PTA asks telecom companies to check use of encrypted VPN
ISLAMABAD (September 5, 2011) : To monitor illegal telecom traffic (grey traffic) causing immense revenue losses and to meet ‘national security’ objectives, the federal government has instructed companies to ensure that their customers did not use encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN).
VPNs are the network connections or “pipes” that encrypt data sent across the internet to provide security and control of the information transmitted between two computers.
Last month, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority wrote a letter to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, including landline and wireless telephone operators.
The letter said: “The security authority prohibited usage of all such mechanism, including encrypted VPNs, which conceal communication to the extent that prohibits monitoring. However, in case if such mode of communication is essentially required, approval may be obtained from PTA.” Sources said that PTA’s notification was grossly ignored by operators, forcing federal institutions to approach PTF through relevant channels, requesting the telecom regulator to take strict action against the violators — mobile phone operators and ISPs.
Wahajus Siraj, a technology entrepreneur, said: “The matter is linked to security concerns of the country.” He said that it would be impossible for them to ask their customers to share any data — voice or video, with the company.
“Even if some of them [customers] did agree to share any data with us, our operating cost will shoot up. We have to establish data centres and hire more people for managing data centres and then providing it to the regulator will be a great hassle for us,” observed Mr Siraj.
A leading IT entrepreneur, who didn’t want to be named, said: “All my technology clients are based in the US and Canada and they will not allow their data to be shared with anyone. We have business interests and any such move will affect my business in Pakistan.” He said their projects were sent to their clients mostly through high-rate internet connection in encrypted form through VPNs because “if I am not following a secure encrypted VPN channel, chances of hacking will increase”.
When approached, PTA director media claimed that the effort was aimed at curbing grey traffic and controlling revenue losses.
Grey traffic is illegal termination of international telephone calls in Pakistan using local networks managed secretly by illegal operators and that too often undetected.
The PTA official said it was wrong to say that the current measure would have any data-related trouble.
“It will not increase the business operating costs of ISPs or any other telecom operator,” he insisted.
“We have sent the letter to all mobile phone and landline operators concerned, besides the ISPs.” He said the issue had nothing to do with terrorism or any other national issue: “It will be quite unfair to say that the current move has anything to do with such issues [terrorism or national security]. We want to save revenues.”
(Published in Daily DAWN on 06-09-2011)