Pakistani agent suspected of impersonating Indian Army official to infect India’s telecom system

Defense Industrial Base // Government (Foreign) // Government Contractor // Telecommunications // Other Critical Infrastructure // India

The Indian government alleges Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, tricked the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. into installing malicious software on the company’s communications pipelines.

The home ministry also fears the malware will enable Pakistan to remotely monitor BSNL’s networks and operations, “providing the ISI with the capability of disabling critical networks.”

BSNL’s networks support the country’s military. The enterprise “is building an alternative communication network for the armed forces, the completion of which will result in the Army, Air Force and Navy vacating additional spectrum for commercial mobile telephony, and routing their communications through this wireline system.”

BSNL and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.  also operate and maintain a secure network that will link all government departments.

And BSNL’s networks connect the servers of private mobile phone companies to “a surveillance platform that will enable the government to monitor all forms of communication from emails to online activity to phone calls, text messages and faxes among others.”

The chain of events unfolded as follows, according to the Indian government:

“ISI spoofed a landline number (011-23016782) so that the call would appear to originate from Indian Army HQ in Delhi, and called up a BSNL executive on his mobile phone.

Posing as Major Vijay, the ISI officer claimed that the Indian Army was unable to access BSNL’s subscriber base from its website, and also sent the BSNL employee a ‘test mail’ on his Gmail address. The BSNL employee replied to this email by sending three online links, believing that he was helping the Army.

The ISI officers then got back claiming they were unable to open the links. Besides, they (ISI) sent some links to the BSNL employee who opened the same on his computer thus enabling the Pakistani agency to allegedly install the malware in the state-owned telco’s systems. The BSNL employee also offered to forward the telephone numbers of technical staff handling its call data records project in Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata.”

The incident occurred Feb. 19.  

India’s Intelligence Bureau notified the Prime Minister’s Office, the cabinet secretary, the ministries of home, telecom and IT and external affairs as well as the country’s elite external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, on Feb. 25.