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Tata Photon, MTS & Reliance Netconnect compromised by NSA?

Monday, 24 March 2014 - 7:07am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Tata Photon, MTS and Reliance may be competitors in the Indian market but they have something in common. A lot of their internet dongles are manufactured by the Chinese company Huawei. Earlier this year Huawei also launched four new smartphones, namely the Huawei Ascend G700, G610, Y511 and Y320 in the Indian market, in a bid to consolidate its smartphone portfolio. According to documents from former NSA worker and now whitsleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA hacked into Huawei's servers with the hope of gaining information on government plans and of exploiting the company's products to spy on other foreign rivals.

Huawei is a global giant: it manufactures equipment that makes up the backbone of the Internet, lays submarine cables from Asia to Africa and has become the world's third largest smartphone maker after Samsung and Apple. The Powerpoint presentation, dated 2010, makes clear that the NSA's first goal is to make sure it can "exploit'' the company's hardware -- a phrase that can encompass everything from monitoring information to conducting cyber attacks -- as it sets up systems around the world.

These notes by an NSA analyst revealed by Edward Snowden lay out the objectives of the programme, including CNE (computer network exploitation), and expresses the hope that by understanding the company, the United States will also gain an understanding of the Chinese leadership. "Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products," the NSA document said. "We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products[to] gain access to networks of interest around the world," it said.

The true extent of the level of compromise is yet unknown but there it would not be wrong to assume that the use of such dongles for the communication of any sensitive or important information would not be advisable. These attacks by the NSA also display the need for indigenous technological development here in India for the purpose of secure communications. India is not progressing as rapidly or as far as its leaders had hoped and observers had predicted. The obstacles preventing India from developing a more advanced technology are primarily technical and economic, stemming from chronic problems with project management rather than any lack of scientific resources. Indian R&D has not created the anticipated technological momentum that would allow India to move from limited import substitution to indigenous innovation.

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