In what is being termed as the biggest international hacking scandal, possibly involving corporates, associations and big individuals, coordinated raids were conducted by investigative agencies in India, China and Romania, on the basis of intelligence from Federal Bureau of Investigation about the “organised hacking” happening in three countries and others. In India, the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids at four places including Mumbai, Pune and Ghaziabad and arrested the alleged mastermind hacker in India – Amit Vikram Tiwari (31), son of a former army colonel, said sources.
Interestingly, the controversial cricket league – Indian Premier League – is back in news again with the hacking scandal. According to highly placed sources, people connected to the IPL had approached Tiwari for hacking into the some accounts but they reportedly had a dispute over money after which work was not reportedly completed. CBI is investigating the IPL connection with the hacking. Officials refused to divulge details but hinted that some people associated with the tournament wanted high-level hacking done.
The primary investigations have revealed that corporates, individuals and even companies – “the clients” – had approached the hackers either for marriage disputes related issues or commercial purposes, which sources described as “corporate rivalry”.
It is suspected that Amit Vikram Tiwari is main hacker in India but he was in touch with people abroad and master-hackers are based somewhere else. Sources also said that most of clients who approached Tiwari for hacking into email accounts and websites were foreigners. All possibilities — national security, corporate hacking, financial fraud and hacking into government departments and secret units, are being probed by CBI in coordination with FBI.
Officials say that 900 email accounts were hacked between February 2011 and February 2013 by international hackers including Tiwari and 171 accounts out of these belonged to Indians. “It has been alleged that a number of internet websites advertised that the website operators could get access to e-mail account in exchange for a fee varying from $250 to $500. The customers desirous to get unauthorized access, submitted e-mail accounts to these websites. Upon receipt of the order, as well as the e-mail addresses, the website operators gained access to such e-mail accounts and sent a proof of such access to the customers. On receipt of payment from Customers these website operators shared the password with the customers,” said CBI Spokesperson Kanchan Prasad. CBI has booked Tiwari and unknown hackers for criminal conspiracy, theft of information and Section 66 of Information Technology Act.
Sources say that payments were being received by hackers through western union money transfer and web-payment portal paypal.com.
What has baffled investigators is that FBI tracking the scandal. It is being suspected that some accounts related to United States government and big corporates there were also hacked after which FBI tracked the hosting sites, used for hacking, in India, China and Romania. In India, Tiwari and his fellow hackers were using two primary websites – and from Pune.
CBI Director Ranjit Sinha said that this was part of an international law enforcement operation and CBI had registered two FIRs against suspect operators of hacking websites. “The operation is product of an international investigation coordinated by Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Combating Organised Crime (DCCO) of Romania, CBI and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of China and raids in three countries were carried out simultaneously,” said Sinha.
The FBI officials had been reportedly having regular meetings with CBI in New Delhi over past few months and a preliminary enquiry was registered last month itself and it was decided that coordinated raids would be conducted in all the countries. FBI has launched major operation against hackers located globally last year as part of which Romanian authorities have arrested a hacker known as ‘Guccifer’ on Thursday who was infamous for hacking into accounts of powerful leaders. It is alleged that Guccifer leaked online Colin Powell’s personal emails, an unreleased script of Downton Abbey, and the paintings of George W Bush.
CBI sources say they had no information about arrests made in Romania and China as it was the domain of authorities in those countries and it was only concerned with the probe in India.
CBI officials, after arresting Tiwari from Pune, were bringing him to Delhi for interrogation. He has initially given some inputs about his clients and people whose accounts were hacked. Agency has recovered his computers, laptop and hard-drives for retrieving the data.
Sources say that Tiwari, who had reportedly done his engineering from Pune, had been arrested in 2003 as well for trying to defraud a Mumbai based credit card processing company. Mumbai Police had arrested him for the scandal.
Source : TOI