The official operating system of India


The government has set in motion an ambitious plan to develop its own software and end the reliance on foreign operating systems and anti-virus products after growing worries over the spurt in cyber attacks on Indian establishments.


The government formed a high-level taskforce in February to devise a plan for building indigenous software, said a senior intelligence official who is a member. The panel will also suggest ways to conduct third-party audits on existing software in government offices to prevent online sabotage attempts until the software's launch, he said.


The overwhelming belief among government bosses is that an indigenous low-grade, but clean, software could nix the chances of foreign states infiltrating the computers of key Indian establishments and compromising the country's security. "A sanitised, lower level operating system and application software may be preferred to the advanced versions, which necessarily require access to internet for upgrades," the official said. The new software could be deployed in key departments that have been under constant cyber attacks. The taskforce also includes officials of the Prime Minister's Office as well as defence, home and telecom & IT ministries.


The move to constitute the taskforce comes after the defence ministry raised concerns over use of anti-virus products of foreign vendors in the wake of a series of attacks on its systems by China-based hackers.


The technical arm of intelligence agencies too have objected to the use of foreign-made operating systems. Last December, PMO computers were attacked by hackers traced back to China. Similarly, hackers from Pakistan and terrorist organisations too have stepped up attacks on Indian websites in recent years. The taskforce is expected to submit its recommendations by June.


Operating system and anti-virus software makers said their products were completely safe. No company official spoke on record. The government is key customer, and sales to its departments are a big driver of revenues. Even so, some welcomed the move.


"It's prudent for the government to develop an open source-based operating system on which it has total control. Codes for even anti-virus software and processors are available which can be customised," said a technical head of a US-based network security giant.


The government's move shines a light on a major chink in India's technological armour. Despite home to nearly 10% of the world's software developer base, the country still lacks an operating system or security product of repute. India is now making a late scramble to join nations that own both hardware and software technology critical for the safe upkeep of their defence, space and nuclear programmes. The government recently sanctioned Rs 50 crore to design an indigenous microprocessor.


The government's unease with foreign technology and hardware has been on the rise in recent years. Recently, it warned telcos against installation of foreign gear.


No sensitive information will be stored on systems connected to the internet, while ministries and departments have been told to carry out regular IT systems audits. The government has also established a Crisis Management Plan against cyber attacks to be implemented by all central ministries, state governments and critical sectors, he said.


TNN, May 10, 2010