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Ethical hackers assist security agencies and finance firms to check cyber crime
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Vineet Gill,TNN

Once perceived as a badge of honour, the term ‘‘ hacker’ ’ and the practice of hacking have over the years acquired a taint. It was the technologically proficient computer geeks, having excellent problem-solving skills, who were called hackers. But today, hackers are identified with crimes like financial fraud and identity theft. To counter rampant cyber crime and put hacking back in its rightful place, computer enthusiasts have taken up the cudgels against such malicious attackers and are training themselves in the art of ethical hacking.

One of the country’s prominent ethical hackers, Sunny Vaghela has helped security agencies crack several cases using his prowess in hacking into systems. ‘‘ I worked with cops and helped them trace the e-mails of people involved in the 2008 Ahmedabad blasts. I also helped solve numerous identity fraud cases,’’ said the 22-year-old computer engineer.
At age 16, Vaghela’s own e-mail account was hacked. It was then that he decided to study networking to become a professional hacker. ‘‘ The ethics of hacking were always clear to me. I understood that it could be a tool for causing immense harm to others and at the same time, could be used for a lot of good. It is a matter of choice,’’ he said.

To encourage more young and bright minds to do the same, Vaghela organized a workshop this year at IIT Delhi’s Tryst festival. ‘‘ At the workshop I highlighted some of the common yet neglected cyber crimes. I hacked into major government and private websites and later issued an advisory to these, suggesting possible solutions,’’ said Vaghela.

His technical advice was accepted and adopted by Google’s social networking website Orkut in January, when he pointed out some loopholes to its administrators .

Hacking has become a career option for many others. Priyanka Tomar sensed the growing demand for hackers in the industry and decided to pursue a PG diploma in ethical hacking. ‘‘ Hacking was my hobby in college. I learned a lot about it and tried to understand networks and security properly ,’’ said Priyanka, who even plans to do a PhD in ethical hacking.

Though an unconventional field, professional hacking is now seen as a lucrative option. Ashish Kaushik, who did PG diploma in ethical hacking and cyber security from Delhi, said: ‘‘ I have worked as a cyber security consultant with MNCs and fivestar hotels in Delhi and Bombay. Now I am developing security softwares. There are a multitude of opportunities for ethical hackers. And for a single project, I earn three times of what one is offered in a conventional job.’’

Another cyber security consultant , Anup Girdhar, now provides certified ethical hacking courses at his institute, Sedulity Technologies. ‘‘ A hacker’s job is to find vulnerability or loopholes in a system. It’s now one of the highest paid professions in the world. In the US, hackers are offered annual packages of over $100,000. In India, the demand for hackers, both in the private and government sector , is about 1,80,000 people a month. It can be a lucrative career and there’s not much competition in this field yet,’’ said Girdhar.

The corporate world and government bodies, says Girdhar, have suddenly realized the importance of cyber security. ‘‘ People now take the threats seriously. Ethical hacking has thus become more professional,’’ added Girdhar.

Comprehensive and certified ethical hacking courses are now offered across India. Girdhar’s institute has certified more than 60,000 students to date. But while tech aficionados are interested in the positive aspects of hacking, the line between the ethical and unethical is still blurred.

What could be ethically accepted for one might be infringement of privacy for another. IIT Delhi computer engineering student Ajit Verma says there is no set ethical code for hackers . ‘‘ As networking sites like Facebook and Myspace gain popularity, digging out someone’s information is a piece of cake. The blackhats - malicious hackers - are finding it easier than ever to get to their ends. If I could join the whitehats, the ethical hackers, and counter that, I would be proud,’’ said Verma.



Breaking into computer systems or servers without legal authorization, to extract information


Black Hats: Also called Crackers. They are evildoers or the bad guys of hacking

White Hats: Ethical hackers. They hack to help

Grey Hats: The confused category. Often blackhats posing as whitehats


Carding: Hacking into bank servers to obtain unauthorized credit card information

Malicious software: Worms and viruses that crash systems; software like Botnet used for espionage

Phishing: Hoax emails or unauthentic websites to gather personal and financial information

Trojan Horses:

Malicious programs attached to genuine software used for spying or crashing the system

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