Transcription performed by Leah Hervoly www.leahtranscribes.com
[FULL TRANSCRIPT] JACK: Want to hear something crazy? For a while, this show, Darknet Diaries, was banned in India. Yeah, I was really mad when it happened. A viewer in India opened Apple Podcasts and tried to find my show; it just didn’t exist. [MUSIC] This is annoying because I have a lot of listeners in India. It’s like, one of the top twenty countries that listen. My Indian listeners often chat with me on Instagram. It’s kinda weird how they use that app more than any other social app I’m on but okay, whatever. That’s why I hang out on different spots; to soak up the culture of the internet. Anyway, why was my show banned in India? Actually, it’s quite simple. In fact, it’s not just mine; hundreds of thousands of podcasts are banned in India. It comes down to this one simple thing; if any of my episodes were marked as explicit, it was not listed in Apple Podcasts in India. They have a very strict rule that does not allow explicit material to come into the country. But recently, Apple Podcasts changed that so now when you search for my show, you get this warning box and it says This Show Contains Explicit Content Which is Restricted on This Computer. It says you have to go into your settings and allow explicit content in order to play this show which is not much of a barrier at all anymore, which is good because this episode is all about India.
JACK (INTRO): [INTRO MUSIC] These are true stories from the dark side of the internet. I’m Jack Rhysider. This is Darknet Diaries. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]
JACK: Actually, the heart of this story isn’t about India. Let’s get technical here; this is a story about Kashmir. Now, Kashmir is a region of land that exists between China and Pakistan and India. It’s very mountainous. In fact, the Himalayas run right through Kashmir. I want to tell you this story about Kashmir that I watched unfold live, right in front of me. It was wild and crazy but went mostly unnoticed. Now, Kashmir is a complicated topic. Just to give you an example; if you look at Google Maps and try to see where Kashmir is, there aren’t any solid lines that define its border. [MUSIC] It’s tucked in between the countries of India, China, and Pakistan. Where all these countries come together is Kashmir.
Millions of people live in Kashmir but it’s not a clearly defined country with clearly defined rulers or clearly defined borders, or a clearly defined government. Being in-between all these countries means you get influences from all of them, too. There’s Hinduism that’s coming from India, and Islam is coming from Pakistan, and Buddhism is coming from China. This makes Kashmir a big mixture of culture and people. Some people call this region paradise because of the novel Lost Horizon which talked about a fictional village called Shangri-La up in the Himalayan mountains. It was an isolated village from the world in such a way that it made it untarnished and perfect. There is no such place but people liked this idea, so some call Kashmir paradise. This region of the world is an ancient place. Its history goes back for thousands of years and during those thousands of years, a lot has changed. In the 1300s, it was ran by Muslims, then it was taken over by the Mughal Empire, transforming it to a Hindu/Muslim culture.
Then, the Afghan Empire took it over, converting it back to Muslim. Then in the 1800s, there was the Anglo-Sikh war in the territory and after that, Kashmir wound up in the hands of the British East India Company. This actually put parts of Pakistan, India, and Kashmir under British rule. All was calm and quiet until 1947. [DRUMS] In 1947, something big happened. The British East India Company dissolved and new nations were established. This was the year that both India and Pakistan gained independence, pretty much forming two new nations. But the area of Kashmir, it wasn’t clear which country that should fall under [00:05:00] so it just resumed as princely states which basically means it was locally governed, not falling under either India or Pakistan but with the option that any of the princely states of Kashmir could join India or Pakistan at any time. Now, what happened next started a feud that continues to this day.
Marauders, rebels from the Muslim side of Kashmir, came into the Hindu side and started pillaging. They ransacked towns and killed people. The Indian army flew in to establish troops to defend the town, since Kashmir did not have a strong enough army to defend itself. The battles were bloody and long and drawn-out. The Indian soldiers would beat back the raiders but they would just regroup and come back with more force, pushing the line forward. Then more Indian troops would be flown in and this would push back the raiders once again. Now, at this point, Kashmir called for peace and Pakistan agreed but the battle waged on. See, the rebels weren’t from the Pakistani military; they were from the Muslim side of Kashmir. It was technically out of Pakistan’s control. They were denying involvement with this but the battles continued.
Raiders would attack the Indian armies, pushing them back, and then India would regroup and push back the other way. Towns were overtaken by marauders, set fire and looted. The Indian army would come liberate the town and gain control of it. This waged on all through the winter. Now, winter in the Himalayas is not a friendly place, yet many of these battles took place in the mountains, in the snow. Many troops would have to cross the mountains to get the high ground on the enemy, hiking up over the snowy peaks with all their gear. It was brutal. This war went on for two years and I’m sure at some point Pakistan had to have joined the fight because they were seeing that this was an opportunity for them to take part of Kashmir for good. They did occupy parts of Kashmir during this but eventually, after two years, the dust settled and an official ceasefire was called. Who won? I don’t know but I do see a body count; 1,100 Indian and Kashmir soldiers dead and 6,000 Muslims dead.
It appears that India had secured the southern territories but Pakistan still had control over some of the western areas. That’s how it was gonna stay. Things sort of became relatively quiet and calm until 1965. [MUSIC] In 1965, Pakistan used its army to infiltrate Kashmir but India quickly mobilized and fought back, ultimately pushing Pakistan back out. This battle lasted only seventeen days but thousands of soldiers died. A ceasefire was agreed on and all was calm and quiet again until 1999. In 1998, Pakistan detonated the bomb. They became the ninth country in the world to acquire nuclear weapons and they tested it by blowing it up underground, under a mountain. There’s a video of this where a whole mountain is sort of shaking its dust off like a dirty dog. With this newly-acquired super power, Pakistan decided to take Kashmir by force. But that same year, India also established nuclear weapons too, so this wasn’t going to be easy and may end up getting really ugly. The Pakistani army invaded Kashmir.
The Indian army fought back and this looked really bad for Pakistan; they seemingly were the aggressor here and they just didn’t seem to be coordinated so they were pushed back and a ceasefire was agreed on. Hundreds of soldiers on both sides died during this battle. After that, things were not quiet or calm ever again. [MUSIC] As you can see, tensions between these four entities just keeps heating up. It’s not a battle between just India and Pakistan; there are many people who live in Kashmir; millions of people, and they also want their own independence, and China doesn’t want to lose its grip on the region, either. For the last thirty years, this has been the most militarized area in the world. India has just been sending troops there en masse. Some say there are well over 600,000 Indian troops in Kashmir. 600,000 and India will say that they’re just protecting Kashmir from terrorists and militant Muslims.
But the UN has investigated some of this and found the Indian military has not been so good themselves. They have repeatedly infiltrated into the Muslim side of Kashmir and killed or kidnapped people. Often, these are militant groups but innocent civilians will get caught up in the gunfights or get mistargeted. Like I was saying earlier, there’s no clear border of Kashmir; instead, they have something called a Line of Control. On one side it’s controlled by Pakistan and on the other side it’s controlled by India. This Line of Control is fortified by [00:10:00] a wall or a fence with highly-armed military guards defending the borders. On a weekly basis, you can see people throwing rocks at each other or demanding freedom from the other side to just leave. This can often heat up and become ugly. It’s not uncommon to see someone open fire on the rival military or throw bombs over the fence. This is just the current state of living in Kashmir now.
It’s brutal, raw, and horrible. There’s no peace there. There hasn’t been for the last forty years and if you add up all the people that have been killed or went missing in that time, the numbers are staggering. Upwards of 70,000 people have gone missing in the last thirty years just from military conflicts. Sometimes mass graves are found where over 1,000 bodies have been buried. [MUSIC] If you can imagine this history going on for the last few decades, it brings us to now, 2019. Kashmir still hasn’t completely moved to either Pakistan or India rule. About half of Kashmir is under India law and a third is under Pakistani law and the rest is still locally governed which makes it a very complicated region. It’s a contested territory, a PVP zone. This is a region where there are ever-present military soldiers standing ready in case the enemy comes in. In 2019, on February 14th, a convoy of Indian soldiers were traveling in a van going through Pulwama, one of the Indian-controlled cities in Kashmir, when terror struck.
REPORTER: [EXPLOSION] Forty soldiers have been killed after a suicide car bomber rammed a bus carrying Indian paramilitary forces in India-controlled Kashmir. The explosion occurred as the convoy reached the outskirts of the disputed region’s main city of Srinagar. At least five other vehicles were also damaged. Local newspapers reported that militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility for the attack.
JACK: Hm, very interesting. The group claiming responsibility was Jaish-e-Mohammed. This is a Jihadist terrorist group active in the area of Kashmir but is aligned with Pakistan. In fact, their mission is to separate Kashmir from India and move it under Pakistani rule. It was this group that packed an SUV full of explosives and rammed it into the side of a van full of Indian troops, killing about forty troops as well as the suicide bomber who was driving the SUV. Immediately, India’s response was to urge Pakistan to condemn this group and to arrest them and to stop them but Pakistan seemingly was quiet. They didn’t seem to do anything about this attack which angered the people of India. To help tell the rest of the story, I brought in two people from India.
SPEAKER1: Hello. What do you want to know about?
JACK: They both asked that I not use their real name here because, well, privacy reasons. But because they were both living in India at the time and watching the news, this really bothered them.
SPEAKER1: It was like a feeling of unity between – among us, among the nation this time. It got very outrageous and we always feel like whenever we are attacked, we always have the same feeling. But this time, it was like, it is enough. We can’t tolerate this.
SPEAKER2: Then we get angry. After that, what happened is we get a little bit angry.
SPEAKER1: Not for the first time. For the last ten to fifteen years of my life, I’ve been – attack on this, attack there, bomb blast in this hotel, like Taj hotel in Mumbai, and in markets. Soldiers are killed in their camps while they’re sleeping. This is bad but when Pakistan is doing these things again and again, then we have to do something. We have to take some steps. We can’t be like, okay, we can tolerate this. That is not the case.
JACK: These guys tell me pretty much everyone in India was outraged over this attack. If you think about who is in India, you start to think who might be in position to actually do something about it; a new group of people who were not around in 1947 or 1965, or maybe not even in 1999. The modern era has a new domain of warfare and if you think about it, there are a ton of really smart IT people in India; coders, engineers, and yes, hackers. [MUSIC] The Indian hacker community was also [00:15:00] very upset with this. They were in the perfect position to do something about it.
SPEAKER1: Indian hacker community – they took some action. They started attacking Pakistani government websites.
SPEAKER2: What happened was there was a guy, okay. He started…
JACK: He tells me that the first thing he saw was that one hacker from India hacked into a Pakistani government website, used SQL injection to get in, took all the stuff from the database, and then publically dumped it for everyone to see. Now again, even though it was a terrorist group who attacked the Indian troops in Kashmir, there was widespread belief that this terrorist group was under protection from being assisted by the Pakistani government. At no point did the Pakistani government condemn these attacks or try to help arrest those involved. For the Indian hackers to attack the government of Pakistan, it made sense at the time.
SPEAKER1: They want to take revenge and send viruses to Pakistan that we are not going to tolerate this again. It was more like a message to them rather than hurting the people. It is not against people; it is all against the government and their arm in terrorism.
JACK: Within twenty-four hours of the terrorist bombing, the hackers started ramping up their attacks on Pakistan’s websites.
SPEAKER2: [MUSIC] After that, what happened – we came together, we talked about like, this is happening. We just spoke a little bit on Instagram and everybody’s starting doing his own thing.
JACK: They rallied together in chat rooms and online to find targets and work together to take them down. They would look for any websites that ended in .gov.pk which is the top-level domain for Pakistani government websites.
SPEAKER1: Like [unknown].gov.pk was down and the foreign ministry websites were down. They were DDossed and some of them were defaced.
JACK: A deface is sort of similar to writing graffiti on a building; you pretty much write whatever message you want on their website that you’re attacking, letting them know that you were there and this is your message. The messages they were writing were something like this website has been hacked by Indian hackers or we will never forget about this terrorist attack. It wasn’t just one hacker involved. Many websites were starting to get hit and each one would say it was hacked by a different Indian hacker group.
SPEAKER2: We’d change the pictures of the website.
JACK: Now, it was around this time I logged into Instagram just to see what people are doing there, what foods they’re eating, what vacations they’re going on, this kind of stuff. You know what? I have a lot of followers on Instagram from India. I was getting a ton of private messages. I was getting messages from so many hackers saying things like Jack, look what’s going on. Here, look at this. Look, look at this. They were sending me link after link of posts and stories. It was incredible. I was seeing databases being dumped, websites defaced, websites down, usernames and passwords posted. There were so many posts, I could barely keep up and jot everything down. I was watching over a dozen Instagram accounts actively hacking into Pakistani websites and then posting about what they’ve done. On top of that, I was seeing evidence of many more hackers also involved. It was crazy and intense. A full cyber-conflict had erupted right before my eyes. What was going through your mind when you were seeing all these hacks going on?
SPEAKER1: The feeling was like, that – I have the power to make a statement against terrorism when all other people are like, we want to do something. We were actually doing something as a cyber-security person for our country and for the martyrs that died for the country.
JACK: While I was watching this unfold, I barely understood what was happening because I didn’t know the history of what these attacks were or who the players are. I didn’t even know what country the .gov.pk websites were affiliated to yet. But it was fascinating to watch. Soon, I found the chat room of one of the hacking groups and joined it, and sat and watched silently but it was quiet, like, too quiet. I started getting into their Discord channel to watch what they were doing but it really seemed quiet in there. Is this a illegal hacking group? Or what are these people?
SPEAKER1: No, no, these are like normal people, cyber-security people. Most of them might not be believing in illegal things and doing illegal stuff [00:20:00] the nand malicious stuff or to harm anybody. But this thing was so frustrating that for the normal people, that they can’t do anything because attacks were happening again and again. Previous government did not take any strict action against terrorism so it was the frustration in people who came out in the form of hacking, of cyber-security people. I would say that they are not like any malicious person or illegal hackers. Maybe one or two but most of them are like people.
JACK: That’s really fascinating. I didn’t understand that.
SPEAKER1: Yeah, because on my account there were many children and normal people who – coming to me and saying that how can I help? Anything I can do for you? Because you are doing a great job and I don’t know how to hack. Please teach me hacking so I can contribute to this cause. It was patriotic and very energetic at the same time. Yeah, they were all normal people that just wanted to make a statement and fight against terrorism and the government who is supporting it.
JACK: Now, I promised my guests I wouldn’t reveal their names or say who they are but you can probably guess at this point that they had front-row seats to all this or involved somehow themselves because I don’t like bringing experts on. I want to hear firsthand experiences, what went down. In making this episode, I did reach out to about a dozen of these hackers that I saw hacking but they were all too worried and didn’t want to come on the show. They didn’t want to admit to doing anything and they didn’t want to come forward even though I watched them hacking and posting things right there on Instagram but I did have conversations with many of them to learn as much as I can about this story and what was going on, and why.
SPEAKER1: I think the whole Indian hacker community came together and took this action.
JACK: One particular thing completely threw me by surprise and still today, I don’t understand how they did this. Actually, I want you to try this, too. If you can, if you’re able, take a moment right now and do a Google Image search for something. [MUSIC] It has to be Images, okay, so search Google Images for best toilet paper in the world. Go ahead, I’ll wait a moment. What do you see when you search Google Images for best toilet paper in the world?
SPEAKER2: If you Google that, you will get Pakistan’s, I think, flag and prime minister or president, I think. His name on the toilet paper, his picture on the toilet paper, a Pakistani flag.
JACK: Yeah, that’s right. Somehow the hackers rigged the Google algorithm so that if you search Google Images for best toilet paper, it shows a picture of Pakistan’s flag. Yes, you can still see that today right now if you look. Someone please explain to me how they did this.
SPEAKER2: The Pakistani reporters was saying that we switched Imran Khan’s picture. Exactly, I don’t know exactly the prime minister of Pakistan but they changed his picture to toilet paper, or something, toilet seat, or something like that. I didn’t do it; I don’t know, some other guy. But they did it and that thing was on the news, flashing and everything.
JACK: Jeez, and whether these hacks were effective or not, it all fueled the frenzy of what was going on. Even these tiny slaps in the face that might not have done any damage at all, were all wins for the hackers. Wherever you looked, the hackers were winning really well. The IT and hacker community of India was completely owning so many Pakistani websites. It was a massacre. These hacks continued all night long. Stay with us to find out what happens next because what happens after this takes everyone by surprise. [00:25:00] The next day, I logged into Instagram and still, there was hacking going on like crazy. I was seeing more usernames and passwords posted to websites that you could just see, use, and log in with.
SPEAKER2: User ID and password of few places, few places and few domains. The Pakistani Navy and Pakistani army, and databases, a few databases, and so many things.
JACK: Now news articles and stories were coming out about these cyber-attacks on Pakistan. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
SPEAKER1: Yeah, it felt very powerful, that we had power in our hands. Normal people can do anything if they want. We wanted to send a message directly to the Pakistani government and we did. We appeared on their news channels, the top news channels that the websites were hacked by Indian hackers and our messages and our warnings were published on the newspaper and the news channels. It was clearly a win for us if we are able to do that, being a normal person.
JACK: These cyber-attacks continued to rain down on Pakistan’s websites. Day after day, it was growing more wild, with more fervor. While a lot of people in India were cheering on these hackers to do something to retaliate, there were also a lot of people in India condemning these hackers, saying things like it’s embarrassing to the country that hackers are defacing Pakistani websites and to let the government sort it out properly. But the cyber-attacks were growing and starting to get more serious.
SPEAKER2: There was a few more people who have experience in SCADA.
JACK: Whoa, SCADA? This is getting pretty serious now. SCADA systems are industrial control systems. These are the types of computers that run power plants, factories, or water treatment facilities, or dams. If hackers could get into Pakistan’s SCADA systems, this could be a really big deal.
SPEAKER2: We are trying to access a few machineries. We are trying to access a few different companies, heavy machineries, if they are open, if any of the end points is open to the internet, we are trying to hit it and trying to get access to it.
JACK: But before they were able to get into any of the SCADA systems, about a week after the suicide bombing, all the hacking came to a sudden halt. [JET FLYING]
REPORTER2: It’s to India now; that country says it has destroyed a militant camp inside Pakistan in an overnight airstrike across the ceasefire border known as the Line of Control. Indian media is reporting some two hundred casualties in the raid on the alleged camp in Balakot. Pakistan acknowledged that Indian military aircraft had violated its airspace but denied the reports of casualties.
JACK: The Indian military flew jets into Pakistan and bombed the militant camp thought to be where the terrorists were training. This attack was significant enough to make all the hackers stop. Everyone kind of felt like the combination of the cyber-attacks and missile strikes were enough to let Pakistan know how angry they were with this. That’s when the hacking ended.
SPEAKER2: My dad is from Indian military. He works for Indian military. He’s in the Air Force. Exactly, he was in the Air Force; he’s retired now. That’s why I’m very much connected to this thing. I was very much connected to this incident because in some way it’s bad.
JACK: Did you show your dad that some of this hacking was going on after the attack, and what did he think?
SPEAKER2: My dad didn’t know what I do.
JACK: Well, you could show him that here, look at some of these other guys that are doing this to the Pakistani websites.
SPEAKER2: Yeah, but my dad don’t even know what I do so I am not going to tell him what I do. They know that I work in computers. I’m a computer software designer, software engineer, that’s it. They don’t even know much about my work so I’m not going to tell them that.
JACK: That’s your little secret, then.
SPEAKER2: Yeah, that’s between me and my – yeah, that’s my little secret.
JACK: Here’s where the story totally unravels in my head [00:30:00] and I’m not even sure which thread to pull on anymore. [FOREIGN LANGUAGE] Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, came out and said quote, “Pakistan is moving towards stability. Why would we do something like this? If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani was involved in these terrorist attacks, give it to us. I guarantee you we will take action; not because we’re under pressure but because the terrorists are acting as enemies of Pakistan.” End quote. India decided to fly two more fighter jets over the Line of Control. I don’t know what their mission was but Pakistan was able to shoot down both planes and even captured one of the pilots. When the Pakistani army captured the pilot, they interviewed him. Here’s what the pilot said.
PILOT: The officers of the Pakistani army have looked after me very well. They are thorough gentlemen, starting from the captain who rescued me from the mob and from the soldiers. Thereafter, the officers in the unit which I was taken to. This is what I would expect my army to behave as and I am very impressed by the Pakistani army.
JACK: Now granted, this pilot gave this interview while he was captured so who knows if he said this under duress. He was held for two days and then given back to India safely because of quote, “a gesture of peace.” Now honestly, if we step back for a second and listen to all this, we’re only hearing the story from India’s side and a little bit of the story from Pakistan’s side. Even though this is a story about Kashmir, I feel like I’m ignoring Kashmir entirely. I decided to call someone up who lives there.
JACK: Hey, how’s it going?
AON: It’s okay, it’s good. How are you?
JACK: This is Aon.
AON: My name is Aon.
JACK: He knows a ton about Kashmir and Pakistan.
AON: Because I live here. My home is like, six, seven hundred meters from the border.
JACK: What border are you talking about? Are you talking about the Line of Control or are you talking about…?
AON: Yeah, the Line of Control. I am in Kashmir so it’s Line of Control.
JACK: As I was saying earlier, some parts of Kashmir are controlled by Pakistan and some parts are controlled by India. Aon lives on the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir, just a few hundred meters away from the Indian-controlled side. He says being so close to the border means there’s always violence looming.
AON: A few days ago, India fired some long-range guns and there were six funerals from one home in a day. Stuff like that is hard to process but then, it’s part of the daily routine; every few months this happens and now, after Modi has been the Prime Minister, this has increased a lot.
JACK: Are you allowed to just walk across the Line of Control whenever you want?
AON: No. The area between both forces, it’s like a no-man’s land. If you’re crossing the border, either side is going to shoot you.
JACK: This gives you a better idea of what’s going on in that area. Aon here pays a lot of attention to the politics that goes on.
AON: The part which the Indian guys [inaudible] missed that the guy who blew up, how was he rationalized?
JACK: [MUSIC] Oh yeah, back to this terrorist attack that killed forty Indian soldiers in Kashmir; after all this settled down, some investigations took place to see what happened. They found out more about this terrorist who did this attack.
AON: His name was Adil Ahmad Dar. He was from Lethipora in Kashmir, the Indian side of Kashmir.
JACK: Oh, he’s from the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir? Okay. Now, I’m reading an article in the online newspaper India Today and in this article, they interviewed the guy’s dad. His dad said when his son was seventeen, he was going to school one day and some Indian soldiers stopped him and harassed him, claiming his kid was throwing rocks. His dad says the Indian troops beat him up that day and hurt him, and told him not to throw rocks. This, I guess, planted a seed in this seventeen-year old and he grew tired of Indian troops in his town mistreating the people of Kashmir. For the next three years, he grew more and more hateful of those Indian troops.
AON: After that, he wanted to join the militant so he joined a militant group. He went to the Pakistani side of Kashmir and he got trained there by the militant group. He came back and then he blew up the van. That’s a point where everyone [00:35:00] chooses to see it differently; like, if someone from Kashmir chose to see it, he would say that he was fighting in this oppression. If someone from Pakistan’s side chose to see it, they might see it like okay, we got something out of it, we killed a few soldiers. Differently, when the Indians would see it, they would see it like okay, this was a terrorist who killed our troops. But the point is these were the troops who beat him up and harassed him while he was coming back from school. He was a kid; he was seventeen-years old, seventeen or twenty. He was twenty years old when he blew up.
JACK: See what I mean by how complicated of a situation this is? There’s so many nuances and so much violence that happens on a daily basis there that there’s no way to know who or what or why some violence happens and if it’s justified or not. There’s so many strong and heated opinions from nationalists and separatists and multiple factions and countries; it’s a mess. But despite this information, there are still people from India who strongly believe that Pakistan is fighting a proxy war. This is where the Pakistani government might be giving weapons or intelligence to the militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed to fight the Indian army.
This is so the Pakistani government can deny that they’re fighting in the region at all to avoid scrutiny from the UN or India or the world. Yeah, I don’t know; this might be happening. You know what? It probably is happening. Pakistan is probably funding these militant groups secretly somehow but at the same time, there might be other groups involved like the UAE or Saudi Arabia. They might be giving weapons to these militant groups, too. That just complicates things even more which I don’t even want to get into that because I feel like we’re getting away from the point of the story here which is hacking.
AON: This is not a new thing; like, hacking government websites or anything like that is not a new thing. It goes back to 2007 to 2013. This was happening on a daily basis. Every day you wake up, if you’re in an IRC chat room of either side of the hackers, they are like okay, this guy hacked our side; we’re going to hack their side. This and this and this. This was a regular thing. Let me give you an example.
JACK: Aon begins to send me links to many websites; the New York Times, the Free Press Journal, CNBC, and The Guardian. The articles are very fascinating. Tit for tat hacking has absolutely been going back and forth between Pakistan and India for a decade now. Here’s just some examples; when the Mumbai terrorist attack happened in 2008, Indian hackers DDossed and defaced some of Pakistani government websites. In retaliation, a hacker group calling themselves The Pakistan Cyber-Army defaced the website of the Indian Oil and Natural Gas Company shortly after. Years later, Indian hacktivists hit a Pakistani airport with ransomware and they did this on Pakistan’s Independence Day which was also the anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attack. Some security research firms have observed that some more serious hacks have originated from India and targeted companies in Pakistan.
This included some sophisticated phishing attempts and malware being sent. It’s unknown but this could have been the work of the Indian military but there’s just no solid evidence of that. Then around the same time, there’s been a series of hacks against Indian embassies. These are e-mail phishing attempts with nasty malware attached and the malware calls back to IP addresses located in Pakistan. These attacks are also more sophisticated than what a typical hacker might try which makes some people think this might be the work of the Pakistani army. However, there’s no proof of that, either. A few years back, a hacker group calling themselves the Pakistan Cyber-Army hacked into the CBI which is India’s FBI. This made a lot of news. In 2015, some Pakistani hackers got control of the website nic.in. Now, this is a big deal because this website controls the entire domain registry for all websites ending in .in which is India.
AON: These are the guys who manage the .in domain.
JACK: They were hacked by…
AON: Pakistani hackers.
JACK: If you control this website, you could theoretically have control over every website that ends in .in. This article I’m reading says because of this hack into nic.in, over 30,000 websites were hacked in 2014.
AON: From a cyber perspective, this is not an – I won’t say it’s a new thing. Two days ago, there was a guy who hacked BJP. [00:40:00] Did you hear about that?
JACK: Yeah, actually I saw Elliot Alderson tweeting about this first. Some hackers defaced India’s legislative assembly website.
AON: India’s official parties’ website and it was hacked.
JACK: Who hacked this one?
AON: There’s a guy named Romad Bilard[sp?]. He hacked this site.
JACK: Where’s he from?
AON: He’s from Pakistan. Like I said, this is not a new thing. This keeps happening every few weeks.
JACK: Holy cow; this is nuts. Yes, of course, when tensions are high in the real world and people are throwing rocks or shooting guns at each other, you can absolutely expect a cyber-conflict to also be waging online, too. Now that I look at it, yeah, it’s happening in a big way. [MUSIC] There’s a law in India called Article 370 which gives Kashmir a sort of independence, allowing Kashmir to choose who should govern it. Well, that law got revoked in August which means India has taken official control of Kashmir. It’s no longer an option by the local government; it’s now part of India. Well as you can imagine, this was met with a lot of protesting.
First, let me play a clip for you from within the Indian parliament when this was initially announced. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I want you to listen to the way this was received within Indian parliament. [FOREIGN SPEAKING, BANGING, SHOUTING] I don’t know about you but whenever I watch some other country’s parliament conduct their meetings, it always looks so weird. This one really does look weird to me; half the room is clapping but they don’t clap with two hands. They clap by banging the desk with one hand. The other half of the room is shouting, yelling, standing up, and screaming. It’s madness and you can’t understand anyone. This went on for a solid forty minutes.
COURT: Something historical has happened. It’s not an ordinary day today, functioning of the party so far. [SHOUTING]
JACK: Soon after Article 370 was revoked, protests erupted. First, large crowds of people living in Kashmir took to the streets to protest, saying they want Kashmir to be free and independent. [CROWD SHOUTING, CHANTING] The protests in Kashmir heated up a lot. It was getting crazy and out of control. It became so bad that India initiated a curfew on the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir because there are over 600,000 Indian troops in Kashmir which is enough to put ten troops on every corner to enforce a curfew, making sure everyone stays off the streets and does not go outside. The point was to keep the protestors and the violence down but this just was met with more anger and people still protested and went outside and threw rocks at the Indian army. The Indian government ended up taking all mobile and internet connections down for the entire Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.
India had to send an additional 100,000 troops into the area to help keep the peace. I guess that’s one way to do it. The curfew and the internet and mobile outages stayed on for a week and then two weeks, and then three weeks, then four weeks. Now, there are millions of people who were subject to this curfew. Like, eight million people live in this area so you can imagine this was met with protests on a daily basis. Rocks were thrown at the Indian army who would then retaliate with pellet guns or tear gas or other weapons and telling them to go back inside. Sometimes the protests would get really crazy and this would result in people dying. Not to mention people were dying from lack of medicine and food, too. The curfew remained on for over a month and then two months. At this point, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, went to the UN to talk about this curfew. Here’s what he said.
IMRAN: What sort of a mindset would lay siege to eight million people with 900,000 troops? Women, children, sick people locked in as animals. What is going to happen when the curfew is lifted? It will be a bloodbath. The people will come out. There are 900,000 troops there. These 900,000 troops, what are they going to [00:45:00] do when they come out? There’ll be a bloodbath and we will fight. When a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders. It will have consequences for the world which is why, I repeat, I am here, because I am warning you. It’s not a threat. It’s a fair worry that where are we headed? I’ve come here to tell the UN you’ve got to – this is a test for the United Nations. You are the one who guaranteed the people of Kashmir the right of self-determination. This is the time to take action. The number one action must be that India must lift this inhuman curfew which has lasted for fifty-five days.
JACK: After three months of a curfew, India has started to lift just a little bit of the curfew now, allowing people to go outside for a little bit every day. Shops are now open for a few hours a day but schools remain empty; it’s not fully lifted. Even now, today, it’s still very restricted. Mobile calling is restored but the Indian government has still banned SMS text messages and internet is still down, too. Even though I had someone who lives in Kashmir talk about life there, I still feel like this episode barely hears the voices of people from Kashmir. They’ve been fought over by two nuclear-armed countries for a long time. During that time, they haven’t been treated well by either. It’s like the old saying when two elephants fight, the thing that suffers the most is the grass. They deserve peace and freedom, not the constant sound of gunfire over their heads. Here they are, under a curfew set on them by the Indian government.
Taking away internet from the people is not a good way to treat your own people. Yeah, this region of the world – I don’t know, it’s a flash point. Tensions have been high here for the last ninety days for sure but it’s been high for this whole year and even before that, the tensions have been high for the last thirty years. Before that, it just keeps going and going for thousands of years. When tensions are this high, hackers will take action into their own hands and do what they know how to do; use a computer to get into things that they aren’t supposed to get into and cause damage and destruction. This is a way to protest and it shows how angry you are. Now, I’m tuned into this. I’ll be watching to see what unfolds between Pakistan, India, and Kashmir.
JACK (OUTRO): [OUTRO MUSIC] A big thank you to our two guests for being brave enough to come on the show and tell their story. The world is changing; you have the power to change it so do the right thing. This show is made by me, your friendly IRC op, Jack Rhysider. Sound design this episode was by Andrew Meriwether and editing help from Damienne. Our theme music is by Breakmaster Cylinder who wants me to tell you it’s a car part. Even though my apps suddenly close and I start hearing strange clicking noises on my phone every time I say it, this is Darknet Diaries.
[OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]
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