Cyber Swatchhta kendra inaugurated

A welcome initiative of a dedicated website aimed at Cyber Security support for the public was launched today at Delhi in the form of www.cyberswachhtakendra.gov.in

The website is operated by CERT-In and appears to be supported by Quickheal and is promoted as a Botnet Cleaning and Malware Analysis Center”. One of the objectives of the CSK would be to detect botnet infections in India and notify, enable cleaning and securing systems of end users so as to prevent further infections.

The site proposes to provide Cyber Security information as well as free scanning tools from Quickheal for malware.

It may be noted that during the evolution of Naavi.org over a time, links to many malware removal tools and anti virus tools had been provided (See the archive of a page in 2005 showing link to panda scanning software and virus information links on the left menu) along with the educational aspects now proposed by Cyber Swatchhta Kendra. Naavi.org can take the pride that several years before securing Digital India concept evolved at Government level, we were already setting the trend. Naavi.org has evolved subsequently but we hope that many of its services and suggestions will continue to motivate and guide other institutions including Government agencies in the coming days.

We welcome the CSK  initiative and hope it will be maintained properly as it is expected to attract special attention of attackers with an intention to tarnish the image of the Government.

(CSK was a popular abbreviation used by  Chennai Super Kings, a team of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Since it is no longer in operation as an IPL team, the abbreviation CSK can be used for Cyber Swachchta Kendra. It has otherwise been referred to as the Botnet cleaning and Malware Analysis Center with the abbreviation BCMAC)

Naavi

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RBi seeks public response on MDR Charges…. May or May not implement..Watal Committee Recommendations

For records we may say that RBI has sought public comments on its draft circular for revising MDR charges downwards as a part of the follow up on Watal Committee report implementation. A copy of the draft circular is available here.

According to the notification issued in this regard dated 16th February 2017    comments/ suggestions/ feedback, if any, may be sent by post to the Chief General Manager, Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, Reserve Bank of India, Central Office Building, 14th Floor, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Mumbai – 400 001, or by  e mail to mdrfeedback@rbi.org.in on or before February 28, 2017.

It has been pointed out in the case of the draft circular of August 11, 2016 regarding “Limited Liability of Customers on unauthorized transactions”,RBI issued the draft circular for public comments upto August 31, 2016, obtained the comments and then went silent.

Despite all forms of nudging, RBI continues to remain silent to the day and has not implemented the draft circular nor has made public the comments received. In RTI applications, RBI has stated that it is still evaluating the public responses even after 8 months and is apparently lying to the public that it is desirous of implementing the circular because Banks donot want it.

The Finance Minister and  PMO are also remaining silent on the representations about the non implementation of the August 11 circular.

This incident has proved that RBI is in the habit of issuing draft circulars for public comments without any intention of taking action based on such comments if the other stake holders namely Banks are not in agreement. The calling for public comments appears to be a farce.

It could perhaps be a strategy to kill a move pushed by some RBI executives who falsely believe that RBI is an organization with a mandate to safeguard the interest of the Banking public in India and not a promotional agency for promoting the share holder interests of Banks!

Under the circumstances, the draft circular on MDR charges may also be an eye-wash and RBI may not implement any reduction of MDR charges if Banks oppose the same. The underlying fact is that RBI is no longer regulating the Banks. It is the Banks and the IBA which is manipulating the policies that come out through RBI.

Despite a few individuals in RBI who have the intention of doing good to people and succeed from time to time to persuade the policy makers to move towards making some consumer oriented changes, their efforts are scuttled by issuing such draft circulars which are later buried without follow up.

I wish Mr Urjit Patel proves me wrong.

Naavi

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Weakest link in the Digital Payment System security is with the Mobile Operator

The Government of India is placing a huge reliance on Aadhaar for all forms of KYC. In the coming days, the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) will also be introduced where the biometric of the Aadhaar owner will be used to trigger a financial transaction like the UPI/BHIM application that may be used to send or receive money from another UPI account. It is said that this will be a “PIN Less” and “OTP Less System”.

What this means is that as soon as the application is triggered with a fund transfer request and the biometric of the aadhaar owner is provided to the UPI application, the payment will be completed without a second reference to the account holder. It will be like a “Single Click Payment System”.

There is no doubt that from the user perspective the AEPS will be a very convenient system and particularly for the less educated persons, it appears to be an excellent system. However, one should not forget that in the financial transactions, “Convenience” is only one of the aspects of the transactions and “Security” is another important aspect that needs to be taken care of in any digital payment system.

It is to be reiterated that the systems being introduced by the Government expose the public to risks that are being ignored by the Government and its advisors.

Presently, Aadhaar has introduced a system where by the “Biometric” can be “locked”.  When the biometric is locked, the system may generate an OTP for unlocking. Alternatively, the aadhaar holder has to go to the website and unlock the biometric which again can be done by an OTP. While this is touted to be a security feature that will prevent misuse of an aadhaar number, it must be recognized that the locking and unlocking is only linked to the OTP sent to the registered mobile and hence if a fraudster can get hold of a duplicate SIM, he can over come the locking security.

Thus in many ways, the OTP becomes the determining factor to secure a digital transaction. The security of OTP is directly related to the KYC system adopted by a mobile service provider particularly when a SIM is reported lost and a replacement is sought.

Recently, the Supreme Court has suggested that every Aadhaar number may be linked to a mobile again thinking that this would secure the system.

If for any reason this mobile OTP becomes the norm, then there is a need to ensure that this system is hardened by

a) Sending OTP by encrypted message

b) Increasing the complexity of OTP from a 4 digit numerical to atleast 6 digit numerical and if possible a combination of letters and numbers

c) Using voice based OTP delivery instead of a text based delivery

d) Return OTP also to be encrypted

e) OTP on either side to be sent and received with a digital signature which is both secure and also cyber law compliant.

While I donot expect many operators to become cyber law compliant and use digital signatures on mobile, encryption can be adopted without much of difficulty. However there needs to be a secure key management system to ensure that the security is difficult to be breached.

I hope the authorities including the implementers of the  Watal Committee recommendations will consider appropriate measures to take steps to harden the security of the OTP system which has already been degraded by NIST in USA but continue to be used in India.

I presume that the mobile operators also realize their responsibility in exercising care in obtaining KYC of their customers both when new SIM cards are issued and when lost SIM cards are replaced.

The irony of the current system is that the mobile operator may use an aadhaar as KYC for issue of SIM cards while the Aadhaar uses the OTP on the SIM card for issue locking and unlocking biomeric or for issue of e-aadhaar. This circular authentication is not the ideal security support and it becomes more or less a “Single Factor” authentication system. There is therefore a need to think of alternate measures to break this “Circular authentication system”.

Naavi

 

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Tamil Nadu breathes again

For the last few days, the fight for the CMs chair launched by Ms Sasikala Natarajan (VKS) against Mr O Panneerselvam (OPS) had reached a crescendo with the MLAs supposedly supporting her being held at a resort. The MLAs were not allowed any interaction with the outside world and had even been cut off from TV, News Paper and Internet. A few MLAs from this group ran out of captivity and joined Mr OPS camp confirming that they had been held against their will by VKS. This was a complaint of a cognizable offence which the Police ignored to take notice. Even when the Court asked for a report, Police were only able to report that 119 MLAs had confirmed that they were staying at their own will and not forcibly held captive. However there were at least about 124 MLAs at that time in the resort and why Police could not meet the other 5 MLAs was not known.

Today, the Supreme Court judgement held that Ms VSK is guilty in the Disproportionate Asset (DA) Case and has to undergo 4 years of imprisonment. This effectively made her ineligible for being elected as CM. The VSK camp has now elected an alternate person and still claiming the CM’s post. However OPS who is the care taker CM continues to make his claim that majority of MLAs will support him if there is a proper test of strength.

It is creditable that the Supreme Court which took more than 8 months to come out with its judgement to reverse the previous judgement of Karnataka High Court (Judge: MR Kumaraswamy, since retired) came out with a massive 570 page judgement (Copy of Judgement available here) upholding the trial court judgement. The judgement of the Karantaka High Court was a blatantly erroneous judgement which said “Accused are guilty of disproportionate asset but if we add the value of all the assets, the excess of assets over known source of income is only Rs 2.82 crores which is less than 10% of the known sources and hence does not warrant punishment”.

In arriving at this total of Rs 2.82 crores, the Judge had made a totalling mistake which was in the same judgement copy and hence his conclusion was comical. The correct addition would increase the value of excess assets to over Rs 15 crores. Hence the judgement could have been over turned at a glance as something which prima facie was erroneous and in fact suggested some malafide inference on the part of the soon to retire Judge.

Now the Supreme Court has arrived at the disproportionate assets could be around 211% and that is the order of the error that the Karnataka High Court judge committed and based on which acquitted the accused.

However the erroneous judgement gave enough room for J Jayalalitha to spend her last days as the CM and the justice has now caught up with the co-accused.

At last the truth has prevailed.

Though this case has no relation to the Cyber Law issues that we normally discuss here, as a person who spent over 25 years in Tamil Nadu, the undersigned was unhappy with the state of affairs prevailing in the State and hence this judgement now comes as a great relief.

I now wish that Governance returns to Tamil Nadu and OPS would be allowed to run his Government without the VSK camp creating more hurdles. If however, VSK camp decides to continue its fight, DMK will become the largest party in the Assembly but in a situation where no body will be able to claim majority. Then we may see President Rule in the State.

I hope Mr OPS will not be content at getting back his CM chair but order a proper probe into the mystery around the death of Ms Jayalalitha. This will bring out the fraudulent use of the concept of “Privacy of Health Information” by Apollo Hospital authorities and peopel sorrounding Ms Sasikala. This is important from the point of view of defining the “Rights of the Kith and Kin as well as the general public” to know the health information of an individual in certain circumstances. Proper checks and balances will have to be codified into the new law on Health Care Data Security and Privacy which the Central Government is in the process of writing. (See www.hdpsa.in).

I also wish that the Supreme Court/Constitution will in future not allow a non member of a house to be appointed as a CM/PM and make it mandatory that a leader of legislatory party should also be a member. This will prevent some of the anomalies which we see in such circumstances. The present system of “I have the letter of support and therefore I am the CM” situation should go. The “Composite Confidence vote” could be made mandatory in all such cases rather than calling the person with the largest number of supporters to be sworn in immediately as it is being suggested now as a constitutional requirement.

Tamil Nadu should also ensure that its police force is not overtly political as it is at present where it some times appears to blindly support the ruling dispensation as was the case in the recent months.

I also wish that Supreme Court censures the high court judge who gave out the erroneous judgement which was not an error of judgement on any point of law or even facts. It was an error of arithmetic totalling of a few figures which should have been corrected much earlier and probably by a suo moto action by Karnataka High Court itself without a need for the appeal. If it was not for the persistence of Mr B.V. Acharya the public prosecutor, the Karnataka Government could have even failed to appeal the erroneous judgement in which case the truth would have been buried for ever.

Let’s wait and watch how things turn out.

Naavi

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Infosys in self contradiction that may have a devastating effect on the company

For a long time, Infosys has been a well respected corporate entity. Even when it faced business difficulties it never lost its respect amongst the Indian public. However, the recent controversy involving payment of a severance pay of $868250/- to Mr David Kennedy, former Chief Compliance official, (Refer article here) immediately after paying R 17.92 crores to another executive Rajiv Bansal who left recently as CFO (See article here) .

In a discussion on TV, Mr Narayana Murthy who has raised a serious objection to the payment of high severance pay to senior executives leaving the company indicated that the reason why the Board seems to have made the payment of severance pay to a person who left voluntarily immediately after a good pay hike could be because he had access to valuable confidential information. It also means that if the money had not been paid, there was a risk of sensitive confidential information about the Company being made public to the detriment of the business interests of the Company.

This statement of Mr Narayana Murthy has opened a legal issue that there was apparently an ulterior reason why such large severance pay was paid. If there was any threat that the information would be leaked, then it would have amounted to “Black Mail” and criminal action could have been taken on the outgoing employees. If they had not demanded but the company was gracious enough to pay the large severance pay, it prima facie opens the possibility that this was “hush money” paid to ensure that these people keep their mouths shut. If so what they could have revealed could be considered as damaging to the members of the Board or to the CEO.

Shareholders of the Company now have a ground to urge action by Company Law Board to make an enquiry on the incident and try to get proper clarification from the management.

While the Company may justify its action as a “Contract” negotiated with the “Outgoing employee”, there is a serious doubt as to the motives behind the decision and it is likely to leave a severe dent on the share holder confidence on the Company and its management.

Even SEBI and Stock Exchanges may issue notices to the Company to disclose the details of the Board decision which approved the severance pay and the logic for determining the quantum.

Naavi

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Section 65 of ITA 2000 and its relation to TN politics and Apollo Hospital

[P.S: The political developments since last night in Tamil Nadu has thrown up some interesting elements which surprisingly lead to ITA 2000/8 and operation of Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 in the records of Apollo Hospital.  Following discussion is for academic purpose only and based on current developments as reported in the media.]

Recently, a case decision was brought to my notice which triggered a need to discuss the Jurisprudence behind application of Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 which I have often held is wrongly applied by police in many cases. Some advocates also have a difference of opinion in this regard and hence there is a need to clarify the position as I read it from the Act.

This is a decision of the Andhra High Court dated 29th July 2005 and concerns the criminal petitions filed by Syed Asafuddin and Ors vs The State of Andhra Pradesh for quashing of FIR filed under Sections 409, 420 and 120 B of IPC and Section 65 of ITA 2000 as also Section 63 of Copyright Act.

The Complaint was registered in respect of an alleged action by employees of Tata Tele Services to re-set mobile handsets given by Reliance Infocomm to its customers under a special scheme with service provider binding for three years.

The Service provider (Reliance Infocomm) had embedded a code in the handset that it could connect only to the designated Reliance network. It was alleged that Tata Tele employees assisted the customers of Reliance (who had purchased the handsets at a heavily discounted price with a commitment to stay on the Reliance network for a minimum of 3 years), to remove the restrictive code so that they could be used on other networks such as Tata Telecom.

Obviously, this caused a loss to Reliance and was against the letter and spirit of its contract with the customers who had availed the benefits.

The judgement  has thrown enough insights into whether the sections applied were sustainable or not and is therefore illustrative.

The point of contention in the case for our focus was whether Section 65 of ITA 2000 was the right section to have been applied or should it have been Section 66?.

No doubt the Court came to the conclusion that Section 65 was appropriate and did not agree to quash the FIR but its argument in coming to this conclusion appears faulty. However the decision is a decision and may be looked at as a “Precedent” until overturned.

We need to also keep in mind the fact that this was not the final trial but a decision related only on the quashing of FIR. We should not therefore jump to a conclusion that Section 65 is applicable in such cases in future.

In order to debate this further, section 65 of ITA 2000/8 is reproduced here for immediate reference.

Section 65: Tampering with computer source documents.-

Whoever knowingly or intentionally conceals, destroys or alters or intentionally or knowingly causes another to conceal, destroy, or alter any computer source code used for a computer, computer programme, computer system or computer network, when the computer source code is required to be kept or maintained by law for the time being in force, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years, or with fine which may extend up to two lakh rupees, or with both.

Explanation.–For the purposes of this section, “computer source code” means the listing of programmes, computer commands, design and layout and programme analysis of computer resource in any form.

As regards Section 65 of ITA 2000/8, the critical aspects are

a) Whether some computer source code was concealed, destroyed or altered?

b) Whether the deleted “Computer Source Code” was required to be kept or maintained under law for the time being in force?

In the instant case, there was a “Source Code” that was “Altered or deleted” and hence there is no dispute on this.

However, the dispute is on the fact whether the deleted source code was in fact required or maintained by law for the time being in force or not.

If there was no need for the source code to be kept or maintained under law for the time being in force, then there is no offence made out under this section.  If so then an offence under Section 65 is made out.

(P.S: I am not ruling out the offence being recognized in this case  under Section 66 which  was not included in the FIR. I restrict my discussion only to the jurisprudence surrounding Section 65).

The accused here is Tata Tele. We need to ask “Was there any need under law for Tata Tele to keep the source code or maintain it for the time being”? . Obviously Tata Tele and Reliance had no privity of contract in this matter. If at all there was any obligation it would be in the contract between Reliance and the Customer. Tata Tele can also claim that they made the code alteration at the request of the Reliance customer.

Did the contract form between Reliance and its customer specify that the Customer was prohibited from making his handset compatible to other networks? and Was such a contract produced as evidence? …it appears that the answers to these questions are in the negative.

If you want to make the customer the “accused”, then “mens-rea” may need to be proved. It could be a civil wrong but would it be a criminal offence?…difficult to say.

Further this could be determined by the fact whether the customer was clearly informed (not through a standard form contract where a clause is buried in small print) that the handset which has been “Purchased” by the customer contains a “Hidden Code” and he is not to delete or alter the code. If he has not been informed , this could be a “Computer contaminant” introduced by Reliance as defined under Section 43 of ITA 2000/8 since this hidden code could be held as a code “that monitors whether the customer is using Reliance network or some other network”.

The interesting part of the judgement is in the interpretation of the section regarding the maintenance of the computer source code under law.

Firstly the judgement has tried to create an artificial wedge between “Kept” and “Maintained” and associating the words “under law” only with the word “Maintained” and not with the word “kept”. Accordingly, the judgement has considered that “When the computer source code is required to be kept” and “maintained by law for the time being in force” as two different situations.

Then, for no specific reason, the judgement continues stating  “going by the allegations in the complaint, it becomes clear that the second respondent (i.e: Reliance) is in fact maintaining the computer source code. If there is allegation against any person including the petitioners, certainly an offence under Section 65 of I.-T. Act is made out.”

Does the Judge mean that there was a need to maintain source code under law and it was deleted by the accused?. …it is unclear.

The Judge seems to have missed the point that what the section intends is that if any person including the petitioner or the respondent was required to keep the information for a certain period of time and it was deleted before such a time, then only the offence is made out and not otherwise. If the respondent is maintaining the code and the petitioner has deleted/altered it in another device, the offence cannot be imputed.

In our opinion there was no responsibility/obligation for Tata Tele, the accused under any “law” to maintain the source code. If such “law” could exist, it could be in the TRAI guidelines on use of ” Network bound handsets” which would bind all the licensed players under an obligation not to tamper with the codes of their competitors. There is no evidence of the existence of such a guideline nor was it quoted in the judgement.

In view of the above, without stating that what Tata Tele has done is correct and unpunishable, I would still consider that the view of the honourable Court that Section 65 was applicable in this particular case appears un-sustainable.

Also, from the facts of the case it appears that what might have happened could be that it is not a case of deletion of any data. It could be a case where a data piece was added to what was already present in the handset within the larger code set created by the handset manufacturer. Accordingly,  “An additional Code enabling acceptance of Tata Telecom network connection” might have been inserted without deleting the “Existing code enabling acceptance of Reliance network connection”. Hence whether this was a case of “Concealing, deletion or altering” of source code inserted by Reliance is itself doubtful.

The original source code on the handset was inserted by the handset manufacturer like Samsung and not Reliance. This was perhaps first modified by Reliance to delete acceptance by networks other than Reliance. Tata Tele might have then restored the handset to its original status. Hence there appears to have been lack of cause of action for Reliance to invoke Section 65 in this case. I would therefore not consider this judgement as a precedent to be followed.

Now coming back to what attracted my attention immediately to Section 65, is the fact that within all the political turmoil caused by the recent developments in Chennai, there has been an allegation by the TN Chief Minister (Present) that the medical records of J Jayalalitha might have been tampered with by the doctors who attended on her before and after her admission to Appollo Hospital. With this allegation, there is a public notice of a potential cognizable crime. Hence any and  all evidence  that could have a bearing on the offence becomes “Evidence” that needs to be preserved for the time being under IPC.

Since it is expected that Appollo Hospital has all records in electronic form and there should be several e-mail and video conference records at Apollo including the interaction with the London based doctor, all these evidence will be “Electronic Evidence” and if they are deleted because they may be incriminating to the interests of either the accused persons or even Appollo Hospital itself, we will have a possibility of a Section 65 offence being committed by Appollo Hospital and others. 

If there is any Commission of enquiry appointed for the investigation there is a possibility that the hospital may refuse to provide any evidence since they would have been deleted. It is therefore imperative for Mr Panneer Selvam or any Court in TN to immediately order for securing the evidence that may be present in connection with this suspected offence and also give a notice to the hospital that Section 65 would be invoked if the information is wrongfully deleted.

Naavi

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