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Chinese Hackers Reportedly Breach Indian Naval Computers

Jul. 3 – Hackers have broken into Indian naval computers in Visakhapatnam, where India’s Eastern Naval Command is headquartered, and have relayed confidential data to IP addresses based in China. The Eastern Naval Command is in charge of Indian operations and deployments in the South China Sea, a region in which China currently has numerous territorial disputes. The Command’s Visakhapatnam location is also the current base for India’s first nuclear missile submarine, which was undergoing trials at the time of the cyber-attack.

The extent of the loss is unclear, with Indian officials claiming that it is premature at this stage to comment on the sensitivity of the compromised data. India has, however, established a Board of Inquiry which has indicted six mid-level officers for procedural lapses that aided the security breach.

The Indian Navy stores confidential data on computers that are not connected to the internet, and which are also not supposed to have access points for external storage devices. Sources have revealed that the virus at the center of the attack was initially planted on internet-connected computers around the Command, which was designed to attach itself to portable USB drives. It is believed that Indian naval officers, who are prohibited to use USB drives for this very reason, unknowingly transferred the virus from the external internet-connected network to the closed network within the Eastern Naval Command.

Once an infected USB was connected to the naval computers, the virus searched for specific keywords, most likely regarding India’s new nuclear submarine, and copied as much data as it could to a hidden folder. When the virus completed its objective, it remained dormant in the USB drive until it was connected to an external internet-connected network, after which it covertly sent the files to IP addresses in China.

The Chinese government may not have been behind the attack, however. According to cyber studies expert Tang Lan, IP addresses cannot be used as evidence of where hackers come from. As hackers IP addresses can change, it is difficult to precisely trace their original country of origin. This, however, is not the first time that China has reportedly been behind cyber-attacks. The country has regularly been accused of using trained military staff to break into sensitive computer systems across the world to steal confidential data.

“This is something that the U.S. government, Chinese government, and even the Indian government have been doing for many years now,” according to Ankit Fadia, an independent Indian computer security consultant.

“The Indian government servers have been repeatedly attacked by Chinese hackers,” Fadia added. “The Indian government needs to take cyber security more seriously and improve the security of critical government systems. Regular security audits must be done and government officials need to be trained properly as well.”

Until the extent of the loss is revealed, it is difficult to ascertain whether this was a targeted attack by China or by another rogue actor. What is clear, however, is that due to the importance of the Command center for Indian operations in the South China Sea, and also as a testing facility for its new submarine, there remains the possibility that China was behind the cyber-attacks.

Related Reading

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China Plays the Usual Suspect in Latest Cyber Espionage Incident

More Foreign Companies Fall Victim to Hacks Originating from China

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Panel: Chinese Servers Hacked U.S. Government

Fingers Being Pointed at China over Stuxnet

Cyber Espionage Report Implicates Hackers in China

China Yahoo Accounts Hacked, Emails Set to Forward

Chinese Hackers Suspected to be Behind December Cyber Attacks in India

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4 Responses to Chinese Hackers Reportedly Breach Indian Naval Computers

  1. The_Observer says:

    There is no evidence to link the Chinese government to these alleged hacks. There are any number of countries who have the capabilities to route their handiwork through the many computers in China that are not well protected against trojans and other malware.
    Besides isn’t India meant to be a software superpower with all the outsourcing techies in the country to call upon. Surely they can put up a credible defense to these external attacks?

  2. Girish says:

    It is high time that Indian goverment start taking cyber warfare seriously and work in development of offencive as well as defencive cyber warfare capabilites.
    They have indeed taken some major but they still needs to get more serious about it just like US and China.

    Indian private IT sector has major capabilites to help goverment establish such cyber capibilities. Only things the goverment has to do it to start involving private sector industries in defence (weather its weapons design and manufacturing or cyber capabilities).
    Goverment bodies cannot have or retain telent when there is already a triving private cyber industry in the country. Goverment has to think out of box inorder to use private sector for goverment projects. One options could be public private partinership in defence projects.

  3. @Observer – I’d have thought that the Indian data being transferred to IP addresses in China was proof enough.
    @Girish: I believe they are taking steps to adjust to the new strategy of constantly testing each other capabilities. The real masters it seems to me are the Israeli’s, Americans and the Russians. Thanks – Chris

  4. Sai Tatapudi says:

    If you are scarred of espionage through internet and USB’s? why do you keep a USB port on the secure systems? maybe a CD would be a better option.

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