China has long been accused of carrying out state-backed cyber attacks and cyber espionage activities against numerous nations, including India. After a recent Indian Express investigation found out about China’s state-backed cyber surveillance act against thousands of Indians, a new report by an USA-based research institute focused on China has underlined numerous cyber attacks made by China on India spanning over a decade. Of all these cyber attacks, one of the most notable ones, the study notes, was an attack on India’s satellite communications networks in 2017.
Counter-space activities are not unheard of. However, the study, published by China Aerospace Studies Institute (CASI), affirmed that not only has China attempted to launch cyber attacks targeted to debilitate something as critical as satellite communications, its military division, People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has also continued to acquire and commission newer technologies that are geared towards complete cyber warfare. These may include tools for cyber espionage, data manipulation, political interference and impact on critical sector infrastructure – such as defence, oil and gas, energy (including nuclear energy), space and more.
India’s space and satellite operations are handled by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). So far, ISRO chief K. Sivan has denied any instance of cyber attacks impacting ISRO data or operations. However, Sivan has consistently acknowledged that cyber attacks have consistently targeted ISRO over the past few years, albeit without success. A cyber attack of this nature, as has been mentioned in CASI’s study, would prove to be particularly critical for any nation, as it can impact ground satellite and network stations, telemetry and command systems, all of which can in turn take out satellites placed in our geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) – all without launching physical warfare.
According to a Times of India report on the matter, this study compounds on findings made by a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report from 2019. According to the report, China already has sophisticated cyber infrastructure that is capable of intercepting and damaging spacecraft and satellite communication systems. This corroborates with recent reports of sophisticated cyber surveillance, which China is reportedly using to contribute to its hybrid warfare tactics.