India sees silver lining in Google’s imminent exit from China:
The imminent exit of IT giant Google
from China, which has alleged the Chinese Government of hacking
National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan’s assertion that hackers
have tried to penetrate government computers in vital ministries is
true as there have been several attempts in the past to gain access
to important documents, say security officials.
In an interview to The Times, Narayanan said his office and other
government departments were targeted Dec 15, the same date that US defence, finance and technology companies, including Google,
reported cyber attacks from China.
“This was not the first instance of an
attempt to hack into our computers,” Narayanan told The Times in an
interview, adding that the would-be hackers sent an e-mail with a
PDF attachment containing a Trojan virus.
The virus, which allows hackers to
download or delete files, was detected and officials were told not
to log on until it was eliminated, Narayanan said.
In April 2008, hackers, suspected to
be from mainland China, made deep intrusions into the secure
computer systems of the ministry of external affairs, said a
The serious breach was detected during
a routine security audit by the intelligence agencies - the hackers
had left clear trails.
Alarmed by the breach, the government
had that time sent a team of intelligence officials to audit the
security standards of systems and computers in key Indian missions
around the world, starting with the embassy in Beijing.
“Auditors were able to verify the
details including internet protocol addresses and the Media Access
Control (MAC) addresses of the hackers, confirming they originated
in China,” the officials, who spoke only on the condition of
anonymity, told IANS.
A MAC address, also called hardware
address, is a unique identification number that helps analysts trace
the systems back to its country or location. All of these point to
China, the officials said.
In March last year there were again
attempts at hacking into the computers of Indian embassies, but no
sensitive information was stolen in the process. A number of
computers were found to be compromised with spyware.
“The malicious software sent copies of
internal e-mail messages to a rogue address,” said one official.
The ministry of external affairs and
Indian embassies have instituted a stringent protocol on the usage
of e-mail by serving officers, that includes frequently changing
passwords and using e-mails only for routine communication.
Besides the ministry has instituted a
periodic security review of all MEA computers to ward off cyber
threats, the official sources said.
“Hacking has been going on for the
last few years, but the safeguards have ensured that national
security was not breached,” said another official, who spoke on
official clearance but was not willing to be identified.
Three years back a specialized team
from the Intelligence Bureau had carried out an audit of computer
systems in key government offices and put in place a security net.
“People seem to be fairly sure it was
the Chinese. It is difficult to find the exact source but this is
the main suspicion. It seems well founded,” Narayanan told The
Times, adding that India was cooperating with the US and Britain to
bolster its cyber defences.
The Chinese government has denied any
role in the attacks, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying:
“Hacking in whatever form is prohibited by law in China.”