The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Scramble to plug data leaks

Mumbai, March 28: The campaign to stop those who know secrets from sharing it — or using it — has acquired a new urgency as back-office boffins realise just how fatal client information can be for them, if left unguarded.

Companies at home, especially those in the booming business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, are waking up to the need for information security. “For business process outsourcing firms, the lack of info-security poses a bigger threat than American politicians baying for them,” an analyst said.

Nasscom, the industry association, has set up a committee recently to help companies tackle security threats.

In the US and Europe, the importance of information security has become was never greater. Proof of this lies in the rising sales of shredder machines and debugging tools.

“New knowledge has no value if they are not protected. We believe that information security is going to be one of the major preoccupations of this so-called knowledge era that we are moving into,” says Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman of Mahindra and Mahindra.

The BPO industry’s recruitment run, in which it has employed tens of thousands in call centres, skipped the process of finding out antecedents of employees or monitoring their work so far. But that is changing.

“Some companies have called us because something went wrong. Others did so because they felt the need,” says Raghu Raman, CEO of Mahindra Special Services Group (MSSG) and an information security expert. His firm competes with the likes of Ernst and Young and KPMG in offering similar services.

What has spawned companies like those run by Raman are rising cases of BPO units outwitted by unscrupulous employees who furnish fake certificates to get a job in call centres, only to jump off board in weeks. The smaller centres, with 50-100 seats, bear the brunt.

Raman, with years of experience in information security for Indian firms, served in the information warfare division of the Indian Army before joining the corporate world.

“If divisions like special services group (SSG) of the army can prove that information security can be handled competently and reliably, it can be done for firms too. That will swell the tide of BPO jobs to India,” he said.

Raman says he has personally leads information security drives in two banks, three financial institutions and two manufacturing firms, a prominent pharmaceutical company and two multinationals.

Information security comes into sharp focus when big mergers and acquisitions are imminent. Merchant banks and financial institutions are wary that the deals they plan are not spiked by leaks from insiders, says Raman.

Recently, a leading BPO outfit sacked a call centre operator for using the credit card of a US client to access porn sites. The employee argued he did not use it for making payments, but only to gain access to a free site. He forgot he breached client confidentiality.

Information security will also bolster a government stung by cases of examination paper leaks in recent months. Raman reckons that 70 per cent of the breaches take place internally.

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