A Chinese-only website of Zhenhua Data Information Technology, who is responsible for monitoring foreign targets was pulled down right after The Indian Express approached it for comment earlier this month. Immediately right after the website chinarevival.com is completely shut down and is nowhere to be found on the internet. It targets individuals, organizations in politics, business, government, technology, media, and civil society. Zhenhua has been linked to Beijing’s military and security agencies. It monitor’s the subject’s digital footprint across social media platforms and maintains its own “information library”.
The range of the targets and the extent of the information that is leaked is astonishing. Zhenhua’s top client includes the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party.
This mass surveillance involves over 2.4 million where almost 35000+ are Australians and over 10000+ Indians from the PM Narendra Modi to the President under its radar. Personal details like date of birth, address, political association, social media, and criminal activity records have been swept off and arranged by the Chinese tech company.
Data is publicly available as it is, then what’s the bigger picture?
Zhenhua’s 24/7 surveillance accumulates private information on the subject from all social media accounts like Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Facebook, and also keeps a record on the subject’s friends and relationships, likes, and collects private information about their geographic location through AI tools. So, it is not the data per se but the range and the degree to which the information may be put to use to raise questions and red flags. Without guidance or oversight, such data could serve a wide range of purposes. Seemingly innocuous granular information may be put together in a more comprehensive framework for deliberate tactical maneuvering and that’s at the heart of what Zhenhua itself flaunts at its role in “Hybrid Warfare”.
Researchers say that the massive collection of information that is being used at a psychological warfare tool is that it manipulates people’s opinion, a lot of companies have come under the scanner for actually using the social medium to manipulate the public.
Who were spied on in Australia, India, the UK?
Reports claim that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to billionaire Mike Cannon Brookes, even singer Natalia Imbruglia, David Oldfield, News Corp journalist Ellen Whinnett as some of the names being spied. The length of the cyber espionage is massive as they were currently snooping PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and the list also include Sachin Tendulkar, Ratan Tata, Udhhav Thackeray, Naveen Patnaik, Cheif Of Defence Staff Bipin Singh Rawat, Bharat Pe payment app founder Nipun Mehra and many more. Reports from the US claim that the Chinese tech Zhenhua has also managed to gather information on the members of the Royal Family like the Queen, Prince Charles, Princess Diana.
What happens if Zhenhua is spying on us?
As flare-ups amplified along the Line of Actual Control, India has blocked over 100 Chinese apps for engaging in activities that could hamper the security of the nation but such moves won’t affect the operation conducted by Zhenhua. There have been a string of recent reports on China’s attempt to cultivate potential assets for sensitive military, intelligence, or economic information in the US and Europe through social media.
Hence in this Hybrid Warfare, every piece of information that is gathered can be potentially used to co-relate and synthesize to fulfill some strategic end, and the potential to what extent this data could be used is against us should be something that should worry us.
Canberra based cyber consultancy Internet 2.0 states they were able to extract the data of around 2,50,000 people from the list of leaked personnel. Internet 2.0’s chief executive Robert Potter said Zhenhua has built the capacity to track naval vessels and defense assets to access the careers of military officers and to prepare themselves against the top competitors of China.
Zhenhua has managed to gather out most of the information from the “dark web”. This humongous pile of data goes much beyond our imagination which is being referred to a complex global operation using Artificial Intelligence to tamper public data and involve profiles of organizations and individuals and using them for comprising opportunities.
Chief Executive of Zhenhua, Wang Xuefeng, a former IBM employee who has previously used WeChat, a Chinese social media app to support hybrid warfare with the help of public manipulation and psychological warfare.
Although no comment has yet been received from Zhenhua regarding this matter.
The names of 656 Australians on the list are categorized as being of “special interest” or “politically exposed” and the purpose behind these terms are yet to be explained but the people on the list are diverse in occupation and background and there is almost no possible explanation as to who has incorporated the list.
This entire database was however leaked to Professor Chris Balding, a former US academic who was based in Vietnam until 2018 where he working at the prestigious Perking University. He had to leave China as he sensed fear for his physical safety.
Professor Balding told the ABC; “China is building out massive surveillance state both domestically and internationally” and they are using a large variety of tools from various public and non-public sources.
Zhenhua especially shows interests in the military sector where they are tracking promotion prospects of officers and political networks. Zhenhua brags about owning 20 collection nodes all around the world to secure a humongous amount of data and send it back to China. Two of the nodes have been recognized, out of which one of them is situated in Kansas, the United States while the other is in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The Australian node is yet to be detected.