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Exclusive | Chinese hackers may target Indian companies amid border standoff, says intelligence firm

The Chinese hacking communities are discussing ways to 'teach India a lesson' and are primarily targeting Indian press and media outlets, government websites including defence, and companies in telecom, smartphones and pharma, among other sectors

June 23, 2020 / 05:29 PM IST

As India-China border tensions escalate, Chinese hacking communities are firming up plans to target Indian media, pharma and telecommunication firms, suggests a report by cyber intelligence firm Cyfirma.

“In last 9 days we have noticed extended conversation in Chinese hacking communities about the border situation and teaching India a lesson,” Kumar Ritesh, founder, Cyfirma told Moneycontrol.

The firm has shared the report with Moneycontrol,  exclusively.

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Ritesh pointed out the discussions by these cybercriminals, which were in Mandarin, are centred around Indian press and media companies, telecommunication companies, both private and public, government website including defence establishments, India pharma companies, smartphones, construction and tires companies.

The suspected hacking group that could carry out the attack include Gothic panda and Stone panda both known to have a close association with the People's Liberation Army.

“In our research these cybercriminals are looking at the defacement of websites using weaknesses in the web application, data exfiltration (sending data from the host system to the hacker's) using specialised malware, denial of service, impersonating companies’ website and launching malicious phishing campaign,” Ritesh explained.

“As of last night, in last 24 hours, we have noticed a list being put up by hackers on a dark web forum to target following media houses include Times of India, Republic TV, NDTV, Hindustan times, X-TV, Aaj Tak and Dainik Jagran."

Companies that are part of the target list include Jio, MRF Tires, Sun Pharmaceutical, Airtel, Cipla, Intex technologies, Micromax, BSNL, Apollo Tires and L&T. Government sites that could be under attack are Ministry of Foreign affairs, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Information and broadcasting, the report added.

This gains significance in the light of recent standoffs at the border and also strengthening Chinese hacker community sponsored by the Chinese government.

Border face-off

Close to 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the standoff between India and China at the Galwan Valley in the disputed Ladakh region on Monday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday said that though the country wants peace, India is capable of giving a befitting reply to the Chinese. Modi has called for an all-party meet on June 19 to discuss the situation.

Chinese hacking communities

Ritesh explained that Chinese cyber group is the largest in the world and it is suspected that almost 314000 people are working for these communities. They predominantly operate under geo-political agenda to attack countries such as the US, Japan, South Korea, India and other South East Asian nation.

Almost 93 percent of Chinese hacking groups are funded by the People’s Liberation Army or the Chinese external affair ministry, he added. The other such communities include APT3, funded by China's Ministry of State Security, is responsible for campaigns targeting the US and most recently Hong Kong, according to reports.

Apart from handling such campaigns for the government, recent times have seen these agencies working alongside Chinese firms to hack information that could benefit these firms from other countries, including India.

Read our complete coverage on the India-China border tension.
Swathi Moorthy
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