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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Prank call

On 5th December, 2008 a call was made from Indian Foreign Minister to Pakistani President warning him of immediate air strike, which triggered emergency retaliatory alert and war preparation, which was actually not needed because call was a prank call. This possibility is not remote and need for authentication is well known, I think. Question of the day is: how does it work? This question was there in my mind earlier too but this seems good time to ask again.

Long long ago there was no telephone or internet. Kings used to deliver their messages to their officers through messengers on foot or horse. How did that officer know that messenger is authentic and not fake planted by enemy? Perhaps there was some code word or official insignia. How did the recipient know that message was authentic, or was that to be assumed that subject did his duties honestly? Was there an incident in history where messenger delivered wrong message deliberately or under force?

Phone has become de-facto medium of communication these days among administration and government machinery. When Manmohan Singh calls George Bush, which he seem to be doing quite a lot, how do they know that person on the other side of wire is actually real intended party? Are private telephone numbers so secrets that only few people in the world know them? Is there possibility of dialing or picking up wrong number? What are processes of authentication and how long do they take? What about calls from PM to CM within Indian State, or from CM to Police Commissioner, or vice-versa, etc. Is it assumed that no one will want to play such prank? At what stage does the authentication deemed unnecessary or more costly than benefits derived? Call from District Collector to Police Inspector? From City Mayor to some department head? There is always potential for misuse even if inherent dangers are smaller.

These days some part of official communication is in email format, specially documents and memorandums. What is procedure for verifying their authenticity, if any? Does PMO communicates anything by email?

This posts raises only questions because I’ve not been able to find answers. Seems like perfect question for Straight Dope, which by the way, is a highly recommended site for general knowledge and interesting timepass.