Is Pakistan Army issuing threats to rights activists?

The attacks on rights activists include hacking of social media accounts and computers and mobile phones being infected with spyware.

New Delhi: A rigorous four-month-long investigation since January 2018 by leading rights organisation Amnesty International suggests that certain individuals who had threatened and targeted Pakistani human rights activists on digital mediums have links to the Pak military establishment, thereby pointing to the possibility of the Army behind such cybercrimes.

The 80-page report, titled “Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan”, released on Monday reveals “how attackers are using fake online identities and social media profiles to ensnare Pakistani human rights defenders online and mark them out for surveillance and cybercrime”.

The attacks on rights activists include hacking of social media accounts and computers and mobile phones being infected with spyware.

The report prominently profiles a case study of Diep Saeeda, a leading Pak rights activist from Lahore, who was targeted by the cyber attackers from December 2, 2017, onwards — the day her friend and peace activist Raza Mehmood Khan was subject to an enforced disappearance. Khan had been trying to promote inter-personal relationships between the people of India and Pakistan through activities like letter-writing.

The investigations reveal a network of layers to conceal the source destination, shadowy cyber applications and software — all with an intention to track, uncover, penetrate and steal information.

One such deeply buried document recovered during the investigations provides an overview of the skills of members of the Pakistani military cyber security team, their daily tasks as well as their particular expertise.

Based on the evidence, the Amnesty report said: “If authentic, this document suggests that it was created by individuals who are working for a team that is conducting both defensive as well as offensive operations, particularly in retaliation to those critical of the Pakistan Army.”

The document names one Zahid Rasheed as member of a “Team Cyber Security” and lays out the daily routine: “We scan network on daily basis to check open port or any outbound connection into our network, then we communicate with Twitter and FB team captains for any new anti-Army or fake accounts of COAS/DG ISPR. Check DG’s Facebook page security and past 24 hour activity. We are working on different target accounts to trace their IP Addresses or to compromise their accounts.”

COAS is common military abbreviation for the Army chief while the DG ISPR (Director-General Inter Service Public Relations) would indicate the spokesperson of the Pakistani military.

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