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India telecom chief denies losing dare to hackers

Mr Sharma’s personal details were released by hackers. Courtesy: BBC

The head of India’s telecom regulator has responded to hackers who released his personal information after he challenged them to do so.

Ram Sewak Sharma tweeted his unique Aadhaar biometric ID number, challenging anyone to find out more about him based on the 12 digits.

Various hackers then released his phone number, address and account details.

But Mr Sharma has said the hackers could have found all the information through a “determined Google search”.

His decision to make his 12-digit ID number public comes in the wake of a fierce debate over the biometric identity scheme .

Aadhaar, which means foundation, started out as a voluntary programme to help tackle benefit fraud, but recently it has been made mandatory for access to welfare schemes.

Critics have repeatedly warned that the scheme puts personal information at risk and have criticised government efforts to compulsorily link it to bank accounts and mobile phone numbers.

The government has always insisted that the biometric data is “safe and secure in encrypted form”, and says anybody found guilty of leaking data can be jailed and fined.

It was in this spirit that Mr Sharma asked hackers to prove that they could harm him by using the Aadhaar number.

A group of “ethical hackers” responded by releasing Mr Sharma’s personal information, including two mobile numbers, his home address, bank account details, his tax identification number and his profile photo on WhatsApp.

First, a Twitter user released Mr Sharma’s mobile number.

“After getting this number, I managed to get his other mobile number and details, including his current and old addresses, date of birth etc,” Kanishk Sajnani, one of the hackers who responded to the challenge, told BBC Gujarati.

“There are many bugs in government websites and it’s easy to get data using individual’s birthdates, email addresses and mobile numbers,” he added.

He said the government should encourage experts to find bugs in their programmes.

“Authorities should reward those who will find such flaws in their systems,” Mr Sajnani said.

Mr Sharma had come under fire from India’s main opposition Congress party for tweeting out his Aadhaar number. The party said that the stunt had made people “lose faith” in the biometric system.

But Mr Sharma has insisted that the hackers did not succeed because they did not obtain his information from the Aadhaar database. They instead “attempted to hack” his email accounts, he said.

“You have found information about me that other users could have obtained by a determined Google search without the benefit of knowing the Aadhaar number,” Mr Sharma wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.

“Aadhaar does not contribute to increasing any of your other digital vulnerabilities”, he added.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-45002675