Loved by geeks and scorned by critics, ethical hacker Ankit Fadia remains a sought after name.
Appearances are deceptive. Armed with a perennial innocent smile and loaded with technical knowhow on computer security, 25-year-old Ankit Fadia doesn't give the impression of a geek but an ordinary student who wouldn't mind sitting in a dhaba across from a girls' college feigning to be busy with breakfast.
But Ankit, a Delhi-born and bred computer security expert, keeps as far away from the topic of girlfriends and marriage as he does from critics who rave on the Internet about how fake he is. He is the one about whom Bill Gates said in a lighter vein, “Because of guys like you, Microsoft has problems,” when Ankit, then 14, presented him his first book. The news of Chinese' attempts to hack the computers at the PMO reminds one of this home grown security expert, whose services have so far not been sought.
Says Ankit, “China is becoming a very powerful nation each passing day. So far, across the world, computer security was controlled by the EU. The attempt by China to hack into the Indian Government's computer security network is a loud announcement of their arrival to control the network.”
But at the same time, he says, no computer security network can be permanently foolproof. “When the best masterminds in Google can face this problem, anyone can. It is like a cat and mouse game. One should be quick to update with the best safety measures available at that point of time.”
Talking of network, Ankit also warns us about mobile operators who float messages about a person in dire need of, say, money for some critical operation, and thereby make money. “Though it is not proved, most such messages are fake, but such messages, especially of winning a lottery, find many takers in small towns. One should never fall for such things.”
Ankit, who decrypted an Al-Qaeda site for the Indian Government a few years ago and was once the ‘breaking news' subject on the BBC, was given a computer by his engineer father at the age of 10. He says, “People from outfits like Al-Qaeda send cryptic and coded messages behind their photos. I can't tell you more than that for reasons of security.”
Even his parents and siblings weren't aware how tech-savvy Ankit was till he surprised everyone by writing his first book on ethical hacking at 14. It made him the youngest author published by Macmillan. So far, he has written over 14 books on the subject, apart from winning various awards and honours. Currently he is working with a U.S.-based company as a network security expert and also running three certificate courses through video conferencing. He explains, “These courses on cyber security are of one month, one year (GOI-approved) and two years (master courses). They are generally sought by engineers, IT companies and big business houses. I also do events for corporates and colleges in India and abroad.” He is also hosting a programme on MTV every Saturday about hacking truths.
But controversy surrounds this Stanford University graduate. A few blogs question his credibility as an expert, the honours and awards he has won and his employment by prestigious names. It is also alleged he provides dated courses and cannot save even his own website from hacking.
Ankit laughs it off. “If I had been fake, my growth would have stopped 10 years ago. I am still going to Nigeria to train CEOs, and in February, I will be in Barcelona as the youngest speaker on computer security from 150 countries. My Facebook account has 37,000 fans, and that outnumbers a few critics who question my integrity. If I wanted, I could have uploaded photos of all my awards, certificates and receipts of payments from the prestigious Indian and international companies I have worked with. But that would be stupid. Though, after a lot of questions, I have uploaded a few of them on Facebook. Anyone can go and see for themselves.” As for his website being hacked, he says he was using the Net4India server which in those days was used by several big names. “It was a fault on their side and they admitted that publicly. When the websites of NASA and ICICI can be hacked, where am I?”
On ‘dated' courses, he clarifies, “every course (video) can't be updated minute by minute because it's not a live course. For updating, I deliver live lectures. Certain things will always remain the same, as fundamentals don't change. And by March this year my 5.0 version will also be launched.”
While shuttling between the U.S. and India, Ankit misses Delhi. “I spent 18 years in Delhi. Every time I pass Andrews Ganj where I used to live, I am filled with nostalgia. I used to play cricket every day there for two hours.”