Kaalkut. Chapter 14

22 June 2017
11:00 am, Local Time

Roland Bakker had been staring at his desktop screens for the whole night with just a few bathroom and coffee breaks. His work as a security analyst for one of the top network security firms in Europe and his own nature meant that he never could develop a healthy work life balance.  It was not uncommon for him to spend weeks cooped up in his apartment ignoring all but most vital phone calls and emails. He considered himself to be a kind of internet detective keeping poorly designed computer and communication networks safe from malicious people and more often than not, human stupidity. 

Most of his work was done solo and he enjoyed the focus that solitude provided him. But for this job, he had to take assistance from another person. Few months back, he had discovered some information about security flaws in the new network equipment which was being used in most of western world. He had seen a data dump leaked by an anonymous hacker on a dark web forum which was soon taken offline. But he had managed to download the dump and had spent 2 months labouriously analysing every bit of it.

 There was just enough information for him to discover that many telecom exchanges in Europe were transmitting user data to certain servers in a way they were not supposed to.  But his expertise had reached it’s limits and he needed help from a hardware expert who specialised in chip design. They had both worked for 6 weeks putting together puzzle pieces one by one and it seemed like all the hard work was finally bearing fruit.

He read the email that his hardware expert friend had sent and dialled his boss’s number. 

“Hey Roland, you finally called. I was getting worried about you.” Jasper said in his usual cheerful tone.

“Hello Jasper. Sure you were. I wish I had more time to ask what exactly had gotten you worried, but this is very important and I need your approval immediately.”

Jasper took a serious tone of voice, “Ofcourse, what is this about?”

Roland started talking even before Jasper had finished. “You know about the data leaks from telecom exchanges I was working on, right? The thing is, well as far as I’ve been able to discover that these are not random data leaks but very cleverly planned thefts. This is very serious.”

“All the data thefts are serious in our line of work Roland”, came the reply.

“Well, that’s true but I can guarantee you that this one is going to be as big as Edward Snowden incident. But it’s not the Americans this time but Chinese and you wouldn’t believe how celeverly they have done it. They have their malware in almost every single telecom exchange which has equipment from Xianji. Actually the malware is a very small chip, looks just like a normal diode and is embedded in almost every single Xianji router and switch I’ve managed to analyse. I had Merlin go over the chip and he was the one who actually discovered it.”

“Wait, wait. Jasper interjected. “What exactly have you discovered?”

“In case you didn’t know, a very large number of  telecom exchanges which handle voice and data traffic have Xianji hardware these days. This is not just limited to 2-3 countries, but atleast 40 that I know of. And Chinese are eavesdropping on all that data flowing through their equipment. I’ve sent you circuit level analysis of the chip done by Merlin and a sample of data which it transmits to a group of servers spread in different parts of the world. Chinese have the capability to steal almost any type of voice or computer networks data with this and they’re doing it right now.

And before you ask; No, Xianji is not gathering generic anonymous user or diagnostic data or downloading updates or any other benign stuff. These are data dumps from our data exchanges being stolen by Xianji. Well by Chinese government to be exact.”

  Jasper stayed quiet for a moment, then asked, “How sure are you about this? You know that information of this kind can disrupt international relations, right?”

“I’d not have called you if I was not sure.”Came the reply. 

“When can you send me a full report? I want to get it checked and published as soon as possible.”

“You’ll get it by tomorrow evening. Bye for now“ Roland replied and disconnected the call.

27 June 2017


Xijiang accused of spying on it’s users

In a potentially explosive development, one Amsterdam based web security firm has claimed that Xijiang, one of the biggest telecommunication companies in the world is running a massive global spying ring through it’s equipment. They are alleged to be stealing user data through it’s equipment which is being used in multiple telecom networks around the world. What makes it even more concerning is that the data is apparently being stolen to help Chinese government spy on foreign citizens.

Axone Infosec, the company which published the article has further claimed that the majority of XIjiang’s telecom equipment used in data and voice traffic  has a hardware trojan which captures data passing through it and sends it to unverified servers without the user’s knowledge. This trojan can also operate as a killswitch to cripple communication networks wherever they’re installed. In simple terms, it means that any one with access to this trojan can cripple vital telecom networks in a cyber attack. The article has detailed circuit diagrams of a very small chip which Axone claims has no other feasible purpose and yet is present on nearly two-thirds of Xijiang routers, switches and various other equipment they tested. 

Xijiang has released a brief press statement dismissing Axone’s claim as mere fiction and claimed that the company is open to any legal investigation of it’s equipment by certified professionals. The press release also claimed that absolutely no user data is either captured or stolen by any of it’s equipment for spying or any other nefarious purpose. But this statement has done little to check the fall of share prices of the company which have fallen by 21% since the report was published.

Some right wing political parties in multiple countries including France, Sweden and Germany have already called for a total ban on all Chinese companies from bidding in creation of new 5G and broadband networks in Europe. This demand is gathering more supporters with each passing day. BPTEL, biggest telecom operator in France with 7 million subscribers on it’s Xijiang equipment based voice and data networks has said that it’s investigating the allegations. 

Italian LHCom which was in talks with Xijiang for a new 5G network has suspended the process pending further investigations. 

US Federal Communications Commission has also announced the creation of a committee to investigate this issue. Atleast two of the major American telecom companies use Xijiang equipment in their networks.

As of now, we are not sure whether these allegations are true or not. But this incident has brought the issue of user privacy and corporate espionage in limelight once again.

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