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As spying tools get cheaper, Indian digital users must tread cautiously

As spying tools get cheaper, Indian digital users must tread cautiously

Digital rights non-profit organisation Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned Indian digital users to adopt safe practices as the cost of tools used for spying is going down drastically, a report in a financial daily stated.

“In most cases, these technologies are created not for surveillance but for targeting ads. It is the same technology that allows one to target people with ads and has the power to track where you are, what you like, etc.,” Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the EFF, told The Economic Times. She added that the smartphone was the primary target of attacks as the adoption of mobile devices has increased.

Galperin was one of four members who led the investigation into Dark Caracal, a global espionage campaign, in January, the ET report said.

Dark Caracal was a decades-long surveillance programme that tracked governments, activists, military personnel, journalists, enterprises as well as educational, medical, and financial professionals in more than 21 countries, including India. Galperin and her investigative team found out that the campaign had gathered sensitive data about their targets via texts, calls, photos and other data using tactics such as using a clone app, ET reported.

Incumbents of the espionage campaign would create a copy of popular apps such as WhatsApp, thus duping their targets to install it. The dummy app would then transmit a target’s data to the hacker, the report added.

“Now, people are selling platforms where nation-states can log into a portal and spy on whoever they want by clicking on a dashboard. In the past, the ability to spy on millions of peoples’ devices required a team of specialists working on expensive custom-made software,” Galperin told ET. She added that such tools are even being used in cases of domestic violence.

Early this month, US network security company SonicWall conducted a study on malware attacks in 2017. It identified nearly 9.32 billion malware attacks last year, an 18.4% increase from the previous year. In its report, it also said that India was one of the most targeted countries due to a rapid transition to a cashless economy and increased use of wireless data. The study also saw more than 12,500 common vulnerabilities and exposures for the year.

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