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Pakistan’s government to agencies: Dark web is dangerous, please don’t go there

Advice follows embarrassing leak of audio from Prime Minister’s office

Pakistan’s government has warned its agencies that the dark web exists, is home to all sorts of unpleasant people, and should be avoided.

That revelatory information was delivered last week in a cabinet advisory [PDF] titled “Leakaqe of Sensitive Data on Dark Web (AdvisorvNo.53)” that was issued without fanfare.

Much of the document is anodyne, pointing out that the anonymity afforded by the dark web attracts criminals and scammers.

But it is also notable for making several mentions of terrorists using the hidden networks, either to arrange their finances (sometimes using cryptocurrency) or to radicalize and recruit targets. Domestic terrorism and insurgencies are major issues in Pakistan. Linking the dark web to terrorism therefore associates the networks with threats to national security.

The document suggests hostile intelligence agencies also use the dark web. Pakistan is one of China’s closest friends, but has also been courted by the West as a local counterweight against the influence of Iran and the Afghan Taliban. Many nations’ intelligence agencies are therefore keenly interested in Pakistani affairs.

Pakistan’s government suggests that its agencies adopt various tactics to prevent their data leaking to the dark web, the first of which can be summarised as “don’t use it”. Agencies are also told to use multi-factor authentication and reminded “Never forward, click/view link or pictures shared on email/WhatsApp by unknown sources/numbers”.

Installing only digitally signed software from known good sources is also advised, while “unnecessary plugins on browsers except Adblock and Adblock plus” are not allowed.

The document also offers advice on how to avoid dark web entanglements while talking on the phone, such as not sharing passwords or personal information, and asking “relevant questions from caller and carefully judge him/her to ensure authenticity.”

It is unclear why Pakistan’s government has decided now is the time to issue this advice, as no notable leaks or cracks have recently occurred. However the nation was shocked in October 2022 when audio of conversations from within the Prime Minister’s office was leaked and appeared on social media. Some of the conversations that emerged were personal and tawdry, others were politically explosive because they mentioned imports from India. Pakistan/India relations are extremely frosty and the former tries to avoid activity that would benefit its neighbor.

Investigations into the leaks are ongoing. Perhaps some infosec advice about the perils of the dark web will prevent future incidents of the same sort. ®

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