A recent report in The Indian Express claimed that a range of dignified personalities was targeted, identified, and monitored in real-time by a company registered in April 2008 with the name Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co Limited. Personalities from different genres are targeted, such as President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, their families, and several chief ministers, among others.
Rise of a “Hybrid Warfare”
The investigations have revealed log operations existence by the name of Overseas Key Information Database (OKIDB) with the usage of various data classification tools and hundreds of entries without any explicit markers. A leading professor in cybersecurity explained the process named “hybrid warfare” where data mining companies acquire non-military assets to achieve subversive dominance using various psychological influences. Some of the prominent tools include “information pollution, perception proliferation and propaganda.”
Tech-Giants also under duress
In addition to the high-profiled individuals mentioned above, Indian bureaucrats, judges, scientists, journalists, academicians, actors, sportspersons, religious leaders, activists are also being monitored by the Chinese based company. The report also states that the snooping was not restricted to the individuals. OKIDB also covered close relatives such as the president and the prime minister’s spouses. Various prominent associates and executives of massive e-commerce platforms are also mentioned under the data breach’s radar. Individuals such as Deepinder Goyal, Zomato founder, Swiggy co-founder Nandan Reddy and head of Uber India’s driver operations Pavan Vaish, among others, Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, and Matrix Partners, which owns ride-hailing app Ola, Seed Fund, which has sportskeeda and RedBus.in, health-care app Practo, Kalaari Capital, that owns Myntra, Snapdeal and Urban Ladder are mentioned in the report.
This has instilled a palpable sense of discomfort among the industries’ heads as the privacy of data and protecting their companies’ hyphened secrets are unequivocally prime concerns for every executive to ensure long-lively of their respective company.
Government being cornered
Since the release of the report, the Indian Government has received a rigorous push from the opposition to step up its cybersecurity initiatives in response to the heinous intentions of data preach from China. The various opposition leaders have condemned tagging the respective report. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala termed the situation “worrying” asking the government to investigate the situation and assure the nation. The various leaders also stated the necessity to establish a precedent to nullify any misuse of data collected by Chinese IT companies.
“It is a very serious thing. We hope the government will go to the bottom of it and take appropriate action to protect the data privacy of citizens. This has huge implications for national security, besides the privacy of citizens. It needs an in-depth probe and firm action.”Anand Sharma, Congress’ Deputy leader in Rajya Sabha
In contrast to all of the above stated convictions against China, the Chinese Officials are seemingly least bothered regarding the revelations. A source from the Chinese embassy on Akhbar Road said, “China has not asked and will not ask companies or individuals to collect or provide data, information and intelligence stored within other countries’ territories for the Chinese government by installing backdoors or by violating local laws.”
Indian Intelligence on the offense
Despite the supposedly enormous privacy breach, various Indian intelligence officers seem to be underwhelmed on this revelation from their Chinese counter-part.
“The decision to ban Chinese apps was taken because of this misuse. Indian agencies flagged how common Indians unknowingly were contributing to the data bank of Chinese companies which in turn was being shared with the Chinese Communist Party and agencies”, a senior government official said.
While its motive seemed to be questionable, there were several companies — both foreign and Indian — which are in the business of profiling individuals and businesses based on data that is in the public domain. It is not yet proven that data was actually stolen by illegal means; if that’s the case then it merits an investigation, we will have to see if any illegality has been done,A Senior Official
The current Indo-China relations are evolving into dubious manifolds of deceptions. On one hand, the tensions across LAC have heightened, and on the other hand, India got elected as Member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the principal global body focussed on gender equality and women empowerment, beating China in a hotly-contested election.