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In wake of mass panic, India blames Pakistan-backed cyber attack

India charges that websites in Pakistan engaged in cyber warfare because they promoted rumors that caused thousands of ethnic minorities to flee the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

By Correspondent / August 24, 2012

People from India's northeastern states crowd a railway station after disembarking a train from the southern Indian city of Bangalore on Monday, Aug. 20. Indian authorities have accused websites in Pakistan of spreading false rumors that caused thousands of people from India's remote northeast to panic and flee southern and western India.

Anupam Nath/AP

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Islamabad, Pakistan

Indian authorities have accused Pakistan of sponsoring a cyber attack against India, causing the panicked exodus of thousands of ethnic minorities from southern India last week.

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More than 35,000 people working and studying in southern and western Indian cities jammed train stations for about a week as they tried to flee in response to text-message warnings said to be from Indian Muslims angered at recent ethnic clashes in the northeast.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters on Sunday that his counterpart in India, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, complained to him about the recent cyber attack, claiming that investigators within India discovered that websites within Pakistan spread false rumors through doctored photos.

Pakistan's government denies any involvement. Some cybersecurity experts in Pakistan, however, say they have seen similar cyber attacks from groups backed by government and intelligence agencies before, and that those entities may be behind this one.

“Without the traffic data analysis, it will be hard to point any fingers, but as we saw in the case of doctored images spread on the Internet by religious organizations in Pakistan to exaggerate victimization of Muslims in Myanmar, it is very likely that the cyber attack in India could have links in Pakistan,” says Shahzad Ahmed, who is the country director in Pakistan for Bytes for All, an international Internet rights group that monitors cyber activities in the region.

“There is ongoing cyber warfare on both sides of the border," says Mr. Ahmed. "And this particular incident is an act of terror. It spread fear among people.”

According to Abdullah Saad, a cyber security expert based in Islamabad, these terror campaigns are socially engineered with an agenda, and they are becoming more common on both sides of the border.

“The cyber forces in Pakistan are using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites to do propaganda warfare. For example, every time a website is hacked, they leave a political message, which clearly shows the intent behind such defacement,” Mr. Saad says.

Dates to early 2000s

Saad, who has run an Internet consultancy company for almost a decade, says these types of cyber attacks came to light in the early 2000s, when hackers from both sides started defacing government websites.

“There are hypernationalists in Pakistan and India who want to claim superiority in the cyber world. They are usually young IT experts, but they cannot exist without help by elements in the state. And that is why they are becoming more and more sophisticated,” he says.

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