Hacking threat from Pakistan kept spectrum auction team on toes

New Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) The bidding for telecom spectrum this year was protected with enhanced, multi-layered security measures as the chances of a hacking attempt after the Uri attacks were deemed very high, according to a top official of the company mandated to conduct the auction.

Without naming Pakistan, Vinaya Varma, CEO of mjunction, said the “threat perception was high this year from the western front”.

He said as the auction was highly publicised, special care was taken to look at vulnerabilities. “The procedure was made extremely secured so that any attempt to hack would fail,” Varma told IANS in an interview over phone from Kolkata.

“We had deployed various security procedures such as secure login, digital signature certificate, fixed internet protocol address for bidders and other procedures to make bidding foolproof and transparent,” he said.

The company had also set up an infrastructure team to monitor any abnormal activity like intrusion or data filtering. The team ensured that all the links were working properly.

An e-marketplace, mjunction services limited, is a 50:50 venture promoted by SAIL and Tata Steel. It has won a three-year mandate from the government to conduct e-auction of spectrum. It conducted the first spectrum auction in 2015.

A total 2,354 MHz of spectrum was put on block for e-auctioning this year in seven bands — 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and 2,500 MHz.

The bidding was also made secure from snooping. The platform was designed to ensure that while auction was in progress, the identity details of bidders were hidden through database-level encryption. Neither the auction administrator nor the seller (Department of Telecommunications, DoT) had any access to bidders’ bid details.

“The system allows access only to summary-level information of all bids made. Each bidder has access only to his own bidding history and also to summary-level information of all bids made. The platform provided separate dashboards for bidders and for DoT,” he said.

The platform for bidding was the same as last year but the offerings this time were higher.

This year there were 126 offerings (seven bands multiplied by service areas) compared to 69 last year when the auction took in only four bands. The offerings started at the same time, ran and closed simultaneously. Before 2015, auctions were done in a sequential manner.

“Auctioning was done through Simultaneous Multiple Round Auction (SMRA), which is an internationally-recognised methodology for e-auctioning of spectrum. It is the most sophisticated methodology but also the most complicated. There are various permutations and combinations in spectrum allocation, which are in play in live bidding,” Varma said.

Asked how difficult or smooth the process was, Varma said: “The tender document preparation, system design, the programming and the actual execution of the auction were all very complex activities.”

Saying that mjunction works in close coordination with the government, Varma added that the Department of Electronics and Information Technology had spent weeks testing the auctioning platform before giving them the green light.

In 2015, when mjunction got the mandate, it took the company five months to design the platform. Because of the higher offerings this year, three more months were needed to customise it.

“We had set up a help desk with nine highly-trained people whom operators could call up for clarifications. We had also placed a domain expert in DoT.”

He said this time the spectrum offered was in contiguous range. Also, the frequency assignment was done in such a way that the operator got contiguous bands.

“The algorithm was designed by mjunction. The DoT just had to press a button to allocate contiguous bands. Manually it would have been very difficult,” Varma added.

(Aparajita Gupta can be reached at aparajita.g@ians.in)

–IANS

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