Home ministry plans legislative amendments to enable covert ops by law enforcement agencies in cyberspace

  • A recent assessment by the home ministry had revealed huge amounts of data available on government servers were vulnerable to threats

  • Furthermore, it was noted that agencies acting as a first responders need to be well-equipped to mitigate cyber security breaches

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs, as a nodal ministry, will bring legislative amendments in the existing rules to provide protective cover to security personnel operating as decoys

New Delhi: The government is planning to extend immunity to law enforcement agencies operatives to launch covert action against criminal gangs threatening the cyber landscape. According to documents reviewed by Firstpost, the move was initiated few months ago after an assessment that had revealed huge amounts of data available on government servers were vulnerable to threats, and agencies acting as first responders need to be well-equipped to mitigate cyber security breaches. The Ministry of Home Affairs, as a nodal ministry, will bring legislative amendments in the existing rules to provide protective cover to security personnel operating as decoys.

"MHA will initiate action to bring legislative changes to provide immunity for cyber decoys to be used by law enforcement agencies to counter dark web transactions and technological solutions needs to be developed for interception of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and spoofed calls fishing for information," the ministry's documents said.

The ministry is also discussing the modalities with other concerned ministries to bring financial institutions under the legal framework. This will pave the way for making cyber security compulsory for all critical sectors of the economy and any lapses in setting up of robust processes, controls and monitoring mechanisms will be treated as per the law. To counter multinational syndicates, the ministry is also working with National Investigation (NIA) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to make certain changes in existing procedure of issuing Letters Rogatory (LR), seeking inputs on cyber criminal networks abroad.

 Home ministry plans legislative amendments to enable covert ops by law enforcement agencies in cyberspace

Representational image. Thinkstock

Non-cooperation by companies operating foreign based servers is hampering the investigation and in the state of Maharashtra alone, chargesheets in more than 30,000 cyber cases were pending due to non-compliance by foreign-based communication application companies. Fraudsters targeting people from overseas are getting away due to jurisdiction barriers and thereby exploiting weak coordination, gaps in observing KYC norms by banks, service providers and e-wallet companies, capacity issues at the cutting edge level and difficulties in forensic analysis.

It has also been proposed to put together a sectoral Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) on the lines of a central unit known as CERT-In. In 2018, the CERT-In handled two lakh incidents including website intrusion and malware propagation, malicious code, phishing, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, unauthorised scanning activities etc. The CERT-In is also tracking the defacing of Indian websites and suggesting suitable measures to tighten control on web servers for concerned organisations.

On the latest cyber threats and vulnerabilities, CERT-In had issued 193 security alerts and 36 advisories to safeguard critical sectors infrastructure. A total of 454 phishing incidents targeting financial systems were also reported by the CERT-In. A total of 16,659 defacements have been tracked last year. Recently, it warned about a phishing and malware campaign launched by a criminal network on 12 September, 2019 targeting individuals and financial organisations to steal data. The criminals were using fraudulent emails purporting to originate from the Income Tax Department.

There is also a big gap between the number of incidents of cyber fraud and number of FIRs registered under the IT Act. The gaps found in preparedness have been highlighted in six categories — approach gaps, collaboration gaps, competency gaps, infrastructure gaps, awareness gaps and inadequate support environment. Gaps in the competency levels of security agencies include the lack of expertise, dependence on vendors and absence of dedicated resources. As a way forward, four categories of measures have been suggested — altering focus from reactive to proactive, better coordination and collaborative mechanisms to bring all stakeholders together, developing core capacities for infrastructure, resource and skill development and improving the existing system through a review of legal and regulatory framework.

The home ministry has also asked security agencies to adopt programmes similar to the one run by IIT-Madras to tackle emerging threats in the cyber landscape. IIT-Madras' work on Information Security Education Awareness (ISEA), sponsored by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), for capacity building and training of government personnel and judiciary has been evaluated as one of the best in the country by the home ministry. IIT-Madras' information security research and development centre collaborates with the international research community and carries out research in critical areas of the government sector pertaining to national security. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently addressed the 56th annual convocation ceremony at IIT-Madras.

Highlighting the urgency, the ministry said there is a need for public-private partnerships for formulating policies and regulations on cyber security and creating extensive cyber security education programmes. It added that cyber security forums need to be created for an exchange of information on cyber threats, sharing of best practices in investigation and legal procedures in other countries.

"Technologies that could automatically counter malicious mails at the server itself should be developed. Cyber security strategies for the next five years has to be planned in order to have a long-lasting and meaningful impact," the ministry's documents said.

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2019 15:44:15 IST