Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chinese parts in IAF encryption devices prompt security probe


The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has ordered a high-level inquiry into the supply of encryption devices last year to the Indian Air Force and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) by state-owned, Bangalore-based Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).

The inquiry was ordered after it came to light that the encryption devices were of Chinese origin, thereby leading to concerns that Chinese agencies could penetrate the systems to access data stored in the devices.

The IAF, it is learnt, as well as the NTRO, were using the devices to encrypt inter-office and intra-office communication, most of it related to national security.

The decision was taken at a meeting held on October 28 here, which was chaired by Deputy National Security Adviser Leela Ponappa, who retires today.

The Scientific Analysis Group (SAG) of the NSCS has been ordered to conduct a detailed inquiry into whether any device has been breached, as well as the possibility of such an eventuality in the future.

Representatives of some other public sector enterprises that supply communication as well as encryption devices to the defence establishment, such as the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), as well as the three services and the Defence Ministry, are to conduct internal inquiries to rule out any possibility of technical Chinese-manufactured equipment being accessed by the Chinese manufacturers or the Chinese agencies.

Sources in the NSCS told The Sunday Express that the inquiry was ordered by a miffed Deputy NSA despite strong protests by the IAF, the Defence Ministry as well BEL.

The SAG has been asked to conclude its inquiry within two months and submit its report to the NSCS.

Sources in the NSCS said the government is wary of "too much" high tech hardware and software manufactured by Chinese companies, most of them state-owned, being used by the Indian defence establishment and intelligence agencies.

Incidentally, in April this year, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Defence Ministry had asked public sector telecom major BSNL not to award equipment contracts to Chinese equipment majors Huawei and ZTE in the interest of national security.

Huawei, incidentally, is linked to the Chinese Army and was black-listed by the US Government a few years ago.

Following the BSNL decision, the government had also constituted a high-level committee to examine the issue of participation of foreign companies, especially these from China, in tenders by telecom companies such as the BSNL where security concerns prevailed.

A senior NSCS officer confirmed that the government has come across instances of Chinese companies indulging in industrial espionage and accessing top secret data, including those of Indian companies, by hacking into the servers.

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