Indian Army
An Indian security personnel stands guard in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.Reuters

The Indian Army's move to crack down on personnel's use of social media has come after a recent surge in snooping attempts from cyber sleuths of Pakistan and China, a report says. The defence forces have been keeping a close watch on social media use by its personnel and from time to time advising the personnel to desist from posting sensitive information.

Presence of mind

The authorities have banned personnel on "sensitive mission" from using any social media platform to avoid inadvertently leaking critical information about themselves or their mission. Cyber sleuths are able to track the activities of social media users and also know their movements by exploiting social media profiles.

Pakistani intelligence operatives are actively targeting Army personnel and their families."

One of the major attempts apparently prevented when an officer posted under the Sukna-based 33 Corps in the Eastern Command was "automatically added to a WhatsApp group by a suspected Pakistani number" recently, a report on the Economic Times website said. Noting that the officer concerned was alert and "showed a great presence of mind by immediately exiting from the group after taking a screenshot", an official of the 33 Corps said: "Pakistani intelligence operatives are actively targeting Army personnel and their families." Such incidents can be prevented by changing WhatsApp settings to stop any unwanted addition to any unauthorised or undesirable groups, said the advisory.

Indian Army Siachen
Indian Army personnel brave sub-zero temperatures in the Siachen Glacier to protect the nation. They are their families are often targeted by intelligence operatives of China and Pakistan.screengrab

There have also been several cases over the last couple of years where Pakistani women spies have tried to honey-trap Indian military personnel into divulging classified information, the report says. Even a Group Captain posted at the Indian Air Force (IAF) headquarters in New Delhi fell prey to it last year. Two Army jawans were arrested in a similar case in Rajasthan earlier this month.

Critical missions

The Army Cyber Group (ACG) has flagged "numerous instances of advertent or inadvertent loss of information" through the social media and has asked the officers holding sensitive or important postings to delete or deactivate their Facebook accounts.

ACG has cautioned that the end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp could be rendered "ineffective" if the mobile handset is "compromised". "Inimical agencies are known to possess sophisticated tools for monitoring and analysing data available on social media and open-source platforms to synthesise actionable intelligence. The officers in critical appointments are... at risk of being targeted," the report quotes ACG as saying. Apart from the apps, the smartphones themselves are susceptible to cyber-attacks and ACG has warned officials against using smartphones to discuss official matters. ACG has also stipulated the security audit of smartphones used by some officers as frequently as once in three months to ensure they have not been compromised, it added.