Meet India’s first woman cyber crime investigator Dhanya Menon

Irina Baranova

Menon has spent more than a dozen years tracing the untraceable. The woman who has worked on thousands of investigations ranging from fake profiles, visual morphing, obscenity, identity theft to cyber stalking, says it’s sheer destiny that led her to this field.

1. Let’s begin from the beginning. Can you tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up, and did your schooling from?

My father was an ex- banker and his job involved transfers every 2 to 3 years. So I did my schooling in various states. I started from Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Cochin and went on to some schools in Andhra Pradesh. I completed my 10th standard from Trivandrum Holy angels. Thankfully, I had a brilliant childhood with my parents and my siblings. The shifting of schools and locations gave me a lot of exposure to various languages and taught me to adapt to circumstances, different cultures, food and people. I completed my graduation from Sacred Heart College, Cochin. I simultaneously did the Btech programme from British Columbia Open University and as a regular programme.

As a kid, I wanted to become a classical dancer. I am told that I started to learn classical dance before I was three. From the time I remember, all I wanted to be is a dancer.

2. How would you describe cyber-crime?

Any illegal activity where a computer/ computer resource/ electronic gadget is used as a tool or as a target or both.

3. When did you decide to become a cybercrime investigator and what prompted you to move in this direction?

Being a cyber-crime investigator was not my decision. I call it my destiny. It all happened by accident. I was attending a seminar and that’s how I got introduced to the field of cyber-crime and cyber law. My grandfather, advocate P B Menon encouraged me to join the field. And there was no looking back. Now it’s almost 18 years since then.

It all started by attending a seminar in Cochin and then I took up a course on cyber law and cyber-crime investigation and then one thing led to the other. I started taking classes and seminars and got involved in bits and portions of investigations at various agencies and organizations. After about six years of working on these lines, in 2010, I opened my own organization called Avanzo Cyber Security Solution. I also opened an NGO by the same name which caters to cyber-crime awareness and rehabilitation of cyber-crime victims.

When I entered this domain, there were no laid out plans. Taking a day at a time was the thumb rule I followed. The exposure to real time events made me realize how cyber security, cyber-crime and cyber law intervened with everyday life and that is when I decided this is what I want to work on and I stick by. I like what I do because this job allows me to make a difference in a person’s life every day.

5. Who inspired you to be in this space?

I am grateful that life in general has given me so many opportunities and so many people to look up to. Naming only a few would be unfair. Every energy that crossed my path has contributed to make me the person I am today.

6. What are your thoughts on the cyber-crime investigations in India as compared to other countries?

In India, it’s still an upcoming area. We have a long way to go. I hope to see the regulations properly used and in place as soon as we can. It is difficult for law to keep up the pace and match the speed at which technology evolves. Hence it is all the more important that the rules and regulations in place are followed.

7. Do you think cyber-crime in India rarely leads to conviction?

Yes, it happens rarely. There are many reasons for this. We Indians are not aware of where the data is going and what to do in case of a cyber attack. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 penalizes a number of cyber crimes and unsurprisingly, there are many provisions in the IPC and the IT Act that overlap with each other.

8. Do we take cyber crime lightly in India?

Yes. Everyone believes it affects the other person and not me. Though Sections 43 and 66 of the IT Act penalize a number of activities like hacking into a computer network, data theft, spreading viruses through computer networks, damaging computer networks, denying an authorised person access to a computer or computer network and damaging or destroying information residing in a computer etc. The maximum punishment for the above offences is imprisonment of up to three years or a fine or Rs. 5 lakh or both.

9 How vulnerable are children to cyber crime? What can we do to protect children?

The technical disturbance or the financial problems caused because of cyber crimes is not as grave as the emotional problems. As adults of this society, it is our primary responsibility to ensure that our children grow up and live in a secure environment. It is important that we ensure how to manure through this space securely and also to teach our next generation how to do the same. It is important to be aware, to be alert and to be responsive all the time.

10. What are the lessons you learnt while making your place in this space?

This field is fairly new and most of the people are not aware about cyberspace and its rules and regulations. I feel the biggest lesson I have learnt is to have patience. That’s the only way I can spread awareness about it. I also want to launch a cyber security academy in India.

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