Government verifying reports on Chinese hackers


New Delhi : The government has directed that sensitive documents should not be stored on computer systems that have an interface with the Internet, and is verifying a report that Chinese hackers had stolen confidential information from the defence and external affairs ministries, parliament was informed Thursday.

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“The government has directed that sensitive and confidential information should not be stored on (computer) systems that have an interface with the Internet,” Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha.

“We face a continuous threat. It is a global challenge. We are examining the authenticity of the (Chinese hackers’) report. It makes certain claims. We need to authenticate this. Till the enquiry is complete, I can’t give a proper answer,” Pilot added.

In this context, Pilot pointed out that he had travelled to the US and Canada and interacted with officials of the research organisations that had put together the report, titled ‘Shadows In the Cloud’, that was released earlier this month.

“The rules of engagement are changing rapidly (in the cyber world). The government is alive to the challenge. We have some of the best international practices in place and 24×7 response teams in place (to deal with any threats),” Pilot said.

‘Shadows In the Cloud’ said that Chinese hackers had stolen “secret”, “restricted” and “confidential” information from India’s defence ministry, its diplomatic missions abroad, the National Security Council Secretariat and various other bodies.

“During our investigation we recovered documents that contain sensitive information that could be exploited by an adversary for intelligence purposes,” the report said.

It has been prepared by Information Warfare Monitor and Shadowserver Foundation, a group of Canadian and American cyber security researchers, after an eight-month study of Chinese hacking operations.

“We recovered a document that appears to be encrypted diplomatic correspondence, two documents classified as Secret, six as Restricted and five as Confidential,” the report said.

“These documents contain sensitive information taken from a member of the National Security Council Secretariat concerning secret assessments of India’s security situation in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura as well as concerning the Naxalites and Maoists.

“In addition, they contain confidential information taken from Indian embassies regarding India’s international relations with and assessments of activities in West Africa, Russia/Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East, as well as visa applications, passport office circulars and diplomatic correspondence,” the report said.

“The attackers also exfiltrated detailed personal information regarding a member of the Directorate General of Military Intelligence. We recovered documents and presentation to Pechora Missile system, Iron Dome Missile System and Project Shakti,” the report added.

The report came almost a month after India alleged that Chinese hackers attacked its government computer networks. Officials in the defence ministry and the army have so far refused to comment on the report.

“Although the identity and motivation of the attackers remain unknown, the report is able to determine the location (Chengdu, PRC) as well as some of the associations of the attackers through circumstantial evidence,” the executive summary of the report said.

“Given the sophistication of the intruders and the targets of the operation, the researchers said, it is possible that the Chinese government approved of the spying,” The New York Times contended after the report was released.