Dissecting Defense Minister’s response “Hacking of Security Information”

Defense Minister AK Antony has finally made a statement on the recent cyber espionage events reported in “Shadows in the Cloud“. Please do read the response – “Hacking of Security Information“, it won’t take a lot of time. It it is a relief to actually see someone actually asking the questions at the right level and the questions are being answered. Now let us take a look at the answer (emphasis added).

certain internet facing computers were compromised by the hackers which had no sensitive defence data

While it is reassuring that the Minister thinks  no sensitive data was leaked, something doesn’t add up. The report states:

“Although there is public information available on these military projects, it indicates that the attackers managed to compromise the right set of individuals that may have knowledge of these systems that is not publicly known. We recovered documents and presentations relating to the following projects:

(*) Pechora Missile System – an anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile system.

(*) Iron Dome Missile System – a mobile missile defence system (Ratzlav-Katz 2010).

(*) Project Shakti – an artillery combat command and control system (Frontier India 2009).

We also found that documents relating to network centricity (SP’s Land Forces 2008) and network-centric warfare had been exfiltrated, along with documents detailing plans for intelligence fusion and technologies for monitoring and analysing network data (Defence Research and Development Organisation 2009).

That is of course just the “defence” bit. It is hard to believe that all those information on the missile systems and warfare strategy are public knowledge. Now to approach the “sensitive” non defence part of the report’s content:

We recovered one document that appears to be an encrypted diplomatic correspondence, two documents classified as “SECRET”, six as “RESTRICTED”, and five as “CONFIDENTIAL”. These documents contain sensitive information taken from a member of the National Security Council Secretariat concerning secret assessments of India’s security situation in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, as well as concerning the Naxalites and Maoists. In addition, they contain confidential information taken from Indian embassies regarding India’s international relations with and assessments of activities in West Africa, Russia/Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East, as well as visa applications, passport office circulars and diplomatic correspondence. The attackers also exfiltrated detailed personal information regarding a member of the Directorate General of
Military Intelligence.

It is indeed true that none of these are defence data but it sure looks sensitive.

So, either all these exfiltrated information was public knowledge (highly unlikely) or India doesn’t consider any of these (including the missile programme details) as “sensitive defence data”  or the report is wrong or of course the Minister has not been properly informed.

Pick your poison, I guess.

Services Headquarters have an information security policy and their networks are audited as per the guidelines.

I hope not the 27001 audit!

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One Response to Dissecting Defense Minister’s response “Hacking of Security Information”

  1. Cheri July 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Good catch! I would take the part about close coordination between the different agencies with a sack of salt. It’s common knowledge that there’s a internecine turf war going on between the older established intelligence agencies + DRDO and newer organisations such as the NTRO (wrongly expanded out by the Hon’ble Minister as National Training Research Organisation, its Technical, not Training) and CERT-IN, and even between the latter two, and that’s a major part of the problem. All these guys literally hate each others guts and would go to any level to stick one in the back of the other. Examples abound from the NSCS security scandal to the OUtlook revelations on NTRO. An apex body coordinating body is needed because the military needs to get its act together and defend its information systems even as the civilian agencies engage in their turf battles.

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