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EDITORIAL: What a senior official of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA’s) cybercrimes wing had to say before National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology on Wednesday is deeply concerning. The system of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), he told the committee, had been hacked though on being asked to elaborate he changed tack, saying NADRA’s system was not hacked but its biometric system had been compromised which emerged during the SIM verification process. NADRA spokesman, however, issued a statement soon after the meeting to refute that assertion, stating that the biometric data had not been hacked, it was completely safe. The FIA official’s remarks regarding backing of biometric data, he claimed, are based on a misunderstanding, adding a clarification would be sought of the “unnecessary statement and misrepresentation of the issue.” Indeed, the terms ‘hacking’ and ‘compromising’ have very different meanings.

But ‘compromised’ is worrisome, too. The FIA official informed the parliamentary committee his office had received as many as 89,000 complaints about illegal subscriber identity modules (SIMs) and that its present strength of 162 investigation officers was insufficient to address complaints reported on a daily basis. Besides, rampant use of illegal SIMs obstructs their work. More often than not, their hunt for culprits involved in financial fraud leads them to an elderly person or a woman whose data was stolen by real offenders. For his part, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa (retd) tried to ease the legislators concern by explaining that no mobile company had been given permission to sell SIMs on door-to-door basis, and that there has been 600 percent decrease in the sale of illegal SIMs during the past one year. Yet even well-known personages are not spared. The committee was informed that while reaching out to parliamentarians through their phone SIMs for the recent joint session of Parliament, the one issued for federal minister Shireen Mazari’s CNIC showed someone in Thatta was using her card whilst she was present in Islamabad. The use of phone SIMs by unauthorised individuals is fraught with all sorts of risks. They can be employed by terrorists to trigger bombs, and other criminals for kidnapping for ransom or some other wrongdoings. FBR is also checking active taxpayers’ status via SMS’ utilising 13-digit CNICs. Considering that so many people are in possession of the same cards there is no way of ensuring its messages do not fall into the wrong hands.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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