Chinese Spiderman a security threat for India

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 05:02 hrs

Known by fancy names like Spiderman and Chinaking, these software, imported from China and available at many mobile stores, might seem harmless. But these have begun to give Indian intelligence agencies sleepless nights. The reason: These software can change or duplicate the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) - the unique 15-digit embedded number - of China-made mobile devices.

It's through IMEI codes that police are able to locate lost mobiles or track locations of terrorists using mobile phones for their operations.

Alarm bells have begun to ring and it's being said changing IMEI could be a national security threat. The panic is understandable as 65 per cent of mobile devices sold in India are produced in China and are under threat.

After a criminal case was filed by the Madhya Pradesh Police recently, the home ministry wrote to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for a ban on use of these software. The MP police had caught people who had changed IMEI numbers of some Chinese handsets with the help of these.

But there is a hitch. According to DoT, the Indian Telegraph Act, or any other Act, does not have a provision to ban a specific software. Also, even if the government decided to amend the Act and incorporate such provisions, it might not help, because the name of a software could be changed any time.

However, DoT has found a unique solution. It has suggested Section 65 of the IT Act, which deals with tampering of computer source documents, could be invoked. This Act says, if someone conceals or destroys or alters computer source code intentionally, or helps others do so, he faces up to three years of imprisonment, or a Rs 2 lakh fine, or both. DoT says a change in IMEI can be classified as forging of identity, since the code is equivalent to identity, in the electronic form.

Security concerns on Chinese mobiles have made the government go for stringent rules and regulations. For instance, it has prohibited phones without IMEI numbers or those with all zeroes. It has also directed telcos not to process calls from devices with no IMEI code or those not in the updated GSMA database.