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 power plants.

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.

Details emerging 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.

Security 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 these attacks.

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.

That’s 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.

The 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 Britain.

“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.

Indeed, 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.

For 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.

And 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 official.

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.

That’s 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 Shende.

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 terrorists alike.

India also feels that Google Earth, should be “controlled in its scope.

However, 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.

Industry 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.

Government Technology, Indrajit Basu, December 4, 2008

Article: Public3441 (permalink)
Categories: :Public:news
Date: December 4, 2008; 10:56:01 AM EST
Author Name: Doris Girgis
Author ID: dgirgis