Panic in India over mass cyber attack

Panic in India over mass cyber attack

NEW DELHI - Mandarin character in an error message on the inaccessible website of the ministry of defence, a tweet by the defence minister that hinted at a possible hacking, and the subsequent inaccessibility of at least nine other government websites, created panic on Friday about a possible mass cyber attack aimed at India by Chinese hackers, but it proved to be a false alarm.

National cyber security chief Gulshan Rai said the 10 websites hosted by the National Informatics Centre went down after a hardware failure. The initial reaction of the defence minister, as well as the spokespersons of some of the other ministries (who did not know why their websites were down) was that there had been a hack.

“There is no hacking or coordinated cyber attack on website of central ministries. There was a hardware failure in the storage network system at the NIC which resulted in a number of government websites being serviced by that system going down. We are working to replace the hardware and these websites will be up soon,” said Rai.

Rai is the top cyber security official in the Prime Minister’s Office. He said in all 10 government websites went down and few of them including that of the Central Vigilance Commission and civil aviation ministry have been restored.

The rapid inaccessibility of the government websites were reminiscent of a textbook distributed denial of service or DDOS attack where users can’t access a website because bots load it with traffic and queries. The Mandarin character complicated matters further, but it turned out that it stands for Zen, after a design theme offered by Drupal, an open-source content management system for websites.

The fact that the websites went down on account of a hardware failure is still worrying, say experts, as is the fact that they didn’t seem to have a back-up.

Friday evening’s alarm was triggered by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s tweet that said, “Action is initiated after the hacking of MoD website. The website shall be restored shortly. Needless to say, every possible step required to prevent any such eventuality in the future will be taken.”