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kirti saxena|Dec 6, 2022
NEW DELHI: On October 3, the Central Bureau of Investigation detained for questioning a Russian national, accused of hacking into the software on which the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main was conducted in 2021.
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The CBI alleges Mikhail Shargin “tampered” with the software used for the entrance test for some of India’s top engineering colleges and “helped other accused in hacking the computer systems of suspect candidates during the examination”. The CBI which sought a five-day remand was granted two days on October 4 and Shargin is supposed to be presented before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate again today.
Shargin’s detention and questioning comes as part of an investigation that began in September 2021. On September 1, 2021, the CBI and Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) New Delhi registered a case based on “source information” against the owners and counsellors of a private coaching company – Affinity Education – with offices in Noida, Uttar Pradesh and Pune, Maharashtra; another individual in Jharkhand and “unknown others”.
The CBI’s official statement says that over the course of the investigation, they discovered that “some foreign nationals were involved in compromising many online examinations including JEE (Mains) colluding with other accused in the instant case”. Shargin, detained in Delhi upon arrival from Almaty, Kazakhstan, was one of them. While the CBI’s official statement on Mikhail Shargin does not state a number, according to reports, over 820 cheated on the JEE Main in 2021 using this route to BTech admissions.
The fourth and final session of JEE Main 2021 was held on August 26, 27, 31 and September 1 and 2. Conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), the JEE Main exam is a computer-based test (CBT) and admission in BTech in some of the top public engineering colleges, including the National Institutes of Technology (NIT), is through it.
According to the FIR filed on September 1, 2021, Affinity Education’s three directors and two counsellors allegedly collected post-dated cheques for between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh from parents who were “assured of admissions by manipulating the process of CBT”. The counsellors helped in “soliticing and managing admission in top NITs and reputed engineering colleges by adopting fraudulent mans and unfair practices", the FIR says. In addition to the cheques, the team also collected original Class 10 and Class 12 marksheets of the candidates “as security”.
The September 2021 FIR named Siddharth Krishna, Vishwambhar Mani Tripathi and Govind Varshney – all dirctors of Affinity Education; counsellors Anjum Dawoodani and Seema; Ranjeet Singh Thakur from Jharkand; and “unknown others”. Thakur has been accused of arranging for “solvers” to actually solve the JEE Main question paper.
According to what the source told CBI, the user ID and password of the candidates appearing for the exams were collected to change the test venue to a “desired examination centre”. A copy of the JEE Main admit card was also collected in advance.
The strategy was to "arrange a solver sitting at a remote location for solving the questions which are displayed on the computer terminal allotted to the candidate at the examination centre in connivance with the centre authorities”, says the 2021 FIR. “The centre supervisor who has access to the computer network is also a part of the fraudulent act and the solver gets access to the system being used by the candidate by using a remote access software."
According to the CBI’s statement from earlier this week, Shargin “tampered” with the software and allowed others to access the systems.
The 2021 FIR had also said that the coaching centre team had “connived” with centre supervisors in Sonipat, Haryana. Two candidates, from Moti Nagar and Mayur Vihar in Delhi, allegedly contacted Siddharth Krishna, a director of Affinity Education and had their JEE exam centre switched to one in Sonipat.
According to the CBI’s October 3 statement, the alleged “remote access” was provided from an examination centre in Sonipat.
The CBI had earlier searched 19 locations in Delhi-NCR; Pune in Maharshtra; Jamshedpur, Jharkhand; Indore, Madhya Pradesh; and Bengaluru, Karnataka. Those raid yielded 25 laptops, seven personal computers; around 30 post-dated cheques along with “voluminous incriminating documents or devices including PDCs, mark sheets of different students”.
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