Chinese state hackers seeded India's power grid with cyber malware as the rivals last year skirmished over a disputed border in the Himalayas, a report has found.
As the standoff continued, Chinese illicit programs were being inserted into control systems managing India's power supply, as well as a high-voltage transmission substation and a coal-fired power plant.
The disclosure lends weight to the idea that a massive power outage in Mumbai last year was a deliberate attack by China to warn India not to press its claim, the New York Times reported.
The October 12 blackout in India's financial capital shut down the stock market and trains and forced hospitals to run emergency back-up generators.
Indian officials at the time said state-sponsored cyber attackers were suspected to be behind the blackout.
A new report by Recorded Future, a firm that monitors state cyber activity, found a sharp increase in attacks by Chinese-backed groups from the start of last year. That increased further from the middle of the year.
Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in hand-to-hand fighting in Ladakh over the summer as the armies clashed over the disputed border.
Record Future found “a concerted campaign against India’s critical infrastructure”, with 10 different power sector organisations targeted, including centres for balancing supply and demand in the power grid.
Stuart Solomon, Recorded Future’s chief operating officer, said that the Chinese state-sponsored group, which the firm named Red Echo, “has been seen to systematically utilise advanced cyberintrusion techniques to quietly gain a foothold in nearly a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure”.
Most of the malware was never activated. But even just by signalling that it has the capability, China could potentially wield significant deterrence against India, experts suggested.