India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj, Journalist | 8/15/2013 | 16 comments

Sudha Nagaraj Bharadwaj
In less than two months from now, the Indian government proposes to screen all telecom gear imported into the country for bugs and malicious software, before deploying them into the country's telecom network.

If things go as planned, Indian software company Wipro will step in to help the government test and certify 12 "high-risk" telecom products in the first phase starting October 1, 2013. This will clearly have a major impact on the domestic and international telecom sector.

The dozen security-sensitive products are part of a longer list of 25 products, classified as high, medium, and low value asset value, based on the security implications they have on a network. The 12 products include mobile devices, SIM cards, 3G and 4G systems, network management systems, customer database servers, back-end infrastructure like MPLS, Internet telephony system, and billing systems.

Industry players are worried about delays in network expansion if their telecom gear imports are declared "unsafe" by the proposed test lab. And even if they are ruled safe, there are concerns about delays. Both GSM and CDMA operators as well as smartphone makers are likely to be affected if every new feature, app, or design change is subjected to screening. Worse yet, there is an absence of an established global telecom standard for security testing of core network elements, mobile handsets, and SIMs.

Imports dominate India's telecom gear market with the import bill currently estimated at $10 billion and expected to total $150 billion in the next 10 years. The demand for telecom equipment in India constituted 6.2 percent of the global demand in 2012 through 2013. The government has therefore been introducing a slew of policy measures to reduce the telecom imports bill, including preferential market access for government procurement and indigenous manufacturing, as reported in E2 earlier.

Meanwhile, the global concern over malware embedded in imported telecom gear has also prompted the Indian National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) to propose country-specific safety standards and certification for imports. Recent remarks by the former chief of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, over alleged spying by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has stoked fears afresh. Similar allegations surround ZTE Corp., which has won an enterprise solutions contract from the Power Grid of India to provide fixed-network transmission services across the country.

Because of this and despite protests over what is perceived as technical barriers to trade (TBT) by the US Trade Representative (USTR), India has opted for the UK system of testing imported gear domestically instead of falling back on the Common Criteria Recognition Arrangement (CCRA) clearance alone.

The CCRA is a global agency that defines common processes to evaluate security-sensitive IT products used in critical infrastructure networks in the telecom, power, aviation, and defense sectors. But the Department of Telecom, the Department of Electronics & IT (DeiTY), and the National Technical Research Organization are working on fresh standards.

To confound matters further, the Indian policy makers have decided to extend the local sourcing norms to the private sector where companies are involved in security-sensitive projects. So while telecom operators are permitted to import telecom gear (subject to testing if it falls in the security-sensitive category) for their own expansion, they will have to source equipment from local telecom equipment manufacturers if they are involved in a project deemed security-sensitive.

That's a lot of hurdles. It is also a lot to pull together by October. Even if everything goes perfectly smoothly, telecoms have a massive set of new hurdles to overcome. Foreign companies need to work with the government to speed testing procedures. Domestic companies will need to expand efforts to take to exploit the advantages they've been given. Between now and October, things will get very interesting.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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Gigi   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   9/4/2013 2:48:41 AM
Gigi
Re: Testing of imported telecom equipments
"I think screening is a good option and is the right choice. I feel the malicious software and their effect are so great that it might cost company dearly if corrective measures are not taken in time. I also believe that some ill intention criminals can do this as well on purpose so being security concious is not a bad habbit at all."

Nomi, you are right. Apart from that I heard government is planning for implementing various other security measures like migrating all official mailing system to NIC, using BSNL mobile and landlines for all government officials etc.
Nomi   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   9/3/2013 4:28:33 AM
Re: Testing of imported telecom equipments
@Gigi I think screening is a good option and is the right choice. I feel the malicious software and their effect are so great that it might cost company dearly if corrective measures are not taken in time. I also believe that some ill intention criminals can do this as well on purpose so being security concious is not a bad habbit at all.
MDMConsult   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   9/3/2013 2:00:39 AM
Re: Re : India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test
Yes, when customer retention is a critical area to these telecoms. Being adaptable can save a viable model. Close monitoring could better measure any changes in churn rate, especially in a weak or strong economy where it would matter.
Gigi   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   9/1/2013 12:10:33 AM
Gigi
Testing of imported telecom equipments
"In less than two months from now, the Indian government proposes to screen all telecom gear imported into the country for bugs and malicious software, before deploying them into the country's telecom network."

Sudha, i personally feel its very much requiremt because recentlly its reported that hacking and spyworking are happening through the embededd malwares in imported telecome equipments.
nasimson   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/19/2013 12:09:22 PM
Re: Indian wonderland
> I think the government has a bigger impact than anyone in this part of the world.

@ Geeky: I am much familiar with this part of the world. The dons of Mumbai & business tycoons like Tata, Birla & Ámbani, government ministries are mere puppets.
Pedro Gonzales   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/19/2013 10:58:31 AM
many questions unanswered
This will be a tremendous task by the Indian government, I hope they have the resources to do this because the process of a lot companies will be delayed because many of their devices can't be imported to the country, I wonder what they are doing to reassure business that this won't happen or who will be liable for the loss of business.
geeky   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/19/2013 6:49:41 AM
Re: Indian wonderland
@nasimson: I think the government has a bigger impact than anyone in this part of the world.
nasimson   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/17/2013 2:13:56 AM
Re: India as a big brother helping small countries
@ Digital_Forensics_Examiner:

Switzerland looking forward to India! That was surprising when I read it. But now, as more & more I think of it, it actually makes sense.

Chinese equipment manufacturers ZTE & Huawei have cornered all the European vendors like Ericsson, Nokia Siemens & Alcatel Lucent.
nasimson   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/16/2013 2:09:43 PM
Indian wonderland
I can't believe I am reading this. It does not make economic, political or technological sense. I wonder how the Indian telecoms are letting their government do this.
Digital_Forensics_Examiner   India Prepares to Put Telecoms to the Test   8/16/2013 10:55:16 AM
India as a big brother helping small countries
India as a big economy could have a role as a leader in setting up the process of testing telecom gear for security concerns. Smaller countries especially when they do not belong to a greater union e.g. European Union (EU) don't have the national resources to do this by themselves but need a country like India to get into international cooperation about this and commerciallly sharing these telecom security tests. There is great hope here in Switzerland that India will pave the way for this because the national big 3 telecom providers also contracted from the world's almost number one manufacturer in telecom equipment based in China.
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