Indian hackers target Canadian military website amid row over murder of Sikh leader

Hardeep Singh Nijjar and Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau has been caught in a diplomatic spat with New Delhi over the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada

Hackers calling themselves the Indian Cyber Force have claimed credit for knocking the Canadian Armed Forces’ official website offline as a diplomatic row grows between the two countries.

The group, not thought to have formal links to New Delhi, said on Telegram that it had “taken down” the www.forces.ca website.

Operators of the channel shared a screenshot of an error page with the message “#f—canada”.

Last week they posted the message: “Get ready to feel the power of IndianCyberForce attacks will be launching on Canada cyber space… it’s for the mess your started”. [sic]

The cyberattack, thought to be a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) assault, came as tensions between New Delhi and Ottawa continued to simmer over the murder of an Indian dissident in Canada.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader in British Columbia, was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside Canada’s largest Sikh temple in June 2023.

Unacceptable violation of sovereignty

Justin Trudeau formally accused India of orchestrating the murder, saying: “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

India’s foreign ministry has denied the claims, calling them “absurd and motivated”.

The row deepened last week after India suspended the issuing of new visas to Canadians in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat retaliation.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was labelled a 'terrorist mastermind' by New Delhi - Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

Mr Nijjar was a vocal advocate for the Khalistan movement, which calls for the creation of a self-governing Sikh homeland within India.

New Delhi labelled him a terrorist “mastermind” and claimed he was a driving force behind the Khalistan Tiger Force, a separatist group banned under Indian anti-terror laws in February 2023.

An unofficial group whose modus operandi consists of temporarily knocking Indian critics’ websites offline, the Indian Cyber Force broadcasts its efforts through Telegram and Twitter.

Perfect tool for hacktivists

Brett Callow, a researcher with cyber security company Emsisoft, said: “Given current geopolitical tensions, Canadian organisations – and organisations everywhere, for that matter – should assume that these attacks will continue.

“They’re cheap, easy to carry out, and highly visible. That makes them the perfect tool for hacktivists or, in some cases, states’ cyber operations.”

In recent weeks the Indian Cyber Force has claimed to have taken down the websites of a Canadian hospital, the Bangladeshi police and Indonesia’s equivalent of the SAS.

DDoS attacks of the type deployed by the hacker gang are typically short-lived, lasting hours or days at most. Online criminal gangs maintain networks of hacked computers, known as botnets, which they use to flood targeted websites with millions of requests until the target collapses under the strain.

Most DDoS attacks are a method for internet activists to draw attention to themselves rather than a serious effort to cause damage.

Canada’s Cyber Security Establishment, the country’s equivalent of the UK National Cyber Security Centre, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Indian consulate in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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