Chinese hackers may have stolen highly classified information from computers at India's Ministry of Defence, a report claimed on Tuesday, even as Chinese officials strongly denied any government involvement in the cyber-attacks.
Indian officials told The Hindu the reported hacking attacks would not figure in talks with the Chinese leadership on Wednesday, when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna meets his counterpart Yang Jiechi and Premier Wen Jiabao.
A report released by researchers at the University of Toronto on Monday said hackers traced to China's Sichuan province may have stolen highly classified information from the Defence Ministry, and had also obtained information from embassies on India's relationships with countries in Africa, West Asia and Russia.
Computers in Indian Embassies in Belgium, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, the United States, Zimbabwe and High Commissions in Cyprus and the United Kingdom had been “thoroughly compromised.”
The report said there was “an obvious correlation” between the “victims”, the nature of the documents stolen and the “strategic interests of the Chinese state”, but it cautioned it had “no evidence” to suggest any direct involvement of the government. But given the opaque nature of cyber-crimes, the report said it was almost impossible to attribute the source of such attacks with certainty.
Chinese officials on Tuesday strongly dismissed claims that the government was behind the attacks. “We have from time to time heard this kind of news. I don't know what the purpose is to stir up these issues,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu.
“China is totally opposed to various kinds of hacking activities on the Internet, and we have committed to relevant counter-hacking initiatives.”
She said the authors of the report had not given “any relevant representation” for Chinese authorities to launch an investigation.
Sources in the Indian government said they had been aware of hacking attempts from China-based hackers “for quite some time”, but that they had taken enough precautions to prevent the exposure of any sensitive information.
Several officials also questioned the timing of the report's release, a day before scheduled high-level talks between Indian and Chinese officials in Beijing.
The “Shadows in the Cloud” report, released by the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, followed an eight-month-long investigation into China-based hacking networks. The investigation traced the cyber-attacks on Indian computers to Chengdu, in Sichuan.
The hackers had also infiltrated into the personal computers of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious leader, and had in their possession a year's worth of his personal E-mails, the report said.