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Data leak shadow on Indian BPOs

A British TV sting exposes continued pilferage of data from Indian call centres, reports Prerna K Mishra.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2006 12:28 IST

The Indian business process outsourcing industry is once again under attack for compromising the personal details of global clients. The Sunday Times has claimed — quoting an investigative report by Channel 4, to be telecast on October 5 — that credit card data and passport and driving license numbers are being stolen from Indian call centres and sold to the highest bidder.

This time, unlike in the Karan Bahree and HSBC-like cases where BPO employees were in the firing line, the charges are against middlemen.

The claims made by Channel 4 dispatches are serious. “Middlemen are offering bulk packages of credit card numbers for sale. They even have access to taped telephone conversations in which British customers disclose sensitive security information to call centre staff,” The Sunday Times has reported.

With the fresh assault on the reputation of it golden goose, the industry is once again on the defensive. The National Association on Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has been exchanging notes with Channel 4 for details regarding the companies from where data leakage has happened. But the channel is yet to oblige.

The association is also trying to get the information from Star News that has telecast footage related to the same case.

Says Nasscom president Kiran Karnik: “While there are a lot of unanswered questions, we take any allegation of a breach in our security extremely seriously. The media can help by ensuring that there is no further delay in them bringing evidence of their claims to the Indian police.”

Says Quatrro founder Raman Roy: “The devil is in the detail. We have tried to get the details of the companies involved and the type of information on offer. But that, as usual, is not forthcoming.”

Presently, the only available information is that Channel 4 has on record a middleman named Sushant Chandak offering to sell a database with the credit card details of 2,00,000 people as commercial “leads”. At a meeting in Kolkata, he seems to have boasted of a network of agents in call centres across India. A second New Delhi-based middleman known as Ghufran is offering details of customers with Halifax, Nationwide, Woolwich, Bank of Scotland and NatWest for £5 each. The details are believed to have been obtained from purchases using cards, the report claims.

Interestingly, according to the newspaper, Chandak and Ghufran have denied selling information unlawfully. Chandak reportedly said the information he provided was not genuine while Ghufran said he was passed the data.

Says Roy, “We asked if the channel has gone to the banks in question to validate the data sold about their clients by the Indian middlemen. But they have responded by saying they did not feel the need to do so. This leaves the Indian BPO in the firing range with its hands tied at the back.”

The industry has also come down heavily on the so-called global sting operations targeting the Indian BPO industry. “We are concerned about the veracity of such stories, especially sting operations. Uncovering crime in society is one thing and inducing crime by offering monetary inducements is another,” adds Karnik.

First Published: Oct 01, 2006 14:29 IST