blogging, social networking for Indian diplomats
By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) Indian diplomats now cannot open a
Facebook account, use external e-mail services, or write blogs,
thanks to new rules and much stricter firewalls aimed at preventing
cyber attacks and leakage of classified information.
Over the past eight months, the Ministry of External Affairs
has been overhauling its computer network security, putting
up layers of barriers against intrusions into the network,
officials associated with cyber security said.
There are almost 600 computers at its headquarters at South
Block, about half of which are connected to the Internet.
Classified work is typically done on stand-alone computers,
usually with the external drives removed.
"We have set up a unified threat management system for
the ministry. This simultaneously uses eight levels of protection
like firewalls and spam mail filtering," said a senior
"We are also requesting and encouraging more responsible
behaviour from our staff when working online," the official
told IANS, requesting anonymity.
A circular issued last week asked officials not to log on
to social networking sites, specifically citing Facebook,
Orkut and Ibibo as examples. The other prohibited practices
include download of peer-to-peer music using sites like Kazaa
and sharing of photos through Flickr and Picasa.
The circular also discourages using services like G-mail,
Yahoo! or Hotmail for official communication. A similar circular,
officials said, had been issued in the Prime Minister's Office
But the matter is even more critical for the foreign office
as officials posted in Indian missions abroad or on foreign
tours tend to use web-based mail rather than the ministry's
own mail system.
"We have had cases of senior officers using G-mail or
other similar accounts abroad for official work, only to find
some form of tampering when they return," the official
said, adding people have been told to change their web-mail
passwords if they had opened the account during foreign tours.
The missions have been told to use their official mail ID
issued by the National Informatics Centre for communication.
But several missions have complained that the mail home page
was inaccessible due to port blocks by local Internet service
They have been asked to contact their service providers to
unblock the site.
"We want to secure communications with Indian missions
through private networks. This may be implemented in the next
few months," said an official working with the technical
team in the ministry.
Apart from their offices within the country, cyber security
officials are also fortifying Indian embassies abroad with
the first such team visiting the Indian embassy in Beijing
late last year.
In 2008, nearly 100 Internet addresses were blocked, several
of them at Chengdu in China, after these were found to be
the source of a swarm of attacks on the network.
"An attack could be just a simple mail, which activates
a programme to leak data from that computer to another address
on the net," the ministry official said, adding new intrusions
were more geographically dispersed.
"We had some intrusions which were traced to Houston,
but we know that Chinese hackers were behind it," the
official said. "It's a daily defensive war that we are
Not all online behaviour guidelines are the result of potential
security threats - some are merely to caution officials. Like
late last year, some officials got a circular advising them
to stop writing blogs.
The order came after a Saudi Arabia-based official's personal
website created a controversy for carrying an advertisement
on writer Salman Rushdie, which was posted automatically as
the site was hosted on a free server.
"Now we have mailing communities to keep in touch with
each other - no blogs."
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