Center Of Excellence (CoE) For Internet Of Things (IoT) In India

Monday, April 4, 2016

Malware Nuisance Would Increase In 2016

Cyber security is a complicated field that requires updated information to manage cyber threats. There are many forms of cyber threats that cyber security professionals are required to tackle. These include malware, virus, social engineering attacks, etc.

Cyber criminals have vast resources these days. Some of them are even supported by state actors and this allows them to make customised malware that cannot be detected and eliminated by traditional anti virus and security products. As a result the contemporary cyber security products and services are ineffective in preventing such malware from causing damage.

We have seen sophisticated malware like Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame, Uroburos/Snake, Blackshades, FinFisher, Gameover Zeus (GOZ), etc that were detected much after they infected the targeted systems.

Similarly, malware targeting financial sector are also in circulation for long. These include Carbanak, Vskimmer Trojan, Malware Dump Memory Grabber, etc that cause tremendous financial loss world over.

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) has provided the “Cyber Security Trends In India 2016” that have predicted that use of botnet and malware would increase in the year 2016. The trends has also predicted that critical infrastructure, cloud computing and e-health would also be on the receiving end.

The year 2016 would witness an increased use of malware for various purposes like cyber terrorism, cyber warfare and cyber espionage. It is for us to develop both offensive and defensive cyber security capabilities and a robust cyber security infrastructure so that the impact of these malware can be minimised if not eliminated.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Indian Cyber Security Developments In 2015

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) has been providing cyber security trends and developments in India for many years. This year as well, we have discussed both cyber security trends in India 2015 and cyber security developments in India. We have provided a research report on cyber security related events in the year 2015. The report is titled Cyber Security Developments in India 2015 and it outlined major cyber security related events that took place in the year 2015. A dedicated blog on international cyber security related legal issues titled International Legal Issues of Cyber Attacks and Cyber Security, Cyber Terrorism and Cyber Warfare was also launched by P4LO on this occasion. The purpose of this blog is to discuss techno legal issues pertaining to international cyber attacks and cyber security.

Cyber security environment in India is fast changing due to growing realisation of threats of cyber attacks and cyber crimes. India is presently facing many sophisticated cyber security problems and challenges that need attention of our policy makers. It is equally important to establish a strong, robust and resilient cyber security infrastructure in India on priority basis. This must include creation of offensive and defensive cyber security capabilities of India. India must also develop indigenous software and hardware so that dependence upon foreign imports can be minimised. Recently, India opposed the proposal to include cyber security technologies under the Wassenaar Arrangement as India is still dependent upon foreign countries for import of cyber security products and services. Sooner or later we would be forced to use Indian cyber security products and services and P4LO recommends that the Electronic System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) Policy and Regulations in India 2014 must be suitably modified and implemented in India.

According to the report of P4LO, cyber security witnessed many ups and downs in Indian cyberspace in the year 2015. The report has stressed upon formulation of a techno legal framework for India by Indian government that can tackle the challenges arising out of growing cyber crimes in and cyber attacks against India. These techno legal cyber security safeguards can be incorporated into a proposed cyber security policy of India 2015. Similarly, cyber security breach disclosure norms must also be formulated by Indian government for enhanced participation by all stakeholders. The report has also stressed upon strengthening of Indian cyber security infrastructure so that sophisticated cyber attacks can be prevented and eliminated.

There is no second opinion that Narendra Modi government must protect Indian cyberspace on a priority basis. It is high time for the Modi government to be serious about cyber security of India. This is more so when the Supreme Court of India has virtually killed cyber law due diligence in India that could have kept Internet intermediaries and other stakeholders cyber disciplined.

The report has also stressed upon need for smart cities cyber security and smart grids cyber security in India. Similarly, stress has been given for cyber security of Digital India project of Modi government that is presently suffering from various shortcomings. In a welcome move, Modi government appointed Dr. Gulshan Rai as the first chief information security officer (CISO) of India. This is very important as India is facing serious cyber threats from private individuals as well as agencies of other nations.

For instance, it has been revealed that hardware based stealth malware were used by US intelligence agencies against various targets. Recently, Twitter has warned some users that their Twitter accounts were compromised by state sponsored actors. It is clear that cyber attackers are no more script kiddies but state supported crackers who work under a cyber immunity clause. This is also the reason why Indian intelligence agencies are also insisting upon legal immunity against cyber deterrent acts. Besides cyber attacks and planting of malware, intelligence agencies are also using open source intelligence (OSINT) to gather sensitive and personal information.

Banks related cyber security is another area of concern in India. Cyber security of banks in India need to be strengthened by Indian government. In a good move, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to establish an IT subsidiary to meet cyber security challenges of banks in India.

As per the report, the year 2015 also envisaged an increased interest in cyber liability insurance in India. The major reason for the growth of cyber insurance policies in India is the increased numbers of cyber crimes and cyber attacks in India. However, cyber insurance stakeholders in India have still to understand the technicalities of techno legal aspects of cyber insurance. This is more so as the year 2016 would witness an increased focus upon cyber crimes insurance in India.

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) hopes that cyber security stakeholders of India and other jurisdictions would find this research report useful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Electronic System Design And Manufacturing (ESDM) Policy And Regulations In India 2014

Electronic System Design and Manufacturing in India is the upcoming field for telecom and electronics companies’ world over. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), India has formulated many pro active and reformative policies and strategies in this regard.

The laws, rules and regulations in India are also reformulated to accommodate the growing demands of ease of doing business in India and foreign direct investments (FDI) in Indian telecom sector. For instance, the FDI Policy in Telecom Sector of India 2014 (PDF) has allowed 100% FDI subject to FIPB approval and other national security requirements. Similarly, approval to establish two semiconductor wafer fabrication manufacturing facilities in India (PDF) has also been granted by Indian Government.

Both domestic and international telecom companies and electronic system design and manufacturing (ESDM) stakeholders must comply with national security and cyber security laws, policies and regulations of India in order to do business in India. The National Cyber Security Policy of India 2013 (NCSP 2013) was recently declared by Indian Government. Indian Government is also planning a legislation mandating strict cyber security disclosure norms in India. Indian Government is also investigating the alleged breach of national security of India by Huawei by hacking base station controller in AP.

Of late, Huawei and ZTE are in telecom security tangle of India and other nations like United States. India even made telecom security a part and parcel of its national telecom policy of India 2012. Other nations are also restricting market access to Chinese telecom equipments and India is not alone. The cyber security concerns excluded Huawei from Australian broadband project. Further, the US house intelligence committee is investigating Huawei cyber espionage angle. Media reports have also speculated that ZTE facilitated e-surveillance in Iran. Now Huawei is trying to inculcate trust among US government over telecom security issues. Companies like Huawei and ZTE are also in constant talks with other nations, including India, in this regard. More such companies can be brought under the legal and national security scrutiny in the near future.

The merger and acquisition rules and regulations in India for telecom sector of India have also been streamlined to provide a level playing field for both national and international telecom companies and ESDM stakeholders. The Guidelines for Merger and Acquisitions of Telecom Companies in India 2014 (PDF) have also been issued and many international telecom companies have shown their interest in this regard.

The estimated production of electronic products will reach USD 104 billion by the year 2020. However, the supply part would not be able to meet this demand curve as domestic companies and stakeholders alone cannot meet this demand. Thus, foreign companies and stakeholders dealing in ESDM have golden chance to capatilise this opportunity.

In fact, the Indian Government has already initiated several initiatives for the development of electronics sector in the country. The Government has recently approved National Policy on Electronics (NPE) 2012 (PDF). One of the important objectives of the NPE is to achieve a turnover of about USD 400 Billion by 2020 involving investment of about USD 100 Billion and employment to around 28 million by 2020. This interalia, includes achieving a turnover of USD 55 Billion of chip design and embedded software industry, USD 80 Billion of exports in the sector. Moreover, the policy also proposes setting up of over 200 Electronic Manufacturing Clusters. Another important objective of the policy is to significantly upscale high-end human resource creation to 2500 PhDs annually by 2020 in the sector.

Several other policy initiatives have been approved in last few months. These include providing very attractive financial investment in electronics manufacturing and providing preference to domestically manufactured electronic goods in all Government procurement as well as all those electronic goods whose use has security implications for the country.

While the opportunities are ample yet techno legal compliances cannot be ignored by both domestic and international telecom players and ESDM stakeholders. Issues like cyber security due diligence, cyber law due diligence (PDF), technology related due diligence, etc cannot be ignored by these stakeholders if they wish to do hassle free business in India.

Telecom Commission Cellular Loop’s Proposal Would Strengthen Mobile Based Surveillance On National Security Grounds

Recently the National Cyber Security Policy of India 2013 (NCSP 2013) (PDF) was released by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY). However the same was not made part and parcel of the National Security Policy of India. Further, the cyber security policy of India itself was insufficient and weak on many counts including lack of privacy safeguards. The cyber security policy is also not at all framed to cover the telecom security aspects as well.

India has been planning to undergo technological upgrade of border broadcast infrastructure due to Chinese broadcasts. It would also be interesting to see what types of telecom security policies would be implemented for border regions of India. Telecom security in India is not in a good shape and Indian telecom infrastructures are vulnerable to numerous cyber attacks. Recently it was reported that Huawei was accused of breaching national security of India by hacking base station controller in AP.

We have no implementable cyber attacks crisis management plan of India. The critical ICT infrastructure of India (PDF) is in a poor shape.  The cyber security trends of India 2013 (PDF) proved that India has still to cover a long field before cyber security can be effectively implemented in India. Thus, telecom infrastructures and equipments located at borders of India would be more vulnerable to cyber attacks than general telecom infrastructures of India.

The Telecom Commission may clear an Rs 7,103-crore rollout of Greenfield 2G networks in regions close to the Chinese and Bangladesh borders. These regions are presently outside the mobile loop. There are 8621 villages in locations of strategic importance across the northeast that are proposed to be brought under the cellular loop for the first time to bolster mobile-based surveillance on national security grounds.

Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), which will fund the project, will shortly invite bids from telcos for rolling out nearly 6,700 base stations in these regions. The USOF is the Department of Telecommunication’s (DOT) rural network infrastructure financing arm.

But it remains to be seen whether USOF will tweak tender norms to ensure any future cost escalations triggered by India’s spectrum reframing policy are shouldered by telecom operators. It would also be relevant to observe how the telecom security and cyber security aspects would be managed by Indian government in the near future.

National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) Wants Reliance Jio Infocomm To Share Potential Cyber Security Threats On India’s Telecom Networks

Governments around the world are stressing upon stringent cyber security breach disclosures norms but telecom companies are opposing the same on cost and other burdensome regulatory reasons. Nevertheless the governments across the globe are working in the direction of forcing the telecom companies to disclose the cyber security breaches.

There is no universally acceptable international cyber security treaty (PDF) and countries across the globe have adopted a national approach toward cyber security. However, the way sophisticated malware are developed by nations as a cyber warfare and cyber espionage weapon, this national approach is of little help and significance.

India has also decided to formulate a cyber security breach disclosure norm in the past. However, keeping in mind the slow pace at which Indian government works in the field of cyber security, this may take few more years before this much required security practice is actually implemented in India.  The cyber security trends in India 2013 (PDF) have underlined many crucial cyber security lapses of India.

Indian government has already formulated the cyber security policy of India that intends to cover some of the crucial cyber security aspects of the nation. However, the cyber security policy has not been implemented till now and it may take few more years before some action can be expected in this regard from Indian government.

Indian government has also tried to spread cyber security awareness in India. It has mandated that a cyber security brochure must be essentially supplied along with hardware to spread cyber security awareness among Indian consumers. However, telecom and hardware vendors are not happy with this direction and they are postponing this requirement for one reason or other.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has urged the Reliance Jio Infocomm to become part of an industry platform which shares information with the government on potential cyber security threats to the country’s telecom networks. The NSCS says “it is important to involve Reliance Jio in sharing information on potential cyber threats, trends and incidents to enable the government to take suitable counter measures”.

The matter was recently discussed at an internal meeting of the Joint Working Group on cyber security chaired by NSCS secretary and Deputy National Security Advisor Nehchal Sandhu. The NSCS is the apex agency looking into India’s political, economic, energy and strategic security concerns and works closely with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

India’s security establishment wants regular leads on potential cyber security threats from Reliance Jio as it is the sole holder of a pan-India 4G permit and is slated to roll out high-speed broadband services later this year on the long term evolution (LTE) technology standard. Last month, Jio also entered the voice segment by buying 1800 MHz band spectrum in 14 regions for nearly Rs 11,000 crore as a precursor to launching 4G services on the frequency band.

In the meeting, the telecom department’s security chief Ram Narain said that Jio is mandated by license conditions (PDF) to share information on potential cyber threats. Besides, the national telecom security policy of India 2014 may impose more stringent obligations than the licence conditions. As the foreign telecom companies are facing the heat of cyber security and telecom security in India, this is a good opportunity for Indian telecom companies to extend their commercial base in India. India has been planning to undergo technological upgrade of border broadcast infrastructure due to Chinese broadcasts. The Telecom Commission Cellular Loop’s Proposal would also strengthen mobile based surveillance on national security grounds in India.

Clearly, the intentions to ensure critical infrastructure protection in India (PDF) are taking a concrete shape. The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) has been assigned the task of protecting the critical infrastructure of India.

As Reliance Jio is still not part of any of the telecom industry bodies like the GSM’s Cellular Operators Association of India or the CDMA’s Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (Auspi) who have both supported creation of the Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (ISAC), the agency that will collate all classified industry feedback on potential cyber threats and vulnerabilities in telecom networks across technology platforms.

The latest developments come at a time when the telecom department is framing testing standards for telecom gear to shield networks from potential cyber attacks. India is also readying a cyber security framework, a cyber security policy and a National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) that will monitor metadata on cyber traffic flows.

DOT India Asks ISPs To Adopt New Cyber Security Measures Including Securing Home ADSL And Broadband

Router and modems insecurity is a major cause of concern for governments around the world. Cyber criminals are targeting routers and modems used by home users’ for a broadband connection. In most of the case the routers and modems come with standard login and password credential for practical reasons and convenience. The manufacturers of routers and modems expect the end user to change their login credentials and password. However, a majority of home users do not change such crucial information and this make the routers and modems vulnerable to various cyber attacks.

Amid growing threats of cyber attacks and hacking of websites, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has prescribed the security measures to be adopted in ADSL Modems to safeguard against misuse (PDF). These security measures must be adhered to by internet service providers (ISPs) of India within 60 days of the formulation of these measures. This is asking too little from the ISPs as there are other major telecom security issues in India that are still not redressed properly. The truth is that Indian telecom networks are highly vulnerable to cyber security threats.

DoT has noted that crackers have been exploiting vulnerabilities in the asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) modems. The ADSL modems are usually installed by broadband service providers at homes and offices. DoT has written to all ISPs to “assist customers to change the password, including by physical visits”. It has also come out with a new set of guidelines for ISPs that must be implemented by May 2014 to ensure security of almost 1.5 crore fixed-line broadband users.

The ADSL modems are presently supplied by vendors with default set up of user ID and password as “admin’. The default password needs to be changed to a strong password by customer at the time of installation of modem to avoid unauthorised access to modem. The ISP executive visiting customer for installation of modem should ensure this.

The protocol ports in ADSL modem on WAN side [for example, FTP, TELNET, SSH, HTTP, SNMP, CWMP, UPnP] be disabled. These ports may be used by the hackers to enter into the ADSL modem to misuse/compromise the ADSL modems by way of implanting the malware, changing the DNS entries in the modem.

In other instructions, the ISPs have been asked to devise a “mechanism to upgrade the firmware of the ADSL modems remotely by ISPs”. For this, the ISPs need to have separate login password, which is not possible in the present system of ADSL modem design. The DoT has asked the ISPs to tell their customers to check their online daily usage, and if any unexpected high usage of data is noticed, they may bring it to the notice of the ISP concerned. Customers should also be advised to switch off their modem when not in use. Readers of this blog may see the document (PDF) for a detailed analysis.

Encryption Laws In India

Encryption has become an indispensable technology these days. Whether it is online banking, e-commerce or e-governance services, encryption is commonly used in all these services. Encryption ensures authenticity and legality to various transactions provided the same is done within permissible limits and in accordance with the applicable laws of India.

Unfortunately, we have no dedicated encryption law of India and encryption policy of India (PDF) as on date. This has made the entire scenario very complicated. In fact, as on date most of the online service providers in India are in active violations of the encryption related laws, regulations and compliance requirements.

Cloud computing and virtualisation service providers are also violating the laws of India relating to encryption and cyber law due diligence (PDF) requirements. Even the telecom security policy of India has failed to address the encryption related issues properly. The cyber security trends of India (PDF) have also highlighted the inadequacies of cyber security of India and a part of the same is attributable to inadequate encryption and decryption capabilities of India.

Provisions pertaining to encryption usages in India can be found in the by license conditions (PDF) of telecom service providers. Thus, telecom companies and internet service providers (ISPs) cannot used more than the prescribed limits of encryption in India unless certain regulatory conditions are duly complied with. Similarly, the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act 2000) also incorporates some provisions pertaining to encryption but they have remained dormant and ineffective till date.

Any individual or company that wishes to deploy encryption levels beyond the permitted ones would be potentially making himself/itself liable to legal action in India. It would be a good idea to ensure techno legal compliances in this regard before launching a project based upon encryption in India.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cyber Security Problems And Challenges in India: Report By Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO)

Cyber security is a techno legal field that requires patience and techno legal expertise to practice. India has been a late entrant in the cyber security field and a robust and resilient cyber security infrastructure in India is still missing. We have a national cyber security policy of India (NCSP) 2013 but the same has remained on paper only so far. An analysis of the existing cyber security policy of India would reveal that India has still to do its homework in the cyber security field. We at Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) believe that a new and proper cyber security policy of India 2015 must be urgently formulated by Narendra Modi government.

With fast urbanisation and stress upon establishment of smart cities, which mainly depends on information and communication technologies (ICT) to provide public services, we can expect increased number of cyber attacks upon critical infrastructure of India. The critical infrastructure protection in India (PDF) has its own challenges and issues. Similarly, smart cities cyber security in India would have their own problems and solutions. There is no second opinion that cyber attacks are going to increase further and this would raise complicated international legal issues of cyber attacks and cyber security.

For instance it was reported in 2014 that there was a 136% increase in cyber threats and attacks against Indian government organisations as compared to the previous year. Similarly, there was 126% increase in attacks targeting financial services organisations. There is no doubt that a strong cyber security infrastructure is need of the hour in India. Even the national cyber security policy of 2013 must be substituted with the new cyber security policy of India 2015.

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) has been suggesting formulation of the encryption policy of India (PDF) for long. As a result Indian government tried to bring an encryption policy recently under Section 84A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act 2000) but it was highly defective. The government ultimately scrapped the encryption policy but it need to be formulated in a proper manner again.

As on date we are facing the following cyber security challenges in India:

(1) Cyber security is not a very easy process to manage. It requires both technological expertise and legal compliances which are lacking in the country.

(2) There are no dedicated cyber security laws in India, except one or two sections in the the IT Act 2000 which also has its shortcomings such as lack of privacy, lack of civil liberties protection, absence of cyber security breaches disclosure norms etc.

(3) The IT Act 2000 was passed to govern legal issues of e-commerce, e-governance, cyber crimes, etc. But, according to experts, new and better techno-legal laws must be enacted in place of the old law. Techno legal experts believe that Indian laws like IT Act 2000 and telegraph act require urgent repeal and new and better techno legal laws must be enacted to replaces these laws.

(4) On 13 April 2015, the government announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs would form a committee of officials from the Central Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Bureau, Delhi Police, National Investigation Agency and ministry itself to produce a new legal framework similar to the erstwhile Section 66A of IT Act 2000. However, it is still to be enacted as per the information available with Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO).

(5) Many critical cyber security related issues need to be taken care of such as critical infrastructure protection, cyber warfare policy (PDF), cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, e-governance cyber security, e-commerce cyber security, cyber security of banks, etc.

(6) The cyber security obligations of stakeholders like law firms, e-commerce websites, directors of companies, Government departments, thermal power sector, power and energy utilities, etc must be properly understood and effectively implemented in India.

India is presently facing many type of cyber security threats. Thease include sophisticated cyber attacks, cracking, child pornography, cyber stalking, denial of service (DoS) attacks, distributed denial of service (DdoS) attack, malware infections, zero day vulnerabilities, phishing attacks, data theft, etc. In June 2012, cyber attacks were reported on the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command systems. On July 12, 2013, just few days after the release of the National Cyber Security Policy, several high-level GOI officials reported their emails had been hacked. A report later on revealed that almost 12,000 systems were hacked which included systems from the Ministry of External Affairs, Defence Research and Development Organisation, Ministry of Home Affairs, National Informatics Centre etc. There are also few reports of Pakistan indulging in threatening cyber warfare. Hacker groups based out of Karachi and Lahore have in recent years managed to hack the websites of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) mostly to leave hate mail. It is widely believed that regional terrorist outfits, like the Indian Mujahideen (IM) have also made use of social media sites to communicate effectively.

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) has provided the following suggestions to Indian government from time to time:

(1) The Narendra Modi government must take cyber security of the country seriously considering the ever-increasing cyber security challenges in India.

(2) It is high time that India must be cyber prepared to protect its cyberspace.

(3) Draft of the National cyber security policy of India 2015 should be formulated as soon as possible.

(4) There must be a dedicated cyber security law of India keeping in mind contemporary cyber security threats.

(5) Cyber security disclosure norms in India must be formulated as soon as possible.

(6) The cyber security awareness in India must be further improved and spread so that various stakeholders can also effectively take part to the implementation of cyber security initiatives of Indian government.

Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) hopes that this research report would be useful to all cyber security stakeholders in India and foreign jurisdictions.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Indian Govt To Launch Internet Safety Campaign Soon

Internet safety is a serious requirement these days when everything has been connected to Internet. Form education to healthcare, everything depends upon information and communication technology (ICT). It is natural to seek measures to protect various infrastructures and digital assets that are connected with Internet or cyberspace.

Indian government has announced that an Internet safety campaign would be started very soon in India. Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) welcomes this move of Indian government. From the media reports it seems that the awareness drive would cover all stakeholders ranging from school level to government departments.

By covering school children, Indian government has taken a significant step in the direction of making Indian cyberspace decent and law abiding. Many times school students are not even aware that they are committing something wrong. If they are suitably made aware, many cyber violations would not take place at the very beginning itself.

At Perry4Law’s Techno Legal Base (PTLB) we believe that school children in India must be suitably educated about cyber issues. These may include areas like cyber law, cyber security awareness, etc. Further, we also believe that online skills development methods must be widely used in India for better results. We have launched the PTLB Virtual Campus in this regard that may be helpful for providing online education, skills development and training in various techno legal fields.

Indian government would also issue directions to various departments to formulate cyber security best practices that must be used across various departments. However, the real problem is the actual implementation of cyber security initiatives in India that are missing so far. Now the stakes are very high and Indian government cannot afford to be lax in the cyber security field.

We at PTLB believe that there is an urgent need to rejuvenate our education system that has failed to keep a pace with the contemporary times. We need to shed our academic preferences and stress more upon skills and training based education in India. Internet has become a better education system than our universities and most of the people who have learned from Internet perform better than those who have graduated from universities across the world. Some of these geniuses are not even graduate or formally educated yet they are much more skilled than formally educated people.

While launching the Internet safety campaign, Indian government must keep in mind the skills oriented and problem solving approach rather than launching another academic project of low value. We wish Indian government and its partners all the best in this regard and hope that they would be successful in their endeavours.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lenovo Accused Of Pre Installing Adware In Laptops Compromising Their Security

Spyware and malicious software has become a big nuisance for companies and individuals alike. While these companies and individuals can ensure cyber security as per their best judgment yet they have little control over pre installed malware and malicious software or codes in hard disks and operating systems.

Recently Kaspersky revealed that hardware based stealth spyware were used by. intelligence agencies to indulge in selective and targeted e-surveillance. Similarly, malicious firmware and BIOS are also big security threats for all stakeholders. Persistent BIOS infection using hidden rootkit is especially annoying and a major cyber security threat.

It has been reported that China’s Lenovo Group Ltd, the world’s largest PC maker, had pre-installed virus-like software on laptops that makes the devices more vulnerable to hacking. Users have complained that a programme called Superfish pre-installed by Lenovo on consumer laptops was “Adware”, or software that automatically displays adverts.

According to Robert Graham, CEO of U.S.-based security research firm Errata Security, Superfish was malicious software that hijacks and throws open encrypted connections, paving the way for hackers to also commandeer these connections and eavesdrop. This can give rise to a man-in-the-middle attack.

Lenovo had installed Superfish on consumer computers running Microsoft Corp’s Windows, he added. “This hurts Lenovo’s reputation,” Graham told Reuters. “It demonstrates the deep flaw that the company neither knows nor cares what it bundles on their laptops”. “The way the Superfish functionality appears to work means that they must be intercepting traffic in order to insert the ads,” said Eric Rand, a researcher at Brown Hat Security. “This amounts to a wiretap.”

An administrator on Lenovo’s official web forum said on Jan. 23 that Superfish has been temporarily removed from consumer computers. Lenovo has also promised that the allegations regarding Superfish will be investigated and the problem would be fixed.

Concerns about cyber security have dogged Chinese firms, including telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies Ltd over ties to China’s government and smartphone maker Xiaomi over data privacy. Huawei and ZTE are already in telecom security tangle of India. Huawei has also been accused of breaching national security of India by hacking base station controller in Andhra Pradesh. Cyber security concerns have already excluded Huawei from Australian broadband project. US House Intelligence Committee is also investigating Huawei cyber espionage angle.

These episodes prove that countries are becoming more and more aware about use of malware in software and hardware and companies must be wary of using anything that make the hardware/software potentially risky for cyber security purposes.

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