New Delhi: The central government is overhauling its communications infrastructure to make it more secure because of concerns over bugging and hacking, replacing an obsolete decades-old internal phone system.
The ministry of home affairs and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have decided to replace the Restricted Access Exchange or RAX. This connects ministries and departments, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing and other law enforcement agencies.
“RAX is not secure and (is) completely outdated. The reasons (for replacing it) cannot be revealed due to the sensitivity of the matter,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity. “The new system that will replace it is much more expensive and encrypted and will be used for functions like data exchange.”
The existing system isn’t encrypted, making it vulnerable to breaches, said a second official, confirming the development.
“RAX is commonly used to connect with senior officials in the government,” he said. “It has never been secure and chances of interception and inside snooping are always high. DoT is presently studying alternate systems that can replace RAX.”
Both the officials said they hadn’t come across any any instances of bugging.
The RAX directory makes it clear to users that the line is not secure, another official said. “We avoid secret talk on RAX.”
DoT is evaluating various systems on parameters that include interception vulnerability, encryption capability, cost and time for implementation.
The move is part of initiatives that include connecting about 5,000 government offices with a secure optical fibre network to ensure communications are not affected in the event of an emergency or natural disaster as Mint reported in September 2009. This will piggyback on the defence optical fibre network being built by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) for the defence forces. The defence forces will migrate their communications system to this network when it’s ready, vacating much-needed spectrum that will be used by phone companies.
The government is also setting up hot lines with more nations, mostly using leased lines and Internet protocol (IP) based systems with the encryption being implemented by the Defence Research and Development Organization. The devices are expected to be available sometime this month onwards.
The measures come amid a tightening of communications security. DoT has formed a committee to look into the interception of encrypted communications carried by services such as BlackBerry and Google.