Indo-Pak tensions play out in cyberspace, websites hit
Hackers from Pakistan attacked over 90 Indian government websites and critical systems within hours of the Pulwama suicide strike by a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist in which 40 soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed, senior officials in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity. “There was an unusual surge of activity, attempts to breach systems,” one of these officials added.
So ferocious was the attack that India had to resort to “offensive measures” in the cyber domain to counter them, a second official said.
The officials added that the attackers were not able to breach firewalls and protective measures of critical systems. Financial systems and power grid management ones were specially targeted, they said.
Interestingly, the attacks on the Indian networks came from Bangladesh – a country that is friendly to India. “The coordinated manner in which the attacks were carried out and the use of facilities in Bangladesh leaves us with no doubt about the nature of the attack,” the second official said.
After successive waves of attacks were thwarted, the government advised all departments to not violate “Standard Operating Procedures” and be on the alert. The exact nature and extent of India’s offensive operation, and the agencies behind this aren’t known, and none of the officials would elaborate on this point.
“Offensive capabilities did help India get a grip of the situation. There was damage in Pakistan too,” a cybersecurity professional working in the private sector, and who advises the government, said on condition of anonymity.
With the hacking attacks countered, the attackers tried another approach, a third Indian official said. They sought to manage “information flow”, this person said, to create “chaos and confusion”. This took the form of rumours and fake news, he added.
For instance, a day after India’s strike on a Jaish camp in Pakistan, and on the same day as Pakistan’s attempted counter-strike, social media buzzed with the alleged sacking of Commander-in-Chief of the Western Air Command Air Marshal C Hari Kumar. Even as this was dying down, another rumour surfaced, talking of huge casualties to Indian forces in Rajouri. The Indian army is hard on the heels of a person or group of people who were behind this, the third official said.