China launched a cybercampaign hit against India’s power grid targeting Mumbai on October 13 last year, in a warning message after the tension at Ladakh border.
The New York Times reported that a new study lends weight to the idea that those two events may have been connected – as part of a broad Chinese cyber campaign against India’s power grid, timed to send a message that if India pressed its claims too hard, the lights could go out across the country.
“The study shows that as the battles raged in the Himalayas, taking at least two dozen lives, Chinese malware was flowing into the control systems that manage electric supply across India, along with a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant”, NYT said.
The report said the flow of malware was pieced together by Recorded Future, a Somerville, Massachusetts, company that studies the use of the internet by state actors. It found that most of the malware was never activated.
“And because Recorded Future could not get inside India’s power systems, it could not examine the details of the code itself, which was placed in strategic power-distribution systems across the country. While it has notified Indian authorities, so far they are not reporting what they have found”, NYT said.
Stuart Solomon, Recorded Future’s chief operating officer, said that the Chinese state-sponsored group, which the firm named Red Echo, “has been seen to systematically utilize advanced cyber intrusion techniques to quietly gain a foothold in nearly a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure.”
The discovery raises the question about whether an outage that struck on October 13 in Mumbai, one of the country’s busiest business hubs, was meant as a message from Beijing about what might happen if India pushed its border claims too vigorously, NYT said.
It added that news reports at the time quoted Indian officials as saying that the cause was a Chinese-origin cyberattack on a nearby electricity load-management center. Authorities began a formal investigation, which is due to report in the coming weeks. Since then, Indian officials have gone silent about the Chinese code, whether it set off the Mumbai blackout and the evidence provided to them by Recorded Future that many elements of the nation’s electric grid were the target of a sophisticated Chinese hacking effort.
NYT said the investigators who wrote the Recorded Future study, which is set to be published Monday, said that “the alleged link between the outage and the discovery of the unspecified malware” in the system “remains unsubstantiated.” But they noted that “additional evidence suggested the coordinated targeting of the Indian load dispatch centers,” which balance the electrical demands across regions of the country.
“I think the signaling is being done” by China to indicate “that we can and we have the capability to do this in times of a crisis,” said retired Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a cyber expert who oversaw India’s borders with Pakistan and China. “It’s like sending a warning to India that this capability exists with us”, NYT quoted.
In the Indian case, Recorded Future sent its findings to India’s Computer Emergency Response Team, or CERT-In, a kind of investigative and early-warning agency most nations maintain to keep track of threats to critical infrastructure. Twice the center has acknowledged receipt of the information, but said nothing about whether it, too, found the code in the electric grid, NYT said.
Repeated efforts by The New York Times to seek comment from the center and several of its officials over the past two weeks yielded no response.
In India, a patchwork of state-backed hackers were caught using coronavirus-themed phishing emails to target Chinese organizations in Wuhan last February. A Chinese security company, 360 Security Technology, accused state-backed Indian hackers of targeting hospitals and medical research organizations with phishing emails, in an espionage campaign.
Four months later, as tensions rose between the two countries on the border, Chinese hackers unleashed a swarm of 40,300 hacking attempts on India’s technology and banking infrastructure in just five days. Some of the incursions were so-called denial-of-service attacks that knocked these systems offline; others were phishing attacks, according to the police in Maharashtra, as per NYT.
Yashasvi Yadav, a police official in charge of Maharashtra’s cyber-intelligence unit, said authorities found “suspicious activity” that suggested the intervention of a state actor.
But Yadav declined to elaborate, saying the investigation’s full report would be released in early March. Nitin Raut, a state government minister quoted in local reports in November blaming sabotage for the Mumbai outage, did not respond to questions about the blackout, NYT reported.
Pakistan and India cannot afford a war, says Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said that India and Pakistan cannot afford to engage in an all-out war, as both countries are powered by nuclear weapons.
Pakistan Foreign Minister’s comments came after questions were raised over a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who had said that some counties changed their position over just one phone call. Qureshi maintained that the statement made by the Chinese Foreign Minister was not directed at Pakistan.
Commenting about India-Pakistan relations, Qureshi said that it is Pakistan’s firm belief that “all issues could be resolved through dialogue”, adding that it is India’s responsibility to create a conducive environment.
“Pakistan has a clear stance on trade with India. It’s now India’s turn to make the environment conducive for dialogue,” he said.
Saying that Pakistan had “serious concerns” about the in situation Jammu and Kashmir, Qureshi said, “The people of Kashmir and different political parties had already rejected the Indian government’s decision of August 5, 2019.”
Qureshi’s statement comes at a time when the Imran Khan-led government in Pakistan took a U-turn on its decision to open trade with India, summary of which was later rejected in the cabinet meeting, which reiterated that there can be no trade with India until it reverses its decision of August 5, 2019, which changed the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two Union Territories, by abrogating Articles 370 and 35A.
While the Pakistan government maintains that its position on Kashmir cannot change, opposition benches have raised serious questions on the government’s intentions and competency in taking major decisions related to the country’s foreign policy.
Moreover, questions have also been raised over the country’s foreign policy and approach after it was ignored by the US for a recent environment conference. Qureshi, however, maintained that invitations to the conference were only extended to countries, which were creating pollution.
“The US government had invited only those countries, which were creating pollution. Prime Minister Imran Khan is a role model for developing countries regarding his efforts to control global warming and environmental pollution,” he said.
“I wrote a letter to the special envoy to the Joe Biden administration and former Secretary of State of America, in which I have conveyed that Pakistan and America have the same policy on environment and both countries can work together on the issue,” Qureshi added.
Pakistani agencies desperate to stop key D-company financier’s extradition to US
In a last ditch effort, Pakistani agencies exercised all available resources to thwart extradition of Dawood’s Ibrahim’s key finance manager and drug operator Jabir Motiwala to the US.
Officials of Pakistan’s High Commission in London were reportedly seen with Motiwala’s pleaders, pursuing D-company aide’s appeal in High Court, in a bid to prevent D-company’s ultimate trial in the US, sources in Indian Intelligence agencies said.
Intelligence sources said that once the High Court clears Jabir Motiwala’s extradition, his subsequent trial in the US on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering will unmask D-company’s link with the ISI and its entire underworld operations in a US Court.
“The trial of the Jabir could also highlight, how Dawood, a global terrorist wanted in serial bomb blasts in Mumbai has been operating from Karachi and sharing drug routes with major terror outfits patronised by ISI,” said a senior IPS officer in New Delhi.
Motiwala, who operates for Dawood Ibrahim, is a Pakistani National, presently imprisoned in Wandsworth jail in south west London.
The High Court on Thursday reserved its judgement on Jabir Motiwala’s extradition to the US, earlier granted by a Westminster Magistrate’s court, last year.
Sources said that in a few weeks time, the High Court’s judgement on Motiwala’s fate could be expected. A section of Pakistani media, meanwhile has said that Motiwala, who hails from a well to do family in Karachi has been framed by US law enforcing agencies in drugs operations.
On the other hand, the US agencies have provided documentary evidence of drug dealing and handling finance of D-Company including tapes, against Motiwala in the court.
Pakistani diplomats had earlier tried to thwart the extradition move by submitting a letter on behalf of accused’s lawyer in the Magistrate’s court, saying Motiwala was a “well known respected businessman in the Pakistan”.
In fact Pakistani diplomats fear that once Motiwala is extradited to US, the close aide of D-company can reveal the entire nexus between Dawood Ibrahim’s underworld network (being operated from Karachi) and don’s connection with Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
The US had already declared Dawood a global terrorist running international drug syndicate and sharing gang’s routes with Pakistan based terror outfits.
Sources said that Dawood’s key finance aide Jabir Motiwala, was produced in Magistrates courts in London after his arrest by Scotland Yard Extradition Unit on charges of money laundering and sharing proceeds of narcotics money earned on behalf of the D-company.
Sources said that Barrister John Hardy, appearing on behalf of the US government, had earlier revealed to the Magistrate’s Court that Jabir Motiwala, a close aide of Dawood, travelled extensively and conducted (underworld crimes related) meetings for his boss Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian who along with his brother Anees, are wanted for terror crimes in India.
During the extradition trial Defence lawyer for the D-company member, told the Court that Motiwala was suffering from depression and had made several suicide attempts in the past few years.
The lawyer argued that in such a situation, Motiwala cannot be extradited to the US to face trial.
Sources said that contrary to the Defence lawyers claim, Motiwala has been investing D-company’s black money into various projects abroad. He is said to be involved in drug trafficking and also travels to collect money on behalf of the D-company in Europe.
Sources said that Motiwala’s extradition to the US, if endorsed by higher Court would be a setback for Dawood as well as his patrons in Pakistani establishment.
Narendra Modi and Rajapaksa agree on regular bilateral contact
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday agreed to maintain regular contact between relevant officials, including in the context of the continuing Covid-19 challenges.
In a telephonic conversation, the key leaders of their countries also reviewed topical developments and the ongoing cooperation between the two countries in bilateral and multilateral forums.
Prime Minister reiterated the importance of Sri Lanka to India’s Neighbourhood First policy.
The conversation between Modi and Rajapaksa happened days after Sri Lanka received 10 state-of-the-art railway passenger coaches from India as part of the supply of 160 coaches to Sri Lankan Railways by the Rail India Technical and Economic Service.
Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay earlier this week also visited the Ram Setu in the island nation and offered his prayers on the occasion of Mahashivratri.
The official prayed for reinforcement of strong bonds between the people of India and Lanka, recalling their millennia-old links and the role of historical structures in creating these links.
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