The existence of a highly sophisticated and secret app called Tek Fog, used by the BJP IT Cell, has been revealed by a former employee of the IT Cell itself.
As per The Wire’s investigation, further conversation with this source, an anonymous Twitter account, has revealed evidence of such an app used by operatives to inflate the party’s popularity and manipulate public perspective across major social media platforms.
The investigation reveals four alarming things the app can do.
- Manipulating the public narrative.
- Phishing inactive Whatsapp accounts.
- Using a private citizen database for targetted harassment.
- Removes digital traces left behind by the operators.
How does this work?
The source claimed that their daily tasks involved hijacking Twitter’s trending section with targetted hashtags, directing online harassment of BJP-critic journalists and creating as well as managing multiple Whatsapp groups affiliated to the BJP.
One primary function of the app is the hijacking mentioned above of trending sections of sites like Twitter and Facebook. The app has built-in ‘auto-retweet’ and ‘auto-share’ functionalities to promote tweets and posts by certain individuals and groups and spam these hashtags by accounts controlled by these operatives.
This includes right-wing propaganda, broadly exposing a much wider audience to this content while making extreme narratives and political campaigns appear much more popular than in real life, hence artificially inflating the party’s popularity.
Using a technique similar to token theft, the app can also take over inactive Whatsapp accounts allowing operators to send messages to their “frequently contacted” or “all contacts.” The same feature is also used for phishing the personal information of targets to a cloud-based database.
Last but not least, the app also allows operators to delete or remap all existing accounts used for these activities with a single tap. This, at least, in theory, can remove all traces of any incriminating activity carried out by the operators.
The many problems that Tek Fog clouds
The Tek Fog app is problematic on ethical as well as technological fronts as it not only poses a challenge for social media platforms when it comes to combating misinformation but also for every individual in the country who might have had the fundamental right to privacy violated without a second thought turning people into scapegoats to feed into the BJP’s vote bank eventually.
Utter breach of trust
The fact that BJP can keep track of and target individual citizens or entire narratives and keep constructed and well-structured databases on them is an alarming discovery.
What does this database consist of?
The extensive database of private citizens is categorised by occupation, religion, language, gender, age, political affiliations and even things like sexual orientation and physical attributes.
Is anything on Social media real?
Considering this discovery, you can never say. It’s best to avoid extremist content and rely on existing, trustworthy sources to confirm narratives.
Why should you be concerned?
As mentioned above, the fact that the ruling party is doing this is a clear violation of your fundamental right to privacy. This a clear breach of trust and incentivises feeding you misinformation as well as is used to target and harass specific individuals.
A foggy technological problem to fix
Along the same lines, Tek Fog also represents a giant technological challenge for social media platforms to fix these problems. While hacking has been around for as long as the internet itself, with more and more people turning to social media each year, such a large breach in privacy, especially in a populous country like India, is a major concern.
How to protect yourself?
Delete your inactive accounts, don’t use the same passwords across social media platforms and keep an eye on the content you’re seeing. Taking basic cybersecurity precautions can go a long way in protecting your digital indentity.
What is safe and what is not?
At this point in time, there’s a chance that your personal information, contact list and other credentials are already updated in Tek Fog’s database. Once again, taking the aforementioned basic cybersecurity precautions can help you potentially avoid this in the future.
Can it be fixed?
The cat’s out of the bag now. Information once leaked is gone for good. However, if appropriate action is taken we can contain the damage done and ensure something like this doesn’t happen in the future.