It is looking at inter-corporate rivalry between two Chinese telecom companies

In a major incident of national security breach, India’s top intelligence agencies and Department of Telecom is all set to jointly launch an investigation into the alleged role of Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei in hacking into Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)’s network and sabotaging its expansion plans in Rajahmundry in coastal Andhra Pradesh. Curiously, this is probably the first case where the Centre is also looking at inter-corporate rivalry between two Chinese telecom companies, the other being ZTE, which has bagged BSNL’s network expansion project including the one in Rajahmundry.

Following reports of Huawei engineers hacking a ‘base station controller’ (BSC), which controls several ‘base transceiver station’ (BTS) or mobile radio base station in an area, during network upgradation work at Rajahmundry in September/October this year, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in the Capital alerted the Department of Telecom, which in turn sought reply from the BSNL. Though the state-run telecom company conceded there has been a breach by Huawei, it failed to give a detailed account of damage done to the national security or the penal action taken against the Chinese firm.

Now, a five-member team comprising senior official from NSCS, Intelligence Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs and BSNL will reach the core of the entire issue. “Several key questions have remained unanswered by the BSNL Andhra Pradesh circle…We will find out entire details about the hacking of BSC like failure of password management, change in database, accessibility of BSC from remote location and authorisation of commands to Huawei personnel. Considering the fact that all this has happened in a coastal city, and that too in a Naxal-affected State, a thorough probe might bring out more facts,” a senior official engaged in the probe told The Hindu.

What is more startling is the fact that the BSNL even failed to report the matter to police or intelligence sleuths in Andhra Pradesh even after finding out the gravity of the situation. It just reported the matter to the Huawei, says an internal communication between the NSCS and the DoT. Initially, the BSNL did not take the matter seriously. It was only after the DoT’s follow ups on the issue, the telecom PSU responded.

In its reply to the DoT, the BSNL said the Andhra Pradesh circle stated that the ‘BSC was relocated at Rajahmundry as a part of phase VII ZTE expansions and 10 numbers of BTS were re-homed on trial basis for confirmation of its satisfactory working before loading actual phase VII sites on it. All the BTS were reverted as soon as the problem (of hacking) was noticed and no live traffic was lost. The BSC was brought down by some (Huawei) company employee due to some inter-corporate rivalry. The problem was resolved when it was brought to the notice of M/s Huawei.”

“A notice was issued to M/s Huawei directing them to investigate the matter. In response to the notice, a national team from M/s Huawei visited Andhra Pradesh circle and assured that such incidents will not reoccur in future and they will take all possible measures to avoid such incidents…Such incident has not occurred after the assurance,” the BSNL response to the DoT said.

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