Weeks after India banned several Chinese applications citing threat to national security, integrity, the country has now been attacked by a "hybrid warfare" after a Shenzen-based technology company with links to the Chinese government and Communist Party, is watching and monitoring over 10,000 individuals in India and organisations who constitute China's "foreign targets," an investigation by The Indian Express has revealed.
From President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi; Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee, Ashok Gehlot and Amarinder Singh to Uddhav Thackeray, Cabinet Ministers Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad; Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Singh Rawat to at least 15 former Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force; Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde, Comptroller and Auditor General G C Murmu; start-up tech entrepreneurs like Nipun Mehra, founder of Bharat Pe (an Indian payment app), to top industrialists Ratan Tata, all are on the list.
Not just public representatives or people in position of power, but journalists, actors, sportspersons, religious figures and activists are also under the radar.
This comes amid escalating tension and over four months long standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Heavy data was accessed from Zhenhua's operations to extract Indian entities from the company called 'Overseas Key Information Database' (OKIDB). The database, has entries from United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, through a network of researchers from a source connected to the company in Shenzhen City in Guangdong province, south-east China.
Records show that Zhenhua was registered as a company in April 2018 and started 20 processing centres across countries. It counts the Chinese government and the army among its clients.
Collecting information from the web and social media platforms, tracking research papers, articles, patents, recruitment positions, Zhenhua's monitoring services monitor networks among individuals, institutions and organisations, and amends in their leadership positions based on information from sources.
Zhenhua collects personal information on the target from all social media accounts; tracks the target's friends and relationships; analyses posts, likes and comments by friends and followers; collects private information about movements such as geographic location through Artificial Intelligence tools.
The database constitutes more than 250 Indian bureaucrats and diplomats, including Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant; 23 former and current Chief Secretaries and several former and current police chiefs of states.
Those from the news media in the list include: Zee News Editor-in-Chief Sudhir Chaudhary; India Today Group Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai; former media advisor in the Prime Minister's Office Sanjaya Baru; and The Indian Express Chief Editor Raj Kamal Jha.
Key names in sports, culture and religion include: Former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, former Akal Takht Jathedar Gurbachan Singh, several bishops and Archbishops of churches, self-styled god-woman Radhe Maa and Hardev Singh of the Nirankari Mission.
"Every country does this in one way or the other, that's the job of foreign intelligence. But using big data science and technology, Beijing has, clearly, taken it to the next level," Robert Potter, a Canberra-based cyber security expert said.