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Indian Defence Personnel’s phones, computers probed for ‘malicious software’ planted by Pakistan’s ISI

According to reports, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has initiated an investigation into a phoney Facebook account put up by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI in order to acquire defence data. However, it is still uncertain what type of data was collected by the software.

The goal of creating this bogus account, according to reports, was to remotely inject malware into computers, phones, and other devices of defence personnel, defence sector employees, and associated departments in order to steal critical national security information. It was also claimed that the account fb.com/shaanti.patel.89737, which appears in the name of Shanti Patel, polluted the systems in order to get unauthorised access to restricted data.

Based on source information, the Andhra Pradesh police launched an inquiry into the occurrence in June 2020, which was when the issue initially surfaced in relation to not just Facebook but also other applications. On July 9, 2020, the Army issued a directive directing all commanders and troops to delete 89 social networking, microblogging, and gaming applications from their devices, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Based on the Andhra Pradesh police case, the NIA has initiated an investigation into the suspects’ national and international relationships, as well as the consequences of data theft for national security. According to the Hindustan Times, the central agency will investigate the case under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the Information Technology Act, and conspiracy to wage war against India because sensitive data may have been accessed by the suspects who worked for the ISI.

According to an officer, the ISI-linked hackers posing as the Facebook ‘Shanti Patel’ account contacted Indian defence personnel and subsequently engaged them in a private message session. ‘The culprits distributed the virus by showing them as files containing seductive images of ladies,’ he added. According to the research, the virus was spread from an undisclosed site in Islamabad, Pakistan.

It is worth noting that the NIA investigated a naval spy ring run by the ISI in 2018-19, which used social media accounts to honeytrap sailors in order to collect sensitive and classified information about the locations and movements of Indian naval ships and submarines in the eastern naval command at Vishakhapatnam, as well as other defence establishments. At least 15 persons were detained in this investigation, and charges were filed in June 2020.

Last year, then-Army Chief General MM Naravane stated, ‘Information security is the greatest threat to national security in the current context. One of the non-traditional dangers is cyberwarfare. It is not only a threat to our information system, but it also poses a risk to the release of sensitive information about our country,’ he warned. ‘Nowadays, government and private sector data are available online, and in this circumstance, a large hack might cause a significant shock to the economy while also impeding government machinery.’

In order to shield the defence establishment from such threats, the British Army has banned WhatsApp, according to earlier this year’s reports, due to worries that Russia is hacking the messaging app to get operationally critical information. According to reports, the British Ministry of Defence has confirmed the ban on WhatsApp owing to ‘significant security concerns.’


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