day, it is about the stability of a bridge or flyover on another. Panic is the end-result as most people tend to believe such pranks. In most cases, the message takes a few hours or even more to die down even, police say.

Recently, an educational institution in the city received an SMS about a bomb blast. Though normalcy returned after the police found nothing objectionable, many had to experience an unwarranted ordeal.

A week ago, media offices were flooded with calls seeking information on the health condition of a political leader. Again, the source was an SMS, which claimed that the leader was critical and that he had been admitted to a hospital. Similarly, a week after a gas leak incident at Manali last month, panic prevailed in the same area recently, following rumours that there was another gas leak, a police officer in Manali said.

Personnel of the Cyber Crime Wing of the Chennai Police say the Information Technology Act 2000 should be amended suitably so that the offenders could be dealt with sternly. Stringent action alone would dissuade new complaints, an official said.

Another officer said the Department recently ordered the deactivation of 10 mobile phone numbers, being used by a group of college students, as they had been sending obscene as well as hoax SMSs to others. Police tracked the source of the obscene SMS with the help of the service providers and deactivated the numbers.

A senior police officer said that whenever a person sold his mobile, he should ensure that all data stored in the phone’s inbox was deleted as it may cause problems in future. All messages or telephone numbers stored in the phone memory should be irretrievably erased before the equipment changes hands, he said. One must not allow his telephone to be used by unknown persons or in a casual/mischievous manner, he added.

An official of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited said it was possible to trace the phone call from where a rumour originated, or even how many users had subsequently forwarded the text.

Though the software tracks all voice and non-voice transactions on the mobile phone for billing purposes, the usage details of a particular phone call can be recovered from the central server any time.

Usually, telecom service providers like the BSNL store call details on their server for a month. Sometimes, based on police requests, the log details of a connection that is under surveillance is stored for even six months, he said.

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