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Centre plans to rope in private companies to help secure govt servers, websites | Latest News India

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The Union government is planning to hire private contractors to improve the cybersecurity of its digital assets and services, officials directly responsible for managing these said, citing what they described as the rapidly evolving nature of threats.

The government’s IT services are managed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), which hosts 3.3 million email accounts and maintains more than 10,000 websites and services.
The government’s IT services are managed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), which hosts 3.3 million email accounts and maintains more than 10,000 websites and services.

The decision, discussed within the ministry of electronics and technology (Meity) last month, comes in the wake of a spree of breaches of government servers and websites that were hacked in phishing and ransomware campaigns that are feared to have compromised sensitive information.

“The procurement procedures of the government cannot keep pace with the changing technologies and sophistication of cyberattacks,” one of these officials part of the government’s cybersecurity establishment said on Thursday, asking not to be named.

To initiate the process, a request-for-proposal (RFP) will be issued soon, this person added. An RFP is the first step in a bidding process.

The government’s IT services are managed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), which hosts 3.3 million email accounts and maintains more than 10,000 websites and services.

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The move assumes significance after the past three years recorded a slew of high-profile cybersecurity breaches. The latest among these was a ransomware attack at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where five servers — maintained by NIC — were compromised and 1.3 terrabyte (TB) of data , including patient records, was encrypted, effectively making them useless.

According to the government’s submissions in parliament in the past, the number of cyberattacks involving government as well as private targets recorded by the Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-IN) surged from under 400,000 in 2019 to over 1.1 million in 2020, when the pandemic triggered a shift to remote working that experts have said made establishments more vulnerable.

In 2021, the number of reported incidents was 1.4 million, followed by 1.3 million in 2022.

“The government cannot keep pace with providing you defensive measures since technology is changing very rapidly. It is better to take advantage of companies,” said the person cited above.

A second person aware of the discussions said that the collaboration is likely to involve some organisations dealing with non-sensitive matters at first.

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Officials from NIC and the Meity did not respond to requests for a comment.

Experts welcomed the decision, pointing out pay differences between private and public sector companies. “This is not surprising. Recruitment of cybersecurity talent is difficult in the private sector, and even more so for the government. The field is extremely niche and the best talent is typically picked up by top-end companies,” said Anand Venkatanarayanan, cybersecurity expert and co-founder of think-tank Deepstrat.

“Conceptually, the decision marks a significant progress but how it is implemented will need to be seen,” he added, cautioning against following the old “L-1” method of selecting successful bidders that was based on the lowest cost.

A second industry expert, asking not to be named, said the plan involves hiring what are known as managed security service providers (MSSP), which deploy hardware, software and personnel to clients for security services.

India will not be the first country to get the private sector to assist with cybersecurity of government assets. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works with industry and academia for “security and resilience” of critical infrastructure.

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In 2020, several Indian government email accounts were compromised to launch phishing attacks, some of which were successful since many of the targets clicked on malicious links, taking them to be legitimate since they from a gov.in email address.

A similar phishing campaign was launched in December, 2022, when NIC issued an alert after defence ministry officials reported they had received suspicious emails from someone claiming to be from NIC.

There have also been reports have critical infrastructure being targeted, including the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in 2019, and the national power grid in 2022.

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How Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from parliament works | Latest News India

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Here’s how Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s opposition Congress Party, was disqualified as a lawmaker by parliament and what could happen next:

Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest the next general election due in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned, or the sentence is not reduced by a higher court.(Sanjeev Verma/HT)
Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest the next general election due in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned, or the sentence is not reduced by a higher court.(Sanjeev Verma/HT)

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the law that governs elections in India, mandates disqualification of any lawmaker who is “convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years”.

A lower court sentenced Gandhi, 52, on Thursday to two years in jail on charges of defamation for a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi. India’s prime minister is called Narendra Modi.

His disqualification as lawmaker came into effect from the date of conviction. A formal disqualification notice was issued on Friday by the secretariat of India’s Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament of which Gandhi was a member.

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CAN GANDHI CONTEST ELECTIONS?

Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest the next general election due in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned, or the sentence is not reduced by a higher court.

The law also mandates that a convicted lawmaker cannot contest elections for six years after the end of their jail term.

Gandhi represented the Wayanad constituency in the southern state of Kerala.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said on Friday the party was confident the conviction would be suspended.

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WHAT NEXT FOR GANDHI?

To save his parliament seat, a convicted lawmaker has to secure an order from a higher court suspending the conviction, lawyers said.

A lawmaker can be reinstated to parliament if the conviction is stayed or overturned and a fresh election to the seat had yet to be conducted. A reduced sentence would also remove the disqualification.

Gandhi was present in the Gujarat court which gave him bail immediately and suspended the sentence for a month, allowing him to appeal against it.

He can secure bail extensions during the appeal period but cannot contest elections until the conviction is stayed or he is acquitted or he gets a reduced sentence in the case.

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Supreme Court lawyer Vikram Hegde said the most likely recourse for Gandhi was to appeal to a sessions court and seek a stay of conviction.

Once a court suspends the conviction, the disqualification ceases to operate, Hegde told Reuters.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2013?

In July 2013, India’s top court ordered that lawmakers convicted of a serious crime would immediately forfeit their seats, closing off a loophole that had allowed politicians to stay on during appeals, which can drag on for years in India.

In response, then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, a coalition led by the Congress party, issued an executive order that could have allowed convicted lawmakers to continue to hold office and stand in elections.

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Gandhi lambasted Singh’s ordinance as “complete nonsense” and said it should be torn up and thrown out, embarrassing his own party and forcing the government to withdraw the decree.

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Who is Tajinder Gill, what Punjab Police found from Amritpal aide? | Latest News India

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The Khanna Police in Punjab has recovered videos from a mobile phone of Tajinder Singh Gill, aka Baba Gorkha, a close aide of pro-Khalistani leader and ‘Waris Punjab De’ chief Amritpal Singh.

Videos recovered from a mobile phone of Tajinder Singh Gill show firearms practice by youngsters allegedly picked for Amritpal Singh's Anandpur Khalistan Fauz (AKF).(Screenshot)
Videos recovered from a mobile phone of Tajinder Singh Gill show firearms practice by youngsters allegedly picked for Amritpal Singh’s Anandpur Khalistan Fauz (AKF).(Screenshot)

The phone carries pictures of the flag, emblem and currency of “Khalistan” and videos show firearms practice by youngsters allegedly picked for the radical preacher’s Anandpur Khalistan Fauz (AKF), the Punjab Police said on Friday.

The incriminating material shows the “sinister designs” of this nascent militia force and the enormous threat they would have become for “peace and harmony of Punjab and national security”, a statement by police in Khanna district said.

Who is Tajinder Singh Gill and what Punjab Police revealed?

Senior Superintendent of Police (Khanna) Amneet Kondal said that during interrogation, Tajinder Singh Gill or Baba Gorkha said he had come in contact with Amritpal Singh through Bikram Singh Khalsa, whom he had come in touch with during the farmers’ protest on the outskirts of Delhi.

Baba also revealed that they made a firing range in Amritpal’s native Jullupur Kheda village in Amritsar district. They have also arranged bulletproof jackets.

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Baba went to Jallupur Khera five months back and was inducted as his gunman. Baba was given weapons marked AKF and firing practice was conducted at a makeshift range in the village.

Baba used to display weapons in pictures and videos on social media without having an arms licence. An FIR against him was registered under IPC Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), the police earlier said.

Officials said the investigation has revealed that he was also involved in the Ajnala incident and the Ajnala Police will separately take action against him.

The arrested man was a member of the AKF, being raised by Amritpal to wage an armed struggle for the formation of a separate Khalistan state, a police statement said.

What Punjab Police found?

The phone seized after the arrest on Wednesday of Baba, 42, of village Mangewal held pictures that revealed the design of the flag and the emblem of “Khalistan” and the logos for its proposed provinces.

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Kondal said the mobile phone also had pictures of an AKF hologram and Khalistan currency, including a “10 dollar” note. There was also a picture of a Pakistani national’s driving licence.

The “Khalistan flag” had some Urdu words on it.

During the investigation, police said, Baba revealed that all AKF members were assigned belt numbers like AKF 3, AKF 56 and AKF 47 – perhaps based on their seniority or proximity to Amritpal Singh.

The examination of his phone showed that two WhatsApp groups – “AKF” and “Amritpal Tiger Force” – were created.

The members of the AKF were paid salaries.

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Another associate, Gurbhej Singh alias Bheja, arranged 10 bullet-proof jackets with AKF inscribed on them for the group two months back.

He also gave firearms training to newly inducted members of the group at the makeshift firing range.

Videos of members showing their expertise in assembling, disassembling, cleaning weapons have been recovered, the SSP said.

While Amritpal has eluded police since it began a crackdown against him and his Waris Punjab De outfit, several of his alleged aides are now in custody.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Centre hikes DA by 4% to 42% for central govt employees | Latest News India

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Union minister Anurag Thakur on Friday announced that the government has increased the dearness allowance or DA for central government employees by 4 per cent to 42 per cent with effect from January 1, 2023.

The government has increased the dearness allowance for central government employees by 4 per cent with effect from January 1, 2023.
The government has increased the dearness allowance for central government employees by 4 per cent with effect from January 1, 2023.

It has also extended the subsidy under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana for another year and decided to increase the MSP for jute by 300.

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