Tek Fog: Hijacking Social Media to Drive BJP Propaganda

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Tek Fog is an application software used by the information technology cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party as part of their social media campaigning to spread propaganda. In 2022, The Wire reported that the Tek Fog app was used by BJP “to artificially inflate the popularity of the party, harass its critics and manipulate public perceptions at scale across major social media platforms.”

Tek Fog was used to manage inauthentic accounts en masse on social media. Tek Fog was capable of hacking inactive WhatsApp accounts en masse in order to mass message their contacts with propaganda messages, while impersonating the account owner. According to The Wire, a whistleblower with app access was able to hack a test WhatsApp account controlled by reporters “within minutes.”

TMC MP Mr. Derek O’Brien has called for a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs to discuss the app.

Congress has urged the Supreme court to ask its expert panel to investigate the app.

Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (Youth wing of Bharatiya Janata Party). A former National Social Media and IT Head of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha who currently worked as the election manager of BJP in Maharashtra was the immediate supervisor of the source in The Wire investigation. BJYM members supervised the operators and gave them ideological operation. The Wire verified their involvement using the codes sent through their official email id. These codes helped to identify the secure server hosting Tek Fog and external websites connecting to the Tek Fog server.

Owner of Tek Fog

Persistent Systems is an Indian-American technology services company involved in development and maintenance. A current employee of the company provided documents related to the development of the application from the company’s internal servers. It showed around 17,000 assets found by the searc term “Tek Fog”.

The Investigation

Tek Fog app was used by BJP “to artificially inflate the popularity of the party, harass its critics and manipulate public perceptions at scale across major social media platforms.
Tek Fog was used to manage inauthentic accounts en masse on social media. Tek Fog was capable of hacking inactive WhatsApp accounts en masse in order to mass message their contacts with propaganda messages, while impersonating the inactive WhatsApp account owner.

Hijacking of social media trends

The Tek Fog app could hijack the ‘trending’ section of social media sites, Twitter and Facebook. The operators of Tek Fog could share and forward social media messages automatically by an individual or a group. This was used to artificially inflate the popularity of “extremist narratives and political campaigns.”

Phishing and capturing inactive WhatsApp accounts

Tek Fog was capable of hacking inactive WhatsApp accounts en masse in order to mass message their contacts with propaganda messages, while impersonating the inactive WhatsApp account owner. Inactive WhatsApp accounts are those accounts that were not being used by its registered user, either because WhatsApp was uninstalled from the phone or the phone was reset.

As a first step of the process the targeted WhatsApp accounts that were active were sent a media file (video or image) from an unknown number. The media file contained spyware that became active after download. The downloaded spyware would make the phone vulnerable to remote surveillance. The hacker would be able to monitor its activity status. When the phone became inactive due to (uninstallation or reset). The inactive status would be visible to the hacker, who could take control of the target account and use it to send messages remotely, without the knowledge of the owner of the targeted WhatsApp account.

Only inactive WhatsApp accounts were targeted. Sending messages remotely from an active WhatsApp account would create suspicion from the original owner.

Database of private citizens for targeted harassment

Tek Fog had an extensive database of private citizens with information about their “occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political inclination and even physical attributes like skin tone and breast size.” The Wire had received screenshots that showed these parameters. The Wire verified the existence of database by monitoring harassment messages that were sent with extreme granularity to “female journalists”, who were among the targeted groups.

Modify existing news articles

Tek Fog had an ability to modify existing news articles to change its links and keywords. The changed link would then lead the read to a webpage that looked similar to the original website but had fake content, different from what the original author had written. The text modification capabilities were powered by artificial intelligence models.

Political-corporate nexus

The use of Tek Fog is part of a political-corporate nexus that had connected large tech players and platforms with the political party BJP.

DNI Excusive by Tanmoy

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