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‘China behind hacking of Indian computers’

Monday, January 18, 2010 08:07:42 PM, IANS

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New Delhi/London: 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 ministry official.


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.”







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