Pakistan’s intelligence operatives have been calling phone numbers of security forces posing as officers belonging to Army/Navy/Air Force HQ
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is making full-fledged attempts to infiltrate India’s strategic organisations by spoofing telephone calls and using malware to snoop into crucial websites and systems. Sounding an alert regarding such “espionage” attempts from across the border, the Intelligence Bureau has warned that Pakistan’s intelligence operatives (PIOs) were targeting defence forces’ headquarters and other strategic organisations to collect sensitive information.
“PIOs are frequently targeting government personnel/officers to collect sensitive information through spoofed VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls prefixed with the STD code of Delhi…The PIOs have been using the stratagem of calling phone numbers of security forces posing as officers belonging to Army/Navy/Air Force HQ (headquarters) and collecting details about the deployment, movement and other information about security forces,” says an internal note of the IB.
The ISI operatives are also targeting Indian Railways, banks, and serving/retired employees and civil contractors working for Military Engineering Services (MES) to collect sensitive and defence-related information. “They (PIOs) have also been making telephone calls under assumed identities by using spoofed numbers to various CPMFs (central paramilitary forces), railways, banks etc,” the note says.
“They (PIOs) have succeeded in ferreting out sensitive information from the persons attending these calls. IB has been regular in highlighting the stratagem of PIOs using fake identities…,” the note adds. The IB has now asked the Department of Telecom to constitute a high-level technical committee to examine the issue of spoofed calls and find possible solutions that could be implemented in a time-bound manner.
Explaining how the ISI has managed to infiltrate India’s communication networks, the IB note adds: “Using VoIP and computer software to mask the point of origin of their calls, Pakistan’s intelligence operatives have been noticed to be masquerading as senior Indian armed forces officers to contact their targets on the telephone to collect such information.”
The modus operandi involves the use of software by PIOs operating from Pakistan to ensure that the mobile phone of the target displays the incoming call to be originating from a “spoofed” Indian number.
Though these VoIP calls originate outside India, they reflect an Indian-specific CLI (caller line identification). Referring to a recent incident of espionage, the IB note points out that, in February this year, it had sounded an alert regarding possible “contamination of BSNL systems” by the ISI. “This stratagem now appears to have been successfully used by them for a cyber offensive against the subscriber database and communication links of BSNL,” it adds. In the incident, an ISI operative posing as a Major posted in the Army headquarters in Delhi contacted a BSNL employee and persuaded him to not only give details of technical persons involved in the crucial ‘call data record’ project but also forwarded some emails, thus compromising the system.
As a result, the ISI was able to successfully install some malware in the BSNL system, thus compromising the integrity and security of the system. The malware planted by the PIO might also be used by the ISI in identifying and accessing communication links of other sensitive organisations, marking them vulnerable to cyber attacks, including remote monitoring operations and disabling of critical networks, it adds.
It is worth mentioning that the BSNL is a major agency that is implementing important projects related to critical infrastructure protection, counter-terrorism and cyber security, which includes the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) and the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS).
In another incident that occurred just after the Hyderabad twin blasts in February 2013, the entire intelligence fraternity went into a tizzy following reports that a suspected ISI agent had infiltrated the elite National Security Guard (NSG) by calling up one of its officers and managing to get some details of investigations into the case. The NSG claimed that its officer, a Major on deputation from the Army, did not share any crucial information with the ISI agent.