NEW DELHI, JUNE 8: ``If you call me a criminal, then I am one. My crime is curiosity.'' They are here. And closer home than you could have imagined. Welcome to IIT, Delhi, home of a group of Robin Hood hackers.
With UB40's reworked Higher Ground as their mantra, whizkids at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, are giving new dimensions to hacking, with an anthem and code of ethics, all their own. They style themselves as the good guys who hack ``only for fun'' or ``to help others''.
Explaining the concept, one hacker says: ``Hacking is fun, as opposed to cracking. Cracking is malicious -- they sometimes breakdown the systems they crack into. We limit ourselves to hacking, which is primarily for kicks and gives us free access to the Internet for as many hours as we want.''
Their moral code is strict and the underlining principle of hacking at the premier institute is ``If you have to hack, hack by all means but help others.''
They are candid enough to admit that this is not theirexclusive domain. ``It is practised in every engineering college. It is just that the facilities here have given us better opportunities to learn and implement,'' they point out.
According to legend, one professor helped an IIT hacker get a job abroad with a software company, so impressed was he with his student's `ability'. And this student even drafted a hacking charter for future generations of IIT hackers, using reworked lines from UB40's Higher Ground.
Every hour, every day I am learning more. The more I learn, the less I know about people. The more I know, the less I want to look around. Digging deep for clues, on higher ground.
``We developed our expertise, since we had to secure our own institute's system from hacking.'' This in turn, led them to `study' other systems. That is how they broke into VSNL, and they say they were not the only ones to have done so. ``Because, the system is anything but foolproof,'' say student hackers.
Some of IIT's computer nerds showed thisreporter how easy it was to hack into the VSNL network. Revealing some but not all of their methods, one student said: ``Once you break through, you get a list of user-names and cryptic passwords. You have software that decode passwords.''
There is more to hacking than just getting at passwords. ``It is about manipulating a system. One even has to study books available on a particular type of system. You have to enter the system, identify the `bug' (loophole) and then work on it,'' explains a student.
But they insist that the system remains unaffected. ``Hacking is a question of pride. It is not right to brand a hacker a digital criminal.'' And they have no qualms about admitting that all hackers are basically rebels without a cause.
Says one student: ``We don't believe in red-tape. Our motto -- I can do this.''
And what's more, no one's ever complained about them. ``We don't misuse our knowledge. Because there is so much to learn. And now working on the Internet is not a problem. We have a 24hours access.''
In fact, the Net is their god of all things. Most of their knowledge of hacking, they say, came from the Net. A `newbie' (a learner) learns to use the Net as the source. And if your intentions are `good', the professor will not stop you.
One regular hacker says: ``The percentage of hackers is around 10 per cent of the total student community. There are strict professors. But there are also those who help us do it, informally of course.'' Quips another one: ``In any case they can never catch us.''
But V S Raju, the IIT director, says: ``One should never try something illegal. As far as complaints about his institute go: ``I have never come across such complaints nor have I heard about such things.''
And a piece of advice from the wise hacker: ``The best way to avoid being hacked -- stay away from simple passwords, like names of people or pets -- if you do you're a sitting duck. Avoid downloading attached files which you receive on e-mail unless they are trustworthy.''
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.