Chinese state-sponsored hackers had targeted India’s power grids in Ladakh possibly for information on India’s critical infrastructure or to prepare for sabotage in the future, according to the American cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.
This report, released earlier this month, details a campaign conducted by a likely Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group targeting the Indian power sector.
The activity was identified through a combination of large-scale automated network traffic analytics and expert analysis. According to the report, this targeting is likely a long-term strategic priority for select Chinese state-sponsored threat actors active within India.
The prolonged targeting of Indian power grid assets by Chinese state-linked groups offers limited economic espionage or traditional intelligence-gathering opportunities.
“We believe this targeting is instead likely intended to enable information-gathering surrounding critical infrastructure systems or is pre-positioning for future activity,” the report said.
The objective for intrusions may include gaining an increased understanding of these complex systems in order to facilitate capability development for future use or gaining sufficient access across the system in preparation for future contingency operations.
In February 2021, Recorded Future’s Insikt Group reported on intrusion activity targeting operational assets within India’s power grid that it attributed to a likely Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group.
Following a short lull after the publication of RedEcho reporting, the American firm detected ongoing targeting of Indian power grid organizations by China-linked adversaries, frequently using the privately shared modular backdoor ShadowPad. ShadowPad continues to be employed by an ever-increasing number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Ministry of State Security (MSS)-linked groups, with its origins linked to known MSS contractors first using the tool in their own operations and later likely acting as a digital quartermaster.
In recent months, the American firm observed likely network intrusions targeting at least 7 Indian State Load Despatch Centres (SLDCs) responsible for carrying out real-time operations for grid control and electricity dispatch within these respective states.
Notably, this targeting has been geographically concentrated, with the identified SLDCs located in North India, in proximity to the disputed India-China border in Ladakh. One of these SLDCs was also targeted in previous RedEcho activity.
iccording to the report, this latest set of intrusions, however, is composed of an almost entirely different set of victim organizations. In addition to the targeting of power grid assets,
“To achieve this, the group likely compromised and co-opted internet-facing DVR/IP camera devices for command and control (C2) of Shadowpad malware infections, as well as use of the open source tool FastReverseProxy (FRP),” the report said.
Despite a partial troop disengagement between India and China from February 2021, the prolonged targeting of Indian critical infrastructure continues to raise concerns over pre-positioning activity being conducted by Chinese adversaries.
While this latest activity displays targeting and capability consistencies with previously identified RedEcho activity, there are also some notable distinctions, the report added.
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