DNA interview with Brahma Chellaney on Chinese cyber-espionage activities

‘Chinese are skilled and very savvy at espionage’

Venkatesan Vembu

DNA newspaper, Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HONG KONG: Strategic analyst, author and Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research Brahma Chellaney identifies lessons for India from reports of China’s cyber espionage.

On the latest reports of China’s electronic warfare.
The Chinese have a long-standing policy of conducting espionage at the highest levels of foreign governments. They also have a history of hacking into computers to steal data, and a tradition of stealing sensitive technology from other states. They are very savvy in espionage — and highly skilled at that. These revelations are a warning to all states that the Chinese are going to be making determined attempts to break into secured systems and steal sensitive technology. 

On the information security systems in place in India.
All countries have secure systems; it is impossible for any government to function without such systems. There are different levels of safeguardability with the Indian systems. When it comes to things like Indian missions overseas, their systems are minimally secured. It’s easy for hackers to break into certain systems in India because the government has not felt the need to secure every system up to a particular level. And that’s because there are costs involved: it needs personnel, technology and money. Even if the Chinese break into such a system, they are not going to get any information. Only when they get into highly sensitive systems will they get any useful information. 

On the merits of a good security system.
You cant have a foolproof system, and you don’t really want to make it foolproof against amateur hackers. What you want to do is secure sensitive data in the core of your system. When people break into the periphery, there’s not much damage done. You have to determine whether you are storing your most sensitive data at the core or spreading it out. If you are saving it in the core, it doesn’t matter how secure the outlying system are. 

On how India’s information system compares with others.
The quality and degree of securability of system vary. Some secure even systems that connect foreign missions to the headquarters. Others provide very minimal security. But the fact that hackers are getting increasingly adept at getting into systems means that a country like India will have to further upgrade its own secured systems. 

On the lessons for India.
India is on a learning curve, and its learning gradually. It needs to be a bit more cognisant of the electronic threats in today’s world and stay abreast of the latest technology in tomorrow’s warfare.


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