A cataclysmic threat is looming over India. India’s myopic foreign policy and criminal pursuit of buying cheap technology have enhanced Chinese capability to destroy our critical infrastructure and information network and paralyze the decision making apparatus. Recently published writings by representative of China’s People’s Liberation Army reveal a high level of advocacy for the development of a cyber offensive capacity. The Chinese threat is real. If the reports of troop intrusion or secretly building dams over river Brahmaputra are not alarming then here is a report that would shake you off the ground.
The whole world eulogizes the unparallel growth India has shown in telecom sector. India’s telecommunication network is the third largest in the world. The paradox is that this ministry is also involved in the biggest scam of history popularly known as 2G Spectrum Scam. Telecom ministry, over the years has created cronies that freely operate in this sector. These telecom lobbies are so powerful that the government has been rendered helpless and miserable. The cronies have made India so vulnerable that Chinese can disrupt all mobile communication, internet network in one stroke. It can effect completely the banks , airlines, railways. If the modern war is about destroying the infrastructure then India stands completely exposed.
To comprehend this threat we need to understand how the mobile towers and telecom communication function. All telecommunication needs synchronize pulse for any effective transmission. All modern data communications protocols operate efficiently on synchronous facilities. When data bits are transmitted serially, it is necessary for the receiver to properly detect the moment in time that each bit in a character begins and ends.
When synchronous transmission is used, common bit timing is used between a transmitter and a receiver. This means that to establish communication it is important to precisely detect beginning and end of every pulse. For analog modem systems, the modem recovers timing pulses from the incoming data stream and presents a continuous stream of “clock pulses” to the receiving DTE device.
The receive clock ensures accurate sampling of the data stream, but the receiver can’t tell what bits comprise a character. The transmitter will send characters in a group, called a block or a frame. Special synchronization characters are transmitted at the beginning of each block. The receiver will look for these special characters and, once detected, will know where each character begins and ends. For this mobile towers use GPS.
The GPS system is used to provide an accurate time and frequency reference for Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers and computer network time synchronisation. To summarise, all the GPS system is ideal for synchronising NTP server and computer time servers. Accuracies of a few hundred nanoseconds can be reasonably achieved with low-cost GPS receiving equipment. GPS timing systems utilise a GPS receiver in order to decode the received GPS transmission and convert it to a computer readable format.
The GPS receiver processes the transmitted GPS positioning information and provides a readable serial transmission as output. GPS NTP servers and computer time servers may also utilise a precise pulse per second output generated by the GPS receiver to provide ultra-precise timing. The pulse per second timing pulse on most receivers is accurate to within a few milliseconds of Unix timestamp converter (UTC).
In simple words, telecommunication requires three things: Timing Pulse, Timing Clock and to synchronize it needs synchro clock. To do this it needs a GPS system. GPS system works in coordination with satellite for correct time and location. It is to be noted that once the pulses are synchronized then it can work for 48 hrs without GPS. All this are installed in every Base Transmission Stations.
Most of the BTS have Chinese Hardware and software of Huawei and ZTE Company. The biggest danger is that all Chinese BTS have been shifted to Chinese satellite for GPS signals. It is dangerous because by simply changing the chips and software of GPS module of mobile BTS the whole communication will collapse. In case of an emergency situation GPS pulse can be blocked or even it is simply misguided then the timing will change and hence can cause total collapse. We need to understand that why it will lead to total collapse.
60% of the CDMA and GSM mobile communication are operated by Chinese vendor. So, 60 % mobile network is under direct threat and once it collapses then it will become a burden on the rest of the 40% which in turn will lead to total collapse of the mobile communication. Worst part is that there is no alternative way to revive the operation. This means that if there is a slight error in the GPS then automatically our communication system will collapse. These system can be remotely controlled which makes it even more dangerous. Many of the officials in the ministry believe that just for cheap technology we have jeopardized our national security. Overdependence on Chinese vendor is a disaster in waiting. Strategic experts are worried as they term Chinese encroachment in telecommunication sector as a well-crafted war-game of the Chinese Military.
The most astonishing part of the Chinese deal is that there is no provision of technology transfer. Indian engineers are not aware of their production and operation.
“There is little or no capability to test and certify the telecom elements such as routers and switches, from a security point of view, before
deployment. Despite objections by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Chinese firm is supplying the mobile equipment to BSNL. This poses a serious threat to telecom security in terms of denial of service and eavesdropping,” says a highly confidential IB communication to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
Indian government is playing with fire in spite of warning bell sounded by the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW ). In a note to Telecom ministry RAW warned that the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei has organic links with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese Ministry of State Security. How can the government ignore these warnings? Why these Chinese companies are being tolerated? It has been also reported that Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation are understood to have helped RCom to secure loans from the state-owned Chinese banks as RCom is to buy $600 million worth of telecom gear from them. Does this action allowed them have a free run in India? These questions are important because in 2010, the entire contract awarded to Huawei and ZTE for GSM projects in the northern and eastern zones were cancelled on the ground of security. Naturally, one would ask what happened between these periods. Why there was a sudden change in the attitude of the government? Does it mean that Anil Ambani has compromised himself in any way with Chinese state lending institutions and sourcing equipment from companies linked to the Chinese army? Is it the equipment that Reliance Communication sources from Huawei is a risk because the company has links with the Chinese army and security agencies? If this is the case, then this would mean that government has ruined the entire Indian telecom industry as Bharti, Idea, Tata and others source major equipments from China. The magnitude of threat requires immediate course correction. All the contracts of telecom sector with Chinese vendors should be scrutinized and companies which are at fault must be blacklisted.
It is well known that Huawei’s has links with Chinese Army. UK, US and Australia have recently banned these infamous Chinese Companies. In Australia, on the advice of security agency, Huawei was banned from bidding in telecom sector. UK’s intelligence agency also said that they were intensely wary of suspected cyber-espionage activity by Huawei. Similarly, US intelligence report explicitly linked Huawei to Chinese intelligence services.
The UK authorities had set up an auditing structure to ensure that Huawei did not steal secrets, but since the procedures were too costly, the authorities decided to block Huawei from bidding further on the broadband project.
In May 2010, it was reported in the Times of India, that security agencies in India became suspicious of Chinese Huawei employees after learning that Indian employees allegedly did not have access to part of Huawei’s Bangalore research and development (R&D) office building. According to the Times of India, the intelligence agencies also noted that Chinese employees of Huawei had extended their stay in Bangalore for many months.
In February 2009, BSNL gave a 90-lakh lines order worth Rs 2500 crore, to the Chinese firm through state-owned ITI Ltd in the guise of PSU quota allotment. Under this order, the Chinese firm is importing finished goods from China in ITI’s name. This is on back-to-back terms, which means BSNL will make payment to ITI, which will pay the Chinese firm, making it 4 per cent in the supply chain.
This order for south zone consists of states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (including Chennai), Kerala and Andhra Pradesh; it contains the sensitive IT sector, nuclear installations, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other set-ups that were strategically located away from border areas. Allowing access into the heart of south zone communications has gravely compromised national security, worry security agencies.
On April 9, during a meeting held to oppose the award of a contract by BSNL to Chinese companies the top IB brass said: “Considering the present security scenario in the country, even the southern region with its coastline can be considered sensitive,” while adding that “with the reference to the sensitive communication sector, distinction in terms of zones was irrelevant.” This is more sensitive, given the recent hostile environment concerning both countries over border-related disputes.
In the minutes of this meeting, a senior IB officer added that “BSNL should not award contracts to Chinese companies, as these companies are known to have links with the Chinese state and security apparatus and, therefore, their presence in this critical sector has national security implications in a variety of ways.”
The representatives of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and India’s foreign intelligence gathering agency, RAW, who attended the meeting, were of the view that the Chinese firm has been set up with the assistance of the Chinese army and has a tainted past in addition to being black-listed in the US. “Similarly, another Chinese company also does not have a good track record and, in any case, these two companies should not be allowed to come in any part of the country,” the Defence Ministry representatives added.
On April 27, disregarding the IB, MoD and RAW warnings, BSNL wrote a letter to DoT, informing that the Chinese firm had cleared its technical evaluation, in the South, West and East, and an European company in the North and the East. On May 14, the Telecom Ministry cleared BSNL’s proposal to open the financial bids of both firms. On the evening of May 14, after office hours, BSNL opened the financial bids of the European firm for the East and North Zones, and the Chinese firm for the South Zone.
In fact, BSNL had disqualified many reputed global companies and rejected their bids for not submitting a few pieces of paper as part of the bid — thus crushing potential competition. On May 15, just a day before the ballot counting for 2009 parliamentary elections, the Telecom Ministry rushed through the award of a tender worth Rs 35,000 crore for 9.3 crore cell phone connections.
According to telecom experts, these are turnkey contracts. That means the Chinese are provided digitised maps of the entire South Zone for radio planning. It also means that their officials can roam without restrictions with digitised maps; take photographs during site surveys, all of which may well end up with Chinese security agencies.
A China expert says that the Chinese believe that the enemy is most vulnerable during the early phase of the war and Computer Network Attack (CAN) can raise the cost of conflict to an unacceptable level for the enemy. “So now, imagine the possibility of the Chinese establishment using CAN to strike an India with a paralysing blow through the Internet to seriously disrupt and render our computers and information systems ineffective,” he points out.
Recently, the Australian media alleged that the Chinese equipment-maker (which has got huge orders in India) was being investigated for spy activities. A report in the UK’s Sunday Times said the Pentagon had cited this Chinese firm as a key part of the cyber-threat from China, noting that it retained close ties with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Many who cannot fathom the depth of this strategy may discount the military war game at play. Even then this may well be an economic warfare at our doorsteps to earmark India as a strategic region for creating long-term manufacturing dependencies by killing indigenous capabilities through systematic dumping and undercutting — and virally spread into our system to eventually make India vulnerable to military intrusion.
The Chinese “Go Global” policy of the last decade — they are already knocking on our doors in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh — is an extension of its military endgame. While the latter has limitations due to international policing and global checks and balances of parallel power equations, the scope of the former is infinite as the Chinese have come to realise. They have not only seen unprecedented economic growth through these pro-dumping lucrative safe-havens, but also are eyeing to invest significantly in critical infrastructure sectors of economies they hope to dominate in Asia and Africa.
In the Indian context, with many private operators also using Chinese equipment, it seems clear that not only is there a new Chinese aggression visible, but this time around it is also a breach that’s being welcomed, aided and abetted by state corporations with the support and blessings of the top political and bureaucratic leadership in the Telecom Ministry, which is behaving, as someone in North Block put it, “as if they are the new Rajas of India!”