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Digital Signature Certificate - ICEGATE

Indian Customs EDI Gateway (ICEGATE) is the gateway for the users of Indian Customs EDI system. All the Individuals (Importers/Exporters/CHAs/Airlines/Shipping Lines/Shipping Agents etc.), trade partners (Banks/Custodians/PQIS/FSSAI etc.) or Govt. Agencies (Ministry of Commerce/DGCI&S/DG, Valuation/DGFT/CRIS/CONCOR/Ministry of Steel etc.) Connect ICEGATE for documents filing (BE/SB/IGM/EGM/CGM etc.), data sharing under Customs Business Process (several information shared through messages with the help of Server to Server SFTP communication system) or for administrative, statistical, analytical or policy making purpose through SFTP in automated environment. It provides Remote EDI Services (RES) to the trade and industry for filing documents, data exchange, e-payment, status enquiry, document tracking, query-reply etc.

In recent past, ICEGATE has been observing challenges on account of impersonation of Identity of the registered user, tracing the identity of user, misuses of credibility of accredited clients etc. Further, Sec. 5 if the IT Act, 2000 envisages that the electronic documents, which are supposed to be signed by a person in case it is filed in a hard copy, must be singed digitally by the person authorized to sing it. Hence data exchange and acceptability of documents received through RES has imminent need to implement digital signature for the documents/ messages receiving / forwarding electronic to and fro the customs business partners, stakeholders and other Govt. Agencies. Further, demand from the trade and industry, several associations and other Ministries have been received for making Customs EDI business process paperless.

To overcome the aforesaid challenges implementation of Digital Signature Certificate at ICEGATE is very important. It shall authenticate the identity, maintain users and data related integrity, support non-repudiation and prevent frauds. We may subsequently stop giving print to the importers/CHA/Exporter and provide digitally signed electronic copy only. This would inter-alia help in saving forests at a large level and increase trust in system.

Digital Signature implementation framework

ICEGATE receives inbound documents from various individual users like importers, Exporters, CHA etc. and send outbound messages to various agencies like DGFT, DGCI&S, PQIS, FSSAI etc. The framework of Digital Signature in automated environment of ICEGATE is different from other normal framework, so keeping in view workflow and specific functionalities of ICEGATE it was required to create specific architecture of Digital Certificate implementation. It was also required to have a DSC which could be operated in automated environment without any interference of human being.

The normal Digital Signature issued on the name of an individual was not function for outbound messages which are send by ICEGATE system. Considering the unique requirement of ICEGATE system Controller of Certifying Authority(CCA) introduced a new type of Digital Certificate with name " Organization Document Signer Certificate" in September,2014. The implementation of DSC was planned in phased manner.

Digital Signature implementation phases

The implementation of Digital Signature is ICEGATE has been envisaged in following two phases:

  1. Implementation of certificates for individual users : All Importers, Exporter, Customs Brokers, Shipping Lines, Airlines or their agents who are authorized to file any document through Remote EDI System at ICEGATE will have to use the Class 3 Digital Signature Certificates for digitally signing the Customs Documents (Bills of Entry, Shipping Bills, IGM, EGM, CGM) before submitting them to ICEGATE for processing.
    Keeping in view the different platforms of RES utilities deployed by users and to avoid delay in submission of documents at ICEGATE level, web-based Common Signer Component has been provided to the users through ICEGATE website for signing all the Customs Documents. The Web-based Common Signer available free of cost to all the users through ICEGATE portal supported by M/s (n)Code. It is platform neutral and verifies validity, CRL etc. at the time of signing. This component may be used with any Class – III DSC valid issued by any CA.
    The user authorized for signing documents shall use DSC in his name and execute signing process and send the Digitally signed documents to ICEGATE. On receiving the digitally signed documents the ICEGATE server side verifier shall verify the user's credentials, validity of certificate, CAs credentials, Public Key and CRL status and Hash Value of certificate and integrated the data with ICES database. Validation of credentials of the person who sings document, sends document and the CHA who files the documents would be completed in the process. Records of digitally signed documents shall be preserved for legal purpose if any.
  2. Implementation of Certificates for server to server communication: In the phase DSC will be implemented for all the agencies with which server to server communication is done by the Department for all inbound and outbound messages. ICEGATE will digitally sign all outbound messages with Organizational Document Signer DSC, which was introduced by CCA keeping into view the specific requirement of ICEGATE system.

Benefits of Digital Signature implementation

The following are the key benefits of implementing digital signature for ICEGATE inbound messages:

  1. Authentication - Digital signatures are used to authenticate the source of messages. The ownership of a digital signature key is bound to a specific user and thus a valid signature shows that the message was sent by that user.
  2. Integrity – With Digital certificates it can ascertained that the message has not been altered during transmission. Digital Signatures provide this feature by using cryptographic message digest functions
  3. Non Repudiation – Digital signatures ensure that the sender who has signed the information cannot at a later time deny having signed it . In case of legal issues user can be held liable for documents received from him.
  4. Tracking: A digitally signed document can easily be tracked and located in a short amount of time.
  5. Environment friendless: By implementing Digital signature lot of paper can be saved, which in turn may reduce the number of trees which are cut for making the paper.

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