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Why tech experts think BJP’s Sambit Patra’s claim about Congress toolkit could be fake

BJP leader Sambit Patra shared two screenshots to connect the alleged toolkit to ‘tarnish the image’ of PM Modi to Congress MP Rajeev Gowda’s office.

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New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has linked the Congress to an alleged toolkit to “tarnish the image” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with some screenshots as “evidence”. But cyber experts ThePrint spoke to said that one of the screenshots was fake.

On Tuesday, BJP leader Sambit Patra shared two screenshots to connect the alleged toolkit to Congress MP Rajeev Gowda’s office. He alleged that a member in Gowda’s team, Saumya Varma, was the author of the toolkit.

“Friends yesterday Congress wanted to know who’s the Author of the toolkit. Pls check the properties of the Paper. Author: Saumya Varma. Who’s Saumya Varma …The Evidences speak for themselves: Will Sonia Gandhi & Rahul Gandhi reply?” Patra said in a tweet.

However, two cyber experts said that the first screenshot shared by Patra was fake.

According to them, the file properties of the alleged toolkit as seen in the screenshot are inauthentic, with some technical elements missing in the description.

ThePrint reached Patra for a comment via calls and texts but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.

Patra’s tweet

In his tweet, Patra shared two pictures and two screenshots. The first screenshot showed a Mac operating system (OS) window of file properties for a document received via WhatsApp. The screenshot showed the author of the Microsoft Word document — titled “Central_Vista_Vanity_Project_AICC_Research_1_.pdf” — as “saumya varma”.

The second screenshot showed a LinkedIn profile for an individual named Saumya Varma, according to which the woman worked at Congress MP Rajeev Gowda’s office.

A Google search for this profile using the term “saumya varma congress linkedin” showed a matching result. A preview of the Google result showed the profile for one Saumya Varma, listed as based in Delhi and working as a “Policy and Political Research Consultant”, and linked to the “‎Office of Prof M.V. Rajeev Gowda at AICC Research Department”.

The LinkedIn profile, however, is no longer available.

The tweet also carried two alleged pictures of Varma, where she appears in the frame along with Congress workers.

Also read: ‘It’s humanity’: BJP defends minister for helping Mallika Dua after Right-wing slams party

What the experts say

Independent researcher Devesh Kumar said the screenshot tweeted by Patra’s account was fake.

According to Kumar, the first screenshot — of file properties — shows the result for the query “Where from” as: “https://web.whatsapp.com/”.

If it had been a genuine screenshot, the query result would have read, “blob:https://web.whatsapp.com/”, he said.

The acronym ‘blob’ stands for Binary Large Object. It is an efficient file format to store files that require large amounts of storage capacity. WhatsApp maintains files like text documents, videos and photos users send to each other in the ‘blob’ format, explained Kumar.

Moreover, after the final forward slash in the WhatsApp link, there should be a string of alphanumerics denoting the particular file as well.

Kumar said the screenshot shared by Patra was mimicking a message box that would appear on the Mac OS.

To test this, Kumar asked a contact to send him a word document on WhatsApp. He opened the document on the web version of WhatsApp and then stored the document on a Mac computer. Then he right-clicked on the document and chose the option ‘get info’ from the drop-down menu.

In the ‘get info’ window, the file properties showed the full download URL, starting with the word ‘blob’.

What a genuine file properties box would look like. | Photo: Devesh Kumar
What a genuine file properties box would look like. | Photo: Devesh Kumar

Debayan Gupta, assistant professor, computer science, at Ashoka University, independently confirmed this.

He said the screenshot shared by Patra “appears to be inconsistent with the genuine Mac OS window for properties of a document received via WhatsApp. Typically, the full URL should start with “blob:…”

ThePrint emailed WhatsApp to confirm if the tech giant stores files in the blob format, and whether this would show up in the file properties on Mac OS. The report will be updated when a response is received.

Congress response

In a response issued in the evening, Gowda acknowledged that Varma was indeed his colleague, who worked on a “Central Vista document” of the party. However, the toolkit was fake. Moreover, he said that Varma deactivated her social media accounts due to online harassment.

Congress General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, according to Times Now, said, “Sambit (Patra) knows he is going to jail for forging documents… He, instead of indulging in this forgery, should go use his degree of doctor to serve people in some Covid ward”.

Also read: UP BJP MLA hits out at Yogi govt, says ‘if I speak too much, it may attract sedition charges’


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