[Techie Tuesdays] Mayur Pipaliya - from cracker to hacker
The best police officer should have once been a thief. It would give him or her an inside understanding of how a thief thinks, thereby giving the police and edge over the thief. Similarly, if you're in the cyber security space, you'd better know every way in which a website can be hacked into. What better way to learn this, than to be a cracker yourself?
This is the story of Mayur Pipaliya's life. This inquisitive computer technologist today runs two data security companies - Leasededi and WebCare360. They help web companies patch security threats and do IT services as well. But there was a time, when Mayur was one of the guys that he protects his clients from today.
So what lead him to help people? Read on, this is one interesting story -
Necessity is the mother of all mischief
Mayur first started coding in 9th standard, on his father's office computer. He says, "I saw a gif image on a website and I downloaded it. I tried altering it and that's where I figured out basic HTML coding. I then migrated to VB in my 10th standard and I made small programs like hotkey controller, which would give like small keyboard shortcuts."
But it wasn't until 11th class that he started getting his hands dirty with some serious code. He says, "Back then, we had very small bandwidth to work with and downloading large files was a pain. I had just discovered virtual machines. So say I had to download 600 MB worth files, I used to run windows on 6 VMs and download 100 MB files on each. So the time to download was reduced by quite a bit."
Internet connection would lead him to another mischief. In the early days of internet in India, the Reliance net cafes offered broadband level speeds. However, this was expensive and it was protected by their propriety shell. Mayur made a replicated their shell, which ran on his rules. He says, "They used to have old IBM machines with a floppy drive. We used to boot up an OS with the floppy drive and execute our own shell using a USB storage device. It looked exactly like their shell, but it didn't have its features like auto disconnect and timer etc."
"Of course, I'd tell them that there was a security threat on their machines and I would tell them how to avoid it later on," he added
Linux and some more mischief
In his time as a student at VTU, Mayur only got access to a computer in 2nd year. In this time, he read a lot of books on network security and computer algorithms. When he got his first laptop in 2nd year, Mayur quickly fell in love with Linux. He says, "Once I moved to Linux, I loved the freedom that it gave me. I also learned programming languages like Python, which I really enjoyed a lot."
In the meanwhile, the mischief hadn't ceased. Mayur said that he wasn't much into gaming while at college, but that didn't stop him from getting upto some mischief because of it. He says, "I managed to hack into the Manipal University's server, which was in a BSNL data center. We hosted Counter Strike on it. All of a sudden, people using BSNL connections experience no latency while playing CS. At the same time, Manipal started experience excessive data usage, as there were something like 20000 users playing the game in a day. Their IT head began searching for help on online forums and I saw it there. Ironically, I helped them out fixing the loophole that allowed me to hack in the first place!"
Coming of age
At some point after his college, Mayur decided to use his skills for good. So he started WebCare360, which would help people defend their websites from people like him. His partnership with his co-founders, is also an interesting story; they're Pakistani. He says, "I met these guys in on a forum, and these were guys who were good in tech as well as computers. I've had a great partnership with these guys for the past four years."
On a parting note, he shared that computer science students should take to programming just for the heck of it. He says, "Just code. It will help you in your daily life in fixing things as well. Also make use of the internet. It has enough information to make you a good programmer.
Catch up with Mayur here