The government has cleared a proposal to put technical-spying agency NTRO in charge of securing the IT installations of key infrastructure bodies including telecommunications, power, railways and airports.
The move comes at the behest of National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon after considerable resistance from bureaucrats and politicians who were concerned about handing this key role to an intelligence body that is not subject to checks and balances.
Last week, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cleared this proposal that came after years of deliberation. In December 2012, Menon had announced plans to shore up defences against paralysing cyber-attacks in these critical sectors.
But while guidelines for the project were prepared and issued in June 2013, the government was caught in a furious battle over the project’s ownership. While many felt the ideal choice was the Computer Emergency Response Team-India (CERT-IN), controlled by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the NSA was in favour of the NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation), which is controlled by his office and is not answerable to Parliament.
“Many of us felt that NTRO, being an intelligence agency with little oversight should not be heading such a project. But the counter argument was that it had better sensors than what the Ministry of Communications and IT and CERT-IN had to detect such cyber-attacks,” a senior minister, who did not wish to be named, told HT while confirming the CCS decision.
In the first phase, the NTRO will look at seven sectors including telecommunications, oil and gas, Air Traffic Control, power grids and nuclear installations, and railways. “As capacities are built up more sectors will be added to this list,” a senior NTRO official told HT on the condition of anonymity.
The project’s first phase, according to the perspective plan, will be for five years and will cost Rs 200 crore. During this period, nearly 500 IT professionals with various levels of experience will be hired to start building robust defence systems for critical sectors.
NTRO was created as a technical spying agency on the lines of the American NSA (National Security Agency) and monitors satellite communications, missile testing, UAV surveillance among other things. It has three major wings that deal with cyber security — the Net Security Team that does analysis of attacks, the Information Domination Group that is tasked with hacking and the Cyber Application and Research group that deals with surveillance of and internet monitoring. While these give NTRO an edge over other agencies, it also gives it access to a lot of sensitive data that has sparked questions about concerns about the invasion of privacy of citizens.