Cyber criminals that deny links to BJP targeted prominent journalists seen as critical of Narendra Modi.
Indian police on Monday said they were trying to track down a group of cyber criminals suspected of hacking high profile Twitter accounts amid allegations the breaches were politically motivated.
The unknown group, ‘Legion Crew,’ on Saturday targeted two Twitter accounts belonging to prominent television journalists, both seen as critics of the policies of the ruling Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We have received complaints from the journalists and have launched an investigation into the cyber crime,” said Anyesh Roy, head of the cyber security cell of Delhi Police.
The accounts of NDTV news network anchors Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar were breached late Saturday following which hackers posted profanities and threatened to leak huge stashes of confidential data. The latest hackings come two weeks after the group claimed to have hijacked the Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the opposition Congress party.
The account of Vijay Mallya, a fugitive billionaire liquor baron who fled to Britain in March amid allegations of financial fraud, was hacked on Friday.
The series of hackings has sparked accusations that the group was selectively targeting government opponents, with Congress saying the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was behind the breaches as the “BJP cannot handle criticism.” But the group in a tweet from one of the hacked accounts denied any affiliation with the BJP or the government.
Investigators said they were treating the hacking as a cyber crime and initial investigations had determined that the hackers operated from outside the country. “We can’t comment on the identity or affiliation of the hackers unless they are caught. We are simply treating the case as a crime,” Roy said.
Congress leader Manish Tiwari said the needle of suspicion automatically pointed toward right-wing activists as the targets were all seen as opponents of the ruling party.
India has seen a surge in social media use in recent years, particularly by political parties after Modi’s thumping election victory in 2014, when the party reached out to voters through Twitter and Facebook. But political parties are often accused of hiring people to troll opponents and engage in slurs to sully their image.
Cyber security experts say the Indian hackers have historically engaged in a cyber war with foreign hackers, mostly from China and Pakistan, but were targeting local politicians and journalists for the first time. “We are going to see more of these fights in the cyber space in coming days,” said Vijay Mukhi, an expert in cyber security. “Politicians do hire trolls in India but hiring hackers will be taking it to another level.”