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SMART SURFING
In town recently, Ankit Fadia does what he does best on the Web — ethical hacking. Picture by Pabitra Das

Winning the Pepsi MTV Youth Icon 2008 award was more or less a formal induction into the world of cool for “ethical hacker” Ankit Fadia. The 24-year-old Stanford graduate has spent over a decade authoring 14 books, managing his own computer security consultancy and helping the police and governments with security matters all over the world. Now, he’s on TV too. Here’s what the ace had to say…

What exactly is “ethical hacking”?

It’s the positive use of knowledge to improve security processes, to find loopholes and give the right advice. It’s my responsibility.

How did it all start?

I guess it was the forbidden fruit for me. I hacked into the website of a popular computer magazine in those days, CHIP, and put up my own photo. I emailed the editor with some preventive advice and a solution. He called me and offered me a job but I told him that I was 13!

What’s the latest Internet threat?

Earlier it used to be an e-mail attachment (now mails are scanned automatically, mostly), an infected pen drive, a CD or a floppy. Now, it’s the many social networking sites. Everyone from Shashi Tharoor to KJo is on Twitter (Shah Rukh Khan has joined, too). While it’s great for brand building, it’s a huge security risk because the infiltrators know the exact location of these celebrities while the cops don’t!

We hear about the threat of cyber war from time to time…

Cyber terrorism is much more real than you think. It could bring a country to a standstill with long-term negative economic effects. A tech savvy country like Estonia was bombarded by infinite data that clogged the banking network, stock market, planes and trains, traffic signals, cellphones and ATMs!

Where does India stand?

China has been ramping up its cyber security prowess. Pakistan is ahead of India as well! It’s important to create indigenous systems because that takes care of expenses. Our colleges also don’t offer any courses. I started the first security training and certification course on ethical hacking in Maharashtra and Gujarat and trained 15,000 people in the past three years, following guidelines issued by ministry of IT, Delhi.

What’s your solution?

There are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. We need to create an Interpol or UN for cyber crime cases. Since the Net has no border, all nations should comply. You could take the knowledge and create havoc easily.

Have you helped the government deal with emergencies?

During the Mumbai attacks last year, I helped the Navi Mumbai police to pinpoint evidence and trace the mails from Pakistan. The terrorists had connected through proxy servers in Saudi Arabia and Russia. I also helped with the steganography (encrypted information) during the September 11 attacks. I have worked with the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory, the police in Pune, Kerala and Goa and helped the Mumbai and Delhi police in investigations along with the Malaysian and Singapore governments. I have also taught in over 20 second, third and fourth tiered colleges for free.

How is it having your own show on MTV?

Yes, MTV What The Hack! with VJ Jose is on every Saturday at 8.20pm. Popularity is always a big boost. The show is offbeat and educative. There’s no script. Say someone wants to find out whether his girlfriend has blocked him on Facebook, I can help out, because it’s not illegal. Jose gives me a cue, which provides the girlfriend with a counter attack as well; i.e., how to prevent someone from checking whether they have been blocked!

ANKIT’S TOP FIVE

  • Cooltunnel.com/ Anonymizer.com (Anonymous proxy servers, software to hide IP addresses for surfing anonymously)

  • Meebo.com (single platform for instant messengers like MSN, Yahoo!, AOL/AIM, Google Talk, ICQ and more)

  • Wiki.travel (open source travel guide)

  • iTunes (Apple’s media player application)

  • Labs.google.com (read up on some of Google’s beta projects worth trying)

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