In the beautiful hills of Darjeeling, a 17-year-old boy quietly shows off his iPod Classic to his teacher. As they get talking, the former confides that he even knows how to write code in Java.
He then makes a stunning revelation: he has hacked into a banking site and could have transferred money from one account to another. What stopped you, asks the teacher. Its wrong to do so. I was only checking if the system was secure enough, he says.
The young boy is a self-taught ethical hacker. But there are others with malicious intent. They are called crackers. They steal credit card numbers, siphon money from banks, and look at peoples medical records to blackmail or rob them of medical insurance.
It is estimated that India needs over 70,000 ethical hackers; now we have barely 7,000. There are only two institutes in the country that teach ethical hacking. One is Ankit Fadias institute in Hyderabad. Fadia is a legendary figure. According to the BBC, at 14, he defaced the front page of an Indian magazines website. He then sent an email to the editor confessing to the hack and also suggesting counter measures.
Sensing this shortage of ethical hackers, a brilliant young man from Kharagpur, Abir Atarthy, opened a computer-training institute in this sleepy, railway colony town. In its five-year existence, NetSoft Technologies on Kharagpurs OT Road, has grown from strength to strength. Students from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, too come here to learn.
Atarthy is very clear and choosy about whom he admits for his course. Computers around the world are being systematically intruded upon. Malicious work is executed so flawlessly that the attackers compromise a system, steal everything of value, and completely erase their tracks within 20 minutes, he says.
Corporate India has not yet woken up to the threat of the crackers. The job of an ethical hacker is to get into the minds of computer criminals, think like them and come up with innovative methods to protect their networks. Most companies have their computer security experts, but they are woefully inadequately trained to ward off threat.
When computers were being introduced in newspaper offices, I made an intrusion into a rival newspapers computer system. I had just learnt Java and wanted to test the waters. I got in so easily that I could have erased their entire edition for the day had I wanted to.
Atarthys NetSoft Technologies gets around 400 applicants a year. Minimum qualifications are knowledge of programming, C++, Java, Networking and database programming. If a student qualifies, he has to sign a bond to say he will not misuse the knowledge. The ethical hacking course costs around Rs 15,500 and lasts three months. Atarthy conducts two courses a year.
There is another course for those who arent computer savvy. This teaches basic security, computer ethics, Windows hacks and password cracking. The course costs Rs 5,000. The one-month course is designed for corporate-sponsored executives and college students.
Besides, NetSoft Technologies holds regular classes on C and C++, Java, asp.Net, Oracle and Linux.
Some terms you should know about hacking.
Who is a hacker?
A hacker or White Hat Hacker (also ethical hacker) is one who specialises in penetrating computer systems, finding flaws and holes, and fixing them. Such people are employed by firms with pretty good salaries. They are sometimes called sneakers.
Who is a cracker?
Black Hat Hackers (or crackers) are those who specialise in unauthorised penetration of information systems. They attack computer systems for profit or fun, or to modify and destroy data.
Who is a script kiddy?
They are wannabe crackers. They lack knowledge of how a computer really works but use well-known easy-to-find techniques, programs or scripts to break into a computer to steal porn and music files, or send junk mail.
The iTunes App Corner is getting better day by day, especially with the launch of the iPad and iPhone 4. Take a look at this weeks selections at www.telegraphindia.com/ bitsandbytes/appcorner.
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