Issue was in the agenda in just-concluded trip of Manmohan to U.S.

More than three years after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the setting up of a ‘Telecom Testing and Security Certification Centre’ (TTSC) to test imported equipment, the government has finally realised that it would not be able to set up an independent laboratory. It is now considering accreditation of multiple labs under private and government sectors to undertake the task.

A part of the “safe to connect” telecom project in mid-2010, the Department of Telecom (DoT) was given the task to set up the centre at a cost of Rs.50 crore for security certification of all equipment being imported by telecom service providers (TSPs) from October 1, 2013. To begin with, the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) was given Rs.8 crore to set up a lab that was supposed to be “mainstreamed” into a full-fledged TTSC.

Significantly, in August 2011, IISc informed the DoT that being an academic institution, “it would be difficult for them to get cooperation from vendors in getting equipment details, which is essential for developing testing schemes.”

Though IISc continued with its work, some leading foreign companies, when approached by the institute for their designs and other details for testing, objected to the entire move citing business interests. IISc then suggested that the DoT set up the TTSC on its own, while it would continue to operate a small research set-up at the campus. (The Hindu was the first to report about it on August 6 this year).

Finding one of the key aspects of the ‘Centre for Communication Security Research and Monitoring Scheme’ initiated by the CCS in complete disarray, the DoT, in yet another piecemeal approach, decided to accredit ‘telecom security labs’ that will test equipment and issue certificates.

As a result, the “safe to connect” initiative is likely to be implemented only from next April. Till then the country would continue to rely on self-certification by operators before clearing the induction of mission critical telecom equipment into the system.

“TTSC would prepare the system, processes, develop or adopt security standards, prescribe or develop security testing tools. As the volume for testing would be huge and TTSC would be located at one place, it would not be possible for TTSC alone to test and certify all the equipment being inducted into the telecom network. Therefore, based on the system processes, standards and tools prescribed by TTSC, the labs in the private sector, joint sector or in the government will test and certify the equipment. These labs will be accredited by the TTSC centre [Bangalore] for which it would charge certification fees from them. The labs can charge the testing and certification fees/charges from the telecom service providers,” says an internal note of the DoT.

Sources in the government say that the issue of testing telecom equipment was also in the agenda in the just-concluded trip of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the U.S.

“Since the U.S. and India has been facing similar kind of security issues arising out of huge imports of telecom equipment, particularly from Chinese companies, India has been seeking help from the U.S. in equipment testing…Soon we might see both sides signing a formal agreement in this connection. The project is important, considering the fact that today around $7 billion worth of critical telecom equipment are inducted into the Indian network every year,” a senior official engaged in the project said.