Chinese hackers target India's power grid again: How cyberwarfare is redrawing battle lines
As India's presence on the internet is growing rapidly, it has also become prone to more cyberattacks and needs to improve its cyber security. In the 2022 Union budget, the government said it would spend 515 crore rupees on cyber security.
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In what appears to be a cyber-espionage campaign, Chinese state-sponsored hackers targeted India's electricity distribution centres near Ladakh in recent months, a report by a private threat intelligence firm Recorded Future said on Wednesday.
The hackers focused on “load dispatch” centres that are responsible for carrying out real-time operations for grid control and electricity dispersal, the report said.
Wars these days are not just fought on the ground, but also in cyberspace. Instead of using traditional weapons, viruses, malware and phishing emails are used to target a country's infrastructure, steal data and spread misinformation against the adversary.
State-sponsored cyber attacks are on the rise throughout the world, and China has mastered this “art”. Not just India, but the US and other countries have also accused China of state-sponsored attacks in the recent past.
India and China have long disputed their 3,500-km-long border and also fought a war in Arunachal Pradesh in 1962. In 2020, a hand-to-hand combat between troops in Ladakh's Galwan Valley saw casualties on both sides.
Not first such attack by China
On October 12, 2020, Maharashtra saw a massive grid failure which hit Mumbai and surrounding areas. A report by the state's cyber department later confirmed that a malware attack was behind the blackout.
On Feb 28, 2021, The New York Times, based on analysis by intelligence firm Recorded Future, reported that a Chinese entity penetrated India’s power grid at multiple load dispatch points. A malware invaded the control systems that manage electric supply across India.
According to Recorded Future, 10 Indian power sector assets and the Mumbai and Tamil Nadu’s VO Chidambaranar ports came under attack by RedEcho, the actor group with China links.
What is cyberwarfare? What does it look like?
State-sponsored digital attacks by using malwares, viruses and other tools to disrupt vital computer systems of a country which can disrupt critical systems, steal intelligence or cause any kind of destruction or even death, can be defined as cyberwarfare.In some cases, the attacks can be carried out by terrorist organisations or by non-state actors.
Espionage, or stealing of sensitive information, sabotaging operations and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, targetting of power grids, spreading misinformation and disinformation to try and control the minds and thoughts of people of a country, disruption of economic establishments such as stock markets and banking system are some of the major types of cyberwarfare.
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Major state-sponsored cyber attacks
According to the United Service Institution of India, In 2007, operation “Orchid” was carried out by the Israeli Air Force to destroy Syrian nuclear facilities. Israel reportedly blinded the Syrian air defence system (radars) by cyber attacks.
In 2010, a virus destroyed a major portion of Iranian nuclear facility.
In 2014/15, Russians reportedly resorted to blanking of Ukraine military communication systems, which led them to using the cellular network, helping the Russians to track their locations.
In 2016, ransomware virus Wannacry affected individual and organisational networks across the globe.
How prepared is India to counter cyber attacks?
“China is capable of launching cyber attacks on us that can disrupt a large amount of our systems,” Late General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), said last year.
There has been a manyfold rise in digital payments in India. The country is home to over a billion mobile phone subscribers and most of the government services are now available online. As India's presence on the internet is growing rapidly, it has also become prone to more cyberattacks and needs to improve its cyber security.
According to a Business Standard report, India in 2021-2022 outspent its budgeted estimates on cyber security for the first time in the past eight years. In the 2022 Union budget, the government said it would spend 515 crore rupees on cyber security.
But is that enough when compared to our neighbours China?
According to Harvard University’s National Cyber Power Index, China ranks second in cyber power after the US, while India is among one of the most cyber-targeted countries in the world.
If India wants to be a force to reckon with in cyberwarfare, it needs to spend much more on cybersecurity and treat it as seriously it treats its borders.