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He started hacking from Class V

Overcoming parental obstacles is always fun (yes, notwithstanding the dangers), and for Aditya Anand, that fun became a passion and that passion became his job. Accessing the home computer which his parents kept at bay was his first lesson in hacking. Decades later, he turned out to be an ethical hacker and a cybersecurity expert. A hell of a story, of Aditya Anand’s.

“You can’t touch the computer anymore! Don’t even dare enter this room.”

These were the words of my mother when she caught me doing something on the computer which she extremely disliked and the room where the computer was kept was strictly barred for me. This incident happened when I was in Class IX or so and as hilarious as it may sound, that’s how my journey to becoming a computer hacker or better yet becoming cybersecurity professional started.

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Like any kid of my age, I was really interested in computers and my love for it kept growing each passing day despite the restrictions at my home. The idea of hacking struck me in Class V or so. Orkut was the more prominent social networking website then and Facebook was slowly taking its place. At that point in time sending someone a scrap ( something like messages ) from a fake account posing to be someone else and other petty stuff like that was what hacking meant to us. I still remember the first time someone mentioned that they hacked an actual Orkut account of another person and they became popular in the entire class. It was at that moment I made up my mind that I could become a hacker. For me hacking was always about the boasting part, having done something that others think impossible or just can’t happen. That thrill of shocking someone drove me to the world of hacking.

I still remember my first hack, more of a mistake, when my father allowed me to take complete control of his Facebook account. Facebook was again a strict no-no for me. I had earlier configured the browser to remember the password and this feature stored the credentials of my dad’s account, which helped me gain access to his account whenever I opened his Facebook account.

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The next step was I changed the name of my dad’s account, turned it into a fake profile and then sent friend requests to all of my other friends in school. My friends did not suspect any foul play as my father had just created that account a few days ago and thus most of my friends actually accepted that request!

This led to the next Facebook hack I carried out, a proper hack, a few months later when I had an account of my own. This time around I was figuring out ways to take over the account of any person I want and that time Facebook had this policy that it would let you set a new password if identified by four of your friends or something of that sort. Now, if you remember I used to create a lot of fake accounts on Orkut, so you know that I already had a ton of email addresses lying around which can be used straight away to create a good number of fake accounts on Facebook as well. I created around 10 fake Facebook accounts and then properly managed all 10 of them. I sent friend requests from all of them to most of the friends in my group and again most of them accepted it. This allowed me to take benefit of ‘forgot your password feature’ which allowed me to take over any account.

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My life is full of stories like this.

Gradually, I came to know about what command line instructions are, Linux and about Kali, a flavour of Linux designed specifically for hacking. Till now I was only aware of Windows and had never used Mac OS or Apple products. It was around this time when the incident happened when my mom restricted my access to my computer.

It was then when my true instincts arose, trying to figure out ways of bypassing restrictions to access my computer. I figured out exact locations where they placed the keys so that I can get access to the room but soon they started taking the keys with themselves. This led me to learn a bit about locks and how one set of locks are more secure than the other as I needed to open locks to enter that room when my parents were not at home. It taught me the duplication of keys and how to smartly do that. I duplicated keys for every lock that we had at home so irrespective of which lock my parents use to lock the room I can get in irrespective of that. So my knack for hacking was growing when I barely knew what hacking was all those days back.

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Once my parents gave me access to my system but said the monitor could not be used. To their surprise, I agreed. You all might find this hard to believe the next set of things that I did, as I was able to play songs on my computer without ever having a display of any kind connected to it. I had memorized the time it took my system to boot, exact steps to enter the password for the user, the exact location of Computer folder in the windows startup menu. Then the exact directory position of mouse on boot up so that from opening the “My Computer“ folder I can navigate via a mouse and the mouse sensitivity levels, so I can carry just the precise movements to get my mouse right over the right folders and then play the songs I want and the shortcuts to skip songs, play and pause to listen to the exact song. Yes, I had everything memorised to the details, so that was my love for computers.

As I entered higher grades, my parents did not even allow me to even sit around computers and just focus on study for classes and my interaction with computers nearly reached nil till the point I was supposed to join my college. So nearly two years I was not focused on working on computers but when I joined college, I Googled how to become a hacker. I was redirected to a WikiHow page that gave me a set of instructions. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all but looking back in hindsight it all seems so trivial. It was that point which actually catapulted me into a whole new direction, which was programming. I became an avid coder and coded on several online platforms trying to develop my caliber and enhance my skills over time. There were times when I used to code for hours and hours on a stretch. At the same time, I was focusing to improve my computer networking skills.

The first year of my college was totally spent on online coding websites and the rest of the time adjusting to the new college environment. College can be daunting especially for people like me who hailed from a small town. Seeing so many people together gave me the boost that I have to do something incredible to set myself apart from the rest of the people at the college.

In the second year, I started entertaining the idea of dropping out of college. I had late-night discussions with my roommates and my parents trying to make the right decision. The college routine was way too hectic for me and barely allowed me to learn anything new on my own unless I am ready to skip classes and bunk lectures. In the frustration of not being able to do the things I want, I came to the decision of dropping out of college. I made a deal with my father that if I was able to clear a set of certifications then I will drop out and he wouldn’t stop me from it. One of the certifications was CCNA, the computer networking examination by CISCO. I started preparing like crazy for the exams and I remember when I used to go to sleep watching those videos and wake up and again start studying. After tireless work and an extremely strong grasp on computer networking, I gave the exam in my winter vacation and I failed. This failure gave me a huge set back as it is a costly examination and not being able to crack it made me feel extremely guilty.

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To overcome this guilt I got back to programming to just practice my skills and in the frustration of having failed, I started coding 16 hours a day for the next month on online platforms. I mostly coded on Hackerrank website. At the end of the month when it was time for me to head back to college I had attained Rank #1 in both Java and Bash script language, and a respectable rank in C++.

When I came to know that my class was conducting a workshop on Hacking, I was too excited. It was a two- day course and a teacher would come to train us and show us the basics of cybersecurity. Those two days were the turning point for me because I had totally forgotten about hacking and got diverted into programming. After that I learnt the basics of cybersecurity, attacks like SQL Injection, brute force attack, WIFI attacks etc. These attacks that I learnt led to the next big hack that I and my roommates carried out.

A few days after I learnt these techniques I tried SQL Injection attack on a website late night and the attack worked. That was an incredible high for me at the point. I was dancing in the room, while one my roommate asked what exactly did I do and I then explained him the entire process and he grasped it instantly. That night my friend and I hacked into more than 40-50 websites back to back. I have never experienced such a high in a long long time, and frankly, we just didn’t want to stop. Gradually, I understood a lot about computer security and what hacking actually meant. I also watched a lot of hacking movies and T.V. series like Mr. Robot.

My entire third year went into tirelessly learning new stuff day in and day out. During the end of the third year, I hacked into my college database, giving me an overnight success. This hack made me famous among my classmates and everyone all of a sudden knew about me.

Since then I was into cybersecurity and hacking. I kept hacking websites and report it to its owners. This was the time when I slowly came into bug bounty. I didn’t do it on websites like Hackerone or Bugcrowd, but I started private bug bounty for companies that needed it. In the time being my views and likes on my Medium page took off like anything. I have kept at it and try to write something new and creative over and over again. I didn’t sit for college placements and got my first job before I even got my college degree. I have kept at it trying to learn new stuff every chance I get and develop myself in any aspect that is required of me.

The one and only motivation I had along all this time was that I was too afraid to get lost in the crowd and that has kept me going on and on at times when I was about to give up. I want to make a name for myself and try to be the best at what I do. All of this that I have done leads to that one line my dad once said to me, “It doesn’t matter what you do, you will be successful as long as you are one of the best in that category.”

Having spent such a big portion of my life trying to enhance my skills in cybersecurity, it was impossible for me to think of having a job in any other field. I rigorously prepared myself and gave examinations for various certifications and passed three well-recognised certifications. Once, I had those certifications I started looking for jobs and in a month, I got a job offer at Curl Analytics. The last six months I have had one of the best experiences, the freedom to implement things the way I want, to work on things I find interesting and implement them if it is feasible to do so.

WHAT ADITYA'S PARENTS SAY:

Aditya was very curious about computers and gadgets since his childhood. He used to spend a lot of time on the computer, mostly experimenting on new things since his schooldays. Those were the days when we wanted him to seriously start preparing for IIT entrance. He always had potential and so we were upset with him for spending a huge amount of time on the computer and in the end, we had to lock away the computer and protect it with a password. In hindsight, we realise that this action kind of backfired as this forced him to learn how to unlock the computer and a hacker was born in him. The restrictions that we placed on him to take away the computer from him, turned him into a hacker and finally a cybersecurity expert. Now we are proud of Aditya, he became a top system security expert even before passing Engineering. -- Amitabh Kumar & Rina Patel

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