5,530 trained in Maldives’ largest ever ICT programme

The Indian government along with the Ministry of Education have trained 5,530 individuals in 42 islands as part of the Maldives largest ever ICT education programme.

The ‘Technology for the Future of the Next Gen’ project was conducted with US$5.3 million in Indian aid and implemented by India’s NIIT Ltd educational services company in association with Electrical Engineering Equipment Company (EEEC) of Chennai, India.

“Capacity building has been and shall remain the cornerstone of our bilateral relationship. I am sure when the seafarers of both countries fished together in the Indian Ocean several millennia back, they exchanged a tip or two about the best fishing practices,” said Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare at the programme’s closing ceremony today.

“This sharing of knowledge and expertise has continued through several centuries and today India offers one of the most comprehensive training programs for Maldivians.”

Shahare said that the programme – aimed at improving the skills of teachers and providing vocational training for youth – had covered one out of every three Maldivian teachers as well as and 2,500 youngsters since January 2011.

As well as revealing positive feedback from participants, a project summary cited the Maldives Police Commissioner Hussein Waheed as saying that the crime rate had dropped by 80 to 90 percent in the atolls where the youth training was conducted.

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shaheem expressed gratitude towards Indian government for the project, highlighting the importance of such programmes to provide teachers with adequate IT skills.

Haa Dhaalu Kulhuduffushi saw the highest teacher participation with 287 teachers, while Haa Alifu Dhihdhoo saw the highest overall participation in the project with 575 participants – 401 of them receiving vocational IT training.

“Now I can create different type of teaching aids and use them effectively in my teaching. This eventually helps my student understand complex topics very easily,” read the testimony of Aminath Shahidha of Haa Dhaalu Kumundhoo School.

In his speech, the Indian high commissioner also pointed out the importance of the upcoming year, which marks the golden jubilee of Maldivian independence and 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Shahare noted that an MoU had recently been signed between the Maldives Civil Service Commission and the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad for training of Maldivian civil servants on a regular basis in India.

Training opportunities in Indian continue to be made available to the Maldivian security services, said Shahare, adding that over 5000 Maldivian students educated in India over the past decade was one of the “pillars of the strong people-to-people contacts between the two countries”.

An Indian-built tourism training faculty was opened in Malé earlier this, while the high commissioner revealed plans for similar facilities for the Maldives police and the Maldives National Defence Force.

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited the Maldives earlier this week, discussing security and defence issues with government leaders as well as pledging expeditious action on all agreed steps to supply petroleum products to Maldives.

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Poor security measures at fault for cyber attack, say government IT experts

IT experts have suggested that the scale of yesterday’s attack on government sites was due to poor security mechanisms.

Government IT experts have told Minivan News today that the hosting of multiple government sites on a single server was a security concern of which government was aware.

“Shared hosting is cheap, while having a dedicated server could be expensive. So this is a price versus security choice. But even with shared hosting if the server is secured properly it would minimise the risks,” said a cyber security official at one government institution.

Dhiraagu has today confirmed that the 117 websites defaced in yesterday’s cyber attack by a Syrian anti-war group were hosted on a single Dhiraagu server.

The Maldives’ oldest telecommunications company noted that all affected websites were fully restored last night, within twenty four hours of the attack.

“Attacking government websites is a criminal act and this is being investigated by the police now. Such attacks are carried out against many corporations and organisations around the world, even the most secure,” said Dhiraagu Public Relations Executive, Ibrahim Imjad Jaleel.

“Our engineers have assure that assured that security will be upgraded even further to ensure such an incident is not repeated in the future. It is equally important for developers to increase the security features of websites,” he added.

Shared hosting issue previously flagged

IT experts have told Minivan News today that the attack was likely to have been carried out by the manipulation of one or more vulnerable government websites hosted on a single Dhiraagu server.

“It seems that after accessing the server and gaining elevated privileges, the attacker decided to deface the websites. If it was someone with really malicious intentions they could have done more,” explained a local software engineer.

“Defacement is the least of our worries – think about what somebody could do or have probably done already. Load in exploit code on the pages and nobody would notice. It is possible to compromise thousands of Maldivians and offices,” they warned.

The case is now being investigated by the cyber crime division at the Maldives Police Services (MPS).

Ahmed Athif, head of Information & Communication Directorate at MPS said police will conduct an assessment and share the information and recommendations with the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) and other relevant authorities.

While he noted that this is the biggest attack of this nature to be carried out against the Maldives government, he said specific details of the case could only be revealed after a thorough investigation.

The NCIT has made no official comments regarding the issue, but a source within the centre today told Minivan News that the shared hosting of sites and other security concerns have frequently been raised during security assessments of government institutions.

In August 2013 the Elections Commission reported that their servers were continuously under attack at the time, while in the same month the Department of National Registration’s (DNR’s) ID card database with political party affiliations was leaked online.

Police later said the database was stolen from an Elections Commission web server after it had been hacked.

In March 2013 the United Nations (Maldives) website was also defaced in order for a hacker to deliver a message saying that securit on their website was insufficient.

Responsibility for yesterday’s attacks was claimed by Dr. SHA6H – an anonymous figure who has claimed to have infiltrated hundreds of similar sites across the globe over the past two years.

“This site has been hacked because of the world’s silence of three years of massacres that occur in Syria and this is still happening,” read the message left on the defaced websites, attributed to a group called the Syrian Revolution Soldiers.


Increase in Chinese presence in Maldives IT sector sparks Indian concern

Indian authorities have expressed concern over China’s expanding influence in the IT and telecom sectors in the Maldives, Indian media has reported.

The Indian Ministry of Communications and IT, along with security agencies in India, have now agreed that Beijing’s state-owned companies should be “kept at bay” from Maldives’ IT and telecom sectors, The Hindu reported.

Indian intelligence agencies were alerted to the issue after the Maldives requested a soft loan of US$54 million for an IT infrastructure project from China

The Ministry has suggested the Indian government plan a substantial investment in the Maldives along similar projects to ensure telecom traffic between India and Maldives is handled through equipment the Indian government has confidence in.

“The Government… may also plan substantial investment in the Maldives on similar projects [as being planned by China] ensuring that the traffic between India and the Maldives is handled through the equipment installed and commissioned in the Maldives by India,” read internal government note, according to Indian newspaper the Hindu.

The Sri Lankan subsidiary of Chinese telecom equipment-maker Huawei Technologies has already signed an agreement with Maldives’ National Centre of Information Technologies to develop IT infrastructure under the ‘Smart Maldives Project’, Indian media stated.

“The proposed project assumes significance due to the fact that China can capitalise its influence over the Maldives to utilise the latter’s network once the project is implemented,” the Indian Reasearch & Analysis Wing said in an internal note as reported by the Hindu.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Indian Minister for Communications & Information Technology Shri Kapil Sibal and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid at time of press.

Former Transport and Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed claimed the issue of Chinese involvement in the Maldivian IT sector had been raised by Indian officials in the past.

Shamheed said that a ‘smart card’ project that had been signed between China and Nasheed’s government to replace the National ID cards had sparked interest from the Indian government.

“The Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives once suggested to me that [the Chinese] would steal all of our government’s data should we work with them.

“The deal with the Chinese was that they would provide us with smart cards which will replace our current ID cards. When this happened, the Indian government wanted to provide us with their own system instead of the Chinese one,” Shamheed told Minivan News.

Acting Minister of Transport and Communications Mohamed Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.

Defence Minister visits China

Last month (December 10, 2012) Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim departed to China on an official five-day visit at the invitation of the Chinese Minister of National Defence.

The move fuelled speculation in the Indian media of a Chinese role in the government’s decision to void the agreement and evict the GMR-led consortium that took place two days prior to the visit in December.

“Looking at the political situation and political framework in Maldives, I can’t rule out anything,” GMR Airports chief financial officer (CFO) Sidharth Kapur told journalists in New Delhi in December.

Following official talks between the defence ministers, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported in December that Nazim assured Chinese Minister of National Defence General Liang Guanglie that the Maldives was “willing to cement relations between the two countries and their militaries.”

Chinese companies discuss Maldives’ satellite slot

Former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News in December 2012 that Defence Minister Nazim had met with two Chinese companies interested in operating a satellite designated for the Maldives.

Under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Maldives could be entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite.

Because the Maldives’ lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease it out to an external party, Shamheed said.

According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim had already been approached by various Chinese companies who have expressed interest in the satellite venture.

“At first, I had been involved in casual meetings with these companies, but now it seems to getting more serious. Nazim had even questioned as to why we have not yet signed an agreement with them,” Shamheed alleged.