Title: Mumbai Terror Attacks Drive India to Tighten Control on Communication Networks
Mumbai’s ghastly terror attacks last week have forced India to take a
fresh look at not just its security agencies, but also how to tighten
state control on communications networks, where, the country’s security
agencies believe, loopholes exist.
Measures include formulation
of polices to monitor and intercept satellite phone communications and
Blackberry services, as well as imposing some restrictions on Google
Earth that, as India sees it, exposes the details of the country’s
“sensitive” military and scientific establishments such as nuclear
It is no secret that terrorists around the world
have been using technology for a while now to conduct their tirade
against the civilized world. But last week’s strike in Mumbai -- the
biggest yet in India in terms of magnitude as it left almost 200 dead
and 350 injured while wreaking havoc for over 60 hours in the three
luxury hotels in Mumbai -- has again demonstrated the expertise the
terrorists have acquired in the use of communication technology remains
a step ahead of the police and security forces.
from investigations following the attacks reveal that among their
arsenal of weapons included a cache of ICT gadgets like satellite and
mobile, and GPS equipment that were cleverly used to keep battalions of
security forces at bay for hours.
Security officials said that
the terrorists came from Karachi, Pakistan, by sea and after hijacking
a fishing trawler in the Indian waters and killing the trawler’s
four-member crew, they navigated their way to their entry point in
Mumbai using GPS equipment and a satellite phone.
forces found that trawler abandoned near Mumbai along with those
gadgets. Their examination has revealed that the terrorists also
communicated with the masterminds of the terrorist outfit
Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan, the group believed to be behind
After reaching Mumbai the terrorists split into
groups to head for their different targets and used technology to
navigate their way through the intricate lanes of Mumbai.
not all; security forces say that while holed up in the three luxury
hotels with hundreds of hostages, the terrorist used mobile phones to
communicate with each other, and tracked the movements and advances of
the intense offensive against them through websites and Google Earth.
Mumbai attacks are not isolated instances of terrorists using
communication technology to aid their attacks. Two years back, in the
US for example, sleuths discovered instructional videos in possession
of suspects that demonstrated how to aim rockets at US military bases
using Google Earth. And more recently, Google Earth images of British
military bases were also found in possession of suspected terrorists in
“Terrorist attacks are becoming increasingly
sophisticated and the terrorists are now a new breed who is using
everyday technology as a weapon for their attacks,” said an official
from an Indian intelligence agency, requesting anonymity.
“Lately the terrorists are also using technology for exploiting India’s security loopholes,” he added.
even as a series of terrorist attacks over the past 8 months have
underscored India’s gaping loopholes in tackling and managing terror
attacks, they have also laid bare the country’s technological
deficiencies in intelligence gathering and prevention of attacks.
instance, while the terrorists used cutting-edge technology to
communicate with each other, despite being completely cut-off from the
outside and under intense firing from the security forces, India’s
National Security Group (NSG), the crack force of commandos who
eventually managed to free Mumbai from the terrorists, did not even
have wireless communication facility within its force. NSG commandos
used their own mobile phones and sign language, the NSG head said.
“India has to ramp up its system of handling terror, and ramp up pretty fast,” said the intelligence official.
one of the ramping up efforts includes a fresh look at tightening
control on the communication channels, “many of which pose a
significant threat to India’s security,” said the intelligent agency
Top on the agenda, is to bring the satphone
communications under India’s surveillance capabilities. The Department
of Telecommunication (DoT) -- the Central department that monitors and
controls telecom operations in India -- has already announced that it
is formulating policies to monitor and intercept satphone calls made
and terminating in India.
According to DoT, while some form of
monitoring is already present on mobile phone calls, emails, Internet,
radio and TV broadcasts, and wireline communications, India is
ill-equipped legally and technologically to monitor some other
communication modes, particularly satphones.
Launched over a
decade back, even as satphones have failed commercially, it has emerged
as a favorite mode of communication particularly for the underworld
owing to the fact that it is very difficult to monitor the origin and
termination of voice and data communications on such phones.
because while mobile phone communications are carried by towers or hubs
situated within a country and are offered by local telecom carriers --
thus using a local network, satphone calls can be carried anywhere on
earth through satellites.
Moreover, satphone are also easily
prone to misuse because there is no single authority for managing and
controlling their use anywhere in the world, says telecom expert Alok
The other two technologies that Indian authorities want
to clamp down upon are Blackberry “push email service” service, and
Google Earth. Since Blackberry emails are transmitted in encrypted
form, which according to its service provider [Canada’s RIM] is a
contractual agreement between RIM and Blackberry users, India says that
it has emerged as a communication method of choice for criminals and
India also feels that Google Earth, should be “controlled in its scope.”
it is important to note here that following requests made by India in
2006, Google has blurred considerably the images of many of India’s
sensitive locations. India also claims that it has found out a way of
decrypting Blackberry emails.
Nevertheless, after all the bad
news of the terror attacks, security failures, and a tightening leash
on communication channels, an upside that emerges is that India could
become a booming market for ICT -related security gadgets.
sources say that with manifold increase in India’s security
consciousness and drive to beef up electronic surveillance, the demand
for all forms of sophisticated security-related electronic equipment is
already gaining momentum fast.
Experts are betting particularly
on applications like video analytics, detection and surveillance
including biometrics, and IP video surveillance, as well as technology
that will detect, analyze, track and classify explosives and behaviors
of people and vehicles.