Hackers Say Indian Intelligence Has U.S. Passwords

A hacktivist group has released troves of emails, spy memos, and U.S. government server access credentials. While not all are genuine, the breach points to cyber spying as the new norm.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

January 13, 2012

6 Min Read

10 Massive Security Breaches

10 Massive Security Breaches

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Slideshow: 10 Massive Security Breaches

Did an Indian military intelligence organization eavesdrop on negotiations between the United States and China and steal U.S. government passwords via an "Advanced Cellular Intercept Program?"

Last week, Yama Tough, a member of "The Lords of Dharmaraja"--dharmaraja being Sanskrit for "just and righteous king"--hacktivist group, disclosed what he said were emails that had been captured by India's RINOA (for RIM, Nokia, and Apple) spy program. Some of those emails apparently contained details from secret negotiations conducted by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

A memo also leaked by Yama Tough--he said it was an official government document, which he'd found on an Indian Ministry of External Affairs server--referred to the Indian government's decision "made earlier this year to sign an agreement with mobile manufacturers in exchange for the Indian market presence," as well as to "backdoors provided by RINOA." That suggested that India had traded backdoor access to smartphones for high-technology manufacturers' access to India's telecommunications market.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday InfoSec Island reported that Yama Tough had provided it with what he said were U.S. government account-access credentials. "The data included 68 sets of usernames and passwords for compromised U.S. government network accounts which were said to have been acquired by hacking multiple servers belonging to India's Ministry of External affairs (mea.gov.in) and the National Informatics Centre (nic.in), amongst others," it said. Yama Tough said that was just a sample of the information that The Lords of Dharmaraja had stolen.

[ For more about the link between hackers and data breaches: Hack Attacks Now Leading Cause Of Data Breaches. ]

These weren't the The Lords of Dharmaraja's first exploits. Notably, the group has also taken credit for a leak of Symantec source code earlier this month. Symantec confirmed that the code for two of its older enterprise products--Endpoint Protection 11.0 and Antivirus 10.2--had been disclosed. Experts believe the source code may have been stolen from government servers and that Indian authorities may have demanded to see the security software source code before allowing the product to be sold in the country.

Despite that, however, at least some of the documents released by The Lords of Dharmaraja appear to have been faked. Thursday, Jeffrey Carr, CEO of Taia Global, reported that after studying the just-released RINOA emails from The Lords of Dharmaraja, he'd found that they were identical to the contents of the .bat file that the same hacking group had stolen from the Indian embassy in Paris in August 2011. That file supposedly contained a cache of email documents from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Reuters reported that it had obtained a copy of those emails, which the hacktivist group collected in the .bat file and posted to file-sharing sites last year, although it quickly became unavailable. "Dated between April and October last year, many of the emails were addressed to Bill Reinsch, a member of an official U.S. commission monitoring economic and security ties between the United States and China, including cyber-security issues," according to Reuters. It's unclear, however, if those emails were authentic.

Carr, however, said that at least some of what the group has released appears to be fake. Notably, the recently released RINOA memos had been redacted, but he said that the Indian civil service doesn't internally redact memos. "The Lords of Dharmaraja are mixing authentic stolen data with invented scenarios in order to get more publicity for themselves," he said, and recommended treating any of the group's future disclosures "with a high degree of suspicion."

If the memo was faked--and many besides Carr believe this to be the case--then what was the impetus? "Some people have been saying that it's most likely for marketing of this hacker group. I'm not so sure about that. It's just too good of a job. I think there might be other political or strategic motivations, other than just marketing these guys," said Jeff Schmidt, CEO of JAS Global Advisors, via phone.

Regardless of whoever may have faked the memos, there's a bigger-picture story here as well. "There's been so much data leaked and posted all over the place that now it's kind of easy to fabricate compromised data," he said. "Anyone can log into Pastebin, post a bunch of stuff, and say that we compromised this from here. And it's likely to get traction, because there's so much that's been going on. It seems like no system is secure, so there's almost a presumption of authenticity."

Indeed, earlier this week, an Anonymous and AntiSec affiliate posted what it claimed were IP addresses and access credentials for 10 Israeli supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. But via email, Shai Blitzblau, group managing director for Maglan-Information Defense Technologies, said that his firm had analyzed the published IP addresses, and found that none had anything to do with SCADA systems.

If The Lords of Dharmaraja faked some of the information they released, however, some of the information it disclosed--including the Symantec source code--is real, and that points to another big-picture trend: every country, including India, spies on other countries. "All of the emphasis and focus has been on China, and certainly China is an actor in this space, but certainly they're not the only actor. If you go back over the history of state sponsored spying, the reality is that everyone spies on everybody," said Schmidt at JAS Global Advisors.

"Allies spy on allies, enemies spy on their friends; it's common knowledge, it's been happening as long as there have been governments, and it will always keep happening," he said. "Cyber is a new theater in which to spy, and you should assume that people are using it to spy."

Motivations, of course, may differ. Notably, Michael Hayden, a former director of both the CIA and NSA, said last month at the Black Hat conference in Abu Dhabi that while many governments spy for industrial espionage purposes, to help their private-sector businesses, the United States--and in particular the NSA- spy only on other governments. "We steal secrets, you bet. But we steal secrets that are essential for American security and safety,” he said. “We don't steal secrets for American commerce, for American profit. There are many other countries in the world that do not so self-limit."

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About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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