Cyber security breach flagged by security agencies; high-level probe underway | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack

Intelligence agencies have unearthed a cyber security breach by military officials which is suspected to be linked to espionage-related activities by a neighbouring country.

Responding to an ANI query on the cyber security breach issue, defence sources said: “The Military and Intelligence agencies have unearthed a cyber security breach by some military officials, which is likely to be linked to espionage-related activities by a neighbouring country.”

“The breach has been reported on certain WhatsApp groups,” the defence sources told ANI.

On the issue of action being taken against the officials facing the allegations, the sources said that “an inquiry, which has been promptly ordered, is in progress. Acts of infringements to existing orders especially involving counterintelligence matters, by military officials, are dealt with strictest possible manner, as they are subject to Official Secrets Act.”

The sources said that the strictest possible action would be taken against all the officials who are found guilty in the ongoing investigations.

Asked to provide further details in the matter, the defence sources said, “Due to sensitivities involved and the nature of the investigation, we would request to avoid speculation on the nature of the breach or seeking out personnel involved as it would compromise the ongoing investigations into the case.”

In recent times, suspected Pakistani and Chinese intelligence operatives have been attempting to engage with military personnel on social media platforms in an effort to gain sensitive information from them on the military and its activities.

Even though the majority of their attempts fail, they have been able to extract information from some of the military personnel who fall into their trap.

On 6 April, American cybersecurity firm, Recorded Future revealed that Chinese state-sponsored hackers had targeted India’s power grids in Ladakh. A part of China’s cyber espionage campaign, the sustained targeting of the power grids was possibly aimed at collecting information on India’s critical infrastructure or preparing for their sabotage in the future.

What technical information the hackers had collected through this breach remains unknown. However, this targeting of the power grids and cyber-espionage campaign fits in the broader pattern of China’s systematic pursuit of offensive cyber operations against India for more than a decade.

In March 2021, a Singapore-based company, CyFirma, revealed that a Chinese state-backed hackers’ group had targeted the information technology systems of two Indian vaccine makers—Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India (SII).

These companies’ vaccines have been the most critical element of India’s national vaccination programme and vaccine diplomacy. Chinese hackers’ targeting of SII is significant when examining the reach of its vaccine, Oxford-AstraZeneca/Covishield, which is being used in 183 countries, as against almost half-reach of China’s flagship Sinopharm vaccine (used in 90 countries).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s description of India as the “pharmacy of the world” vividly brings the country’s comparative advantage over China. Therefore, Chinese hackers may be trying to bridge that gap by targeting the vaccine makers to steal commercially valuable data.

The targeting of the power grids in Ladakh in the middle of the prolonged border stand-off is clearly aimed at sending a political message and signalling that Beijing can open other non-military fronts in the bilateral security competition. Pertinently, this is the second such attack on India’s power sector by Chinese hackers.

In October 2020, in one of the worst power outages, large parts of Mumbai witnessed a widespread blackout, which affected suburban train services and hospitals.

Months later, Recorded Future noted that a China-linked hacker group, “RedEcho,” had breached the Indian power sector, which may have caused Mumbai’s power outage—a charge refuted by a Maharashtra government’s technical audit committee examining the incident.

But Recorded Future added that besides the power sector, Chinese hackers also targeted two Indian ports and some parts of the railway infrastructure.

Coming in the wake of the violent Galwan Valley clash between the Indian and Chinese militaries in June 2020, this targeting of India’s critical infrastructure suggested a combination of intimidation and retribution.

(with inputs from ANI)

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Published on: Tuesday, April 19, 2022, 12:46 PM IST

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