[This was originally published on attrition.org.]
India is a proud country, with a wealth of cultural history and tradition that is simply fascinating. Considered by some to be the oldest living civilization, the historical diversity and significance of their culture cannot be measured. Today’s India is substantially different however, especially to the rest of the modern world looking in. Americans see it as the land of poorly outsourced tech support, Bollywood, and chicken tikka masala. In the realm of computer security, India is seen as a hot bed of plagiarism and charlatans.
One of the greatest contributing factors to that is how the Indian media focuses on technology. Over the last decade, they seem to have developed a sick obsession with supposed “whiz kids” and alleged geniuses that will save us from the security nightmare that plagues us. Unfortunately, each of these whiz kids is really no more special than the previous, except perhaps a bit younger. Many of the touted experts published a book in their teens, but the same media doesn’t write about the plagiarism that is found in most of them.
Most articles not only talk about the supposed expertise, but overly stress just how young these kids are. 18! 16! 14! 13! 10! 7! 4! TODDLER! I am afraid the articles may end as they can’t get much younger, unless we read about a prenatal child that already shows an aptitude at computers. You think I joke, but don’t rule it out. While I am sure some of these kids are impressive for their young age, the Indian media misses several key points. First, and most importantly, the widespread availability of computers and information about security and hacking is incredible, making knowledge of the topic more pedestrian than genius. Second, most of these kids are passing off basic user-level operating system manipulation as ‘hacking’.
Take for example Aditya Patil, who in 1994 at the age of 7 “mastered the basic functioning of a computer”. Is that really impressive when I had done the same by 1984? Yes, I was closer to 10, but a full decade earlier computers were simply not in most homes. The only way to generally get access to computers during that period was to take bootcamps, and know what the hell a computer was in the context of “personal use”. A year before that, I was doing Apple //e programming, keyboarding, and “problem solving”. I certainly wasn’t a whiz kid, despite it being a decade before many people first touched a personal computer. Some of these people are widely considered experts in the security industry, despite being a decade late to the show.
Hopefully, with an article bragging about a toddler’s proficiency with banging the keyboard with Microsoft Word loaded, the Indian media can move on to a more interesting topic. As someone who has done extensive plagiarism review and debunking of charlatans, many of them Indian, I could certainly use a break from the next round of Indian “whiz kids”.
It is understandable to read about a “whiz kid” and be happy and proud of a young kid that excelled in some fashion. The happiness you get when reading about their glory can preempt a logical analysis of the situation. But when you read the following string of quotes praising “whiz kids” from the Indian media, often for pedestrian accomplishments, you may reconsider how valid or warranted these claims are.
Aditya Patil: “he was just 7 when he mastered the basic functioning of a computer, after his father got a pc at home for some work.”
S Chandrasekhar : “He got into computers when he was just four years old. He played with our home PC and that’s how he learnt.”
Ankit Fadia: “A voracious reader and a computer whiz kid since age twelve, he has mastered the art (and science) of hacking all by himself.”
Akshat Singhal: “My [ISEF award winning] system allows a long title for the document, preview, multiple printing and compressed archiving of documents, .. None of these features were available in the existing document management systems.”
Sahil Khan: “Youngest Ethical Hacker and WriteR In World!”
K. Vishalini: “Vishalini’s IQ is around 225. It is higher than that of the Guinness record holder, Kim Ung-Yong, whose IQ is around 210.”
“She did not find a place in the Guinness Book because the minimum age requirement is 14 years,” says her electrician-father, Kumarasamy.
Unfortunately, the Guinness Records web site has the worst interface ever, so I cannot positively verify it, but it sure doesn’t seem to list her now. She’d be over 14 years old and eligible, if that really is a rule. According to mostextreme.org, “Guinness retired the category of “Highest IQ” in 1990, after concluding that IQ tests are not reliable enough to designate a single world record holder.”
Wasik Farhan-Roopkotha: “As a toddler, Wasik started to show an aptitude for computers and before long he had mastered several popular video games, including Modern Warfare and Metal Gear Solid.”
“He began typing in Microsoft Word as a three year-old and knew how to programme and download game emulators at the age of four.”
In case you didn’t notice, skim those again and consider what the word “mastered” means. Because the Indian journalists using it above certainly don’t know what it means.
India’s Own Chain Mail Hell
To be fair, the problem isn’t just the media. Like Americans, Indians seem perfectly content to read an unbelievable story and quickly forward it to all of their friends. In some cases it ends up on their blogs, in other cases it appears on forums. Of course, it also tends to end up on Snopes-like sites that firmly claim it is false, but those sites tend to fall on deaf (dumb?) ears.
For your amusement, here are the relevant (amusing) parts of a chain letter that has plagued India for some time. Note that on top of the supposed genius disproving Einstein, he has a brother who is a whiz kid at computers!
An Indian boy in his twelfth standard has disproved Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity”.
Shocked??? Read on..
Sudarshan Reddy has theoretically proven the existence of a sub-atomic particle which can travel at speeds greater than that of light, thereby challenging one of the fundamental postulates of the “Theory of Relativity”. In his recent research paper submitted to the “Institute of Advanced Physics (IAP)” at Trieste,(Italy) Sudarshan has proved the existence of a class of sub-atomic particles called ‘leptons’, which can travel faster than light.
Sudarshan, incidentally, is the brother of Madhu Reddy, the Indian whiz kid who developed an operating system superior to Microsoft Windows. We should all be very proud of these boys. Please forward this email to as many Indians as you can.
Indian Media Contradictions
The Indian media not only writes about these supposed whiz kids, but they also tend to ignore each other’s articles. And they don’t search out previous stories of this wizardry. And they don’t fact check their own articles. Anyway, details!
In creating a table with the notable (claimed) accomplishments of these whiz kids, it becomes easy to spot how they may not be as wizardly as claimed. Of course, journalists couldn’t be bothered to do such a thing, because these words don’t make them money. Some highlights of these contradictions include:
- Aditya Patil “became the youngest MCSE in India” @ 13yo in 2000
- S Chandrasekhar “is the world’s youngest MCSE” @ 10yo in 2000
- 2002 Chandrasekhar “acquired the position of a CISCO-certified network associate” (CCNA) at 12
- 2006 Kamineni “youngest Cisco Certified Network Associate(CCNA) at the age of 12”
- 1999 Fadia “wrote [his first] book at the tender age of 14”
- 2008 Khan wrote his first book ‘Hackers and Crackers’ at 13yo
- 2012 Arora “He claims that he has become world’s second youngest author of hacking books.” at 18yo
A Table of the Wizardry
|– at 7yo he “mastered the basic functioning of a computer”|
– “mentioned twice in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the youngest ever systems engineer and web designer at the age of 12”
– 13yo “became the youngest MCSE in India”
|– “got into computers when he was just four years old. He played with our home PC and that’s how he learnt.”|
– 10yo “is the world’s youngest MCSE. He is also a super hacker.”
– “acquired the position of a CISCO-certified network associate” (CCNA)
|– “wrote [his first] book at the tender age of 14” & “628 pages … took me 15 days flat”|
– “India’s youngest author”
– “was consulted by a classified intelligence agency for breaking an encrypted message sent by one of Osama Bin Laden’s men.”
|– “became the world’s youngest certified Lotus software professional last year” at 15yo|
– at 16yo won award for his “Intelligent Document Management System” & “None of these features were available in the existing document management systems.”
|– “arrested … over theft of information from 19,000 credit cards and amassing around two million pounds”|
– “found guilty and jailed for six years”
|– wrote his first book ‘Hackers and Crackers’ at 13yo|
– wrote his second book ‘The Anatomy of Computer Virus’ at 13yo
– “youngest ethical hacker and writer in world!”
– wrote third book ‘Tricks of E-mail Hacking’ at 15yo
|– “Vishalini took the [CCNA] exam and got 90 per cent marks. It was a world record. She was only 10 years old.”|
– “Her amazing achievements include cracking the Microsoft Certified Professional and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) courses with ease.”
– “Vishalini’s IQ is around 225. It is higher than that of the Guinness record holder, Kim Ung-Yong, whose IQ is around 210.”
|– “He began typing in Microsoft Word as a three year-old”|
– “knew how to programme and download game emulators at the age of four”
|– “18 years old and is ready with his book Voice of Hackers”|
– “He claims that he has become world’s second youngest author of hacking books.
|Bhavishya Chandra Kamineni||2003|
|– “holds the youngest Certified Course on Computer Concepts (CCC) by DOEACC society, govt.of India at the age of 9”|
– “youngest Microsoft Certified Professional(MCP) at the age of 10”
– “youngest Cisco Certified Network Associate(CCNA) at the age of 12”
– “Computer Whiz kid Award-2007 for extraordinary skills in computers presented by Rotary club of Vijayawada”