Pakistan's persistent efforts to honey-trap Indian jawans pose serious challenge to prevent theft of sensitive data
Two Indian soldiers were arrested in Jodhpur on Wednesday on charges of sharing crucial information regarding army deployment and equipment via WhatsApp and Facebook with a Pakistan-based woman ISI agent, reports claimed
Two Indian soldiers were arrested in Jodhpur on Wednesday on charges of sharing crucial information with a Pakistan woman
More arrests were made on similar charges in February last year and January, May and July this year from Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana
Then Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told Rajya Sabha in February that the Indian Army reported two cases of honey-trapping in 2015 and another two in 2017
Two Indian soldiers were arrested in Jodhpur on Wednesday reportedly on charges of sharing crucial information with a Pakistan-based woman ISI agent. According to officials, the two soldiers were sending information about army deployment and equipment to the Pakistani woman via WhatsApp and Facebook under the belief that she was Indian.
In a similar revelation in June this year, it was found that a Pakistani spy going by the Facebook name Sejal Kapoor had hacked into the computer systems of more than 98 personnel of various defence forces, including the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, between 2015 and 2018.
More arrests were made on similar charges in February last year and January, May and July this year from Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.
IIn January, the arrest of 22-year-old Sombir Singh from Jaisalmer, unearthed a conspiracy by a woman called Anika Chopra, who had lured as many as 50 jawans into her trap, with the aim of extracting sensitive information.
Posing as an officer with the Indian Army Nursing Cops posted at Jammu, she began talking to Singh on Facebook seven months before his arrest.
Singh would share classified pictures of Indian tanks, armoured personnel carriers, assorted weaponry in the area and the location of army formations with the woman upon her request. Police said preliminary investigations revealed that Singh was paid the equivalent of around £56 for his information, which was initially transferred into his brother’s account to evade suspicion.
Rohtak resident Gaurav Kumar, who was honey-trapped even before joining the Indian Army, sent pictures from 18 recruitment camps unknowingly to a wing set up in Pakistan’s Faridkot to trap defence personnel from India and get information. There have also been cases of soldiers receiving photos of young women on WhatsApp. They are told the photos will open only on desktops. These compromises computers and sensitive data are accessed.
The ISI also managed to set up dedicated modules within India to honey trap officials, according to reports. There are modules in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, which exclusively report to Faridkot.
Then Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre had told the Rajya Sabha in February that the Indian Army reported two cases of honey-trapping in 2015 and another two in 2017. The Indian Air Force reported one case in 2015, while the Navy did not report any.
Advisories were issued, which mandated selective checks on phones, laptops and desktops of officers and soldiers in sensitive areas, and a list of dos and don’ts were prepared. Suspected Twitter handles and Facebook accounts were also flagged.
In an advisory issued to its personnel in June, the Directorate of Military Intelligence said that social media profiles "Oyesomya" on Instagram and "Gujjar Soumya" on Facebook have come to the notice of the Indian Army for their "duplicitous credentials" and the profiles could be of a spy trying to obtain classified information from gullible personnel.
"She [Gujjar Soumya] claims to be the sister of late Captain Pawan Kumar. She claims to be currently studying as a research scholar in IIT Bombay and that she has cleared IIT JEE 2016 and NTSE 2014," the advisory read.
Counter-intelligence agencies even identified a “call centre” in the neighbouring country’s Jhelum, staffed by female Pakistani agents posing as Indian women, established to entice and blackmail Indian soldiers into giving up military secrets.
Commanding Officers of all Army units were told to sensitise their soldiers and officers about calls from unknown numbers. The Army identified about 100 men who are on social media and present a danger to the force and put them under “intensive and extensive observation”.
The Army asked officers and jawans as well as their families not to post photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with soldiers in uniform or military equipment, installations and cantonments in the backdrop.
Other don'ts included not giving out names, ranks and deployment locations, not bragging about military achievements on social media, not sharing information about military exercises, operations, transfers and promotions, not accepting friend requests from strangers, not saving or sharing military information on phones, laptops or personal desktops and not watching and sharing porn online.
The young age at which around 50,000 people join the army every year makes the forces even more vulnerable to honey traps. Intelligence agencies told the Ministry of Home Affairs that in 2017, a fresh push was made by Pakistan to trap as many young recruits of the Indian Army. The Anika Chopra case was part of the same plan, IB officials say.
Army chief Bipin Rawat, lamenting soldiers falling in the trap if ISI operatives using names and pictures of female Bollywood actors, said that social media cannot be banned in the military but it is to be used in a constructive manner.
"Soldiers have been told not to accept social media friend requests with names of film stars. For those (soldiers) who are not reporting the matter, the punishment is heavy," General Rawat said in January this year.
“Pakistan-based agencies operate a large number of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and also infiltrate social media groups or contact individuals in the name of young girls. Their aim is to actively try and befriend serving and retired officials and subsequently try to nurture, allure, blackmail and coerce them into parting with sensitive information,” an officer told New Indian Express.
Technological advances, proxy servers, free internet services and malware make the job of agents looking to extract information even easier, shifting warfare to the virtual medium, making it faceless.
Officials told OneIndia that the problem is likely to get worse in the coming months, even though incidents so far have been nipped in the bud. It could have been much worse had it not been detected early, the official added.
According to another report, Pakistan's ISI had set out Rs 3,500 crore in 2015 only to honey trap Indian soldiers. The ISI has been looking to trap as many as 200 such young recruits and recent investigations showed that the Pakistan agents were already in touch with over 50 of them.
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