Following China illegally occupying territory in the mountainous Himalayan terrain, and Indian troops pushing back the intruders, the ensuing clash resulted in a border skirmish which saw scores of soldiers dead. While the Indian army declared and buried its dead soldiers with full military honors, media reports show Beijing buried its dead soldiers in unmarked graves.

Following the border skirmishing, there has been an increase in malware flowing into India’s electric grid as per a new study. A blackout also hit Mumbai which looks like a warning from China.

Chinese cyber attacks also resulted in the shutdown of Indian trains and the stock market closing because of power cut. Mumbai a city of 20 million people were was affected because of the cyber attack on India’s electrical grid. Hospitals were forced to switch on emergency generators to keep ventilators running midst the coronavirus-induced COVID-19 pandemic which first emerged from Wuhan, China.

A new study into the two events lends weight that the skirmish in the Himalayas and the loss of power in India’s power grid all point to a Chinese cyber attack on a key infrastructure. Essentially what China is saying, if India presses its claim very hard, lights could go out across the country.

The Chinese threat of cyberattack on India’s electrical grid only lends weight to concerns of giving market access to Chinese companies in key technology areas such as telecommunications, especially 5G.

The flow of Chinese malware into India’s power grid was pieced together by Recorded Future, a company that studies the use of the internet by state actors. The study concluded that despite the cyber campaign to attack the power grid, most of the malware was never activated because it could not get inside India’s power systems.

The company has notified Indian authorities who have yet to report on their findings.

According to Stuart Solomon, Recorded Future’s chief operating officer, a Chinese state-sponsored group, dubbed Red Echo, “has been seen to systematically utilize advanced cyberintrusion techniques to quietly gain a foothold in nearly a dozen critical nodes across the Indian power generation and transmission infrastructure.”

On October 13, 2020 there was a massive power outage in Mumbai, the country’s busiest business hubs. News reports at that time said, the probable cause of a cyber attack of Chinese origin.

Indian authorities officials have maintained silence on the Chinese code that was provided by Recorded Future as evidence. Recorded Future maintains that India’s electric grid was the target of a sophisticated Chinese hacking effort.

According to a former Indian diplomat, New Delhi is maintaining a diplomatic silence over the issue since it could complicate efforts made by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to ease the border tensions.

According to Recorded Futures investigators, while “the alleged link between the outage and the discovery of the unspecified malware” in the system “remains unsubstantiated”, however “additional evidence suggested the coordinated targeting of the Indian load dispatch centers,” which balance the electrical demands across regions of the country.

“I think the signaling is being done” by China to indicate “that we can and we have the capability to do this in times of a crisis,” said retired Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a cyberexpert who oversaw India’s borders with Pakistan and China. “It’s like sending a warning to India that this capability exists with us.”

While both countries maintain medium-size nuclear arsenals, cyberattacks provide a country a strategic, psychological edge.

Russia pioneered the technique when it turned off the power in Ukraine several years ago.

The attack is likely to be counter-productive since it has renewed calls to replace Chinese-made hardware in India’s power sector and critical rail system, much like Washington’s clean network move to remove Chinese carriers from key U.S. infrastructures.

“The issue is we still haven’t been able to get rid of our dependence on foreign hardware and foreign software,” said General Hooda.

While ripping out existing infrastructure is difficult and expensive, safeguarding core strategic infrastructure from cyber attacks is worth every penny despite headwinds and costs.