New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s Aarogya Setu application can be misused by Pakistan intelligence operatives by slight tampering of its name, defence sources have told ThePrint.
The healthcare application was designed and created in the wake of Covid-19 to collect data on one’s location and cross reference it with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s database of Covid-19 tests to warn a user if an infected person is in close proximity.
According to sources, Pakistan-based intel operatives have developed an “malicious” application — “ArogyaSetu.apk” — that they allegedly sent to Indian defence personnel through Whatsapp from the United Kingdom (UK).
Defence officials explained that once a malicious software is installed on a device, it has the ability to extract sensitive information about the forces and send it to the originator without the knowledge of the owner.
The officials added that contact lists or any other sensitive information inadvertently stored on a device could be accessed by inimical intelligence agencies with such malicious software.
Sources said Army personnel have been cautioned about the development and have been asked to download the application only from MyGov.in or Android and IOS play store.
The development also comes days after the Army had advised its personnel to follow certain protocols while using the Aarogya Setu application. Its advisory in this regard listed cyber precautions such as switching off location services while moving inside cantonments or military stations and asking personnel not to disclose their service identity, including rank, appointment and contact list of users, while using the app.
Pak intel agencies innovating strategies
According to a defence official, Pakistan-based intel operatives continuously innovate their strategies in a bid to target armed forces personnel and their families through telephones and emails.
“For instance, earlier their incoming calls would come from Pakistan-based numbers. However, later they switched to gulf-based numbers for calls and VoIP,” the official said.
The latest development, however, is that the Pakistan-based operatives have been routing their calls through the United States from spoofed numbers, the official said.
“For example, the calls look as if they are made from a BSNL toll-free number. However, they are US-based landline numbers that are being spoofed,” the defence official said, adding that the caller uses the actual name and designation of a BSNL employee and asks specific questions about billing and appointments and other details of the military base.
Often after the calls, the caller sends across a personal number as well as the spoofed BSNL number, the official added.
The email ploy
As reported earlier by ThePrint, hackers linked to Pakistan have been posing as the Indian government to send emails containing malware to victims. The malware contains bogus health advisories on coronavirus, clicking on which allows a hacker access to sensitive information like passwords, credit card information and location data stored on a user’s browser.
A senior Army officer said that while all serving personnel are regularly sensitised about the issue, families are susceptible and need to constantly keep aware of the changing methodologies.
Regular cybersecurity exercises are also conducted to evaluate cyber awareness and precautions taken by every individual in the service apart from strengthening intra service networks from cyber attacks, the officer added.