How Indian agencies hacked into a Pakistani terrorist’s WhatsApp to track him down

The instance was one of the first times that Indian experts managed to find a way around WhatsApp secrecy safeguards

PTI | A representative image

Indian intelligence agencies hacked into a terrorist's WhatsApp account and tracked him down to a location in southern part of Jammu and Kashmir, in a covert arrest operation that took place in the last week of September last year.

The suspect, hailing from Pakistan and in hiding, happened to be an engineer and was "smart with the use of technology," say sources in the know.

He understood that opening messages from unknown numbers could compromise his location, they say.

He was lured into opening of a visual, concocted message "carrying the name of the Pakistan High Commission."

The bait worked and he was tracked down from his IP coordinates and eventually arrested.

It is understood that there is a "gap of 6-7 seconds" between when the message is sent out and it reaches a storage "cloud." From the storage cloud, the information goes into the server of the California-based company.

It is next to impossible now to hack into American systems. So, the it is within that time-frame of six-seven seconds that one could track the location from the internet signals being sent out, say sources.

During the operation that culminated in his arrest, a method, called "masking" in hacking terminology, was specifically employed. Masking involves focussing on signals within close proximity of the receiver, say sources.

The instance was one of the first times that Indian experts managed to find a way around WhatsApp secrecy safeguards, a safety feature that has helped propel the popular messaging app to reach a user base of over 200 million in the Indian market.

The American messaging app claims to be a fool-proof messaging platform. According to the end-to-end cryption, "only you and the person you're communicating with can read what's sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp.

"Your messages are secured with locks, and only the recipient and you have the special keys needed to unlock and read your messages," the company's website says.

However, several reports from different parts of the world in previous months have indicated that there might be ways to hack into a WhatsApp account.

In October 2018, Israeli media had reported that the country had been witnessing a series of attacks on its WhatsApp accounts, prompting the authorities there to declare a national alert.

The hacking method involved "a relatively new method of hijacking WhatsApp accounts using mobile providers' voicemail systems."

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