Pakistan bots wage cyber warfare

By Shashank Shekhar, Mail Today

As Kashmir limps back to normalcy after the abrogation of Article 370 that ceases the special status accorded to the erstwhile state, Pakistani cyber warriors -in a clear attempt of retaliation against the decision - have flooded social media platforms with anti-India posts.

Security agencies and cyber experts have found that thousands of fake accounts have been created from Pakistan to peddle fake news, morphed pictures, and old videos to show India and armed forces in a bad light.

Sources in the central surveillance agency said Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the intelligence agency of Pakistan is on a hiring spree as they have started recruiting a pool of techies and hackers to wage information warfare by circulating fake information.

Thousands of fake profiles have been created recently on Facebook and Twitter which are constantly spreading anti-India content. According to a senior security officer, Pakistan already has a large team of influencers and geeks who are spreading lies and Pakistan's anti-India propaganda on social media.

It is also observed that young students and techies are being paid to wage information warfare against India. A majority of the anti-India post has originated from Pakistan. Security forces are not only tracking these handles but are also doing a geographical mapping of such activities.

Another source in Military Intelligence told Mail Today that high tech facilities have been set-up in Pakistan to fuel anti-India sentiment in the virtual world. Pakistan's cyber warriors have a clear mandate to malign India's image or siphon information from army officials by honey trapping them.

The Narendra Modi-led Central government scrapped Article 370 and bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir with Legislature, and Ladakh without Legislature. The mobile network, landlines and other communication facilities are still not operational in the Valley.

After the historic decision, Pakistani influences circulated doctored videos of Indian media to show how everyone is against the move. After analyzing these videos it was found that all the atrocity videos, images and news coverage being circulated had no link with the current situation in Kashmir.

Deep analysis by a Delhi based cybersecurity firm - Innefu Labs, shows that thousands of accounts, pages and groups on social media are active in Pakistan region which is involved in peddling fake news, targeting ideas and circulating negative propaganda.

"We have found that just after the annulment of Article 370, more than 1,500 bots (fake profiles) from Pakistan surfaced on social media and started trending anti-India narrative. In these tweets, they are also urging United Nations to intervene," said Tarun Vig, co-founder of Innefu Labs.

He added on August 5 alone, more than 1,000 Twitter accounts were created from Pakistan which was discussing India and Kashmir. Bot profiles were sharing the same tweets over and over again.

The bot accounts and the Pakistan-based propaganda accounts are all connected as they are also retweeting and following each other on Twitter, confirming that how an organised group is behind it. Vig highlighted that dedicated accounts across social media platforms are being created at an unprecedented rate to systematically mar India's image and influence diplomatically.

"Pakistan's quasi cyber force is trying to portray India as an oppressor at a global stage by releasing doctored videos and images," he explained.

Security agencies are closely monitoring Pakistan supporters' communication network on WhatsApp and Telegram group to gather more information on them.

"Kashmir is highly sensitive as this is the time when terror outfits will try to radicalise the locals for fresh recruitment. ISI and terror handlers will try to manipulate facts and slowly poison youths in the valley. A strict vigil is being kept along with digital surveillance to keep a check on new recruits," said a senior officer posted in Kashmir.

Social media giants in past have found involvement of hundreds of pages and profiles linked to ISPR (Inter-Service Public Relations) of the Pakistani military which were involved in circulating fake news and propaganda videos.

Similar information warfare from Pakistan was witnessed during the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrike after which the tension between India and Pakistan was at an all-time high.

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