WhatsApp security risk: The Additional Directorate General of Public Information of the Indian Army has released a video on Twitter alerting people of Chinese hackers. The tweet advised people to be alert and said that hacking was on the horizon, for those who are inattentive. They also instructed people to always check social media and be cautious about personal and group accounts. The video accused the Chinese of penetrating Indian digital world. As per the video, Whatsapp groups were the new ways of hacking into one’s system.
It also said that Chinese phone numbers that begin with the digits +86 pop up on your WhatsApp groups and begins to extract all the data on the phone. The video by the ADGP Indian Army also advised users to be vigilant about the things happening in their social groups. People were advised to conduct regular audits of their WhatsApp groups and be careful with the phone numbers that started with +86. The Indian Army also advised people about updating WhatsApp once they have changed their numbers. It also said, “Destroy the SIM card if you change your number and delete your WhatsApp on that number”, to ensure that Chinese do not mine personal data through hacking.
The warning by the Indian Army comes months after India and China had a 73-day long stand-off at Doklam. Though the Government of India intends to hold extensive talks in the coming month with the Chinese, threats continue to loom over not just India’s border, but also over India’s information systems.
India’s gearing cyber security system
As in most countries in the world, India’s use of the internet is immense. As per a report by Statista, an online statistics portal, India stands second behind China in the world to have the most number of internet users. There has been no paradigm shift at any legal or executive level that marks to resolve the issues of cyber security in India. Though Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is the only national agency in charge of cybersecurity mandated under IT Amendment Act 2008, it is actually the collective efforts of Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and the office of NSA that ensures cybersecurity of the nation.
India ranks higher than its global peers in being a victim of malware and ransomware attacks. Reports suggest that India was the third most affected country during the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017. Diwakar Dayal from Cisco had earlier told the media that India seeing a lack of close to 4 lakh cyber security experts. This huge lacunae in India and China’s cybersecurity capacity surely is a threat. India’s nodal agency for cybersecurity CERT-In which brings out monthly bulletins, annual reports, highlights threats, attacks and trends in cybersecurity. However, a report on CERT-In by the Centre for Internet and Society claims that there is lack of an ecosystem that is proactive in addressing these issues. The report also suggests that CERT-In restructure itself to be dynamic and interact more with other government agencies to consistently respond to security threats.
India’s National Security Council report suggests that China has more than a lakh cyber security experts making it one of the most strong combatants in cyber warfare. The Chinese military doctrine of “Active Defence” can be clearly seen in the way Chinese attempt to take charge of information space. The new Information Warfare (IW) faculty of the PLA is working towards combined employment of network warfare tools and electronic warfare weapons against its enemies, says Deepak Sharma in his IDSA focus report on China’s Cyber Warfare Capability and India’s Concerns.
In 2016, India and Russia signed a massive cybersecurity agreement on sidelines of BRICS summit in Goa. Last month, India and Canada also held high-level talks and have agreed to strengthen ties to resolve issues related to security. Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj also met her counterpart Chrystia Freeland to discuss matters related to trade and security. On the other hand, the Indian Army has been working constantly to combat cyber threats as well. Last year, the Indian Army had warned its soldiers along the Chinese border from using a host of mobile applications like WhatsApp, Snapchat etc. It also came out with a comprehensive list of applications that were deemed as vulnerable to the Chinese hackers.