IIT graduate, his firm booked for hacking Aadhaar data

The UIDAI complaint is linked to the KYC app that was placed by Qarth on Google Play Store late last year with the claim that it would help businesses validate Aaadhar numbers by verifying “customer Aadhaar number, address, mobile number, date of birth on the fly”.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru | Updated: July 29, 2017 4:52 am
 Aadhaar, Aadhaar hack, UIDAI, UIDAI hacked, Ashok Lenin, Aadhaar data, biometrics, India news, Indian Express An IIT-Kharagpur graduate allegedly accessed the UIDAI’s central information depository to create and operate a private app called Aadhaar ‘eKYC Verification’. (Representational Image)

The Unique Identity Development Authority of India (UIDAI) has lodged a complaint against an IIT-Kharagpur graduate and his mobile-payment company for allegedly accessing its central information depository to create and operate a private app called Aadhaar ‘eKYC Verification’. In a complaint lodged with Bengaluru Police on July 26, a deputy director at the UIDAI’s regional office in Bengaluru accused Abhinav Srivastava and Qarth Technologies Pvt Ltd, which he started on the IIT-Kharagpur campus in 2012, of developing the app to illegally access Aadhaar data.

Police have registered a case and asked its cyber crime unit to probe the allegation.

In his complaint, UIDAI official Ashok Lenin alleged that the illegal usage of Aadhaar data occurred between January 1, 2017 and July 26, 2017.

Qarth Technologies, which runs a mobile payments app called X-Pay, was acquired by taxi hailing service Ola in March 2017 to strengthen its mobile wallet unit Ola Money.

Records accessed by The Indian Express from the Registrar of Companies (RoC) and the public online profiles of the accused have revealed that Qarth was started in October 2012 by Srivastava and a batchmate Prerit Srivastava — both belonged to the 2004-2009 batch at IIT-Kharagpur.

Abhinav described himself on Linkedin as an “Hacker” at Ola, and Prerit posted that he was involved with products at Ola. The police complaint lists Abhinav’s address at Indiranagar in Bengaluru.

Company records show that Qarth was set up with a share capital of Rs 1 lakh and is in the process of winding up after recording losses to the tune of Rs 37,157 with the last RoC filing done at the end of 2016.

The UIDAI complaint is linked to the KYC app that was placed by Qarth on Google Play Store late last year with the claim that it would help businesses validate Aaadhar numbers by verifying “customer Aadhaar number, address, mobile number, date of birth on the fly”.

According to screenshots of the app — it is no longer available on Google Play Store — it was developed under an initiative called myGov by Qarth. Till June 1, 2017, the app had between 50,000 to 1 lakh users, according to data from the Play Store.

Reviewer comments on the app included appreciation and criticism. “This App will be very useful for self and family members verification purpose,” one user posted. Another asked, “Even though it is working, who is giving the authorisation to the developer to use myGov name? How is the developer getting details from Aadhaar?’’

The app also carried a disclaimer: “This is not an official application from Ministry of Unique Identification Authority of India and is no way endorsed by the Government of India. Moreover, we don’t store any of your Aadhaar data on our server. The app is well-funded by ads and we don’t need to reuse user’s Aadhaar data in any form’’.

According to UIDAI sources, the app was allegedly accessing Aadhaar data without authorisation, which emerged during internal security processes involving the scanning of the system for usage of authentication data.

Police sources said it was not yet clear how the accused managed to access the central information depository to verify the identities of people through the app.

“We are hoping the police will help us identify how it was done when they arrest the suspects. The investigation is on and we would not like to comment. However, there has been no breach, no leakage and no theft of data. and we have been able to maintain the security,’’ said an a UIDAI official.

The unique identity data in the central information depository of UIDAI is stored in two separate fields for demographic and biometric data. The app from Qarth appears to have accessed demographic data, such as address, email and phone numbers of individuals whose Aadhaar number and name or mobile number was fed on the app.

“There is a fear that somebody figured out a way through the code to get easy access to the central depository of identities. This is a source of concern. It is also possible that somebody who worked with authentication data at a basic or higher level may have held on to security keys without knowledge of authorities,’’ said police sources.

“We do not know the number of people whose unique identity was verified using this app. It is a highly technical investigation and it has only begun,’’ said a senior officer of Bengaluru Police.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Ram Prasad, an independent software developer and hacker, said that developers may have left some loopholes in the security code for authentication of UIDs, which allowed access to the central depository.

However, an UIDAI official claimed that the loophole could have been left at the end of some field agency involved with collection of Aadhaar data.

“This is not the same story as the case where the personal details of cricketer M S Dhoni was revealed in public through an Aadhaar agency. This involves accessing the UIDAI data without authorisation,’’ said a police officer.

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