Chinese Jigsaw: What Does The Parallel Cyber Attack On India Mean?

London, UK - 20th January 2010, 21:35 GMT

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

In the latest sign of rising tensions between the two rival Asian powers, the Indian government has informed the world that the Prime Minister's Office computers were hacked on December 15th. Trojan malware was routed through the United States and Russia but was ultimately traced to an IP address on the Chinese mainland. Synchronised cyber attacks also targeted US defence contractors, finance and technology companies including Google at the same time. Beijing denies it had anything to do with the intrusions. The malware also briefly penetrated some computers in the Indian National Security Council secretariat in the Home Ministry before it was detected and dismembered. India's economy, with a large and growing technology industry, is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. A growing threat from Chinese hackers, amongst other pressing defence matters, is already pushing New Delhi closer to Washington, as the US Defence Secretary starts his official two-day visit to India. The Chinese cyber attack was probably timed to fish out information intelligence on India’s likely position ahead of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, some key officials in India have revealed.

Chinese Jigsaw

Indian Perspective

India's National Security Adviser MK Narayanan confirmed the cyber attack. The NSA plays a critical role in India's Nuclear Command Authority (NCA). He said that:

. The attack came in the form of an eMail with a PDF attachment containing a Trojan virus, which allows a hacker to access and to control a computer remotely and download or delete files;

. Our people seem to be fairly sure it was the Chinese. It is difficult to find the exact source but this main suspicion seems well founded; and

. India is co-operating with the US and UK to bolster its cyber defences.

India is particularly anxious to prevent any type of attack from disrupting the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October. This is not the first time Chinese hackers have tried to attack Indian government computers. According to the mi2g Intelligence Unit, Chinese hackers had been caught earlier too, attempting to break into Indian government computers and the computers of the Ministry of External Affairs personnel worldwide. Many Indian government officials believe that the Chinese hackers are operating as part of a military operation designed to find foreign technology, and hunt for China dissidents. [Ref ATCA Briefing: China's Cold Cyberwar: Rise of 5th-Dimension Red Army and Economic Pearl Harbour?]

US Perspective

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, has just arrived in India for a two-day visit. He is pushing for expanded co-operation with New Delhi on cyber-security, military technology and other strategic areas. Gates has already met with top Indian leaders, including prime minister Manmohan Singh and SM Krishna, the foreign minister. The trip follows a visit by Singh to Washington in November, the first formal state visit hosted by President Obama.

Both US and Indian officials believe that China is at best an Internet mischief maker and at worst a potential cyber-adversary. US officials hope that stronger ties with India on Internet security issues will benefit the networks of both countries.

A senior US Defence Department official said there is a growing relationship between the US and India. He said, we desire to enhance, strengthen our sharing of technology with India; we want to share more information with India, and we want to develop co-operative programs in maritime, cyberspace and outer space.

Chinese Perspective

China has officially stated that hacking in whatever form is prohibited by law in China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu has rejected India’s accusations, describing them as groundless. He said China itself was the biggest victim of hacking activities and the Chinese government is firmly against it. China will deal with relevant cases in accordance with the law.

Geo-Political Consequences

The latest cyber incident is likely to place further strain on China-India relations. The Chinese won the brief war with India over the Himalayan border in 1962. Relations between the two powers had improved significantly over the past decade but have taken a sudden turn for the worse in 2009, as the border feud has reignited. This prompted India to deploy two more army divisions and fighter jets on its eastern border with China. Underpinning the tensions are India’s concerns about China expanding its influence amongst its neighbours including Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, as well as challenging its naval power in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, Beijing feels threatened by New Delhi’s warming relations with Washington especially since the US lifted its ban on selling nuclear material and technology to India in 2008 and is poised to sell it billions of dollars worth of defence equipment.


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