China has blown the foreign office’s communications network

September 11th, 2005  

Topic: China has blown the foreign office’s communications network

China has blown the foreign office’s communications networks, and we don’t know.

6 September 2005: In a moment of truth, our worst suspicions of China are revealed, as they were, by the defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, in a seminar in Mumbai two days ago. Pranab referred to the 1962 Chinese invasion, and China’s unresolved border disputes with India and Bhutan, and the Chinese consul-general who was present, Song Deheng, was stung to the quick.

“I cannot agree with the words ‘China invaded India,’” said the consul-general. On the border disputes, he said, “I do not know how China is perceived on these matters, (but) India is not an easy negotiator.” The defence minister, however, stuck to his point, without meaning to exacerbate the differences, and ever since, the papers have reported, he is anxious to cap the controversy.

But China, for its part, is inexorably creating a controversy a day, and what we exposed yesterday, in our Intelligence section, “China cracks secret MEA communications,” should make the Indian military see red, and leave the foreign office red-faced. What makes it worse is that more than a year ago, a friendly country, which routinely monitors Chinese communications, tipped us off about the Chinese snooping, and either we forgot about it, or dismissed it as inconsequential, or were too afraid to follow up. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

About forty-five days ago, the Chinese government sent a detailed protest letter about a secret meeting of the Indian and Taiwanese navies in Singapore. First it was assumed as a human leak, and investigations were launched on the Taiwanese and Indian sides, but the details in the letter pointed to another direction, that someone had access to the entire communications between our mission in Singapore and the Indian foreign office/ government. But the government did not make the obvious connection, that our embassy and foreign office communications had been heavily compromised by Chinese cyber interception. And thereby hangs a tale.

The Chinese PLA has set up a large, well-equipped cyber warfare unit called the “Web Army”. The “Web Army” has been monitoring communications between the foreign office and its embassies/ high commissions and consulates in more than twenty countries, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, China itself, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

For producing custom software for cyber interception, encryption, cyber attack and passive penetration of communication networks, the PLA unit has contracted nearly four thousand companies and employed twenty-two thousand personnel. Among these companies are smaller Indian entities, because China suspects giants like Infosys and Wipro of having government links, and the other software firms are from Israel, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Ireland.

Major US and European companies are said to have refused “Web Army” contracts because of their military end use, but rogue corporations have been in play for the money, and diplomats said China is lavishly bankrolling the operations, on a scale in some ways comparable to its missile upgrade programme. With India, cyber interception produces the biggest trophies, and sources said China has been downloading at the rate of three thousand top-secret pages a month.

The software for the downloads have been made by Indian companies, who are paid a royalty of between $5-50 per downloaded page. These companies have obviously no clue as to the abuse of their software, their role ending with its development, and since payments are generous and prompt, it has been a win-win situation all around. The software is so good, sources said, that they could extract content from shut down local area networks without tripping alerts and overcoming firewalls.

While the exposure of the Indian-Taiwanese naval meet is a blow, it is also embarrassing, because it deters future meetings, and the Indian side, worst of all, did not know how it was blown. Fixing a penetrated communications network is as laborious and time consuming as setting up a whole new system, and we have been compromised wholesale, our codes have been broken or circumvented, and anything we now say or do is open for the Chinese to draw at will.

Big as the blown Indian-Taiwanese naval meeting is, there are bigger things that have now been put at risk, because our communication lines to the all-important Washington embassy, the mission to the European Union, the high commissions in London, Islamabad and Colombo, have all been comprehensively penetrated. God knows how much of our secret negotiations with the US are available to China, and how much it has picked up from our communications with Islamabad to pass on to the Pakistanis. It is horrible to say, but we look to have been stripped and left naked.

The point to commence is when a third country alerted us to Chinese snooping, and why we did not set in motion a process to cover ourselves, and send some shocks to China itself. The problem is that the government has no uniformly accepted policy on China. Because of the 1962 debacle, the military is wary, and has blocked all rapprochements with the potential to damage our security interests. Out of that military perception came Pranab Mukherjee’s unvarnished view on China at the Mumbai seminar, and the foreign office also has no China lovers, having experienced Chinese mendacity and manipulations during the border negotiations, but as a whole, the political leadership is somehow weak-kneed about standing up to China, and everything slips through this gap.

The Indian government, before the publishing of yesterday’s intelligence, was blissfully unaware of the depth and scale of Chinese penetration of our national secrets. Now that it presumably knows, it is not expected to acknowledge it, but it could at least begin the process of understanding how China has turned our great IT successes against us. Obviously, alongwith a comprehensive overhaul of the entire communications network, there must be full-scale investigation of the Indian companies that knowingly or unknowingly provided military end use software to the PLA. While this is on, there must also be an audit of the embedded guardians of Chinese interests in this country, and the media cannot be excluded from this sensitive security exercise.

September 11th, 2005  

Topic: eh

Spying is a norm. Sometimes, spying can review lot of unflavorful doings too. If you digged up some dirt of others, others may dig up yours. Same play. Information Intellegence!