Two Chinese firms traced as sources of mass hacking attacks, IT Security News, ET CISO

Two Chinese hackersGothic Panda and Stone Panda – have been traced as the alleged orchestrators of a majority of hacking attacks on Indian entities last month. Mumbai Mirror was the first to report the story on its website on June 20. Sources at a cybersecurity firm said though both the agencies are private, they are known to act allegedly at the behest of Chinese agencies.

A source on condition of anonymity said the hacking activities in India last month were conducted behind the cloak of virtual privacy network or proxy servers. “On closer scrutiny, the attacks were traced to Gothic Panda and Stone Panda,” the source said.

The swarm of 40,000-plus hacking attacks by groups purportedly operating from China had used a type of malware to access and then encrypt sensitive data of targeted private/public entities to extort ransom. The ‘Chinese’ hackers managed to breach, to varying extent, the safety protocols of at least six private /public targets across the country, including Delhi and Mumbai, and a government-run utility provider in Jammu and Kashmir. Most hacking activities were allegedly traced to China’s south-western province, Sichuan.

The hackers also tried to cripple or crash websites connected to utility providers and organisations involved in banking and information management services via ‘Internet Protocol Hijack’ and ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ (DoS) attacks. These attacks, also referred to as ‘probes’, looked for flaws in security features of websites.

“Most of these probes were not successful,” sources said.

In one case, in which the ‘probe’ succeeded, the home page of a website was breached and original content was replaced with text in a foreign language. Sources emphasised the need to develop strong cybersecurity measures, including firewalls and counter-virus capabilities as protection against hacking attempts.

As part of the DoS attacks, hackers seek to simply crash cyber-based systems, like a website. For instance, if a website of a utility provider can handle 1,000 requests per second, the hacker will bombard it with 10 lakh requests so that the system breaks down. Under the Internet Protocol Hijack, there is an attempt to divert internet traffic of a target, by routing it via China, for surveillance purposes.

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