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October 21, 2015 12:07 IST

Hackers have begun to emerge from the shadows of suspicion, says Dhruv

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Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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IMAGE: Ankit Fadia has written books on cyber-security yet yet his own site has been

highest in
decorated career

hacked at least nine times. Photograph, courtesy: Ankit Fadia/Facebook

nkitFadia,the ethicalhacker,deeply divides public opinion.H e has been described as a

child prodigy and a security charlatan.

New AP capital:
hoteliers get a
sinking feeling

H e has w ritten books on cyber-security and offers online courses on the subject,yethis ow n
site has been hacked atleastnine tim es,including once by a Pakistanihacker collective,and on
atleasttw o occasions,the w ebsite w as taken over by spam m ers selling Viagra.
H is claim s ofbeing consulted by FBI and CBI rem ain unverified,though security agencies are

Of gullaks,
bansuris and

unlikely to advertise such engagem ents.

Butallthatscepticism did notstop the N arendra M odigovernm entfrom appointing him a
brand am bassador lastm onth for its D igitalIndia cam paign.
Itw as tacitacknow ledgm entofhacking as an acceptable activity -a legitim ate career option,
an honestw ay to earn one's livelihood.

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IMAGE: India's smart small entrepreneurs have started to train youngsters in hacking.
Photograph, courtesy: Ankit Fadia/Facebook

Even before this officialapprovalcould be stam ped,India's sm artsm allentrepreneurs had

seen the opportunity and started to train youngsters in hacking,and com panies had begun to
em ploy them .
Inside a slenderclassroom atthe N etH ub com puter institute in N ew D elhi's South Extension,
a bespectacled red-turbaned m an w rites furiously on a w hite board.
H isstudents frantically take dow n notes to keep up w ith him .H is squeaky voice is occasionally
punctuated w hen a studentraises his hand and asks a question.
"Som ebody outthere w illbe sm arter than m ost.Butyou have to be sm arterthan him ," he
spells outthe m agic m antra,as the enraptured group listenskeenly.
AtR oom an Technology nextdoor,a m arble staircase opens into a narrow ,dingy corridor
w here the institute holds its classes.Students,in a sm allgroup,are staring intensely attheir
com puter screens-they have been given a testthey need to finish in 30 m inutes.


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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IMAGE: India needs lakhs of ethical hackers. Photograph: Reuters

The classroom s here are tiny,and no chair is unoccupied.The teachers have little tim e to talk
to outsiders.M ore students,carrying backpacks,saunter in as I m ake m y exit.
M oststudents atthese institutes,allin their late teens or early tw enties,w illgo on to becom e
experts in cyber-security,w hile som e w illpick up the skills to getthe thrills ofa joyride in
M ohitChaudhry ofN etH ub,dressed in a navy blue shirtand beige trousers,his table
bedecked w ith a line ofApple products and a splashy silver w atch on his w rist,says earlier he
w ould get"people w ho w anted to getinto hacking because itw as a hobby for them .N ow ,they
w antto m ake a career outofit".
N etH ub offers graduate students a hostofcertified hacking courses thatstartfrom aboutR s
30,000 (for a 40-hour course).

IMAGE: Whistleblower Edward Snowden sharpened his hacking skills at Koenig Solutions.
Photograph, courtesy: Koenig Solutions

There m ay be nothing fancifulaboutthese schools butthey have given India a rock-solid

reputation for training in hacking.
Koenig Solutions,nestled in a relatively quietcorner ofw estD elhi's M otiN agar,is the place
w here N ationalSecurity Councilcontractor-turned-w histleblow er Edw ard Snow den sharpened
his program ing and hacking skills in Septem ber 2010.
Folks here dow nplay the Snow den connection,butthen hackers prefer to fly under the radar it's a partofthe w ork ethic.


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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Itis clear thatKoenig attained criticalm ass a w hile ago.The beige sofas in its w aiting lounge
are elegantand the airconditioning justright.
A section ofthe w alls is painted in fulgentred,w ith m assive television screens gently hanging
on them .Koenig offers ethicalhacking courses in as m any as 80 classroom s.Itis hard to find
an em pty seatin the evening.
India is in the m idstofthe Internetrevolution:e-governance,e-com m erce and netbanking are
expanding by the day.W hile thishas m ade life easier for people atlarge,ithas posed a serious
security threat.

IMAGE: They check the information technology systems for breaches and weak points and
then secure them. Photograph: Reuters

Casesofdata theft,defacing ofgovernm entand university w ebsites,and hacking ofsocial

m edia accounts for sheer adventure are ram pant.
The proofofm alice on the Internetw as blatantly exposed this pastw eek w hen cyber crim inals
duplicated the em ailaddress ofO il& N aturalG as Corporation and convinced a SaudiArabiabased firm to transfer R s 197 crore (R s 1.97 billion)to theiraccount.
In June,a group called Team U nknow n hacked into the w ebsite ofapp-based taxiaggregator
O la,gaining access to sensitive creditcard inform ation ofcustom ers and unused vouchers.The
com pany later denied any breach.
According to a reportpublished by security services firm FireEye earlier this m onth,India is
quickly becom ing a "strategic target" for cybercrim inals,w ith nearly 38 per centofIndian
organisations being atthe receiving end ofsom e form ofcybercrim e in the firsthalfof2015.
Thisis w here the hackers com e in.They check the inform ation technology system s for
breaches and w eak points and then secure them .


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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Buttheir num bers are w oefully shortofthe dem and.In 2013,the U nion m inistry of
inform ation technology estim ated thatIndia w ould require up to 500,000 cyber security
professionals by 2015 -a goalthathas been far from fulfilled.
According to Sandeep Sengupta,founder ofthe Indian SchoolofEthicalH acking in K olkata,
thatnum ber is around 40,000 atpresent.
In spite ofthe shortfall,the rise ofethicalhacking in India has been undisputed.Institutes
such as N etH ub and R oom an are proofofthat.
There has been a m ushroom ing ofethicalhacking training institutes in areas such as
Pitam pura,PatelN agar and R ohiniin the nationalcapitalin the lastfew years.



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Fadia says thatthingshave changed dram atically since he started out.

"Earlier,hacking w aslim ited to only a few students from top colleges like the IITs and N IITs.
N ow ,w ith greater aw areness and the pitfalls ofthe technology w orld,thattrend is changing."
There is a little doubtthatethicalhackers have greateracceptability than a decade ago.
H ow ever,the stigm a attached w ith a "hacker"refuses to fade aw ay com pletely.

IMAGE: People must understand that there is nothing wrong in hacking.

Photograph: Reuters

M ostem ployers choose to callthem "risk-assessm ent" or "cyber-security" experts.Socialbuyin is notyetabsolute,and industry leaders are desperate to turn around the negative im age of
the profession.
"The w ord 'hacker'hasalw ays had a negative m eaning.In actuality,a 'hacker'is som eone w ho
can build stuffand solve real-life problem s," says Sachin G upta,the 25-year-old founder and


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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CEO ofH ackerEarth,a Bengaluru-headquartered online platform for developers from across
the w orld.
"The term 'ethicalhacking'had to be devised to separate the good from the bad."
Earlier this year,H ackerEarth posted a petition on w w w -aim ed especially atthe
m edia -to highlightthe difference betw een a "hacker" and a "cracker":a "cracker" is som eone
w ho is adeptatsecurity breaking,w hereas a "hacker" prevents such incidents,says the

IMAGE:Saket Modi, ethical hacker and CEO of Lucideus Tech.

Photograph, courtesy: Saket Modi/Facebook

SaketM odi,ethicalhacker and CEO ofLucideus Tech,a cyber-security consultancy thathelps

som e ofthe biggestbanks in the w orld secure their data,says the generalperception ofa
hacker m ustchange.
"A hacker is som ebody w ho can m ake anything do som ething thatitis notm eantto do," he
"People m ustunderstand thatthere is nothing w rong in hacking.For m e,Steve Jobs rem ains
the greatesthacker ofour tim e."
M odiproudly adds thathe has a dedicated team ofhackers thatprevents fraud."W e hack for a
living and w e are proud ofit."
There is evidence thatperceptions are changing and hackerscould soon be m ainstream .
R ishirajSharm a is perhaps India's youngestindependentethicalhacker and cyber security
At18,hisservices have been acknow ledged by m ore than 50 com panies,including G oogle,
M icrosoftand N okia.The m om enthe starts talking aboutw hathe loves doing,the boyish
enthusiasm is palpable.


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IMAGE: Rishiraj Sharma is perhaps India's youngest independent ethical hacker.

Photograph, courtesy: Rishiraj Sharma/Twitter

Butthe am ateurishness dissipates quickly,giving w ay to a stern,unbiased professionalvoice.

"Atpresent," he says,"hacking is an unavoidable partofany technology thatdeals w ith
inform ation,people or data.This is w hy there isspecialem phasis on 'security'."
The hacking sector,in the lastfew years,has grow n faster than technology itself.Sharm a says
thatis due to the unique nature ofthe profession.
"The hacking ecosystem is sim ple butunique.A hacker is alw ays above allsecurity m easures,
since he has to alw aysbe first," he says.
"A secure system /netw ork can only be developed afterallthe possible m ethods to hack ithave
been accounted for."
An invention is useless unless itis fully secured.H ence,job opportunities in the cyber security
sector have opened up.Com panies such as Tech M ahindra,KPM G ,Snapdealand Flipkart
regularly hire professionals for their cyber-security vulnerability threatand assessm ent
"Butsuch people are notthe easiestto find," says an executive ofone such com pany.


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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IMAGE: India is not yet up to speed with the kind of talent that is required to thwart
serious cyber-attacks. Photograph: Reuters

In spite ofthe grow ing interest,India is notyetup to speed w ith the kind oftalentthatis
required to thw artserious cyber-attacks.
M ostsuccessfulhackers operate individually and are seldom available to big com panies to
tackle security threats.
M oreover,the lack oftalentcom ing through is a grave concern.
"H acking," says TrishneetArora,a young ethicalhacker w ho headsTAC Security Solutions,"is
a lotlike acting.
You have both m ediocre asw ellas brilliantactors.Italldepends on how good you are." (The
20-year-old's outfitclaim s ithas provided security services to CBI,Punjab Police,R eliance
Industries and Am ulin the past.)
M odiadds thatbecom ing a hacker requires enorm ous intellect,w hich is rare to find."Atthe
end ofthe day,you have to be better than the person w ho originally developed a program .And,
everybody can'tdo that."
That's w hy cyber security expertR akshitTandon feels thatethicalhacking m ustm ature and
"Foryoungsters,hacking is stillallaboutthe 'thrill'factor.They w antto see m agic on their
screen.Thathas to change.Intruding on other people's privacy m uststop."

IMAGE: Trishneet Arora, a young ethical hacker who heads TAC Security Solutions.
Photograph: Reuters

Forthatto change,the industry needs an urgentoverhaulin the w ay youngsters are trained

and nurtured.
For long,the industry has been grappling w ith one m ajor problem -the lack ofgood teachers.
Sengupta says thathe has been recruiting for the last16 years,butstillfinds itdifficultto the
find the rightm em bers for his team .
H e adds thatathis institute,m ore than 500 ethicalhackers are trained every year w ho can also
teach,butthatnum ber isstillnotsufficient."In the near future,every com puter w illrequire an
individualguardian.This dem and w illonly grow ," says Tandon.
Fadia tellsm e thatthe one thing m issing from the hacking ecosystem is a full-fledged
governm ent-recognised hacking institute .


Most wanted in India: Ethical hackers! - Business

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"A university thatcan offer a tw o-year m aster's degree in cyber security,or even a PhD ,w illbe
a gam e changer.Ihope the governm entcom es up w ith som ething like that," he says.
Ethicalhacking in India m ay have m ade large strides,butthere is stillsom e distance to cover.
Dhruv Munjal

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