Alarmed over an alert by the apex security and intelligence agencies, flagging serious concerns on 'possible threat' of data loss through surveillance cameras especially Chinese origin installed at various military establishments across the country, the Indian navy headquarters has asked all its bases and units to remove this closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems.
According to internal communication, reviewed by The Week, the Integrated Defence Headquarters of Ministry of Defence (MoD), one of the market leaders in surveillance cameras is Hikvision, which has 41 per cent Chinese government holding and it is operating in India through an Indian company's collaboration. The modules of these cameras systems are supplied by the Chinese firm, however, these products are marketed as 'Made in India', MoD letter claims. And, according to an estimate, Hikvision enjoys over 35 per cent market share in India. Besides, bagging a contract to install 1.5 lakh CCTVs cameras in Delhi, the Chinese firm is believed to have supplied solutions to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). Moreover, it is also one of the vendors for Bharat Electronics (BEL) that works on highly sensitive and classified defence projects in India.
The Week has first reported (in July) about a high-level inquiry is being underway over the installation of cheap quality surveillance devices in high-security buildings, including South Block, North Block, and Sena Bhawan.
The National Security Council Secretariat and the Defence Intelligence Agency have raised security concerns about the possible threat of data loss through surveillance cameras, especially Chinese-origin and Hikvision cameras.
It has emerged that data loss can occur even if the cameras are not connected to an external network. "This loss (data) could be through programmed or coded servers or embedded hardware for wi-fi or SIM-based connectivity, or during maintenance or replacement from the memory/cache of the CCTV and other surveillance systems," the note stated.
Because of the alert, the naval headquarters has asked its all formations to "discontinue" procurement of CCTV cameras and surveillance systems from Hikvision. And simultaneously ordered the replacement of existing Hikvision surveillance systems and CCTVs from its locations to be done in a phased manner.
Surveillance cameras are being used extensively for security for military establishments. And, the data from such surveillance systems can be used for AI (artificial intelligence) based on facial recognition, number plate recognition and object recognition. "Compromise of a CCTV system could also compromise the security of military establishment," the note further stated.
Indian navy headquarters has also directed its units for procurement of surveillance cameras is only through Govt e-Market (GeM), which has removed Chinese origin products from its portal as per the directives of the Department of Promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT).
Citing a threat to national security, Prime minister Narendra Modi led the union government last year had banned 267 Chinese apps, including the wildly popular TikTok and PUBG.
Certain directives have been issued to address security concerns. Like, surveillance cameras and the respective storage devices are "not" to be connected to the internet, and all CCTVs are to be configured on a dedicated air-gapped network and, in no circumstances, be connected to the internet. Moreover, storage devices are to be fixed at locations manned by armed forces personnel with suitable security measures.
"CCTVs or storage devices are not taken outside naval premises for repair and maintenance and maintenance of old/defective CCTVs is to be monitored by units," naval headquarters stated while adding that surveillance cameras with wi-fi/Bluetooth/wireless/ 4G or 5G connectivity are prohibited. Cameras with USB or Ethernet connectivity only are allowed to be installed at naval locations.
Moreover, the defective surveillance cameras are to be destroyed and not be handed over to anyone responsible for their maintenance.