By Peter Warren
STAFF at call centres in India are being bribed by organised crime and industrial spies to them help hack into the computer systems of British firms.
In at least two recent cases, local IT staff working on the sub-continent for UK institutions were involved in what industry sources say were ‘security issues’ in what is described as the tiniest fraction of a far larger problem.
In one case, sensitive financial information and credit card details were apparently illegally taken from a leading British financial institution.
A spokesman for the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) in Britain said: ‘This shows that there are some things that you really should not send overseas. For organised criminals, this is a godsend. ‘If you are using people in a low wage area, organised crime can afford to pay a lifetime’s wages for data.’
Richard Hollis, managing director of Orthus, an information security solutions company in London, claims the problem is growing because Indian staff have access to increasingly sensitive customer information. He said: ‘We’re seeing a significant increase in security problems associated with this type of outsourcing. Given that the majority of hacking originates from within organisations, outsourcing administrative responsibilities to an engineer making around £4,000 annually is asking for problems.
‘The engineers employed by these firms are extremely skilled technicians and since they already possess the passwords and unrestricted access to the networks they service, they have quickly become targets for organised crime and private investigative firms looking to buy their way into a network.
‘ The revelations came after Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt chaired a meeting last Monday to discuss the growing trend for call centres and other outsourced tasks to be switched from Britain to India.
Several British firms including Aviva, BT, ebookers, HSBC and Tesco have unveiled plans to relocate, or already created call centres in India.
Academics and industry experts believe this exodus could represent just the tip of the iceberg as other service industries look set to follow.
Manchester Business School’s Professor Peter Barrah, author of the International Handbook on Outsourcing, said: ‘It’s a trend that is limited only by your imagination. There are some services that have to be delivered here and now; for anything that is produced with, or uses, a computer there is the potential for offshore outsourcing.
‘There are companies that have now outsourced their strategy, the development of their marketing campaigns and their new product development.
‘ The DTI is currently commissioning research that it hopes will give a clearer picture of the true trend of job migration. In the UK, there are about 400,000 people involved in the call-centre industry in about 5,500 call centres.
First published London Evening Standard February 10, 2004