New Delhi: The Army is carrying out a month-long cyber security exercise to identify and crack down on those violating its norms for all online activities.
A communication sent out by the Army headquarters to all its units and formations last week said those found violating the norms would face “exemplary” punishment.
A set of dos and don’ts, in line with the Army’s cyber security policy, has been attached with the communication. This includes asking the troops to limit their online presence, such as on Facebook and large WhatsApp groups, and not forwarding or storing sensitive data on their electronic devices.
According to highly-placed Army sources, the exercise began last week and will continue till mid-August.
The communication comes just about a week after Army headquarters had issued a directive on information security, where it warned its personnel about the leak of sensitive information about the armed forces and the increasing use of personal devices, especially smartphones, and messaging apps like WhatsApp to exchange official information.
A top Army source had earlier told ThePrint that about a hundred personnel were under close watch for their online activities, but that is not related to this particular exercise.
While directions are issued from time to time, the sources said, this is the first time that such a formal exercise is being carried out on cyber security.
Sensitisation & stringent checks
The exercise will first involve sensitising the troops across the country about ways to ensure cyber security within the Army and the use of social media platforms by personnel, which will then be followed by surprise checks to punish those violating the norms.
While the Army declined to comment on the move, a senior officer said such checks are carried out periodically to ensure the troops comply with the rules laid down for cyber security.
The officer said the Indian Army is ensuring stringent checks so that no person falls prey to “inimical agencies and their devious designs”.
The instructions given out as part of the exercise reiterate the basic rules of online behaviour that should be exercised by the armed forces.
The Army wants sensitive data not to be stored or forwarded through electronic devices, and also wants troops to be sensitised on the ways adopted by enemy operatives, as well as other cyber security matters.
It wants personnel not to accept friend requests from unknown entities, or chats with unknown people on social media. It also says only known people should be added to social media groups, and troops should ensure they are not giving out any sensitive information while posting pictures on social media.
In addition, the Army has asked personnel to keep their identities secret — not post pictures of themselves in uniform or identify themselves with their ranks, avoid being part of large WhatsApp groups, avoid opening unknown email links and suspicious websites, or commenting and criticising the government on topics which can have a “subversive effect”.
Personnel say instructions lack clarity
The new exercise has alarmed Army officers and personnel, droves of whom have quit WhatsApp groups, even those they shared with known Army veterans.
Another Army officer told ThePrint that such an exercise is rare and hence they lack clarity on the exact grounds they may be penalised for.
“The reason can be just a harmless banter on the government. So, no one wants to take a risk. Many have been withdrawing from Facebook and WhatsApp groups in droves for now,” this officer said.
The Army had earlier said that such instructions are given out in the wake of increasing cases of ‘honey-traps’ laid down by enemy agencies, which several personnel had fallen prey to.
“Recently, an Army jawan was honey-trapped by a woman operative of Pakistan’s ISI and was found to be sharing sensitive information with an enemy agency. He was arrested by the police in Haryana’s Narnaul,” the first Army officer quoted above said.