In a research conducted by non profit organisations Amnesty International and Citizen Lab along with security firm SentinelOne, it was learnt that police forces have been employing hacking tactics on political activists. The same was found to be true of Pune police who kept a tab on activists Varavara Rao and Rona Wilson.
Police forces across the world have been using hacking tactics to keep a tab on protesters, expose political dissidents’ secrets, and turn activists’ computers and phones into inescapable eavesdropping bugs.
In such a case in India, law enforcement agencies were found to be involved with campaigns set up to defame the activists. The agencies have gone as far as planting files related to crimes on the computers of the activists.
The same files are then used as proof against the targets, leading to their arrest. Over a year ago research by forensic analyst revealed that hackers fabricated information and planted it on the computers of two activists.
The incident occurred in 2018 in Pune, since then the two activists along with 13 others are facing terror charges. An extensive research into the matter by security firm SentinelOne and nonprofits Citizen Lab and Amnesty International has linked the fabrication of information to a broader hacking program targeting hundreds of individuals for nearly a decade.
The operation involved the use of phishing emails, using spyware to target computers and smartphones. These operations have been possible due the use of hacking tools provided by Israeli firm NSO. The research at SentinelOne has revealed the nexus between hackers and the police, which arrested various activists based on fabricated evidence.
The security firm’s research links Pune police to the long running hacking campaigns, which the firm refers to as Modified Elephant. The major targets of the hacking campaign were Rona Wilson and Vara Vara Rao.
The two men are activists and are associated with the Bheema Koregaon case. Those who are charged with terrorism in this case are referred to as Bheema Koregaon16. In 2021 a digital forensic firm by the name Arsenal Consulting, working for the defendants found that the evidence had been fabricated against them. reported wired.com
Rona Wilson’s computer was hacked using a malware known as NetWire had added 32 files to a folder of the computer’s hard drive. The virus also added a letter to the activist’s computer, which read that a banned Maoist group was plotting the assassination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.