Ms. Razdan, a well-known Indian news presenter who was nearing the pinnacle of her career, imagined she would soon begin teaching at Harvard, a dream ticket out of India’s almost unbearably poisonous media environment. She was wrong.
She had announced to the world that she was leaving the news business for the United States, and she had freely shared her most sensitive personal information with her new employer — passport details, medical records, bank account numbers, and everything else — with the understanding that she would not be sued.
It was the reputation of Harvard, the uncertainty generated by the epidemic, and Ms. Razdan’s own digital naiveté that were all leveraged by the prank that caught her. It seemed to her at the time she went public that she had been the victim of a horrible, but unique occurrence. However, this was not the case. A number of important female journalists and media people in India were targeted, including Ms. Razdan. This occurred even after one of these women warned Harvard and the general public about the unique cyberoperation.
The instances sparked concerns about why Harvard, which has a reputation for vigorously safeguarding its image, did not take anything to halt the fraud, despite being expressly informed about it, as a result of the occurrences. They also highlighted how simple it is for wrongdoers to conceal their identities on the internet, a danger that is only going to grow in severity as the technology employed in digital forgery continues to advance in sophistication.
The individuals — or individual(s) — responsible for the fraud were unyielding. They developed a network of interlocking personalities across social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, and WhatsApp, which they used to pursue the women for months at a time. It seems that, in contrast to normal internet fraudsters, they did not utilise the personal information they obtained to steal money or extort the ladies, leaving their final purpose a mystery.
It is still unclear why Ms. Razdan and the other ladies were targeted over a year after the incident occurred. However, even though the fraudsters declared sympathy for the Hindu nationalist movement in India on the internet, they provided little information about their intention to deceive reporters.
Ms. Sikander was flattered and intrigued, so she started a WhatsApp conversation with Tauseef, using the instant messaging and calling service. Despite the fact that his phone number began with the country code of the United Arab Emirates, despite the fact that he claimed to be in the Boston area, she was not put off by it. She speculated that he may have been a foreign student with contacts in Dubai. She recalls his voice as being youthful and having a South Asian accent, which she thought sounded Pakistani to her.
At the time, India’s news was dominated by a seismic event: the Kashmir conflict. Suddenly, the Indian government has taken away Kashmir’s independence from Pakistan. Kashmir is a restive, Muslim-majority province that has been the basis of a never-ending war between the two countries.
The next target was a female journalist who worked for a renowned Indian daily and who talked with The Times on the condition that she not be named because she was under threat. She, too, was suspicious of the scammer’s phone number in the United Arab Emirates and immediately cut off communication with him. The fraudsters, on the other hand, did not give up. After communicating with Nighat Abbass, a spokesperson for India’s dominant political party, known by its abbreviation BJP, in November 2019, they had duplicated email signatures from actual Harvard workers and copied official stationery from the university’s website, according to court documents.
An study of the fraudsters’ emails undertaken by Citizen Lab indicated that the communications were transmitted from internet addresses in the United Arab Emirates, not Boston – a hint that seemed to match the phone number used by Tauseef, which was also in the United Arab Emirates.
However, the IP addresses and Mr. Jain’s discoveries have aroused even greater concerns. Were the fraudsters working out of the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, China, or perhaps inside India itself? Curiously, no so-called phishing links were included in the emails. This may have been a signal that could have revealed more about how the reporters’ information was acquired and who was behind the attacks.
After discovering that she had been duped, Ms. Razdan withdrew from public view. She had dropped a lot of weight. She stayed away from those she knew. After that, she resorted to the Indian police, who have launched their own inquiry but have not yet made their findings publicly available.
She, like Ms. Abbass, pushed Harvard to launch an investigation, writing in an email to the institution that “someone/group of persons has been impersonating prominent Harvard officials and forging their signatures, and they must be brought to justice.”
Recently, Ms. Razdan has began the process of reclaiming her life in a subtle manner. She landed a position as a public policy professor at an Indian institution, and she also contributes a weekly piece to Gulf News, a major newspaper in the Middle East.