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Building a Responsible Cyber Society…Since 1998

The tragic news of an young person in Mumbai committing suicide following the game of Blue Whale Challenge is shocking to say the least.

When we learn that more than 130 persons have similarly committed suicide in Russia, we may take comfort that we have taken note of the danger of this “Game” early and possibly we can prevent any more deaths arising due to this menace.

For records “Blue Whale Challenge” is touted as a “Game” and people are enticed into downloading it through Chats on social media. It is not available for download in Google Play Store and hence it targets those people who are deep into Social Media chatting.

There is a view that victims may be chosen based on profiling of the victims from  their Face Book or other similar platforms.

The persons who download the game are given one task per day as a “Challenge” for 50 days culminating with the suicide. Every task need to be recorded as a video and sent to the game controller.

The Complete list of 50 tasks that the BlueWhale Challenge proposes as one task per day:

1. Carve with a razor “f57” on your hand, send a photo to the curator.
2. Wake up at 4.20 a.m. and watch psychedelic and scary videos that curator sends you.
3. Cut your arm with a razor along your veins, but not too deep, only 3 cuts, send a photo to the curator.
4. Draw a whale on a sheet of paper, send a photo to curator.
5. If you are ready to “become a whale”, carve “YES” on your leg. If not, cut yourself many times (punish yourself).
6. Task with a cipher.
7. Carve “f40” on your hand, send a photo to curator.
8. Type “#i_am_whale” in your VKontakte status.
9. You have to overcome your fear.
10. Wake up at 4:20 a.m. and go to a roof (the higher the better)
11. Carve a whale on your hand with a razor, send a photo to curator.
12. Watch psychedelic and horror videos all day.
13. Listen to music that “they” (curators) send you.
14. Cut your lip.
15. Poke your hand with a needle many times
16. Do something painful to yourself, make yourself sick.
17. Go to the highest roof you can find, stand on the edge for some time.
18. Go to a bridge, stand on the edge.
19. Climb up a crane or at least try to do it
20. The curator checks if you are trustworthy.
21. Have a talk “with a whale” (with another player like you or with a curator) in Skype.
22. Go to a roof and sit on the edge with your legs dangling.
23. Another task with a cipher.
24. Secret task.
25. Have a meeting with a “whale.”
26. The curator tells you the date of your death and you have to accept it.
27. Wake up at 4:20 a.m. and go to rails (visit any railroad that you can find).
28. Don’t talk to anyone all day.
29. Make a vow that “you’re a whale.”

30-49. Everyday you wake up at 4:20am, watch horror videos, listen to music that “they” send you, make 1 cut on your body per day, talk “to a whale.”

50. Jump off a high building. Take your life

It is clear that the game’s objective is to lead the target to his death. The series of steps and messaging creates a situation where the victim gets hypnotized and follows the suggestions scrupulously.

The person who has created the sick game, who has been arrested in Russia says that these people donot deserve to live and hence he is relieving the earth of “Useless lives”.

Obviously this creator himself is a psychologically deviant person. He is supposed to be a student of psychology, aged only 21 years and reported to have been a failure in his career.

Just as a dejected software professional turns into a malicious hacker, this person has turned himself into a psycho killer.

The victim is also perhaps a depressed individual who takes into online chatting in search of a friend to pour his feelings out.

The entire game is therefore not a typical cyber crime but a psychological problem of the society.

It cannot therefore be addressed as a Cyber Crime and remedy sought from the Cyber Crime police in Mumbai or elsewhere.

Blocking the Dark Web:

The remedy from the policing angle is how to block the “Dark Web” which if done, will protect people from not only this Blue Whale problem but many other Cyber Crimes.

For this purpose we need to create a separate Internet network like a “White Web” where only verified websites and servers are allowed to be accessed. Websites may be allowed to register themselves with the authorities for a “White Web Pass”. At the same time identified “Dark Web” needs to be blocked leaving a middle range of “Grey Web” as it is now.

The children may be allowed through their restricted device to access only the White Web, create some kind of alerts through the ISPs when notified devices access Grey web or try to access Dark web. This requires the ISPs to create a filter which the parents can activate for specific devices such as mobiles or laptops used by their minor children.

This solution will be opposed by the ISPs and many technology intoxicated persons who believe that it is their birth right to do whatever they want on the Internet.

Let’s therefore leave this for further debate on a different occasion and focus on what we can do even while the Blue Whale Challenge or any other game of this type is still accessible to vulnerable children.

Addressing the Psychological Issue

Since the creator was arrested some time in May, it appears that there were other “Administrators” who had taken over as “Mentors” and managing the victims such as the Mumbai boy. Hence mere arrest of one individual would not bring an end to the menace and we should be ready for more such games to hit the market as long as the sadist technologically savvy creators are out there in the wild.

These creators and the administrators are hard core psychos and we can do nothing to reform them. If they are caught, then they should be permanently put behind the bar or even eliminated with a death sentence.

In the meantime we can address what can we do to prevent our children from falling prey to this game.

The first task is to identify potential victims through our own social media profiling of children, supervision of their web activity, changes in behaviour etc. Part of this can be done by the parents and more can be done through whistlebowing by friends through the Schools.

The Schools should not only undertake awareness creation for Children and the Parents on the menace and try to mitigate the risk but also create a “Whistle blower” mechansim for friends to report any abnormal behaviour of their co-students and also create a “Internet Counsellor” to address the children’s problems.

Children are more cooperative with their schools and amenable to receiving suggestions from their teachers rather than from their parents. Hence the schools have a big role in ensuring that the Internet addiction risk of every kind is mitigated.

The Maharashtra CM has sought guidance from the Central Government on how to address the issue but it appears that the solution lies in the Maharashtra Government (and also other State Governments) to mandate the schools that all of them should mandatorily conduct

a) An awareness program for children within the next one week

b) An awareness program for parents within the next fortnight

c) Introduce a “Whistle Blower” scheme where students report to the authorities about any abnormal behaviour of other students.

d) Appoint a psychology expert as an “Internet Counsellor” to visit the school once in 15 days, to spend some time addressing the students and to meet any children who would like to seek guidance. He/She could also be the Ombudsman for the whistle blower program

e) Report to the compliance through the website of the School.

I hope some NGOs take up the responsibility to coordinate and guide the schools in this regard. The above set of requirements can be considered as “Compliance Requirement” for the school.

Caution: For those adventurers who will try to download the game and check what it is, I would like to caution that the program would come with a trojan which would steal data from your computer or mobile, would be impossible to un-install and could cause other problems related to identity theft including theft of Banking and other financial information related to the mobile owner.



Man behind Blue Whale suicide ‘game’ says he’s ‘cleansing society’

Beware! This Blue Whale online suicide challenge is scaring parents world over

The truth of ‘Blue Whale’ challenge: A game said to ‘brainwash’ teens into committing suicides


The Smart City Debate…continues

Posted by Vijayashankar Na on August 1, 2017
Posted in Cyber Law  | No Comments yet, please leave one

I recall my brief report of the Smart City Council’s program in Bangalore on 28th of July. The central theme of the program was “Surveillance”. However the focus was more on the technology implications rather than ethical or legal issues.

While discussing the issues of “Surveillance” through CCTV cameras the phenomenal increase in the need for storage capacities as well as the band width issues in moving the images collected from the CCTV cameras to the central processing station on a real time basis so as to be of use in real time decision making was also briefly discussed.

 At the same time, the futility of having a low resolution image which later turns out to be of no use in recognizing the persons whose images are captured particularly when the person has committed some crime was also highlighted. This is a problem which Police normally experience. (Other than in the cases where the Police report that the CCTV cameras intelligently stopped functioning exactly when the crime was about to be committed!).

The Smart City Council’s program stopped at creating a case for buying more high resolution cameras and enhancing bandwidth infrastructure and data storage facilities which are all good for the commercial development of the “Surveillance industry”. However, there was no attempt to discuss the possible use of “Appropriate Technology” that can improve the efficiency of the image collection system along with reducing the burden on the data transmission and storage infrastructure. Since there was no representation of a Citizen centric panel member in the discussion, this point did not come up for discussion.

I hope Smart City Council incorporates this discussion in their subsequent so called “Round Tables”, one of which is scheduled in Mumbai for August 4th.

In the meantime, I would like to discuss two specific use cases and solutions that need further discussion in the appropriate decision making fora.

They are

  1. Use of Image enhancement Technologies to upgrade image quality
  2. Use of smart strategies to get proper images useful for prevention of crimes in the ATM security scenario

This is not meant to be a technology paper and hence it may leave certain technical details uncovered.

Image Enhancement

The idea of using image enhancement technologies is to manage with a low resolution image at the time of capturing and transmission back into the control room but enhance its quality when required with the use of Video image enhancement software running on the back end systems.

The attempt is to use Video enhancement on real time basis so that where necessary quick decisons can be arrived at.

This may be even treated as a “Video Forensic” strategy to create a better video from which vehicle number plates are easily identified, face recognition is reliably achieved so that instructions can be transmitted to operational police or medical or other disaster management units to either rush to the trouble spots or try to intercept a criminal trying to get away.

Image enhancement technologies work on two levels. One is “Optical level” and the other is “Geometric level”.

In “Optical level Super Resolution Imaging Technique”, the limitations of the optical device arising due to the “Diffraction Properties” of light are sought to be corrected for getting an output which is more useful.

In the “Geometric Super Resolution Imaging Technique”, the pixalations are corrected by removing noise so that more details of the picture could get revealed.

Here is an example of a real time video enhancement that can be achieved through software which may use the combination of both the above techniques and apply it on multiple video frames to generate a more intelligible video than what the camera first generates.

The above is just an example of what can be done back in the Police Control room to make surveillance through CCTV cameras more effective when we are constrained to use low resolution cameras because the budgets donot permit. It will also not require huge enhancement of storage and data transmission capabilities.

Those interested can research more on the possibilities. If we can direct some of our research capabilities in IISc type of organizations, we can perhaps develop some of these software indigenously so that the cost of Smart City surveillance comes down significantly.

Smart ATM Security

The image enhancement techniques will work when the problem is really of the quality of image received. It cannot however address the other situations where the CCTV owner does not bother to check if the installed cameras are working or not.

Let’s leave out deliberate deletion of CCTV footage which I have already discussed in earlier articles as a Section 65 Offence and look at an instance where we can force the use of a device only if the CCTV footage is working.

I have proposed this strategy for the ATM security system where

a) Entry to the ATM is through a biometric lock which captures the finger print.

We May or may not  authenticate the person  in real time with the customer data base but store the data for some time for use when required.

b) Face recognition camera is fixed directly to the ATM so that any body who does not expose his face will not be able to carry out the transaction.

For this purpose, the ATM is operated with a lock which gets opened only when the face recognition camera transmits a proper image back to the server and a “Go Ahead” signal comes from the Bank’s server.

The above strategy (IPR with Naavi) is simple and inexpensive but no Bank has introduced it so far because they are either not “Smart” or because they donot want to spend that “Extra Rupee” for security.

When we are prepared to develop the so called “Smart Cities”, such simple “Smart Solutions” need to be tried out as a part of our “Smart City Policing” requirement.

At present I am not sure if Police are part of the initial planning of any Smart City. Most such projects are driven by the vendors and the politicians who look at how fat is the project cost. If the cost is lower, politician is often not interested. ( I can vouch for this from my personal experience in the past). Police are brought in only at a much later stage when the technical infrastructure is already firmed up and there is no scope for structural changes.

I wish a demand is made by the Police that they be made part of any planning to introduce high end technology into our Governance system because they are the people who have to carry the baton when things go wrong.

At the same time, in order to avoid some bad elements in the Police who are subservient to the political masters corrupting the system, there needs to be some checks and balances including taking the CCTV footage archive out of control of the operational people so that it cannot be manipulated on a selective basis.

These are matters of detailing which can be handled in Smart City Policing strategies when required.

In summary, I would like to state that Smart solutions using appropriate technologies are essential to ensure that available technologies are used efficiently while we do also strive to increase the technology boundaries itself with better cameras, more storage space etc.

I urge IISc to dedicate some research in this direction if they have not already done.