Tufail Ahmad* No. 880
Table of Contents
Introduction I. Pakistani Cyber Armies Using Social Media a) Use Of Facebook By Pak Cyber Pyrates b) Use Of Facebook And Twitter By Pakistan Cyber Army c) Use Of Facebook And Twitter By Pakistan Cyber Force d) Use Of YouTube By Muslim Liberation Army And Others e) Yemtv.com - Behind The Ethnic Exodus From Indian Cities? II. Major Attacks On Indian Websites By Pakistani Hackers III. War Between Pakistani And Indian Hacker Groups IV. Use Of Social Media To Cause Ethnic Conflicts In India
In recent years, a number of Pakistani hacker groups have come to the notice of the Indian government for their continuing attacks on Indian websites, and, most recently, for their role in using social media networks to trigger a mass exodus from major Indian cities by people of northeastern Indian ethnic origin. India has expressed concern that the use of social networking websites by Pakistani groups could trigger ethnic conflicts in India. This paper will examine some key Pakistani cyber groups and the nature of their anti-India activities in recent years, revealing also how their motives are underpinned by antisemitism and by a sense of global Islamism.
Three key Pakistani cyber groups have attracted the attention of Indian security agencies: the Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA), the Pak Cyber Pyrates (PCP), and the Muslim Liberation Army (MLA). All three are active against India, with some of their members based also in Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Europe. Of the three, the PCA and PCP are the leading group of Pakistani hackers and have spearheaded a series of attacks on the websites of Indian security and intelligence agencies, businesses, airlines and political groups. These groups have also hacked websites based in different countries, notably Australia, Israel, the U.S., Denmark, and South Africa.
The PCA joined the social networking site Facebook on December 21, 2009 and opened an account on the micro-blogging site Twitter this year. In a report that estimated the membership of Pakistan Cyber Army at 500, one hacker group notes the following about PCA: "A distinctly politically motivated group whose focus is Pakistani nationalism and freedom for the Kasmirians [sic] and the Palestinians. They are arch-enemies of the Indian Cyber Army and spend most of their time in open conflict with this group. They should also be consid[e]red distinctly anti-Israel." The group also has a blog site, which has not been active this year. In 2011, its blog published links to videos about hacker-related news stories, a message on the hacking and defacing of 226 Indian websites by Pakistani hackers, and the like. The group's YouTube accounts were apparently shut down due to complaints, though a number of its videos have been reposted on YouTube on various individual accounts.
After the PCA, the Pak Cyber Pyrates (PCP) is perhaps the second most active group of Pakistani hackers, launching hundreds of anti-India attacks and defacing websites - most recently, the Indian Railways websites in August 2012. The PCP hacks a range of websites, both Indian and those it deems anti-Islam. According to its Facebook page, which was created on April 26, 2011, the PCP was founded in February 2010. It has a robust presence on Facebook, posting numerous links and messages related to hacking of websites and other subjects of interest to a nationalist Pakistani audience.
A third group that has recently caught the attention of Indian officials is the Muslim Liberation Army (MLA). The PCP and MLA are alleged to have spawned the recent mass exodus of the people of India's northeastern ethnic origin from major Indian metropolises. This exodus of ethnically distinct people began unexpectedly in August 2012 after Pakistani cyber groups circulated hate messages and doctored images through social media, including mobile phone networks, in response to a conflict between Muslims and ethnic Bodos in India's northeastern Assam state. In August 2012, an account was created on Facebook by someone claiming to be MLA. Other Pakistani groups hacking Indian websites include Pakistan Cyber Force (CPF), Pakistan Cyber Hackers (PCH) and Pakistan Hackers Club (PHC). Of these three, the PCF seems to be an active ideological group promoting Antisemitism and a right-wing Pakistani Islamist narrative which sees the U.S., India and Israel/Zionists as responsible for all of Pakistan's problems in recent years.
Following the exodus of northeasterners from major Indian cities, Indian investigators found that the PCP and MLA were "circulating doctored hate messages of Assam violence through social media." According to an Indian media report, "[o]f about 100 government websites defaced by the hackers recently, the name of professional hackers, Pak Cyber Pyrates, had prominently surfaced in the investigations carried out by the intelligence agencies.... The hackers had also claimed credit through Facebook and their dedicated website.... Other than these... three other sites, including Jamaat-e-Islami and Yemtv.com, have come under the surveillance of a detailed probe the agencies are carrying out... to get to the bottom of organized conspiracy to unleash unrest through provocative videos, text and text messages after the clash between Muslims and Bodos in Assam."
I. Pakistani Cyber Armies Using Social Media
a) Use Of Facebook By Pak Cyber Pyrates
After joining Facebook on April 26, 2011, the Pak Cyber Pyrates (PCP) posted its first two messages on May 4 that year, both of them reports about two websites taken down by its hackers. On May 8, it announced the launch of its official website, which has been up and down intermittently. A reading of its Facebook wall shows that the group has apparently hacked and defaced websites in India, Israel, the U.S., Canada, Belgium and Denmark.
In a June 6, 2012 post, the PCP identified its four owners - Cyb3r0ck3r, No Swear aka Alam De Pcp, Xxx_Death_xxX aka Ghulam Ainab, and Penetrat0r aka Penetrator Gama - along with eight official members - Cyb3r0ck3r, No Swear aka Alam De Pcp, Xxx_Death_xxX aka Ghulam Ainab, Penetrat0r Gama aka Penetrat0r, U_!!v!!_N, Cool Boy Haxor, Mast3r M!nd, Gujjar HaxoR - and five junior members - D3vil 3y3, M khan Pcp, HaxoR Pcp, Striker007, Khan HaxoR. During the course of the year, it has been extremely active in hacking websites.
From April through December 2011, the PCP posted messages regarding the hacking of Indian and other websites, inserting congratulatory messages to "all Muslim and Paki[stani] hackers" in its Facebook posts, reporting the restoration of Pakistani websites defaced by rival hackers, a July 9 message reporting hackings of 500 Facebook accounts, an August 8 message about an Israeli server taken down by a hacker using the handle Cyb3r0ck3r, announcing on August 27 its recruitment drive for hackers, offering a tutorial on September 5 how to hack Facebook accounts, and so on. Of the major Pakistani hacker groups, the PCP seems to be reporting an unending series of successes in hacking Indian websites.
The PCP also posted a series of messages of right-wing Islamist interest, publishing audios of verses from the Koran, hacking websites that the group deems anti-Islam, and the like. On October 10, 2011, the PCP hacked the Denmark-based website razorsoftware.net for allegedly publishing anti-Islam content (see the above image). In an October 9, 2011 post, the PCP outlined its association with Islamic causes such as Kashmir and Palestine: "It is brought... [to] your kind notice that we do not hack personal email or Cc Accounts. Please do not try to contact us for hacking Facebook account or email account or Cc as we are against hacking someone's account for one's benefit or favor! We only try to hack for [a] cause! May be Kashmir cause, Gaza cause, USA cause, ban of hijab cause, or for security reminders!" On November 9, its posts stated: "Free Palestine, Free Kashmir."
Throughout 2012, the PCP continued to publish hundreds of posts, revealing the names of various websites hacked by it, most of them Indian or those deemed anti-Islam. On January 28, 2012, it announced the restoration of an Eastern Europe-based website, muslim-media.org, which had likely been defaced by a rival group of hackers. On February 9, it took down a pornographic website, also reporting two days later the hacking of more than 1,000 Indian websites. On March 5, it reported the hacking of 800 websites as part of Operation Free Palestine. On March 10, it reported that the PCP had hacked the website of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and in another message sought the help of its supporters to spam the IDF website. In May, it reported the hacking the website of the International Police Association.
In a June 13 message to Indian hackers, the PCP pleaded with them not to "abuse" Islam. On July 2, the group was urged by Harvard-educated Sohaan Abbasi to attack Burmese interests, noting: "When I read a post and [did a] little Googling, I came to know that it's true 20,000 Muslims have been killed in Burma, and we Pakistanis are quite [sic] yet. Why we are? Are we not Muslims? I request... Pakistani hackers to start their mission against Myanmar, so that we can prove, we are Muslims and we will fight against Muslim conspiracies!"
b) Use Of Facebook And Twitter By Pakistan Cyber Army
A number of groups are active on social networking site Facebook under the title "Pakistan Cyber Army." However, one of these Facebook pages appears to be the PCA's most authentic Facebook wall. A study of its activities on Facebook from December 2009 through August 2012 reveals that this page is used mostly by its followers and hackers to share messages - unlike other Facebook pages, where the main account holder posts most of the messages.
It appears that the Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA) began with the main objective of targeting Indian websites. On December 21, 2009, when the PCA began publishing messages on Facebook, the first post was about how it had hacked the website of the Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), India's largest state-run gas company. On the same day, it posted a YouTube video, which has now been removed. Sometime in April 2012, the PCA announced the launch of its official website, CyberArmy.com.pk, in a YouTube video.
During 2010, its followers posted messages lauding the PCA; requesting that they be taught hacking; urging the group to contact them directly through inbox, sometimes urgently; and requesting details about how to apply to become members of the group. On May 18, 2010, the PCA posted a message saying "we are ready.... [for a] counter-attack tonight [probably against an Indian target]." An examination of the nature of the Facebook names used by the PCA followers indicates that they are primarily hackers with Islamist and antisemitic undertones, e.g. Anonymous INDO PAK TRooPS, Infected Green, Access Denied, Fuhrer Myth, InnOcent Hacker, etc.
Some of the PCA followers conveyed messages that they had hacked Indian websites; some reported how Indian cyber groups had hacked Kashmiri/Pakistani interest websites, while others simply wished the group the best of luck, and the like. Some followers urged it to block pornographic websites in the Islamic nation of Pakistan. On December 4, 2010, InnOcent Hacker reported the hacking of a number of Indian government websites. In a message dated December 5, 2010, Access Denied wrote: "Congratulation to PCA as 270 Indian websites hacked. PCA Zindabad [Long Live]. It is around this time - in December 2010 - that one sees a war of attacks and counter attacks emerging between Pakistani and Indian hackers."
During 2011 and 2012, the Facebook page of Pakistan Cyber Army has been buzzing with the activities and messages posted by its followers, with occasional counter-responses posted by its Indian rivals. This page works more like a networking group. On May 7, 2011, a Rome-based Indonesian youth posted a message to PCA saying that both Pakistani and Indonesian hackers share the same purpose against U.S., Malaysian and Israeli websites. In a January 14, 2012 post, one follower urged the PCA to attack "Zionist" websites allegedly for their anti-Islam campaigns, stating: "The Zionists and other haters have a campaign running across the Internet against Muslims. I always wanted to ignore it and not be a part of it. But, some pages are literally getting on my nerves these days. Please do something to have [th]em blocked because this entices extremism. I say this because I will be highly honored to kill the SOBs who author these pages. Please do something."
The Pakistan Cyber Army opened a Twitter account this year, using @PCArmyOfficial as its handle and posting its first tweet on January 29, 2012. A study of its tweets indicates that the group posts various types of nationalistic and religious messages, and news stories related to the hacker community. It posts messages about Internet security-related issues, developments related to IT and phone companies such as Microsoft and Apple.
It also provides links to video games and movies uploaded on the Internet. Some of its tweets this year included: a Pakistani hacker named "Sizzling Soul" hacking and defacing more than 70 websites (August 26); Indian Kolhapur server hacked by Pakistani hacker "Hitcher" (August 25); members of PCA "ShehZada" and "Neo HaXoR" hacking more than 100 Indian websites (August 8); news about an upcoming hackers' conference in New Delhi (July 27), and so on.
Notwithstanding the highly nationalistic Pakistani hackers' general dislike for everything Indian, it appears that the group - or some of its administrators - likes Bollywood movies, as is generally expected of a Pakistani audience. It has posted tweets with links to movies, software related news, mobile phone games, and so on. Compared to its Facebook wall, the group's Twitter account is relatively less active.
c) Use Of Facebook And Twitter By Pakistan Cyber Force
Of all the Pakistani cyber groups, the Pakistan Cyber Force (PCF) has a strong political and ideological orientation, and, like most right-wing Islamist groups in Pakistan, it blames the United States, Israel and India for all major problems confronting Pakistan today. It doesn't appear that it is a hacker group. The PCF expresses open support for the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for its crushing of the underground Baluchi rebels who are fighting for independence of Baluchistan from Pakistan. It also expresses open support for Zaid Hamid, a Pakistani security analyst known for creating a vast amount of videos which articulate a narrative blaming the United States and NATO, Zionists and Israel, the Hindus and India for almost all of Pakistan's problems.
According to a Facebook post, the PCF was established in September 2010 and opened an account on Facebook on December 26, 2010. During 2011 and 2012, the Pakistan Cyber Force posted a number of messages, promoting antisemitism and describing the Taliban militants as "USZ/India-backed terrorists" with the initials USZ standing for the United States of Zionism. Its messages lauded the victory of Islamist parties in the Arab world, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A December 3, 2011 post noted: "A Pakistan Army delegation cancelled its scheduled visit to the United States of Zionism" in the wake of the killing of Pakistani soldiers in a NATO strike. A post the next day read: "USZ aircraft arrived in Pakistan... for its nationals vacating Shamsi airbase" in Baluchistan. A December 6, 2011 post published an antisemitic image of Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik (see the above image). The group's Facebook posts are laced with overt antisemitism throughout.
In its Facebook posts, the PCF lauds the Taliban fighting against the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and disparages the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants fighting against Pakistan Army. On December 5, it posted a Taliban message celebrating the militants' successes in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban's summer "Al-Badr" operation. In a post dated December 12, 2011, it criticized Pakistani politician Imran Khan, saying that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party expressed the view that it was "comfortable" with the idea of working "with USZ" - meaning the United States of Zionism. A December 15 post expressed glee that the U.S. troops in Afghanistan were experiencing food shortages due to Pakistan closing the NATO supplies through its territory.
A review of its Facebook posts during 2012 reveals a similar pattern of ideological messages against the U.S., Israel and India. The group posts numerous links to its own blogs, YouTube videos and other websites, and publishes numerous antisemitic cartoons. In April 2012, a series of its message accused the Pakistan-based South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and its members of links to Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), the external intelligence agency of India. Its posts especially targeted Beena Sarwar and Marvi Sirmed, the Pakistani writers who advocate peace with India. A post dated April 8 said: "Let's destroy secularism from Islamic Republic of Pakistan..." An April 15 post described the Pakistani Taliban militants as "Indo-American TTP terrorists." During 2012, it also posted ideological messages criticizing the media silence on the killing of Muslims in Burma and the U.S. role in Yemen and Syria. Its messages celebrated the Afghan Taliban, disparaged the Pakistani Taliban whom it viewed as the agents of Israel, America and India, ridiculed liberal Pakistani writers and democracy, promoted Antisemitism and a global Islamist viewpoint, and lauded the Pakistani military.
On its Twitter page, the Pakistan Cyber Force (PCF) posted message similar to those on its Facebook wall. Using its Twitter handle @PCF_Official, the group began posting numerous messages and links to different websites from February 20, 2011 onwards. Its very first post said the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has accused the Pakistani media of "anti-Islam propaganda." Its initial posts covered a range of subjects: the Muslim Brotherhood issuing a fatwa against Moammar Gaddafi of Libya (23 February), a Koranic verse warning against cloning, a post describing UK Prime Minister David Cameron as a "terrorist," a post lauding the ISI for arresting an American in Peshawar, Pakistani Army and ISI asking the U.S. to stop drone attacks on Taliban hideouts in Pakistani border region, a March 1 post raising the question "Am I a Muslim or a Momin [True Muslim]", linking to a blog arguing that 400 pro-India and pro-Israeli CIA agents operating in Pakistan, and so on.
During 2011, its tweets carried messages regarding Pakistan's refusal to sign the UN's Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (March 4), describing a Koranic verse as the weapon of mass destruction (March 4), the role of the USZ [United States of Zionism] in Middle East revolutions (March 6), accusing the U.S.'s HAARP science program of causing a tsunami in Japan (March 19), linking to a blog forecasting an imminent Western economic collapse, Pakistan replacing the "USZ" with China as its principal arms supplier, accusing India of stealing waters from Pakistani rivers, describing Sindhi nationalist group Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) as a subversive group, declaring U.S. President Barack Obama as "Zionist jester" for announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden (May 2), quoting a CIA official as saying that "Obama Recruits Al-Qaeda" (June 1), reporting Pakistan's arrest of CIA agents, and the like.
Some of its tweets through 2011 included: Pakistani soldiers "martyred by CIA-backed [Taliban] terrorists" (August 27), accusing the CIA of leaking dengue virus in Pakistan, Kashmiris killed by Indian troops, warning that "Pakistani atheists and agnostics' propaganda" is at peak (September 28), accusing CIA of causing sectarian conflicts in Pakistan, militant commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar reportedly stating that the "USZ" is responsible for Pakistan's all problems (October 7), alleging that Pakistan Muslim League (MPL-N) party has Zionist links (October 15), and the like. A June 3, 2012 dated post accused India, Israel, Qatar, America, NATO and some UN "crooks" of supporting the Baluchi rebel camps in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. During 2012, it tweets carried similar messages, which were informed by antisemitism, global Islamism, and an extreme right-wing Pakistani nationalism.
d) Use Of YouTube By Muslim Liberation Army And Others
Like other hacker groups, some Pakistani groups are using YouTube for conveying their messages. The Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA), the Pak Cyber Pyrates (PCP) and the Muslim Liberation Army (MLA) have their videos posted on YouTube, though it appears that on occasions some videos have also been removed.
The PCP has published several YouTube videos offering hacking tutorials. In May 2011, it published a series of two YouTube video tutorials on how to hack websites. In September 2011, a YouTube video of PCP offered detailed tutorial on how to hack WordPress, a major blogging site. Using the YouTube handle "sadprincessinsadland," the Pak Cyber Pyrates posted at least 13 videos in 2011. "No Swear," a hacker associated with the PCP, offered another tutorial on how to hack into Facebook accounts.
In recent years, the Muslim Liberation Army has launched numerous attacks on Indian and Western websites in revenge for attacks on symbols of Islam. In a YouTube video, the MLA reported attacks on hundreds of Western and Indian websites, including on the website of the Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University of India, stating: "We hacked to raise the awareness about illegal occupation of India in Kashmir. We will never surrender." In a March 2012, the Muslim Liberation Army identified itself by the following handles used by its members: XtReMiSt, KillerMind Haxor, Jerry Hassan, Syed Zaadaa, HyP3r-Boy Zarb-E-Momin, fAchO, Radical Assassin. Of these, XtReMiSt appears to be the lead hacker.
In September 2011, the MLA claimed to have hacked at least 21 websites of various churches in the United States in protest against the "Burn Koran Day" organized by some U.S.-based groups. In August 2012, it attracted the attention of Indian intelligence agencies in the wake of the mass exodus of the people of India's northeastern ethnic origin from Indian metropolises.
Numerous videos have been posted by these three groups on YouTube, some of which are technical and teach how to hack while others carry their political messages. In March 2012, the Pak Cyber Pyrates posted a video on YouTube to announce that following the hacking of Israeli Defense Forces website, it hacked 16 international defense forums of different countries as part of Operation Freedom Palestine. Some YouTube videos based on television news clips posted by anonymous readers are about how the Pakistan Cyber Army hacked into Indian websites in response to the hacking of Pakistani websites.
Hundreds of videos can be found on YouTube posted by various cyber armies and hacker groups, including by Pakistan Cyber Force (PCF), Pakistan Hackers Club (PHC), Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA), the Pak Cyber Pyrates (PCP) and the Muslim Liberation Army (MLA), among others.
e) Yemtv.com - Behind The Ethnic Exodus From Indian Cities?
One of the groups identified by Indian officials as having released doctored videos to cause mass ethnic exodus from Indian cities is Yemtv.com. Its "About Us" page notes: "Wisdom, It is said is not reflected in the simple exercise of compiling and quoting facts and figures; rather wisdom is very much about how facts align and combine. We believe that history is rural in base and urban in form. So, life is all about responding to the proximity environment, about changing native reactions." On its "Advertise" contact page, the website's promoters observe: "Revenue generation is not our intent, we simply intend to facilitate the surfers." On blogspot.com, the group's administrator uses the identity "MiNd FrEak" to post blogs, revealing an intent to engage in psychological warfare on the Internet.
Those who run the website do not appear to be ordinary geeks. They are for sure well-educated individuals who must have read New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's celebrated book on Internet-spawned globalization The World Is Flat, as they note on Yemtv.com's "About Us" page: "With the .com boom, the world has gone flat, and the flattening tools have made techno-economic paradigm shifts." The page further states: "We being instinctive computer professionals have made an advance in the field of providing information and keeping people informed about the happenings in the multiple spheres of activities in the world. Our website is not only the source of inspiration for those who intend to ride their economic destinies in the existing flat world. We would even pre-empt in the field of journalism by providing people with the most up-to-dated analyses of the affairs that influence our day-to-day lives."
Although Yemtv.com does not disclose its address and contact details, a review of the group's tweets on Twitter reveals that it is a group based in Pakistan. The Twitter page itself does not publish anything controversial and most of the time it posts weblinks to Pakistani media reports, especially those from television channels. One of the few India-related post seems to be an August 29 tweet about the Supreme Court of India upholding a death sentence for Ajmal Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist who was caught alive, out of the 10 who launched the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008.
The promoters of Yemtv.com - which is not merely a video site as it also publishes web reports - have a definite Islamist agenda. A review of posts on their Facebook wall reveals that they view developments in Pakistan from an Islamist perspective. On March 20, 2012, it posted an Urdu text graphic, which read: "When [Zulfiqar Ali] Bhutto was hanged, he was called a martyr. When Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto and Salman Taseer were shot dead, they were declared martyrs. When Shahnawaz [Bhutto] was poisoned, he became a martyr. Thanks that Nimrod and Pharaoh were not members of the [ruling secular] Pakistan People's Party." A number of images and graphics published on its Facebook wall articulate a right-wing Pakistani nationalist perspective.
As per its domain registration details (see the above image), the Yemtv.com website was created on November 25, 2011, roughly eight months before the mass exodus of Indians of northeastern ethnic origin from the major metropolises of India. One of its videos promoted by the group, both on Yemtv.com and YouTube, is on the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar, and contains a collage of gruesome images along with a sad song in Urdu.
II. Major Attacks On Indian Websites By Pakistani Hackers
Some of the major Indian websites hacked recently by Pakistanis included those of police departments, lawmakers, railways, telecommunications companies, and political groups. In August 2010, the personal website of Indian lawmaker and liquor baron Vijay Mallya was attacked by Pakistani hackers. The hackers also defaced the website of Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines. His spokesperson said: "Dr. Mallya's website www.mallyainparliament.com has been hacked and the Pakistani flag has been placed with a dire message from an organization known as the Pakistan Cyber Army."
In December 2010, the website of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the federal investigating agency of India, was hacked by Pakistani cyber warriors. According to an Indian media report, "The hackers... made a mockery of the country's cyber security by infiltrating into the CBI website, supposed to be one of the most secure websites. The CBI is connected to the command center of world police organization - Interpol - 24x7." The Pakistan Cyber Army, which carried out the attack, left a message warning the rival hackers' group Indian Cyber Army not to attack Pakistani websites.
In October 2011, the website of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of India's eastern state of West Bengal was hacked by Pakistanis who used a U.S.-based proxy server to carry out the attack. An Indian government official remarked: "The hacking was done by little-known organization Muslim Liberation Army... from Lahore and the proxy server was traced to America." The hackers left a political message on the CID website: "This institutionalized impunity with which the killing of civilians by military and police forces in Jammu and Kashmir continues should be a source of shame for India which propagates to be a democracy." The MLA also hacked 256 Indian websites in October 2011 and details of all of these websites were posted on paksoldiers.com.
In December 2011, the official website of Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful Indian leader and chief of the country's ruling Congress party, was defaced with a pornographic message. Congress party spokesman Tom Vadakhan said the website was closed once the hacking was detected while an Indian media report noted that "The pornographic text included a reference to a Pakistan-based email address...." In 2011, the website of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the country's major telecommunications firm, was hacked for the second time by the Pakistan Cyber Army. The hackers gained "access to over 10,000 users' information, which included names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and location details...." Some of the hacker identities identified in this attack included: Team_H4tr!ck, x-c0p, nginx-adm1n, enc0der, k3rnel and sm0ky.
In 2012, the Pakistan Cyber Army, the Muslim Liberation Army and the Pak Cyber Pyrates have continued to launch attacks on Indian websites. In March 2012, the MLA hacked websites of 46 Indian educational institutions. That month, it also hacked seven websites run by an Indian software firm, including pixelinfosoft.in. In August 2012, the Pak Cyber Pyrates hacked into an inactive website of India's Southern Railways, replacing the website's home page with a message denouncing India's role in Kashmir valley.
In August 2012, the website of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parish (ABVP), the student wing of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, was hacked by Pakistan Cyber Army. Umesh Dutt of ABVP noted: "From last many years Pakistan is trying to create disturbance in India by its anti-national activities. We are seeing the consequences of terrorism, infiltration, smuggling of drugs and arms by Pakistan. Pakistani agencies are... [involved] in hacking different Indian websites from last few days. Our website was hacked for the second time by 'Pakistan Cyber Army.'"
There are many more types of software piracy and cyber attacks on Indian websites, including by Indian groups which are protesting India's censorship of the Internet and by Chinese groups trying to hack into Indian military websites. In July 2012, Nikhil Pable, 29, was arrested from his home in Mumbai by Indian police at the request of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on charges of software piracy. From the Indian government's viewpoint, the biggest concern has been the Pakistan Cyber Army (PCA). It seems that India has identified that some of the PCA members are based in the U.S. and Europe. In April 2011, the Indian government identified three Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, with the two of them originating from Seattle and Pennsylvania in the U.S. and the third one in Daugavpils, Latvia in northern Europe.
III. War Between Pakistani And Indian Hacker Groups
Pakistani Groups "Hacked More Than 3,500 Websites... When India Was Celebrating Its Independence Day"; "Indian Hackers Also Hacked... 10,000 Websites And Servers Of Pakistan And Bangladesh"
In a recent article tracing the history of cyber war between Pakistan and India, Pakistani peace activist Aqsa Garsein observed: "The cyber war between India and Pakistan started in May 1998 [the year of tit-for-tat nuclear testings by the two countries], when Pakistani hackers attacked Bhabha Atomic Research Center's website to somehow proclaim their technological supremacy. In November 2010, a group called 'The Indian Cyber Army' defaced a number of important Pakistani national websites, including that of the Pakistan Army in their efforts to avenge the Mumbai attacks [of November 26, 2008]. And throughout the year these geniuses continue to hack websites in the name of national pride."
Over the past two years, Pakistani and Indian hackers have launched numerous attacks and counter attacks on the websites of governments, private companies and political firms in each other's countries. While India is not known to have sponsored hacker groups, there are Hindu right-wing Internet forums that stoke the cyber warfare with Pakistani groups. In August 2012, an Indian media report examined the recent cyber war between the rival groups of hackers, stating:
"Groups of Pak Cyber Army and Pak Cyber Pyrates includes members named as Shadow008, Anon C[O]P, CFR Robot Pirates Team and others claiming to have hacked more than 3,500 websites of India on the day when India was celebrating its Independence Day [August 15, 2012]. Some of the Indian websites hacked by Pak[istani] hackers include emailservers.in, pinemedia.in/cfr.html, filmparivar.com and others.
"Similarly, Indian hackers also hacked and defaced about 10,000 websites and servers of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hackers of both India and Pakistan had been active to hack each other's websites and are busy defacing each other's websites and upload their message.
"The United Indian hackers ... [state], 'We are Indian Hackers, it was not supposed to happen all the sudden this way, but hey who knew? We belong to India. We are one blood! We have one cause. Stop breaching Indian servers, you we bet, the whole Pakistan, Bangladesh, or whosoever breaches Indian security will have to pay a big time that will be permanent, and irreversible.'
"Some Pakistan[i] websites, including voiceofmuslim.com, pastebin.com/fBEyRsPA, pastebin.com/xYgzpQhX, pakilibas.com, arab-zone.net/mirror/180325/pakpropertylinks.com, snawonline.com and others, were hacked by Indian hackers."
Report In Pakistani Daily: "The Indian Cyber Warfare Apparatus Has Been Allowed A Free Run To Bludgeon Pakistan As Well As Islam"
In an August 28, 2012 article titled "Indo-Pakistan cyber war: Reality check," the right-wing Pakistani daily The Nationidentified some Indian cyber groups, observing:
"[W]e would like to expose the contours of a persistent anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam cyber war that has been waged by Indian groups ... to demonize and belittle Pakistan in every way possible. While being fully cognizant of the fact that it is only the resilience of the people that has let Pakistan float through its socio-economic and security challenges during the last one decade, the country at present presents an ideal target for cyber warfare and information operations. With help from some Pakistani intellectuals in print and electronic media as well as a policy of appeasement adopted by successive Pakistani governments, the Indian cyber warfare apparatus has been allowed a free run to bludgeon Pakistan as well as Islam.
"The paucity of space for discussion here restricts us from doing a postmortem of the Indian cyber war against Pakistan. However, [a] few glimpses of one forum, BharatRakshak.com (which in our opinion is the vanguard organization of Pakistan- and Islam-specific cyber war apparatus), could be an eye opener for many. Bharat Rakshak (BR) is a Pakistan-hate forum with viewership running into millions. We wish the Aman Ki Asha group [which promotes friendship with India] to have an open discussion with this forum, which would make it realize that peripheral, social and media exchanges for peace do not stand any chance of mitigating the hate being created by this one forum only. So, they may be wasting a lot of time of a lot of people across the great divide.
"Bharat Rakshak has a clearly articulated offensive and defensive strategy in place, and an admirable ability to pick anything from Pakistani or international media to demonize Pakistan. An interesting thread currently run by BR is 'A mirror on Pakistan in their own words, by Pakistanis.' A section of Pakistani newspapers, TV anchors and intellectuals, who adopt an unnecessarily harsh critical approach to practices associated with Islam, are the most sought out and quoted in this thread. Pakistan is satirically named as Terrorist Islamic Republic of Pakistan (TIRP).
"Demonizing Islam as well as the Indian Muslims: Hate material runs into millions of comments and views insulting our beloved Prophet Muhammad... as well as Muslim akabireen [elders of Islam] and leadership. General themes include Islam bashing, Bangladeshi bashing, portraying Pakistanis as illiterate and ridiculing the sectarian divisions within Islam. An example of a disturbing way of expressing everything associated with Pakistan is that Pak-China friendship has been displayed by an insulting photograph, a monkey (Pakistan) riding a pig (China). Pakistan's ISI [the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistani military] has a special forum for discussion and is one of the prime targets of the BR."
According to a cyber security website, a total of 2,414 Indian websites were hacked during the month of July 2012 alone. As per the findings of India Risk Survey 2012, published consulting firm Pinkerton, around 9,000 Indian websites were hacked during the past five years and the cyber crime rate in India has gone up by 50 percent in the past year. The same report also revealed that India is a victim of cross-border hacking, mainly from Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Nepal. An Indian website argued in August 2012 that in the cyber war between India and Pakistan, the Indian side is weaker, adding: "Pakistan-based hackers are completely funded by its intelligence and unlike their counterparts in India they are fully protected. There has been a lot of intelligence regarding Pakistan groups using the social media and other websites to create panic."
IV. Use Of Social Media To Cause Ethnic Conflicts In India
Following conflicts between Muslims and ethnic Bodos in India's northeastern state of Assam this year, Indian officials were shocked with the sudden exodus of the people of northeastern ethnic origin from major Indian cities, especially Chennai and Bangalore, as well as by some migration from Hyderabad, Goa and Pune during August 2012. Other than the exodus, some incidents of mob violence were also witnessed in the Indian cities of Lucknow, Allahabad and Mumbai against the northeasterners. In Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, people of the northeastern ethnic origin were beaten up by some youth. The most serious issue was in Bangalore, from where a large number of northeasterners left by the thousands daily, forcing the government to organize a flag march by paramilitary forces to instill trust among the people.
However, the Indian government quickly traced the cause of the exodus of the northeasterners to doctored videos and mass text messages sent via mobile phones regarding the killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar (formerly Burma). In both places, Muslims were attacked and forced to become refugees by this year's summer ethnic clashes. Speaking on August 19, R. K. Singh, the top federal official of the Indian home ministry, said that a bulk of the incendiary videos and horrific clips of atrocities allegedly committed against Muslims in Assam and Burma were uploaded on various blogs in Pakistan in a bid to incite Indian Muslims, and noted: "Technical investigation has established that a bulk of the incendiary images was first uploaded on blogs in Pakistan.... As many as 110 websites were involved in spreading the doctored clips. We have blocked 76 of them, and are in the process of getting others deactivated."
With Indian newspapers carrying headlines of the northeasterners leaving Indian cities, the federal government was in panic. However, soon the Department of Telecom, the federal telecommunications regulator, directed the "Internet service providers to block around 300 web pages, including blogposts, news articles of mainstream media outlets, YouTube videos, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts." Some webpages of extremist Hindu groups were also shut down in order to control the panic and mass exodus. The Indian government temporarily imposed a ban on bulk text messages and MMs messages, which was lifted on August 30. In Pune city, near Mumbai, the cyber crime branch of the city police arrested four youths for circulating inflammatory text messages via mobile phones.
Asked by television journalist Sagarika Ghose if the doctored videos and text messages originated from Pakistan or from inside India, noted Indian cyber law expert Pavan Duggal commented: "[The Indian] Government says it's Pakistan; it must be saying on some credible evidence. We haven't seen it; so can't really comment. But the Indian internal element cannot be ruled out. It was the misuse of media and mobile network specifically."
The recent exodus of the northeasterners from major Indian cities triggered through the use of electronic and Internet media and the growing attacks from Pakistani hackers on Indian websites have caused a first-of-its kind alarm in India, and concerns are being expressed about whether hostile groups could trigger ethnic conflicts in the country through the use of websites and social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (www.memri.org/sasp)