Ankit Fadia Revealed
Image: Mustafa Quraishi for Forbes India
Dear Ankit Fadia,
First of all, I’d like to place my unconditional apologies on the record. In fact, before I started to write you this letter, I promised my colleagues these pages will be used to crucify and call your bluff before your 16th book on computer security hits the shelves a few months from now.
These apologies come with the awareness that it will cost me friendships I have cultivated for years in the dark corridors of the internet where people like me lurk and are known to each other only by our nicknames.
For a very long time, I’ve despised you as a charlatan. There used to be a time when I thought you a script kiddie, or a skiddie if you will. You know what comprises those types—plagiarists who pass off software programs developed by others as their own. That is why on every forum that matters, I’ve rubbished your credentials as a hacker of any merit. I’ve openly accused you of shameless self promotion. And each time you appeared on television shows or in print as one of the most prominent experts on computing and security in the world, I’ve laughed my backside off. I told everybody who cared to listen you’re nothing but a bag of gas, whose reputation was built by shoddy journalists that eagerly lapped up the tall stories you doled out.
Like I told you the other day, I thought it impossible how the books you’ve authored until now could possibly have managed to sell 25 million copies. I thought it completely ridiculous on your part to claim you were contacted by American “intelligence agencies” for help to decipher an encrypted email sent by Al Qaida operatives post 9/11.
But after an email interview and five hours of talking the other day, all I have to say is mea culpa. You are perhaps one of the smartest 27-year-olds I’ve met in all my years in journalism. And I’m willing to bet every rupee I have you’ll go a very long way because you’re twice as smart as CEOs I know who are twice your age—and that you are exponentially smarter than I am.
My interaction with you taught me a few lessons that I won’t forget and ones I’m sure people in the C-suite will do well to imbibe.
Lesson #1: Brand
If I were to compare myself to where you are, I think I’d be a wretched failure. I mean, at age 40, if I were to go out and advertise something called the Charles Assisi Certified Course in Journalism, I’d be laughed out of the room. But here you are—a strapping 27-year-old, whom people pay Rs 12,000 to get a certificate that proclaims them an Ankit Fadia Certified Ethical Hacker (AFCEH).
Until you told me, I didn’t know there was anything that prevents me from issuing a certificate of any kind. But for the certificate to have any value in anybody’s hands, the name ought to be a brand. That is why you assiduously go about building your personal brand, work longer hours than most people I know, and refuse to lurk in the shadows. Instead, like you told me, you come out into the open, speak a language most people understand, and have even trademarked your name.
I must concede you are an articulate speaker. Your name is perhaps what most lay people now associate with ‘hacker’. This, in spite of you admitting to me, you consider yourself just a decent hacker, not a good or excellent one. There are others, who by your admission are better at it than you. It’s just that they choose to live in obscurity while you refuse to do that. Because end of the day, you need to have money in your pocket to make a decent living for yourself and visit every country in the world before you die.
I get what you’re trying to say. I don’t have a single book to my name, let alone translations of any of the few hundred articles I have written in my years. I don’t get paid by the thousands of rupees for every hour of my time to talk about computing in packed halls. I don’t travel 20 days every month offering my services across 104 countries. You pulled your passport and letters from various companies to prove your credentials. Who am I to question that? No police chief has ever called me to talk to their people on anything, but they lap up everything you say, and you have pictures and certificates to prove your claim.