Skeletons in Hyderabad's cyber-closet - PART TWO07/11/2009 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
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.