10 January 2012

U.S. probes alleged hacking by India govt spy unit

U.S. authorities are investigating allegations that an Indian government spy unit hacked into emails of an official U.S. commission that monitors economic and security relations between the United States and China, including cyber-security issues.

The request for an investigation came after hackers posted on the Internet what purports to be an Indian military intelligence document on cyber-spying, which discusses plans to target the commission - apparently using technical know-how provided by Western mobile phone manufacturers.

Appended to the document are transcripts of what are said to be email exchanges among commission members.

The document's authenticity could not be independently verified. But the U.S.-China commission is not denying the authenticity of the emails.

Officials in India could not be reached for comment on the document's content or authenticity. One India-based website quoted an unnamed army representative as denying that India used mobile companies to spy on the commission and calling the documents forged.

The purported memo says that India cut a technological agreement - the details are not clear - with mobile phone manufacturers "in exchange for the Indian market presence." It cites three: Research in Motion (RIM.TO), maker of the BlackBerry; Nokia (NOK1V.HE); and Apple (AAPL.O).

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said her company had not provided the Indian government with backdoor access to its products. A spokesman for Nokia declined comment; RIM officials could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Congress created the commission in 2000 to investigate and report on the national security implications of the economic relationship between the United States and China. The bipartisan, 12-member panel holds periodic hearings each year on China-related topics such as cyber security, weapons proliferation, energy, international trade compliance, and information policy.

The email breach, if confirmed, would be the latest in a series of cyber intrusions that have struck U.S. institutions ranging from the Pentagon and defense contractors to Google Inc (GOOG.O).

Many of the previous hacks have been blamed on China. In this case, it is unclear whether India might have been eavesdropping on the U.S.-China commission for itself or sought to pass any information collected to authorities in China.

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