Skeletons in Hyderabad's cyber-closet - PART TWO

07/11/2009 Written by Roberto Preatoni

INTER­VIEW WITH DAR­REN WAR­REN, THE HACKER LURED BY E2-​LABS TO HACK INDIAN GOV­ER­MENT COM­PUTER SYS­TEMS.

WARN­ING: this is not a satir­i­cal arti­cle. Every­thing what you are about to read hap­pened for real. The name of the real hacker has been changed, but he is will­ing to reveal him­self and will tes­tify under oath in an India court of law, that the fol­low­ing is a true state­ment of fact.



Zone-​H: Hello Mr. Dar­ren War­ren, we are going to call you by that in this inter­view, as this was the name you used dur­ing a pre­vi­ously released inter­view to an Indian news­pa­per. Do you con­firm that you are avail­able to reveal your­self to Indian author­i­ties and to give tes­ti­mony under oath in a court of law in regards of what you are going to reveal to us in this inter­view?

Dar­ren War­ren: Yes, I do

Zone-​H: Can you start to tell us a bit about your­self,? How did you get in touch with E2-​Labs, the com­pany now located at road n.2 of Ban­jara Hills, Hyder­abad?

Dar­ren War­ren: As an upcom­ing secu­rity researcher I was con­tacted by E2-​Labs of India in 2003 to join the busi­ness as CTO/​CSO and to develop eth­i­cal hack­ing classes. This was due to E2-​Labs heavy pro­mo­tion of such classes in part­ner­ship with Ankit Fadia of which rela­tions had dis­solved but yet were still being highly pro­moted by E2-​Labs them­selves. So basi­cally they needed to hold up the highly touted plans, not only to the press, but to those stu­dents that had already paid the fee for these courses. The was not even an out­line as to the sub­ject mate­r­ial, I had to cre­ate all course lec­tures and mate­ri­als from scratch.
To con­tinue, I had been unem­ployed for some time, so I took up the oppor­tu­nity to travel free/​paid to India, my first trip out­side of the USA.

Zone-​H: What were your first expe­ri­ences like with E2-​Labs, once you arrived in Hyderabad?

Dar­ren War­ren: My first weeks were spent at a hotel in Hyder­abad, and even at this stage I saw that some trou­bles were ahead.…First day on the job I arrived to my “office” and saw the com­puter which I had set up the pre­vi­ous day. I was greeted by my desk­top out of place and I imme­di­ately dis­cov­ered a key­log­ging tro­jan had been installed. When asked who was using my com­puter, I was told no one had touched it… so begins the dishonesty…

One day I had a knock on my hotel room with 3 per­sons from man­age­ment demand­ing pay­ment and I told them my employer was to han­dle this, as this was the agree­ment between me and E2-Labs’manager Mr. Zaki Qureshey. Three days later I was con­fronted again and told them I had con­tacted Zaki Qureshey to effect the pay­ment. When he did arrive after many delays I over­heard him mak­ing a very loud argu­ment, from the hotel lobby as to how much he would pay regard­less of the actual amount demanded by the hotel.

Zone-​H: What hap­pened then? Did you expe­ri­ence any other irreg­u­lar­ity in payments?

Dar­ren War­ren: After this time I moved into a down­stairs room below the E2-​Labs office, and things just got worse…To start, the room had no hot water in which to even bathe, I was told this would be fixed in a day or two (it never hap­pened even after sev­eral weeks ).

Dur­ing devel­op­ment time of the classes I was to be paid on a reg­u­lar basis at a fixed price, weekly. The first pay­ment was deliv­ered on time and with the cor­rect amount, this was the only time any­thing reg­u­lar hap­pened. Sub­se­quently after­wards my pay­ments were either late, half pay­ment or some other irreg­u­lar­ity all backed up by an unin­ter­rupted series of excuses by Mr. Zaki Qureshey. When­ever I showed my dis­plea­sure and anger I was yelled at by Mr. Zaki Qureshey and told I will have received the money tomor­row, etc etc etc. This con­tin­ued through­out my stay…

Zone-​H: Can you tell us a bit more about what has been pre­vi­ously reported dur­ring the inter­view you released to the Times of India already in year 2003?

Dar­ren War­ren: At some point I was told we (E2 Labs) would be trav­el­ing abroad and Mr. Zaki Qureshey needed my pass­port to secure visas etc, he also told me it would be a good idea to have him hold my return flight tick­ets for my return home, I gave him both in con­fi­dence (this action on my part will come back to haunt me).

Things really started to come to light after a trip the the Gov­ern­ment of India offices with Mr. Zaki Qureshey, myself and Gau­rav Kumar.…

Pre­vi­ous to this meet­ing I was asked by Mr. Zaki Qureshey to per­form a pen­e­tra­tion test into the Gov­ern­ment of India’s IP address range, of which I was repeat­edly told I was autho­rized to do and that we had per­mis­sion to per­form such rou­tines. The tests were more than suc­cess­ful and I was able to fully pen­e­trate such sites as mail​.gov​.in and also the Prime Min­is­ter offices and web­sites. Data dumps were suc­cess­ful as well as trojan/​backdoor deploy­ment on serveral assets… fully owned!

Zone-​H: Con­grat­u­la­tions, go ahead please.

Dar­ren War­ren: Right before the meet­ing, I was briefed by Mr. Mr. Zaki Qureshey as to not let on that these com­pro­mises had occurred… The meet­ing started off by intro­duc­ing me as some great secu­rity expert and other built up “facts” about me which sim­ply were not true. As the meet­ing got on it was quickly dis­cov­ered that in fact I nor E2-​Labs had any contract/​tender as this was the exact topic of dis­cus­sion! It was quite clear that I had infact hacked the Gov­ern­ment of India fully with­out per­mis­sion. To say I was quite scared is a light state­ment, India had just passed some very tight cyber laws.

Zone-​H: What hap­pened next? What did you do after you real­ized you have been unwill­ingly per­form­ing ille­gal hack­ing on behalf of E2-​Labs?

Dar­ren War­ren: As I told you, this episode shocked me so the next week began my exit and exile from E2-​Labs proper… Another pay­day had come, after not being paid for sev­eral weeks with promises that I would be paid “tomor­row” and when tomor­row came, the same thing was told. After daily ques­tions to when I would be paid Mr. Zaki Qureshey became out­raged at me for bug­ging him…

So I decided to quit and to put dis­tance between myself and E2-​Labs. One morn­ing I came to retrieve my pass­port, at which point Mr. Zaki Qureshey repeat­edly asked me why I wanted it, and that it was safe with him. I told him it was my right to have it and it was ille­gal for him to pos­sess it /​not sur­ren­der it to me. Mr. Zaki Qureshey then retrieved it from his desk, and like a child’s game.. waved it in front of me, acted like he was going to give it to me then pulled his hand back when I reached for it. Well, this con­tin­ued for a few min­utes all the while he still kept ask­ing me why I wanted it, and my reply was always the same.. it is MY pass­port and I want it back in my pos­ses­sion. Finally I was able to snatch it away. I then asked about my return air tick­ets, and that I wanted them as well. He told me that Mr. Reddy had them and I could retrieve them from him on Mon­day. Mon­day came and Mr. Reddy told me he did not have them nor did he ever have them… It took two more days before Zaki even came to the office, he even­tu­ally pro­duced them to me. On my way down stairs, Zaki, Gau­rav and Mr. Reddy hur­riedly fol­lowed me down to where my room was, say­ing they wanted to dis­cuss things. I noticed that once there they began to close all exit doors, as if they were going to jump on me (phys­i­cally harm me). I bolted to the clos­ing door, blow­ing past them and ran as fast as I could from the offices away, to where I did not know…

In hind­sight I should have sim­ply con­tacted the US Embassy in India…

Zone-​H: How did you man­age your way through India in the next days?

Dar­ren War­ren: Sev­eral of my “friends” had heard what had hap­pened and began to search for me, even­tu­ally one of them found me and helped me hide until Mr. Zaki Qureshey had phys­i­cally left the office. At this point I hur­riedly retrieved my belong­ings, smashed my PC’s hard drive and left to an undis­closed Hotel for the remain­der of my stay.

To note, 6 long time employ­ees of E2-​Labs quit their jobs after this inci­dent. (and find­ing a job in India is not easy… thanks for a show of sup­port guys, you know who you are).

Zone-​H: Let’s come to the spe­cific topic of the inter­view you released to the Times of India. First of all, when did you release the inter­view and why?

Dar­ren War­ren: after my depar­ture from E2-​Labs I was con­tacted by the Times Of India, while hid­ing out… This is the text of his email:

Hi, My name is Lison Joseph.. i’m a reporter with the Times of India, Hyder­abad edi­tion.. I heard that you left E2labs. If you would like to talk about it i’m all ears.. For me the motive is a break­ing story.. ”

After this email, I did have a inter­view for the Times of India, to tell my story:

Zone-​H: What did you tell to the Times of India’s reporter?

Dar­ren War­ren: Every­thing. What was going on in that com­pany and the rea­sons why I was leav­ing it. I explained him clearly the gov­ern­ment server inci­dents by telling him what I had done at Mr. Zaki Qureshey’s behest, clearly explain­ing that it was done with­out the autho­riza­tion of the Indian authorities.

Zone-​H: What hap­pened next?

Dar­ren War­ren: I still had not been paid for the remain­der of my con­tract for actual time spent at E2-​Labs proper, about 1500$ USD. In con­tact­ing a mutual friend, a meet­ing was set up before Mr. Zaki Qureshey would agree to my final payments.

I agreed to a meet­ing to col­lect my money, set up by a per­son who had some bad busi­ness deal­ings with Mr. Zaki Qureshey in the past, but was on some speak­ing terms still. He was a very large guy so I felt some­what com­fort­able. I agreed only to con­duct this in a very pub­lic place, again out of fear for my safety. Before money were handed over I was forced to sign some stu­pid “no harm agree­ment” basi­caly say­ing that I would not do any­thing against Mr. Zaki Qureshey or E2-​Labs.

Zone-​H: But you already gave the inter­view by that time, right?

Dar­ren War­ren: Yes, in fact it was shortly after, informed by a for­mer employ­ees of E2-​Labs, and by way of a 3rd party phone call that some­body from the news­pa­per went to Zaki Quer­shey to ask him for pay­ment /​black­mail not to pub­lish the inter­view, clearly a vio­la­tion of ethics.

Zone-​H: It’s a quite strong state­ment. The reporter in fact, pub­lished the interview.

Dar­ren War­ren: He did, right after I left the coun­try but in a short­ened form. He didn’t men­tion my real name (which I was grate­ful for at that time) but also did not men­tion E2-​Labs name, which I made clear dur­ing my inter­view that was who I had been employed by.

Any­way, a meet­ing between Mr. Zaki Qureshey and the reporter hap­pened right after our first meet­ing, where I had been paid my monies, which was short of the actual con­tract total, but was enough to sat­isfy me. At that point I imag­ine Mr. Qureshey went mad about it, he arranged a sec­ond meet­ing, this one under threat of falsely accus­ing me of who knows what kind of crimes and to make my exit from india wrought with trou­bles try­ing to exit cus­toms and other such things.

I agreed to meet Mr. Zaki Qureshey to sign a retrac­tion of the inter­view, basi­cally to deny in writ­ing that the state­ment I had given was lies, despite it was not. How­ever being a lone for­eigner in a for­e­ing coun­try far away from home I really had no choice but to play along with this insane game, for fear that Mr. Qureshey would manip­u­late offi­cials at the air­port /​cus­toms, as I just men­tioned. This coun­try of India has big cor­rup­tion issues, you can have any­thing done by bribes.

This sec­ond meet­ing was some­thing straight out of a movie…

We were to meet at a friend’s cyber­cafe, for me to sign this state­ment /​doc­u­ment pre­pared by Mr. Qureshey, to “denounce” my inter­view to the Times Of India. I was actu­ally sur­rounded by about 10 body guards, friends of my friends to watch out for Zaki’s thugs, and they indeed were present… 3 car­loads of quite large men appeared at the cor­ners of the street while Mr. Zaki Qureshey and Guarev pulled up in the black 4x4. I was inside the café and refused to step foot out­side for fear of harm. The doc­u­ment was brought to me by a 3rd party, and reluc­tantly I signed this stu­pid and very un-​legal paper. I was asked to go out­side to deliver it to Zaki by hand, as Zaki insisted that this was the only way to com­plete the “deal”. ( Then I was told that about 10 other friends had showed up, hid­ing in the bushes ready to pro­tect me if any­thing got weird. ) I walked to the 4x4 and handed over the paper, Gau­rav started to open his door to approach me, at this I yelled he bet­ter stay back, he closed the door. Next Mr. Zaki Qureshey put the 4x4 in gear and tried to run me over with the large auto, I jumped behind a pole to save myself from harm… Mr. Zaki Qureshey then sped away and I never saw him again…

Zone-​H: What hap­pened once you safely reached USA?

Dar­ren War­ren: The arti­cle came out in the short form I already explained.

To the journalist’s ben­e­fit, the whole story was used to write up a piece, but ended up in the heav­ily edited for­mat and pub­lished by another jour­nal­ist (Seban Scaria) , so that E2-​Labs would have come out unsus­pected. I was very upset and mad about this reporter, so I mailed the reporter, I still have the mail:

well, im not to happy with Seban going to Zaki Qureshey before pub­li­ca­tion of the arti­cle regard­ing my sta­tus with E2. That I was FORCED AND COERCED to retract my story so I could leave the coun­try in peace. I thought the Times of India had eth­i­cal reporters. Please have Mr Scaria con­tact me ASAP via this email address.”

As fur­ther proof, I have quoted an email sent from the Times of India editor:

Lison Joseph <josephlison@​yahoo.​com> wrote:

Dar­ren..

i’m extremely sorry about the whole rot­ting inci­dent.. and i dont know how to appol­o­gise.. i dont know about ethics of Seban Scaria.. but thts again debat­able.. cos whn work­ing in a cor­po­rate com­pany like Times of India, u watch out for the com­pany rules than per­sonal ethics.. there is a limit beyond which u cant go.. and Times of India is par­tic­u­lar about get­ting both sides before putting the news on paper.. “oth­er­wise e2labs can sue us for malign­ing its rep­u­ta­tion..” wel thts one way of look­ing at it.. and thts how Times looks at news…

Times of India is more about busi­ness than jour­nal­ism… its a dif­fer­ent ball game all­to­gether.. and i’m say­ing this as an indi­vid­ual and not as a time of india reporter!! so i woudnt want me quoted on this!!

its like seban’s in charge asked him to get Khureshi’s ver­sion.. then he along with a whole bunch of peo­ple all influ­en­tial came to the office and saw the edi­tor.. top level bureau­crats included…

Dar­ren War­ren: my response to Lison Joseph:

Zaki Qureshey would sell his mother to save his ass. If the Times of India can print con­tro­ver­sal items about its own polit­i­cal lead­ers ( and it does ), it can surely print a story about the severe mis­treat­ment of an invited Amer­i­can cit­i­zen by a com­pany vying for a ten­der to secure the gov IT infra­struc­ture. Mr Qureshey should be in jail for the crimes he has com­mited, not only against me but that of your gov and the peo­ples and busi­ness in India, he is a liar and has the least integrity of any­one I have met in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life in 37years. My expe­ri­ence with him taints my expe­ri­ence and view of what I belived was a great coun­try and of great peo­ples. I await response from the other par­ties mentioned.

Zone-​H: what hap­pened then?

Dar­ren War­ren: Noth­ing… No fur­ther con­tact came from the reporter, nor Times Of India

To fin­ish up, right before depart­ing it was a good thing I had a friend help me at the Air India office to ver­ify my tick­ets. In fact, because Mr. Zaki Qureshey had pur­chased my ticket, he had the power to change my return flight date, which he suc­cess­fully did, to come 3 days before my orig­i­nal depar­ture. This was done to basi­cally cause me to miss my flight and would have required me to pur­chase a return flight to the USA from my own funds. With the help of my friend I was able to recover my orig­i­nal return date, but still a fee of 200$ was required.

Zone-​H: It’s quite a story. But what is the rea­son why you decided to come out with this inter­view? And why only at this point, after all 6 years have gone meanwhile…

Dar­ren War­ren: I tried already by that time to expose E2-​labs, my expe­ri­ence and the uneth­i­cal deal­ings, but the inter­view had went through with a dif­fer­ent result than the one I expected. After that, I was already safe at home and I went on with my life…

It is just recently that I came to read the arti­cles Zone-​H started to pub­lish about E2-​labs. By read­ing that I thought “been there, seen that, done that, known that”. Every­thing Zone-​H tried to recon­struct through the last pub­lished arti­cles matches the real­ity as it was already by year 2003, espe­cially the “Ponzi” tricks and the dynamic of India\s young stu­dents try­ing to get ahead and secure a future by any means pos­si­ble. Six years have passed and Mr. Zaki Qureshey is still doing the same things. Some­body has to stop him. Too many poor stu­dents have been attracted and scammed. Too many fam­i­lies ruined.

Zone-​H: Let me make it clear Mr. Dar­ren War­ren. You came out with strong accu­sa­tions. Are you aware of the con­se­quences of that? Are you ready to reveal your­self to Indian author­i­ties if needed, to con­firm what you revealed us under oath in an India Court of Law and to back it up with evidences?

Dar­ren War­ren: Yes, I am

Zone-​H: Thank you Mr. Warren.

Note: this inter­view was released by a ver­i­fied per­son, whose name and address is known to us and who released us an autho­riza­tion to hand over such doc­u­ments to proper author­i­ties, if requested.

ADDEN­DUM TO THE INTERVIEW

We feel the need to add to this inter­view to what has been our own expe­ri­ence with Mr. Zaki Qureshey. As already explained in ear­lier arti­cles, we had only vis­ited Hyder­abad 2 times in year 2007. Dur­ing the first visit, Mr. Zaki Qureshey sug­gested to Mr. Alberto Redi, one of my part­ners, that it would be good for busi­ness if the begin­ning of our sched­uled sem­i­nars would have coin­cided with a big cyber inci­dent at national level. Mr. Alberto Redi dis­re­spected the state­ment and unfor­tu­nately con­sider it at that time more as a show-​off.

Then it came the time of the press con­fer­ence Mr. Zaki Qureshey orga­nized with news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sions to announce our part­ner­ship. It was one of the most embar­rass­ing press con­fer­ence I ever attended. Can some­body explain to me (I still don’t get it) why the hell 20 jour­nal­ists and 2 tele­vi­sions would be inter­ested in wit­ness­ing me and Mr. Zaki Qureshey sign­ing a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing? At that press con­fer­ence there were two more rea­sons why I was feel­ing embar­rassed at the high­est level.

1) I was intro­duced by Mr. Zaki Qureshey to the attend­ing press as “the Tsar of the secu­rity”. I am any­thing but that.

2) Just before the press con­fer­ence Mr. Zaki Qureshey asked me specif­i­cally to make an emo­tional speech, boast­ing the dan­gers of cybert­er­ror­ism attacks, to tell that India was at great dan­ger etc. etc. as it was all good for the press. I decided to come up with no bull­shits and I referred in my speech to the cyber-​incidents that a cou­ple of years ear­lier hap­pened in rela­tion of the Kash­mir ter­ri­tory pos­ses­sion dis­pute between India and Pakistan.

But now, putting these three episodes together, it makes very much sense to my mind.


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