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‘China hit Mumbai with blackout as troops clashed in Ladakh last year’

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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.

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China protects four key 26/11 perpetrators from UN sanctions

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 China continues to defy the other members of the Security Council and the overwhelming anti-terrorism sentiments by protecting from UN sanctions four key leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that carried out the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Fourteen years after the attack that killed at least 166 people, Beijing works with Islamabad to undermine anti-terrorism measures against Pakistan-based terrorists behind the carnage.

The four from LeT who got China’s umbrella this year were the group’s commander Sajid Mir, who orchestrated the 26/11 attack; deputy chief Abdur Rehman Makki; deputy chief of the LeT front Falah-I-Insaniyat Foundation Shahid Mahmood, and LeT commander Hafiz Talha Saeed, who is LeT chief Hafiz Muhammed Saeed’s son.

China also put a hold on sanctions on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group’s deputy leader Abdul Rauf.

China had initially allowed eight LeT leaders to be sanctioned, four in the month after the 26/11 attack, and four later, before taking a hardline in support of other LeT leaders in a show of solidarity with Pakistan.

“Our efforts to sanction the perpetrators and facilitators of these terror attacks were blocked in the past for political reasons,” India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj said last week at the Security Council.

“These actors continue to walk free and have been organising further cross-border attacks against my country,” she said.

US Permanent Mission’s Political Coordinator John Kelley at the same meeting regretted that only one entity was added to the sanctions list this year and said, “The important work of this committee must remain free from politicisation that only benefits the terrorists.”

The committee paralysed by China’s intransigence was only able to add Khatiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a terror group operating in Syria to the sanctions list this year, while the LeT leaders and another Pakistan-based terrorist have been spared.

The Security Council’s panel, known as the 1267 Sanctions Committee for the resolution setting it up, places individuals and groups under sanctions that include travel bans and financial restrictions for terrorist activities involving the al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and affiliated organisations like the LeT.

The committee includes all the 15 members of the Security Council and gives every one of them the right to place a hold on sanctions, which amounts to a veto.

When the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) met in Mumbai last month, an audio clip of Mir directing the 26/11 terrorists at the Jewish centre was played to focus on the role of the terrorist under Beijing protection at the UN.

At the CTC’s special session in the terrorists’ killing field, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “The key conspirators and planners of the 26/11 attacks continue to remain protected and unpunished.”

This, he said, “undermines our collective credibility and our collective interests” and until “the masterminds and perpetrators of this attack” are brought “to justice, this task remains unfinished”.

In a video message to the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “That is what the US has been working to do, together with India and other partners for the last 14 years because when we allow the architects of these attacks to go unpunished, we send a message to terrorists everywhere that their heinous crimes will be tolerated.”

In the first flush of global fury against the horror of the 26/11 attack, China in December 2008 did not stand in the way of sanctioning LeT boss Saeed, operations head Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, finance chief Haji Muhammad Ashraf and financier Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq.

Later, four others from the LeT were added to the list: Muhammad Arif Qasmani and Mohammad Yahya Aziz in 2009, and Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhattvi and Malik Zafar Iqbal Shahbaz in 2012.

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Lt Gen Asim Munir named Pakistan’s new army chief

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The Pakistan government on Thursday announced that Lieutenant General Asim Munir will replace General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the country’s new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, using his Constitutional right, has also appointed Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), reports Geo News.

Aurangzeb added that the summary of the appointments has been sent to President Arif Alvi for ratification.

The decision was announced after the Prime Minister held a federal cabinet meeting to mull over the appointments after the allied parties authorised him to pick the officers for the top slots, Geo News reported.

Both the officers picked for the slots were the senior-most military officials.

Although the summary has been sent to the president, who belongs to the PTI, the coalition allies had warned him beforehand that he should avoid being loyal to his party and work in the interests of the state.

In his conversation with reporters after the meeting of the federal cabinet, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also confirmed that the summary has been sent to the president.

“All the matters have been settled in line with the Constitution of Pakistan and hopefully the president will not create a controversy,” Asif said.

The minister added that he expects President Alvi to approve the premier’s advice.

He also expressed hope that the said appointments would not be viewed politically.

The minister refused to comment on PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s consultation with President Alvi over the matter.

He said that the Pakistan Air Force, navy, and army shouldn’t be made controversial.

Asif said that a detailed press release regarding the development will be issued.

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Turkey plans to produce flour from Russian wheat to supply poor nations: Erdogan

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 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country planned to produce flour from Russian wheat for free delivery to the least developed countries.

Erdogan said he had agreed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on such a plan, in an effort to tackle the global food crisis, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Putin made the following offer to me, ‘Let’s send this grain to the least developed countries, that is, to the poor countries for free’. We agreed too,” the President was quoted as saying on Monday on his flight back from Qatar.

“We even made such a plan that we will buy the wheat if necessary, make it flour in Turkey, and then send it to the least developed countries,” he added.

On July 22, Russia and Ukraine separately signed a document in Istanbul with Turkey and the US to ensure grain and fertilizer supplies to the global market amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Kiev.

The deal was extended last week for another 120 days.

Since July, nearly 11.2 million tonnes of essential foodstuffs have been shipped.

However, 300,000 tonnes of Russian fertilizer remain stranded in various European ports, according to UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan.

Ankara says it has been making efforts to pave the way for the resumption of Russian grain and fertilizer export to world markets as well.

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