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Fake Lords of Dharmaraja

A group of ‘Indian’ hackers calling themselves "The Lords of Dharmaraja" recently broke into government servers and released documents to show that New Delhi was running an elaborate hacking operation targeting US officials.

They made public, among other things, a memo supposedly written by India's Directorate General of Military Intelligence. The memo reveals mobile handset manufacturers, Apple, RIM, Nokia et al., creating a backdoor for Indian authorities to spy on their users.

Lords created a sensation; many rushed to club India with China as a cyber delinquent. ‘Forbes’ said the claims, if proved, were historic, as they would provide the first documented case of state-sponsored cyber espionage.

Several inconsistencies immediately surfaced, casting doubt on the claims. There are ten Indian security agencies with the power to launch technical surveillance. Military Intelligence is not one of them. The hackers also said they found Symantec source code in Indian government servers and made it public with much fanfare; the code turned out to be half-a-decade old, of only vintage value to any self-respecting hacker.

Security publication ‘Infosec’ published an interview with YamaTough, a spokesman of the Lords, who rambles through mutilated words. He says Lords attacked Indian government to force a pro-US tilt in the government!

Yama has a low opinion of Indian officials; after getting hacked they just traced the infected machines and changed passwords, which, however, continue to host the keylogging software inserted by hackers. According to him, Indian officials forward sensitive information to their free Yahoo mails for backups.  Not exactly the nerdy kind running a sophisticated cyber espionage operation, as alleged earlier. If he is right, their incompetence may be their best defence.

FBI is probing the surveillance charge on the US officials; but the Lords’ credibility is eroding. More than serving any patriotic cause, it is clear that hackers were trying to embarrass India.

There is a good chance that they are not even Indian. Though it is hard to say where they come from, there are some leads. The Twitter profile picture of the Lords initially had a Tibetan rendering of the Indian God of Death. The MI memo is a likely but an excellent fake, which mimics the torturous language used by Indian babus. Hackers are not known for their love of English language and the fabrication of the memo suggests the involvement of larger, possibly other government agencies, hostile to the growing Indian and US relationship. The mystery is slowly unravelling and it is no longer India’s Wikileak moment as it was initially thought to be.

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