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Identity Theft and Terrorists in the Workplace: The Price of IT Globalization?

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By Ken North

Recent arrests for identity theft and a terrorist attack have heightened concerns about the work force in India's high-tech industry. The arrests  validated security issues presented in my 2003 keynote at the Enterprise Data Forum conference. The presentation () emphasized that outsourcing and exporting business processes means exporting access to data. The presentation contained  a list of 21st century privacy concerns and security challenges. It included threats from hackers, terrorists, cyber-warfare and outsourcing of software development and IT services. Recent arrests for a terrorist bombing in India confirm those threats have indeed become an unwanted by-product of information technology (IT) globalization.

Exporting Access to Data

Because of IT outsourcing, medical records and financial records of Britons, Americans and other nationalities are accessible to workers across the globe. Outsourced work to India and the Philippines includes radiological records review, customer support and tech support call centers, tax return preparation and banking and financial business processes. Britain's Sun newspaper reported the ease of obtaining information for identity theft from employees of Indian outsourcing companies. A ring in India, with links to outsourcing provider MphasiS, stole funds from Citibank accounts. An Indian employee of an HSBC call center was arrested for hacking the system to sell customer data to fraudsters who stole more than 233,000. The BBC News noted

"The incident follows dozens of cases where banks and other financial institutions have lost customer details - whether through negligence or criminal activities - both in the UK and around the world."

Another threat is the existence of active terrorist networks in countries with an outsourcing industry, such as India and the Philippines. That opens the door to terrorists being part of the work force at outsourcing companies and multinational corporations. With responsibilities for bank business processes, developing software, providing customer support and preparing tax returns, outsourcing workers have access to confidential and proprietary data. In some cases, they may also have access to extraordinary computing resources.

Terrorists in the Work Force

The reality of terrorists in the computer industry's work force has come to pass in India. A software engineer employed by Oracle in Bangalore is in police custody with his brother after a raid on his house. Following the July 2006 train bombings in Mumbai, police have pursued suspects who are members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist organization. The Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) arrested Faisal Sheikh of Mumbai and identified him as the person responsible for LeT operations in Western India. According to the ATS, Faisal received hawala funding each month and sent LeT recruits to Pakistan for training.

LeT operatives have been linked to the train bombings in Mumbai and to a cache of arms seized near near Aurangabad in May 2006. During interrogation, Faisal Sheikh admitted sending suspects in the Aurangabad case to Pakistan for training. Indian authorities report Faisal received 37,000 riyals in hawala funding from Saudi Arabia to finance the Mumbai train bombings.

Following Faisal Sheikh's arrest in Mumbai, police arrested his brother Muzammil in Bangalore on July 27, 2006. Police are holding Muzammil and Faisal Sheikh on charges of murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. Muzammil reportedly has been to Pakistan for terrorist training. During a raid on his home, police seized three computers.

Muzammil Sheikh is a software engineer employed by Oracle in Bangalore. ATS officials identified him as the critical link between LeT terrorists and the organization's high command. Muzammil provided the technical expertise to ensure communications among LeT terrorists were shielded from intelligence agencies. The Telegraph (Calcutta) reported the Bangalore police made a mistake when doing a background check on Muzammil. He reportedly submitted phony college credentials when applying for the Oracle position.

The Times of India reported that Faisal Sheikh was under orders to collect intelligence about the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), major business process outsourcing centers, big business centers and several Indian officials. Another detainee in the investigation, Sohail Sheikh, had orders to gather intelligence about hundreds of police officers.