Hackers gain unauthorised access to .np domain

Experts caution against taking the warnings lightly. They say more investment needed in the ICT sector

Kathmandu, April 15

A group of hackers that had managed to gain unauthorised access to webpages and data systems in Nepal launched a cyber attack and gained access to the dot np (.np) domain of Mercantile Communications Pvt Ltd.

The Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police believes the group managed to access the .np domain by exploiting the personal details of customers of Foodmandu, Vianet Communications and Prabhu Remit. Their sites were hacked recently.

Senior Superintendent of Police Nabinda Aryal, who heads the Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police, said the cyber cell was actively trying to trace the hackers. “We are confident that we will be able to unmask the hackers and bring them to book soon.”

A user with twitter handle ‘Satan’ — which the police suspect is a group account of the hackers — had pointed out a security flaw in the .np domain. The hackers then claimed to have launched a cyber attack and gained access to the .np server.

According to Mercantile, which provides the .np domain, the hackers had informed the company that they had managed to access the domain server on Monday night. “The majority of data in this server is public information available via the ‘whois’ query. Our preliminary investigations suggest that all other .np domain services remain uncompromised,” it said in a press statement.

Nevertheless, the company has suspended new domain registrations for the time being as a precautionary measure and said that since it was a developing situation, it would notify customers if there were any significant developments.

The company, which has been providing .np domain for the past 25 years, has already registered 83,000 personal and business domains.

Meanwhile, the hacker group has also threatened to infiltrate the system of government and private offices. Among them are Nepal Electricity Authority, Daraz Nepal, Kantipur Publication, Nepal National Museum and all the district agriculture offices under the Department of Agriculture and National Nepal Library.

Prabal Adhikari, spokesperson for NEA, said the hackers had threatened to hack into their electricity bills payment system, load dispatch centre and revenue system last night.

“As soon as we received the threat, we alerted our information technology head, as well as international equipment vendor, and put necessary measures in place to block any cyber attack,” he said, further clarifying that the blackouts last night were caused due to the thunderstorms and had nothing to do with the hackers.

Manohar Bhattarai, an Information and Communications Technology expert, said while the use of information technology had surged significantly in the country, the safeguard measures that should have been in place are lacking.

“The concerned stakeholder should not treat the warnings of the hackers lightly and boost investment to build a robust ICT infrastructure. Failing to do so could cost us dearly,” he warned.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 16, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.