Someone offered “Harvard” jobs to famous women in India. It was a scam.


Almost a year later, it is still unclear why Ms Razdan and the other women were targeted. Although crooks have expressed online support for the Hindu nationalist movement in India, they have shed little light on their decision to deceive reporters.

The authors have managed to cover their tracks – at least most of them. The New York Times examined the private messages, emails and metadata the crooks sent to women, as well as the archives of tweets and photos of the crooks that the crooks claimed to be of themselves. The Times also relied on analysis from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Toronto who study online abuse, and a cybersecurity expert who examined Ms Razdan’s computer.

The identity of the crooks remains a secret.

“This is unlike anything I have ever seen,” said Bill Marczak, senior researcher at Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto institute that investigates cyber attacks on journalists. “It’s a huge amount of effort and no payoff that we’ve identified.”

One at a time, the crooks selected their prey.

The first known target: Rohini singh, an outspoken journalist who told great stories that powerful men in India didn’t like.

Ms. Singh delivered a bestselling article in 2017 on the commercial fortune of the son of the current Indian Minister of the Interior. She is a freelance contributor to an online publication called Thread who is among the most critical of the Hindu nationalist government in India. She also amassed nearly 796,000 Twitter followers.

In mid-August 2019, Ms Singh received a message on Twitter from a person calling himself Tauseef Ahmad, who said he was a master’s student at Harvard Kennedy School and from Ms Singh’s hometown, Lucknow. They chatted about Lucknow, then he invited her to a high-profile press conference. Harvard would cover all the expenses.

She was intrigued. But she became suspicious after Tauseef put her in touch with a colleague, introduced as Alex Hirschman, who wrote to her on August 19 from a Gmail account rather than an official Harvard email address. edu. On top of that, Tauseef and Alex had phone numbers that weren’t based in the United States.

Alex and Tauseef then asked him for the passport details and some photos, which were to be used for promotional purposes.

A few days later, convinced that their plea was a scam, Ms. Singh ceased all communication.

The next target was another female journalist, Zainab Sikander. A growing political commentator, Ms. Sikander campaigns against discrimination against Muslims, a growing problem under the Hindu nationalist government. She has also written and published numerous critical observations of the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On August 22, 2019, Ms Sikander also received a Twitter message from Tauseef Ahmad, inviting him to attend a high-profile press conference at Harvard. It was the same message sent to Ms Singh, although neither woman knew the other had been targeted.


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