The government of India wants to promote domestic manufacturers of telecom products as it is worried that foreign suppliers of telecom equipment, especially China, might indulge in cyber espionage during a crisis or war.
The department of telecom (DoT) under the ministry of communication and information technology has chalked out an elaborate policy and will soon come out with a notification. If all goes as planned, foreign firms like Chinese telecom giant Huawei will be wiped out from the Indian market.
Telecom department documents, accessed by DNA, talk of “heightened security risk” as the primary reason behind promoting ‘made in India’ products. The documents say that during war, an enemy country can control or instruct its suppliers to block equipment supply or critical support. “Some countries have the means, opportunity and motive to use their telecom companies for malicious purpose to shutdown or degrade India’s critical national security systems in time of crisis or war,” the DoT notes.
At present, the Indian telecom sector depends heavily on foreign companies for equipment as well as maintenance.
The department has identified 18 hardware items used for telecommunications that will be put under a preferential market access category and that will be manufactured locally. They include SIM cards, base stations switching centres, network management systems, modems used for WiFi or 3G broadband services and EPABX boxes. The new rules are expected to come into force from April 1, 2013.
Though the government wants to achieve 100% dependence on domestic manufacturers, the shift will take place gradually. It will first be mandatory for all telecom companies to procure a minimum of 30% equipment from domestic manufacturers in the first year. This will go up to 45% by 2017 and so on.
“In the context of emerging cyber attacks, the security of the telecommunication infrastructure and network elements such as routers, switches, exchanges, transmission systems and other telecom infrastructure elements, is of paramount importance,” say the documents.
Threats cannot be ruled out “as the entire supply chain associated with hardware and software, including managed services, can be easily used to insert features or vulnerabilities into any product that could assist espionage and cyber warfare”.
Experts say post-production evaluation processes at present “may not necessarily be designed to uncover malicious codes”. “The evaluation programmes may only create a false sense of security that an incomplete, flawed, or misapplied evaluation would provide. And this may result in unwittingly dropping the guard simply because an accredited expert has approved the product,” one expert said.