India Hackers Scared Straight?

MUMBAI, India — Indian hackers always thought they were too sophisticated to fall into the hands of the rough cops in this country, whom various human rights groups routinely accuse of brutality.

But that feeling evaporated after one of the four people arrested recently in connection with a hacking incident accused Mumbai police of breaking his hand during interrogation.

While the charge hasn’t been substantiated, hackers in Mumbai admitted to being petrified. And the police, while denying the incident, don’t sound too apologetic.

“Let hackers know that some tough people are out here,” said Senior Inspector I.M. Zahid, an investigator in the hacking case. “I killed naxalities (terrorists) in Andhra Pradesh (South India) before being reassigned in Mumbai. I am not saying that I was merciless with the hackers, but my point is that we cops have seen such tough situations that we know how to handle boys.”

It all started when 23-year old Anand Khare, who calls himself Dr. Neukar, gained control over, the site of Mumbai cops’ Cyber Crime Cell, or CCC. He pasted abuses and challenged them to catch him.

They did.

Three others were arrested and charged with helping Khare. One of them, Mahesh Mhatre, said an officer broke his hand during the interrogation. He also accused the police of torturing him.

Mhatre owns the cyber cafe from where Khare executed the hack. “I have approached the State Human Rights Commission asking them to look into the matter,” said Mhatre’s father, Subash. “I am waiting for their response.”

The deputy commissioner of police, Manoj Lohiya, denied the allegation. “It’s not our job to get personal,” said Lohiya, who is also chief of the CCC.

Mhatre’s hospital report confired that there were no bone injuries. But according to a highly placed CCC official who took part in the interrogation, the men were “slapped around.” He said calling it “torture” was exaggerated.

But with a report that the State Human Rights Commission was investigating the death of a man who died in police custody still fresh in their minds, the hackers are scared.

“Some of my students are good hackers who love detecting flaws in Internet security,” said Vijay Mukhi, a member of the CCC advisory committee and a highly reputed software tutor who offered his technical assistance to the cops as they pursued Neukar. “I have gotten calls from at least six of them asking me if they could join the CCC as technical hands. They want to be on the official side of Internet security now because they are scared.”

Darthvader, a self proclaimed “hacker with no malice,” said that the punishment should fit the crime. “A slap on the wrist is understandable. But if a programmer is treated as a criminal then it leaves an unpleasant taste.”

Another hacker calling himself Prince said that even the rumor of heavy-handed police tactics has been enough to send hackers diving for cover. “Indian hackers don’t have a strong united community, so it’s difficult to tell if there is a drop in activity,” he said. “But the hackers I know are lying low. No body wants to mess again.”

L-20 blamed Khare for messing with law enforcement.

“That guy was not even a hacker. He just used hacking tools and has given all of us a bad name,” L-20 said. “Suddenly a cerebral activity has become a high-risk pastime.”

Fear can be good, according to Flynn Remedios, a Web security consultant for CCC who took part in interrogating Dr. Neukar. “Though it was not intentional, if Mhatre’s allegation of police brutality scares away hackers, I would say it’s good.”

The message appears to be sinking in. Bertram D’Souza, for one, a 21-year-old engineering student and “Web security enthusiast,” plans on taking the high road. “I am joining CCC to help out the cops in detecting hackers. That seems to me both safe and exciting.”

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