Trials underway on secure, exclusive phone lines for government

Plan to connect state capitals, sensitive installations, districts in J&K and Northeast using VoIP phones.

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Updated: February 28, 2016 10:29 am
telecom-7591 SDCN system is being deployed on the network of state-owned MTNL with secure VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones on which the calls can be accessed with biometric authentication.

As a part of a new high-security intra-government communications project, about 700 secured phones are being used on a trial basis across four key installations in the national capital — Sena Bhavan in central Delhi, Cabinet Secretariat at CGO complex, NSG headquarters near the airport and Lok Nayak Bhavan near Khan Market.

The Secure and Dedicated Communication Network (SDCN) system is being deployed on the network of state-owned MTNL with secure VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phones on which the calls can be accessed with biometric authentication.

Initially, the Centre hopes to deploy SDCN on a network of 5,000 secured phones in Delhi. It may then expand it further to 20,000 phones across state capitals, “vulnerable and strategic” installations, and districts in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. The phones will be designated for the exclusive use of government departments, independent of existing public and private communication infrastructure.

The execution of the proposed SDCN project has been entrusted to the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT), a government-owned telecommunications technology development centre.

C-DoT is to provide 5,000 secured phones for subscribers designated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and ensure the conversion of the existing Restricted Access Exchange, or RAX, numbers being used in Delhi by the central government for intra-Government communication. “The system is in testing and installation phase,” said a government official.

SDCN is a major flagship project of the Department of Telecommunications and marks a big technological upgrade over the old RAX system. It deploys IP (internet protocol) network-supporting voice and multimedia services and encryption at different levels for signalling.

It is supposed to be a captive network, which cannot be accessed from any other network and uses dedicated ‘dark fiber’ (or unused fibre-optic cable) of MTNL to connect different locations.

Currently, this new system is running parallel to the existing RAX system at the four government buildings where, according to MTNL, there are 1,243 RAX connections. Work to install the new, secure connections — the customer-end secure VoIP telephone is called CPE or customer premises equipment — is tentatively planned to be completed by March 15. The Lok Nayak Bhavan, incidentally, houses the headquarters of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), among other government offices.

Officials indicated that all the network elements of SDCN are being installed in Delhi in association with MTNL’s Delhi unit. The network comprises soft switch, which is installed in North Block, with disaster recovery site at C-DoT campus. The other elements are four routers, 16 aggregators and 63 digital subscriber line access multiplexes.

“The end devices are secure VoIP phones called CPE, on which the calls can be accessed with biometric authentication. The CPE and the network have the capability to subsequently provide for secure email services through the dedicated network,” an official said. According to internal estimates, a cost of Rs 2,354 per user per month has been worked out by amortizing the cumulative capital cost over a period of 10 years, considering a base of 5,000 users.

Playing safe

> VoIP enables transfer of voice content over Internet, Intranet or other packet-switched networks. The signal is separated into frames, stored in data packets, and transported over IP networks.

> SDCN network elements comprise core routers, aggregators, digital subscriber line access and the secure VoIP telephones, with the servers at North Block.

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  1. Shyamal Ganguly
    Feb 28, 2016 at 12:16 am
    This is a very good idea. Security is the most important factor and keep the Congis out of Government. NO MP should have access. Only Military, Police and Govt servants.
    1. V
      Feb 28, 2016 at 9:54 am
      Govt servants should be asked to switch off their mobile and retain it in the security room before they enter for work.
      1. Hitoshi Anatomi
        Feb 29, 2016 at 2:39 am
        It sounds very interesting. But it is known that the authentication by biometrics usually comes with poorer security than PIN/pword-only authentication. Whether face, iris, fingerprint, typing, gesture, heartbeat or brainwave, biometric authentication could be a candidate for displacing the pword if/when (only if/when) it has stopped depending on a pword to be registered in case of false rejection while keeping the near-zero false acceptance. Threats that can be thwarted by biometric products operated together with fallback/backup pwords can be thwarted more securely by pword-only authentication We could be certain that biometrics would help for better security only when it is operated together with another factor by AND/Conjunction (we need to go through both of the two), not when operated with another factor by OR/Disjunction (we need only to go through either one of the two) as in the cases of Touch ID and many other biometric products on the market that require a backup/fallback pword, which only increase the convenience by bringing down the security. In short, biometric solutions could be recommended to the people who want convenience but should not be recommended to those who need security. It may be interesting to have a quick look at a slide led “Blind Spot in Our Mind and Eye-opening Experience” shown at