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In Kashmir, security forces facing uphill task in tracking VPNs

The cybercrime wing of the J&K Police is working hard to identify the VPNs that have sprung up like a virus and has registered cases against them.

SP Sharma | Jammu |

Security agencies in the Kashmir valley these days are faced with the serious problem of hundreds of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that are operating illegally in the valley to spread rumours by skirting the nearly seven-month-old internet ban that was imposed following the abrogation of the Article 370 that provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

The cybercrime wing of the J&K Police is working hard to identify the VPNs that have sprung up like a virus and has registered cases against them.

“It is raining VPNs in Kashmir and our focus is to tackle the problem,” said J&K DGP Dilbag Singh.

VPNs have become a talking point in the valley as miscreants were not only spreading rumours and photos through these VPNs but were poking fun at the government’s social media ban. Defying the internet ban, netizens and miscreants have been targeting the government in their posts that have become a security threat and the authorities have so far not succeeded in tackling the problem. The administration had to recently counter the rumours about the falling health of the separatist leader Syed Alishah Geelani.

It is learnt that BSNL has brought teams of experts from Noida and Bengaluru to create a firewall to curb the VPNs.

A large number of VPNs were operating soon after the government restored the 2G internet service throughout the state after keeping these suspended till recently. Mobile users are downloading VPNs from online platforms.

The VPNs have become a new headache for the security agencies and taking a serious note of the misuse of social media by the VPN handlers, the Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone, Srinagar, has registered an FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against hundreds of social media users who were defying the government orders and misused the social media platforms.

The J&K UT government had on 14 January banned all social media sites to curb their misuse by miscreants for propagating false information and rumors. The ban was ordered to stall the rumor-mongering and spreading false and fake news having the potential of causing social instability. This is the first FIR registered by the cybercrime wing after the imposition of the ban.

There have been continuous reports of misuse of social media sites by miscreants to propagate the secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities, said a police officer. Social media has remained a favorite tool that largely provides anonymity to the user and also gives wide reach.

IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar has made an appeal to the general public not to use social media via a VPN.

It is worth mentioning that during the peak in incidents of stone-pelting by terror funded miscreants in the Kashmir valley, security forces had detected more than 350 WhatsApp groups operating from Pakistan to dispatch them to spots of encounter with terrorists in the valley and pelt stones at the security forces in a bid to enable the terrorists to escape from there.

While restoring the 2G slow speed internet service, the government had released a whitelist of about 300 websites and services that could be accessed.

However, instead of confining to the government-approved websites, miscreants and netizens were misusing the 2G to connect the VPNs that establish an encrypted connection between a user’s device and a private server. VPNs allow users to stay untracked from their original locations and are widely used for privacy, avoiding surveillance or accessing restricted websites.