Virtual SIM cards a new headache for security agencies in Kashmir

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Virtual SIM cards pose a new headache for security agencies fighting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as their use in the valley has seen an increase among terror groups to connect with their handlers in Pakistan, officials said here.

The penetration of this new technology was found in 2019 when a request was sent to the United States to seek details from a service provider of “virtual SIMs” used by suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group involved in the Pulwama attack that left 40 CRPF personnel dead.

However, a detailed investigation done by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and other security agencies indicated that over 40 virtual SIM cards were used in the Pulwama attack alone, and there are probably more of them floating in the cyberspace of the valley, the officials said.

It is a fairly new modus operandi wherein terrorists across the border are using “virtual SIM” cards, generated by a service provider from a foreign country. In this technology, the computer generates a telephone number and the user downloads an application of the service provider on their smartphone.

The number is linked to social networking sites like WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram or Twitter. The verification code for activating the service is generated by these networking sites and received on the smartphone.

The officials said the numbers used were pre-fixed with a country code or Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Number (MSISDN) number.

They said that, besides telecom companies in the US, Canada, the UK, Israel, numbers of Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island being controlled by the US, are doing the rounds in the market.

Every mobile phone instrument is sent for a detailed forensic analysis to have a thorough check to look for any telltale signs of use of virtual SIM cards, the officials said.

Technology has its pros and cons, and while fighting terrorism, the security agencies have to not only keep up the pace but also move a step ahead of those planning to misuse it, says an official.

The risk of forging identities during purchase of virtual SIM cards also runs high.

During investigation of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, it was found that an amount of USD 229 was wired to Callphonex, via Western Union Money Transfer receipt number 8364307716-0, for activating the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) used during the strikes.

The money was received from ‘Madina Trading’ located in Brescia in Italy and sender was claimed to be Javed Iqbal, a resident of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

However, after Italian police arrested two Pakistani nationals in 2009, it was alleged that the firm had made nearly 300 transfers in the name of Iqbal, who probably had never set his foot in Italy.

The Italian police, while concluding the probe, had said the Brescia-based company made several transfers using the identity of innocent, unsuspecting persons, whose identity cards or passports might have been stolen.

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