For a long time now, making pre-wedding and marriage-related videos that try to match and even surpass the love acts in Hindi and Telugu movie songs has been one of the major creative activities in Kerala. It involves a lot of work. If the stars of the occasion — the bride and the groom — jump into water, for instance, the camera person has to follow.
But what happens if the videos taken with so much effort are lost during editing and processing? If it is a pre-wedding shoot, then the videos and photos can be shot again. But what if the lost video is of the wedding itself? How can that be reshot? It need not be just wedding shoots, this problem can happen to even albums with photos of rare candid moments.
However, there will be no point throwing your anger at the studio people. They are not at fault. But it will also be impossible to catch hold of the culprits. The real villains are people sitting in some country across the seas who lock the computers of studios in Kerala, making files with wedding videos and photos inaccessible, and demand ransom to unlock them.
Cyber attacks with ransomware that is used by hackers to extort money from big companies are now widespread in Kerala, too. The cyber unit of the Kerala Police has so far not been able to open files containing the ransomware code or find out who the hackers are.
The act of demanding money after kidnapping someone is called ransom money. Ransomware is similar. A hacker from any corner of the world can lock either a file on your computer or the computer itself. To get it unlocked, you will need the key that will be in the hands of the hacker. It will be given only if you make a payment. Else, those files on the computer can never be opened.
If you try to open the files, a text message will appear saying that the files are locked but are safe and secure and that there is no need for you to fear. It will also say that if you want to get the key to open the file or the computer, you will have to pay a certain amount (in bitcoin or US dollars). Hackers have demanded up to $1,000 from studio owners in Kerala to unlock computers.
The cyber police say that not a single penny should be paid. According to them, even if you pay, there is no guarantee that the files will be unlocked.
Here are the experiences of four people whose computers were hacked. There are similarities in all the four cases. Three of them are from Idukki district.
Lost data, not money
The computer of Shamir Shamsuddin, who owns Audio Cab in Nedumkandam, said his computer was recently infected with a ransomware and 2TB of data of four projects, including wedding videos and photos, got locked. The hackers demanded $980 (approximately Rs 73,500). They also promised a discount of 50 per cent if the money was paid within a day, he said.
Shamsuddin said he lodged complaints, including with the cyber cell, but that didn't help much. Since he had backed up the data, he was able to just about manage, he said.
SR Sooraj, a film assistant director and editor from Thiruvananthapuram, had a similar experience when his 2TB data of four commercial films got locked. The hacker demanded $985 (approximately Rs 74,000) and offered a 50% discount if the money was transferred within two days. "I asked my friends in the cyberdome and cyber cell to look into it and they said the hacking has been done from Germany or some such country. Nothing much else could be done. I have not been able to recover my data. I have not paid any money," he said.
The computer of Jayaraj Kattappana, of J's Audio Lab in Vellilamkandam, was hacked about two months ago. "Initially, one file got locked. Then, when I tried to open some other files, the malware spread to them, too," he said. "Files on interconnected laptops and hard disks also got locked similarly. The hacker demanded $999 (approximately Rs 75,000). I did not pay the amount. Neither did I file a complaint with the police."
Ajeesh Mohanan runs 24 Frames in Kattappana. He said his computer was infected with ransomware seven months ago and 4TB data got locked. Like the three others, he also did not pay the ransom. Despite the efforts of the cyber police, the data has not been recovered yet, Mohanan said.
Hackers target studios in the hope that their owners will shell out the demanded money to recover the videos and photos of personal events as they cannot be shot again. But, the fact that Sooraj, who works from home as an editor, also fell victim to the hackers shows that they are closely monitoring the profiles we create on social media.
• Do not download unauthorised (cracked) software.
• Be sure to back up important files on cloud services such as Google Drive. Files can be recovered even if there is any problem with the computer.
• Try not to connect computers that hold very important files and data to the Internet as much as possible. Also, be careful when using pen drives.
• Update your operating system and security (anti-virus) software from time to time.
• Think twice before opening emails, links and apps that are from unfamiliar sources.
• Software and antivirus firewall services must be renewed regularly.
Money 'growing on trees'
While those affected by ransomware are forced to part with money to recover important data, there are many who end up losing huge amounts without any compulsion. They fall into the trap of people who make PowerPoint presentations showing a Rs 10 note turning into a tree with thousand currency notes in the place of leaves.
The scam that was exposed recently when a Malayalee Daisy Vijay Menon was arrested by the Delhi police should act as a lesson for not just such people but for everyone.
The fraud done in the name of a fake online taxi company called 'Hello Taxi' had promised 'notes on tress'. It said investors depositing Rs 10,000 in the company will get Rs 20,000 in 20 months and that an investment of Rs 1.1 lakh will get a profit of Rs 17,600 per month!
The fraudsters accepted 'investments' for four different packages — executive, micro, mini and prime–sedan and offered returns of up to 200%. Many from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan believed this claim and invested their hard-earned money in the scam.
According to findings of the preliminary investigations of the police, four 'directors' of the 'company' swindled Rs 250 crore from more than 1,000 people.
'Hello Taxi' was launched in 2018 by a company called SMP Impex Private Limited.
At the time of the launch, it was promised that the 'taxi service' would start operations with 100 cars in the national capital region within a month. The cars, however, were never seen on the roads.
Daisy's connections in the hospitality sector were used to attract investors. Investor meetings were held at leading hotels in Delhi and elsewhere. More investors were recruited through the multi-level marketing model. A fixed percentage of bonus for recruiting people. In the initial stages, to gain the trust of people, monthly payments were credited to their accounts.
However, when the monthly payments stopped, many people started inquiring about the company, which changed offices in Delhi many times to deceive people. When two cases got registered against it, all the four directors absconded.
The police have not yet been able to ascertain how much money was swindled.
There are many such scammers in Kerala who come out with offers that promise to double money quickly.
Contributed by: K. Jayaprakash Babu, Jo Jacob, Ajay Ben, Jiku Varghese Jacob.
Complied by: A Jeevan Kumar