Amid the ongoing tension at LAC, China seems to have launched a new war against multiple nations, including India without firing a single shot. According to a report published in the Indian Express, more than 10,000 people in India are being actively monitored under a surveillance programme run by Zhenhua Data Information Technology Co, a Shenzen-based technology company with links to the Chinese government, and the Chinese Communist Party. The company is known for engaging in 'Hybrid Warfare’ using the big data gained from mass surveillance.
Zhenhua monitored 10,000 people and organizations in India including those of President Ram Nath Kovid, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat. Apart from them, the Indians targeted include almost all other key Union ministers and CMs, the current and former chiefs of the armed forces, the chief justice and the CAG. Also, noted industry behemoths such as Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani were also being tracked. Clearly, the data collected were sweeping in their length and breadth.
The goals that this Chinese company identified for real-time surveillance in India were huge. Let’s know what is Hybrid Warfare and what data collected by China can be used for and its dangerous intention against India.
What is Hybrid Warfare?
Hybrid warfare refers to the use of unconventional methods as part of a multi-domain warfighting approach. These methods aim to disrupt and disable an opponent’s actions without engaging in open hostilities. It has involved a combination of activities, including disinformation, economic manipulation, use of proxies and insurgencies, diplomatic pressure and military actions. The term originally referred to irregular non-state actors with advanced military capabilities.
In early 1999, China's People’s Liberation Army devised a strategy for hybrid warfare called ‘unlimited warfare’ under which violence was to move from the military to political leaders, economies and technology. The masterminds of this new war were Colonel Kiao Liang and Colonel Wang Shiangsui from China.
Under Hybrid Warfare, China is increasing social animosity in its enemy country, disrupting economic activity and hollowing out institutions, tarnishing political leadership and its potential. After Russia’s success in Crimea without a war in 2014-15, now every second country is giving hybrid warfare a shot, a top cybersecurity expert said. However, no one has used it more extensively than China. China used it extensively in Hong Kong, he added.
What is Zhenhua Data Information Technology? How it works?
The Chinese company Zhenhua Data Information Technology targets individuals and organisations in politics, government, business, technology, media and civil society. The company has big links with the Chinese military and intelligence network. The company claims that it works closely with the Chinese intelligence agency, military and security agencies. Zhenhua closely monitors each move (digital footprints) of its target across social media platforms. Through this, the company maintains an ‘information library’ in which the content is not only kept as a news source, a forum, but also documents, patents, recruitment posts are kept.
Apart from Indian names, over 600 Australian leaders and personalities were also being secretly tracked by the firm, a report in ABC says. The list, which company called it of "special interests" had names of Australia's Supreme Court Judge Anthony Cavanough, retired Navy Admiral and former Lockheed Martin chief executive Raydon Gates, former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, ex Tasmanian Premier Tony Rundle and former foreign minister Bob Carr. Clearly, Indian are not the only target of this Chinese firm.
What information does it collect?
Information collected includes dates of birth, addresses, marital status, along with photographs, political associations, relatives and social media IDs, ABC News reports.
Collecting such massive data and weaving in public or sentiment analysis around these targets, Zhenhua offers “threat intelligence services.” Most importantly, this Chinese company also creates a database of connections with each other in which records of relationships with people, institutions and information are kept. The purpose behind preparing this huge database is to find out what is going on in the public mind about its goal.
Zhenhua collects personal information on the target from all social media accounts; keeps track of the target’s friends and relationships. The company analyses posts, likes and comments by friends and followers. It also collects private information about movements such as geographic location through Artificial Intelligence tools. Experts say that there is a dangerous motive behind the gathering of such data of the foreign company.
Zhenhua monitoring flout any laws in India?
Under the Information Technology Rules, 2011, under the IT Act, 2000, personal data is “any information regarding a natural person, which either directly or indirectly, in combination with other information available or likely to be available… is capable of identifying such person.” This, however, does not include information available freely or accessible in the public domain.
These rules also do not impose any conditions on the use of personal data for direct marketing etc. Many commercial entities access and aggregate such information for targeted advertisement. When it comes to the third-party collection of data (like what Zhenhua does), it is slightly complicated. “The key point here is that the company is undertaking this without consent… a third party scraping your geo-location from social media sites and sharing it with a rival country’s intelligence will be seen illegal, at least in some advanced jurisdictions," a data privacy expert who helped draft the new personal data protection Bill told Indian Express.
Does banning Chinese apps will have any effect?
Amid ongoing tension along LAC Ladakh between India and China, Central govt banned hundreds of Chinese apps for engaging in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the state and public order”. However, experts say that banning Chinese apps will not affect the intentions of China's Zhenhua. China’s strategy is to defeat the enemy through information pollution, image management and propaganda.
Several reports also claim that China is engaged in collecting highly sensitive military, intelligence and economic information from the US and Europe through social media. Shockingly, for this, the Chinese company does not even need to open an office in the US or any other country. Experts say that the threat of surveillance of foreign nationals of China is very real.