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China’s cyber eye and India

  • IASbaba
  • March 3, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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GOVERNANCE/ SECURITY

Topic:

  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation 
  • GS-3: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, Cyber Security

China’s cyber eye and India

Context: Recently, a cyber intelligence firm claims Chinese government-linked hacking group has targeted the makers of the two vaccines currently used in India’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Stone Panda & vaccines

  • Chinese hacker group known as Stone Panda had “identified gaps and vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure and supply chain software of Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India.
  • These companies have developed Covaxin and Covishield, which are currently being used in the national vaccination campaign. They are also in the process of testing additional Covid-19 vaccines that could add value to efforts around the world.
  • Increased Cyber Attacks: Some Indian companies involved in Covid-19 vaccine development have told that they have noticed a nearly hundred-fold increase in cyberattack attempts by foreign entities from countries like China and Russia over the last six months.

Possible Reasons

  • One major factor is the border clash between the two countries in June 2020. 
  • These attempts could also be part of a long-term strategy – to test and lay the grounds for further operations in the future. 
  • They can also be used as diversionary tactic.
  • When vaccine companies are targeted, the motive could be competition. The motivation behind Stone Panda’s attack against SII and Bharat Biotech’s IT systems was to extract the companies’ intellectual property and gain a “competitive advantage over Indian pharmaceutical companies”.

A look at the various surveillance and hacking attempts, and their implications:

  • Monitoring Digital Footprint in September 2020: Amid souring relations between India and China last year, evidence emerged in September of a Chinese government-linked company’s attempt to monitor the digital footprint of thousands of Indian citizens. 
  • Red Echo & ShadowPad: Malware threat in Power Infrastructure: In November, the government was apprised of a malware threat in segments of its power infrastructure — malware that was last month linked to a Chinese state-backed firm.

Implications

  • Maintenance of “information library”: Those monitored during September 2020 included not only influential political and industrial figures, but bureaucrats in key positions, judges, scientists and academicians, journalists, actors, sportspersons, religious figures, activists etc.
  • Database is liable for Tactical Manoeuvring: The collection of such data does not violate any rules under the Information Technology Act of 2000, as nearly all of this data is available in the public domain. However, cybersecurity experts are of opinion that the information collected could be put together for tactical manoeuvring, targeting the individuals under surveillance or their institutions.
  • Attack on Stability & Integrity of Power grid: Red Echo’s attempts to target the country’s load despatch centres of the Power System Operation Corporation Ltd (POSOCO) through its ShadowPad malware, negatively impacts the smooth operation of the country’s power grid.

Challenges

  • India has not voluntarily made information about these attempts public. This could leave other companies and government bodies may be in the dark about their vulnerability to such attacks.
  • There is also little clarity on the government’s chain of command where cybersecurity issues are concerned, as different agencies deal with this issue. This makes it difficult to understand who all to approach in the event of such cyber threats.

Connecting the dots:

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