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A chart of data breaches is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 16, 2015, as witnesses testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing on the Office of Personnel Management data breach.

Mustang Panda is a Chinese hacking group that is suspected of attempting to infiltrate the Indonesian government last month.

The reported breach, which the Indonesians denied, fits the pattern of China's recent cyberespionage campaigns. These attacks have been increasing over the past year, experts say, in search of social, economic and political intelligence from Asian countries and other nations across the globe.

"There's been an upswing," said Ben Read, director of cyberespionage analysis at Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, in an interview with VOA. Cyber operations stemming from China are "pretty extensive campaigns that haven't seemed to be restrained at all," he said.

'Large-scale and indiscriminate'

For years, China was considered the United States' main cyber adversary, having coordinated teams both inside and outside the government conducting cyberespionage campaigns that were "large-scale and indiscriminate," Josephine Wolff, an associate professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University, told VOA.

The 2014-15 hack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in which the personnel records of 22 million federal workers were compromised, was a case in point — a "big grab," she said.

After a 2015 cybersecurity agreement between then-U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, attacks from China declined, at least against the West, experts say.

Hacking rising with rhetoric

But as tensions rose between Beijing and Washington during the Trump presidency, Chinese cyberespionage also increased. Over the past year, experts have attributed notable hacks in the U.S., Europe and Asia to China's Ministry of State Security, the nation's civilian intelligence agency, which has taken the lead in Beijing's cyberespionage, consolidating efforts by the People's Liberation Army.

TAG-28, a Chinese state-sponsored hacking team focused on the Indian subcontinent, reportedly infiltrated targets that included the Indian government agency in charge of a database of biometric and digital identity information for more than 1 billion people, according to The Record, a media site focused on cybersecurity.

A Microsoft report released in October accuses the Chinese hacking group Chromium of targeting universities in Hong Kong and Taiwan and going after other countries' governments and telecommunication providers.

A Microsoft building in Beijing, China A woman walks by the Microsoft office building in Beijing, July 20, 2021. The Biden administration and Western allies formally blamed China the day before for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software. Image source: voa

Hafnium, the name Microsoft gave to a Chinese hacking group, was behind the Microsoft Exchange hack earlier this year, according to the company and the Biden administration. Chinese hacking teams, Microsoft reported, took advantage of a weakness in the software to grab what they could before an emergency patch could be issued.

Scooping up data

A National Public Radio investigation asserted that the Microsoft Exchange hack may have been, in part, an information scoop aimed at acquiring large amounts of data to train China's artificial intelligence assets.

Hafnium also targets higher education, defense industry firms, think tanks, law firms and nongovernmental organizations, the Microsoft report said. Another group from China, Nickel — also known as APT15 and Vixen Panda — targets governments in Central and South America and Europe, Microsoft said.

"What you are seeing now is this realization that Chinese espionage never disappeared and has become more technologically sophisticated," Wolff said.

White House response

The Biden administration has stepped up its response to Chinese hacking. Over the summer, the U.S. and its allies, including the European Union, NATO and the United Kingdom, accused China of being behind the Microsoft hack and called on Beijing to cease the activity.

The Biden administration has not indicted anyone related to the Microsoft Exchange hack, nor has it instituted economic or other sanctions against China.

However, the U.S. unsealed in July an indictment against four members of China's Ministry of State Security in a separate attack conducted by a group that security researchers call Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 40, Bronze, Mohawk and other names.

A Chinese government spokesman demanded that the U.S. drop the charges and denied the nation was behind the Microsoft Exchange hack.

"The United States ganged up with its allies to make unwarranted accusations against Chinese cybersecurity," said Zhao Lijian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, in a July statement. "This was made up out of thin air and confused right and wrong. It is purely a smear and suppression with political motives."

Pulse app secures smartphones and computers An icon for the Pulse Secure smartphone app, right, and a computer desktop info page are seen in Burke, Va., June 14, 2021. Suspected state-backed Chinese hackers penetrated the computer systems of critical U.S. entities by exploiting Pulse Connect Secure networking devices. Source:voa

Pushing back

While China has stepped up its use of hacking, it has not crossed what some cyber experts say is a bright line in cyberespionage: public, overt hacks, such as the Russian disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, in May, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware hack, which was attributed to Russian-based cybercriminals.

China's aims appear to be long term and both economic and strategic, such as shoring up its capabilities "so they are not only well defended but surpass capacities," Philip Reiner, the CEO of the Institute for Security and Technology, told VOA.

A collective push from world leaders that cyberespionage is unacceptable might resonate with Chinese leaders in Beijing, who want to be accepted on the world stage, he said. Detailing clear consequences for state-sponsored hacks is also critical, he said.

Without a strong push from the U.S. and its allies, experts say, China's state-sponsored cyberattacks will continue. (VOA/RN)

Keywords: China, Cyber attacks, Microsoft, Hacking


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.