Cameron’s Indian deal exposes outsourcing security failings

taj mahalEarlier this week David Cameron signed a deal designed to elevate the Indo-British relationship to an “unprecedented level of co-operation” on cyber security issues. It came as part of the PM’s three day trade mission to India and is certainly to be welcomed, but the agreement also implies some rather worrying things about the cyber readiness of the country’s big outsourcing firms.

The deal will essentially mean two things. Firstly, UK technical know-how and expertise in the cyber security sphere will be shared with Indian outsourcers, essentially to help protect the vast amounts of data from UK consumers and businesses which are now held on servers in the country.

Secondly, the agreement will see the two countries share relevant threat intelligence in order to thwart attacks on their systems, whether they’re coming from the UK, India or elsewhere.

Now, as mentioned, any kind of international co-operation on cyber threat protection is a step in the right direction, and Cameron certainly can’t be faulted for his assertion that “other countries securing their data is effectively helping us secure our data”.

My surprise is that big name outsourcers like Wipro, HCL, Mahindra and Infosys – firms which have built their business presumably on the quality (and security) of their BPO offerings – need an extra hand.

Any CIO worth his salt would surely relegate to the scrap heap a potential outsourcing provider who could not satisfy his or her list of pre-determined security requirements.

Sure, the smaller outsourcers will benefit most from this deal, but the big boys too?

Well, yes, according to Forrester’s New Delhi-based analyst Katyayan Gupta.

“Even larger Indian firms like Infosys, TCS, etc. will also benefit because now they will have an additional layer of security against cyber criminals,” he told me.

“This is not to say that these firms do not have good security right now. But the question really is – is it enough to keep all attackers out? Probably not.”

Now I know in this age of APTs and highly targeted attacks no firm can claim to be impervious, but it’s slightly worrying when those with huge resources – in an industry where reputational damage following a data breaches could hit hard – are apparently getting expertise flown in from the UK that they haven’t obtained anyway.

Also, as Gupta argued, the deal will still do nothing to stop perhaps the biggest threat to UK data residing on these firms’ servers: corrupt insiders.

It may be time to revisit those SLAs.

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