On February 14, three Indian Stock Market websites were attacked by two factions of hackers from Bangladesh know as the Bangladesh Black Hat Hackers (BBHH) and Bangladesh Cyber Army (BCA). The attack took place at peak hour, halting over 10 hours of transactions causing a loss of an estimated amount of 3 million rupees. And thus a group of teenagers from Bangladesh caused devastation in the financial sector of India on one fine afternoon. In the next two days, they attacked and hacked over 20,000 Indian websites. But these young rebels are not without a “cause”. This is story of those whose keyboards are the new triggers, whose computers are the new guns and the internet is the modern day battlefield.
Alina Saifuddin (14) was online on a fine Monday morning on February 20, 2012 and was going to check her favourite child-news site – www.durantonews.com when something unexpected appeared on screen. The colourful entrance page was not there anymore. Instead, it was a devious looking page with a black background saying “HACKED BY TEAM-GRAY-HAT – #targ3t BANGLADESH.”
This was one of some 1000 Bangladeshi websites that has been hacked by different Indian hacking groups in the past 10 days. Interestingly, the number claimed by the Bangladeshi camp is 20,000 overshadowing the menial 1000. Thus, as you have already deduced, a new breed of war has broken loose between Bangladesh and India. Technology specialists call this form of combat – “Cyber Warfare”. The Economist argues “Cyberspace (the internet) has become the fifth domain of warfare, after land, sea, air and space.” Historically the advent of “cyber war” dates back only to 2006, making it a post-modern form of war. In the 2006 war against Hezbollah, Israel alleged that cyber-warfare was part of the conflict, where the Israel Defence Force (IDF) intelligence estimated several countries in the Middle East used Russian hackers and scientists to operate on their behalf. Thus, the concept was previously familiar to the western world.
Consequently, the phenomenon that has unveiled itself upon the pre-existing tension between Bangladesh and India is nothing but “Cyber Warfare.” However, this war is not fought by the Army using guns and ammunition; rather the participants of this war are very different and this is what makes the war utterly intriguing from a bird’s eye view.
Who are the Militants?
The participants (or militants) of this war are not Kevlar clad Army personnel with firearms. As surprising as it may be, it is the youth ranging from the age of 15 to 24 who have ravaged the economy of India for several hours. Similar is true for the Indian counterpart of the war. In addition to the participants, the weapons used in this war are also different. The “keyboard” is the new “trigger”, the computer is the new “gun” and the internet is the new “battlefield.”
Two major groups of hackers have claimed responsibility for the cyber war on India and they are the Bangladesh Black Hat Hackers (BBHH) and Bangladesh Cyber Army (BCA). There are other groups out there who are supporting BBHH and BCA in the war. Besides the well known groups, the general youth are coming forward to support the cause through the social networking website Facebook. Interestingly, there are several celebrity hackers from Bangladesh to whom the others look up to and whose names appear accrediting their work on the defaced Indian websites. These celebrities include R3x0Man, JingoBD, and ManInDark et al., all of whom have more than 1000 hacks under their belts. In context of the cyber war on India, R3x0Man took responsibility for 255 Indian websites (as of Feb 14), JingoBD took down 45 Indian sites (as of Feb 14), and ManInDark took responsibility for hacking 30 Indian Government sites and 4 other high profile websites (as of Feb 15). It is natural that the hackers are using pseudonyms.
The rival camp of Bangladesh is led by 2 Indian hacking groups as well. The Indian hacking camp is led by the groups Indishell and Team Gray-Hat (TGH). The whole cavalry of the Indian camp is represented by their celebrity hacker Ash3ll from Indishell.
Declaration of War and Chronicles of the Strife
Hacking groups like BCA or BBHH are generally involved in hacking or defacing (the removal of the title page of a website, keeping all the content of the website unaltered) either to show their skills off or to point out vulnerability of a particular website that they have breached. However, the recent turn of events are not the run-of-the-mill hacks, rather these “hacks” are asserting a message from the Bangladeshi youth to the Indian government.
Earlier, on the 4th of Feb, the Indian Cyber Army (ICA) had attacked the websites of 5 ministries of Bangladesh. Later by Feb 12, 800 Indian websites were hacked by BBHH and that included the likes of National Information Centre (NIC) portal of India and All India Trinamool Congress (Mamata Banerjee’s website). However, the attacks on the Indian websites were not in retaliation to those attacks. Hackers from Bangladesh said the attack on Indian sites was in response to the alleged killings by BSF along the Indo-Bangladesh border. They further mentioned “We don’t have any personal issues with Indians. But the brutality of BSF as well as Indian government has forced us to do this”. BBHH also wrote “India hacked our 400 sites in total, we hacked 20,000 sites in total since war started” on their Facebook fan page on Feb 12.
By Feb 14, BBHH had taken responsibility for more than 20,000 hacks on Indian websites. The BBHH set forth their seven-fold demand to the Indian government along with images of BSF atrocities in the border region between India and Bangladesh. They had declared war on India’s cyberspace on the pages of every defacement that they had accomplished. It was until later (Feb 15) that the Indians “officially” retaliated and declared war from their side.
Indishell was a group that used to hack Pakistani sites for several years. They turned their attention towards Bangladesh extensively after the attacks on Indian websites prior to Feb 15 by BBHH. “FfeSsxt Prince”of Indishell gave an online statement that “After #0p [operation] Pottystan [Pakistan], thinking to start #0p [operation] BD [Bangladesh] against s0me lamers called BBHH.” Moreover, Ash3ll – leader of Indishell wrote to the admin of Internet Security Web Portal of The Security Ray (TSR), Isti Ak Ahmed saying “Isti Ak Ahmed sorry man i need a break my promise now. Bd hackers are going over limit now. sry man i need a put my Step in this nonsense because u guys hacking over limit sites. here I come”. Right after declaring the war on Bangladeshi cyberspace on Feb 15, Ash3ll hacked 6 Bangladeshi government websites including National Health library & Documentation Centre website and The National News website by himself. Later that night, “Godzilla” of Indishell hacked more than 100 government sites of Bangladesh including that of Bangladesh Police, BRTA, Coast Guard, Parjatan and others. Fortunately those sites were recovered within hours. Thus, the fight was on!
Motives and Demands
BBHH and BCA have asserted their seven-fold demands in every one of their defaced pages. In addition to text, BBHH releases regular video updates and demands that depict a masked newsreader with a synthesized voice who reads a text. The text reads
1. Stop hacking Bangladesh websites and stop all types of access to Bangladeshi Cyber Space completely
2. Stop killing innocent Bangladeshis at the BD-India borders
3. Stop Tipaimukh Dam
4. Sign the “Teesta Water Sharing Treaty”
5. Either Stop broadcasting if Indian media in Bangladeshi media in Bangladesh or let Bangladesh media enter India
6. Stop all anti-Bangladesh activities of BSF and punish all offenders for their deeds against Bangladesh
7. Last but not the least; India has to stop all activities which go against Bangladesh in any possible way.
If these points are not accepted, our next attacks will be much bigger. You might think we are done. But this is just the beginning. Our next target will be Indian Financial System, Communication System, IT Sector and Stock Exchange, and we promise these sites will be destroyed.”
The BBHH did in fact keep the promise they made. The very next day, they attacked 3 Indian Stock Market websites, namely www.dseindia.com, www.nseindia.com and www.paisacontrol.com and made them inactive for more than 10 hours which resulted in a loss of over 3 million rupees (the exact figure was not disclosed).
The group maintained “We don’t have any alliance with any political entity or organisation. We do not discriminate among anyone regardless of caste, creed and religion. We are not terrorists; we are protecting our cyber space.”
What the BBHH and BCA and their Indian rivals are doing can be categorized on 3 approaches and they are classical hacking, defacing and DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. However, very few “classical hack(ing)” have taken place in this war thus far. There has been a mass measure of the latter two at play.
Irtiza Ahmed – a specialist in Computer Security for EPIC systems in Wisconsin, USA discussed these hacking approaches with Dhaka Courier in an exclusive interview. He mentioned ” Denial of Service (DoS) is an attack that when mounted, the victim server runs out of resources and stops providing the specific service(s) for a minimum period of time. This is what was done to the Indian Stick Exchange in my observation. However, Defacing requires administrator or such access to the web server, which would allow the attacker to take control. An alternative way could be DNS cache poisoning; many web servers can be vulnerable to this interesting attack if they never installed the latest security patches.” When asked about how the hackers are still remaining anonymous, Mr. Ahmed iterated “There are bunch of obvious ways to achieve IP (which is something that is analogous to a virtual ID card) anonymity. The most trivial ones are use of proxy servers or VPN encapsulation. In my understanding this can be the most efficient way for executing attacks like DDoS, where the attacker prefers not to get a response from the victim.” When asked about the recovery time of the websites, the specialist articulated “Depends, primarily on the type of attack.” However it has been seen that the victimized Bangladeshi websites are taking an average of 4-5 hours to pull their servers up and running whereas the Indian websites are taking somewhat longer. Mr. Ahmed suggested both the sides to update their networking security to the very latest to combat the situation.
Bring in the Reinforcements
The largest Internet Security and Hacking news Portal – The Security Ray (TSR) said that Pakistani hackers Shadow008 and H4x0rl1f3 are supporting Bangladesh Cyber Army. Chliz Aceh, the famous Indonesian hacker is also supporting Bangladesh in this cyber war. Moreover, there has been switching of sides by some hacking groups as well. The famous hacking group 3xpir3, turned against Bangladesh in this war when they had posted their defacement of Pakistani website www.zeeautomation.com as a present to Bangladesh on 16th December 2011.
An Open Letter from the BBHH to the media of Bangladesh
Bangladesh Black Hat Hackers released a Bengali note as an open letter to the media on Feb 18, addressing their seven point demands. They wrote that they denounce and protest the statement of Dr. Dipu Moni, Foreign Minister of People’s Republic of Bangladesh in calling them “anti-liberation forces” and “Islamic fundamentalists”. They claimed that they do not discriminate among any religion or race. They further asserted that, calling them anti-liberation forces would only glorify the actual war-criminals who would be proud of the actions of BBHH. The hackers did not want to give credit to anyone but the regular Bangladeshi youth for what they believe to be noble.
They also denounced the comments of Mustafa Jabbar, veteran IT activist and former President of Bangladesh Computer Shamity (BCS) when he said that the hackers will bring dire consequences for Bangladesh. The hackers countered his argument by asking if they are a grave threat then why are killings by the BSF not getting enough attention from the government? They criticized the actions of our government and the diplomats as they further mentioned that had the diplomats done a better job, then they would not have to dive into the cyber warfare.
Media Attention and the Hackers’ Response
The activities of the Bangladeshi hackers have been getting quite some attention in the past few weeks. However it had drawn a climax when ATN news brought an “alleged” hacker named “code red” (with a mask on his face) and interviewed him on Feb 17.
However, BBHH and BCA responded to this in a matter of minutes exasperatedly. They explicitly claimed that there is no individual associated to any of the hacking group by the name of “Code Red”. They criticized and ridiculed this attempt of the media by calling it “fake and illegitimate”.
Legal and Diplomatic Repercussions
According to Weekly Blitz, members of the “Cyber Crime Prevention Team” and “Central Bureau of Investigation” from India have arrived in Bangladesh on Feb 14. This team came under various camouflages of civilians. The foreign ministry and telecommunication ministry are to give “silent directives” to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission [BTRC] and Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited [BTCL] to “extend all out cooperation” to the Indian team.
From legal standpoints, the Indian law suggests cyber crimes can involve criminal activities that are traditional in nature, such as theft, fraud etc. which are subject to the Indian Penal Code. The abuse of computers has also given birth to a gamut of new age crimes that are addressed by the Information Technology Act, 2000. Therefore, under Indian legal system, the attacks such as DDoS are explicitly mentioned as criminal acts. However there is particular law to combat these actions in Bangladeshi law (ICT Act of 2006) even though it has the copyright infringement laws on software piracy said District Judge Maqbul Ahsan. Even though there are no specific laws against hacking in Bangladesh, he further suggested that, this problem will be further complicated due to the role of jurisdiction since it is happening on international grounds.
As for diplomatic relations between the two states of Bangladesh and India, the matter is grey. Dr. Amena Mohsin, Professor of International Relations of University of Dhaka, in a brief interview with Dhaka Courier stated that this strife is not technically between the two states; rather they are between two factions or groups who have their own agendas. As for Bangladesh claiming their cause to be of raising awareness of BSF atrocities, she sees it positively. She argues that whenever states are not in paying necessary heed to criminal acts (like that of the BSF killings), it is for the non-state actors (like that of the hacker groups) to step up and do whatever is in their powers to raise awareness. Since the information flow of today’s world is almost uncontrollable (referring to Wikileaks), she interpreted that this conflict will not necessarily create a bad liaison between the “state actors” since the issue has been caused by “non-state actors”.
The Bangladesh Black Hat Hackers (BBHH) and Bangladesh Cyber Army (BCA) have a total number of 38004 and 13389 fans as of Feb 20 and the number is only rising. Therefore, the groups calling themselves “hacktivists” as opposed to mere “hackers” are gaining popularity and getting their message across. There are two ways of going about solving the cyber unrest. One way is to neutralize it, which is a long shot to say the least and the other is to make better diplomatic relations to secure the lives of Bangladeshis from the inhumane atrocities committed by the BSF.