News Paramilitary troopers getting Facebook friend requests from suspicious profiles

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SOURCE: Hindustan Times

The social media monitoring cells of paramilitary forces have noticed suspicious Facebook profiles, mostly of women posing as research scholars or tourists, and believed to be operated by Pakistani and Chinese handlers, attempting to befriend troopers active on social media.

Senior paramilitary officers, who asked not to be identified, say there has been an increase in the number of such approaches over the past two to three years, especially targeting troopers posted on India’s eastern and western borders. They said there has been no leakage of sensitive information because of strong preventive mechanisms.

Earlier this year, a senior IAF officer was held for being allegedly involved in espionage and attempting to access sensitive documents after being befriended by a woman on a social media platform.

The messages are usually innocuous. One such message, seen by HT, reads: “I am a student from China now my major is international relationship. I have to finish a essay about Indo-China border police. Is it convenient for you to offer me any stories about their daily life? If you need my help next time, I will try my best!”

The paramilitary officers said the efforts target troopers of the Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF). “The individuals claim to be interested in visiting India as a tourist or in some cases pose as research students.They initiate conversations with troopers who post their professional details online or have their photographs in uniform,” a senior ITBP officer said.

The official added that under the social media guidelines for the forces , it is clearly mentioned that troopers and officers must not accept friend requests from strangers and also refrain from putting out official details on their profile.

Documents seen by HT?show that troopers and officers have been asked to be particularly careful while using Facebook, Twitter, Vkontakte, Qzone, Odnoklassniki, LinkedIn and Google+.

There are lapses, the ITBP officer admitted, usually involving junior troopers. “They do not have that much access to sensitive information but whenever such things are noticed, measures are immediately taken to inform the concerned jawan. With the checks and balances in place that we have, no untoward case has been reported.”

Subimal Bhattacharjee, a cyber policy adviser and a member of the Research Advisory Network of Global Commission on Internet Governance, said this looks like a “surveillance exercise” aimed at finding out three key details: size of companies posted in sensitive regions, troop movement and type of weapons used by forces.

“Despite being directed to check their social media activities, paramilitary forces are increasingly using online platforms to communicate. The threat is very real and security personnel have been found using symbols and uniforms of their force, making them vulnerable,” Bhattacharjee said.

A senior Border Security force offer added: “We can’t say for sure whether the profiles are handled by Pakistani or Chinese nationals but without a doubt there is a malafide intent beneath all this.”

A senior officer of the CRPF said on condition of anonymity that while the social media monitoring cells are monitoring online activities 24X7, there is a need for far greater vigil given the vastness of social media.
 
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