In a bid to counter cyber-attacks and data theft, primarily perpetrated from China, the government seems determined to implement the new security directives in the telecom sector, cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), within the next six months.
Underlining the need for such a directive, a confidential report of the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) says that India is among the top three countries in the world facing cyber-attacks. “A sum of Rs 1.24 lakh crore was lost due to cyber-crime in India last year,” the report reveals.
The NSCS report reviewed by IANS says that these cyber-attacks are usually committed through compromised hardware and software components of telecom networks. With the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the risk seems to increase manifold, and the advent of 5G technologies will further increase the security concerns resulting from telecom networks. There is an urgent need to “maintain the integrity of supply chain including electronic components for ensuring security against malware infection,” the report adds.
In recent years, cross-border hackers including Chinese agents have reportedly targeted important sectors including banking and finance with an aim to hurt India’s financial operations. The report says that telecom is the critical underlying infrastructure for all sectoral information infrastructure of the country such as power, banking and finance, transport, governance, and the strategic sector. Security breaches resulting in compromise of confidentiality or in disruption of infrastructure can have disastrous consequences. Therefore, new directives were required as telecom serves as a crucial sector from the national security perspective.
The NSCS invited key experts in telecom technology and nodal officers of concerned ministries on Thursday and held a brainstorming session for hours to formulate a strategy for implementing the National Security Directive on the telecom sector.
In the wake of increasing incidents of espionage, security breaches, and cyber-attacks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, heading the CCS, had approved such directives for the telecom sector last month. “A committee will be shortly formed under a Deputy National Security Advisor and we hope that directives will be enforced within the next 180 days,” said an official with an insight on the developments.
The security directive aims to classify telecom products and their suppliers under the trusted and non-trusted category. In simpler words, companies or suppliers not trusted by the expert committee would not be allowed to do business with Indian telecom service providers. The directives once implemented would make it very difficult for Chinese telecom equipment suppliers like Huawei or ZTE to procure supply orders from Indian telecom players like Jio, Airtel, or Vodafone Idea.
In fact, Huawei and ZTE have been under global scrutiny for allegedly installing “backdoor” vulnerabilities in a desperate bid to indulge in spying for the Chinese government. In the wake of Sino-Indian border tensions, the government’s action plan on the telecom front seems much appreciated and awaited by central security and intelligence agencies.