Indian government computers hit by Chinese spyware attack?

Sources inside India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) have confirmed to the media that “several” of its 600 computers have been infected by spyware.

The spyware is said to affect computers inside the section of the Indian ministry which deals with sensitive Pakistani affairs, and in the offices of senior Secretaries and Joint Secretaries.

The security problem is reported to have been first noticed on computers operated by the personal staff of a Minister of State, as emails were being secretly sent to a third-party address. Discovery of the problem lead to an examination of other computers in the ministry, revealing the problem to be widespread.

Staff have been ordered not to use personal email accounts such as Yahoo and Gmail in the office and to avoid blogs and social networking websites in an attempt to avoid security being compromised.

There has been speculation that this spyware attack may be linked to China, however it’s important to realise that even if Chinese servers are involved that they may not necessarily be under the control of the Chinese authorities. Hackers have a long history of taking over computers in other countries to hide their true location.

Nevertheless, it’s likely that fingers of suspicion will be pointed towards China. In May 2008, senior government officials in New Delhi blamed China for attacks that were alleged to have targeted the MEA and the National Informatics Centre (NIC). Speculation had risen that the intrusions could help a country map its enemy’s network infrastructure, and perhaps determine how to disable or disrupt it during a conflict.