China crisis? Now India claims hackers are attacking it from behind the bamboo curtain

Things are heating-up.  Accusations that Beijing-backed hackers are probing the official networks of foreign governments with intrusions and spyware seem to be popping up with more regularity.

The latest report comes from The Times of India, which claims that senior government officials in New Delhi have privately confirmed that Chinese attacks in the last few months have targeted the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the National Informatics Centre (NIC).  The NIC provides the network backbone for central and state government, as well as other administrative bodies in India.

The unnamed officials are quoted as saying that this is China’s way of gaining “an asymmetrical advantage” over a potential adversary.  Speculation has risen that the intrusions could help a country map its enemy’s network infrastructure, and perhaps determine how to disable or disrupt it during a conflict.

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The newspaper story, however, fails to reveal any concrete evidence that the hacking is endorsed by the Beijing government or backed by the People’s Liberation Army.  As with other claims about Chinese hacking from the likes of Belgium, USA, UK and Germany, no hard proof has been put forward showing that the attacks are not coming from compromised botnet computers based in China or over-enthusiastic Chinese hackers working independently.

Is it likely that China is using the internet and hacking techniques to spy on other countries?  Of course.  It is likely, though, that India is also doing the same to Pakistan, and vice versa?  You bet your bottom dollar it is.  Countries are spying on each other all across the world for political, commercial and military advantage – and they would be crazy not to try and use the internet for that type of espionage.

However, politicians should be cautious about pointing the finger too easily when it’s so tricky to tell if a hack is coming from the desk of a government worker or a teenager’s bedroom.

* Image source: Puff’s Daddy’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons 2.0)

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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