Wednesday, July 30, 2003

CALCUTTA — As the Indian and Pakistani governments seek to ease tensions between the two countries, computer-hacking clubs on both sides of the border, with names such as “Spy” and “Snakes,” are engaged in a cyber-war with attacks and counterattacks on official Web sites.

Indian Spy, a hacker claiming to represent Indian Hackers Club (IHC), said this week his group defaced several Pakistani sites and posted messages therein challenging and ridiculing pro-Pakistan hackers who had been targeting Indian Web sites.

On one defaced Pakistani site, Indian Snakes, considered the most active Indian hacker group, recently threatened to unleash Yaha-Q virus — the latest in its Yaha series — again if Pakistani hackers did not cease attacks on Indian sites.

Between March and May, the group paralyzed Pakistani government sites for five weeks with Yaha-series viruses.

Other pro-Indian hacker groups that have claimed attacks on Pakistani sites include Nirvana and Emperor. Some hackers pursue their activities alone. Experts identified Roxx of Calcutta and Cobra of Thiruvananthapuram as the “star hackers” in the Indian Snakes. The group comprises about six hackers from across the country.

A Bangalore-based hacker said these Web skirmishes would soon give way to an all-out computer-virus war. His group has taken responsibility for unleashing an unnamed virus earlier this year that immobilized about 200 Pakistani Web sites in two days, erasing files from the hard disks of more than 3,000 computers.

“We have the capability to program viruses that can destroy [Pakistani] servers, networks and e-mail services,” the hacker said on the condition of anonymity.

Another hacker, who called himself Xtremist, said threats and counterthreats by Indian and Pakistani hackers are expected to intensify in the coming months.

According to some Indian experts, the pro-Pakistan hackers have been more active than their foes. While Indian hackers have been lying low since the Yaha-Q attack in March, Pakistanis have been wreaking havoc on Indian sites, Pakistani and Indian Internet security experts say.

So far this year, 114 Pakistani sites have been hacked by pro-India operators while Pakistani groups have hacked or defaced as many as 766 Indian sites — 208 in June alone. Last year, 288 Indian sites were hacked.

“For every Pakistani site defaced by Indian hackers, the Pakistanis hack into 10 Indian sites. There is a constant game of upmanship happening online,” said Anubhab Kalia of New Delhi’s, a service monitoring attacks on Indian sites.

According to Vasant Valavan, a Madras-based Internet security expert, the Indian Snakes’ March attack with Yaha proved devastating for Pakistan.

Several Pakistani government sites, Internet-service providers and the Karachi Stock Exchange were so severely damaged they had to seek help from Western experts to restore and safeguard those sites, he said.

“This provoked the Pakistanis, and right now, spearheaded by “Federal Bureau of Hackers” (FBH), they have embarked on a never-seen-before kill, targeting Indian sites at random,” Mr. Valavan said.

Relations between New Delhi and Islamabad deteriorated after an attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, which India blamed on Pakistan-based Islamist militants. The two countries massed thousands of troops on the border, recalled ambassadors and suspended transport services as tension mounted.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, during a landmark visit to Kashmir, promised to find a solution to the dispute over the territory claimed by both countries. Since then, the two countries have named ambassadors and restarted a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore, Pakistan.

The cyber-war, which started four years ago, thus far has been confined to hacking — getting into a rival-country Web site and replacing a page with propaganda messages, usually about Kashmir in the case of Pakistani hackers and about terrorism in the case of Indian hackers.

When terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament, Pakistani hackers attacked the official site of the Indian Defense Ministry and inserted messages proclaiming independence for Kashmir.

“Though we have enacted cyber-laws, there is not much awareness in the country about security risks arising from cyber-attacks, nor is there any proper training for law-enforcing agencies to deal with the crime,” said 18-year-old Indian “ethical hacker” Ankit Fadia, who shot to fame by authoring an “unofficial guide to ethical hacking” at age 14.

An independent computer-security and digital-intelligence consultant, Mr. Fadia recently assisted India’s Central Bureau of Investigation in tracing 15 Pakistani hackers who defaced Indian Web sites and posted anti-India messages.

Some Pakistani analysts say a few Indians masquerading as Pakistanis have begun a campaign involving the United States on the Internet.

“A good number of Web sites have been set up by Indians in a web of deceit, with the main aim being to lay the blame on Kashmiris and Muslims,” one unnamed Pakistani systems analyst told Pakistan’s Daily Times recently.

In the case of at least two Web sites, evidence showed they were based in New Delhi, he said.

“The content is quite scandalous and exaggerates the extent of anti-U.S. feeling in Pakistan. The real purpose behind this, however, is apparently to set the U.S. against the Pakistanis, who are all depicted as militants,” he said.

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