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CBI probes student data theft after CBSE, coaching centres are accused of leak

CBI launches preliminary probe into allegations that student data, such as phone numbers, addresses & fathers' names, is available for Rs 3,000-10,000.

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New Delhi: The CBI has begun a preliminary probe into allegations that data of students preparing for medical and engineering entrance tests such as NEET, JEE has been stolen and can now be bought on various websites.

According to the complainant in the case, medical student Vivek Pandey, the data, such as mobile phone numbers of students, their fathers’ names and their addresses in some cases, is available for between Rs 3,000 and Rs 10,000.

In the complaint submitted to the CBI two weeks ago, Pandey mentions that with the help of this data, alleged brokers call up students and offer them seats in colleges and at times, even dupe them on the premise of getting them into good institutions.

He has also attached a list of such websites that are allegedly selling the students’ data. Some of these websites mentioned in the complaint are http://www.datapark.co.in/student-database.php, https://www.databaseserviceprovider.com/student-database/ and http://studentdatabaseindia.com/India-Neet-Student-Database.

‘Source is CBSE & coaching centres’

Even as the source of the data leak is yet to be established, Pandey has alleged that there are only two ways for the websites to gather such information — the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and coaching centres where students are enrolled to prepare for the competitive exams.

“The data leak happens either from CBSE or the coaching centres. There is no other way in which the data can come in the public domain,” Pandey told ThePrint.

The CBSE, however, denies that there is any way that the data could have been leaked from its custody.

“Our data is handled by National Informatics Centre, which is another government body,” a CBSE official told ThePrint. “Plus, it is kept in a strong-room in encrypted format; so there is no chance that it can be leaked from our records.”

One of the brokers based in Bengaluru confirmed to ThePrint over the phone that they buy students data, such as phone numbers, from third-party websites and then contact the students on these numbers. The broker also listed the CBSE and the coaching centres as among the sources for the data.

Another alleged broker from Bengaluru, who claimed to run a counselling centre called Career Clinic, said he could offer medical seats from Rs 75 lakh onwards in a good medical college.


Also read: Rahul Gandhi writes to CBSE demanding probe on reported data breach of NEET candidates


Websites shut last year but are back in business now

Pandey had filed a complaint last year as well after which, he says, the websites stopped functioning for a while. After the complaint last year, then Congress president Rahul Gandhi had also taken up the issue and written to CBSE urging it to treat the matter seriously and launch an inquiry.

The board had last year also denied that it was the source of the data theft. “There is no question of any breach of data or any misuse of data by CBSE,” it had then said.

The websites, however, are back to doing their business this year again.

When ThePrint contacted some of the websites selling the data, at least three different people said they got the data because it was already circulating in the “market”. On being asked what they meant by market, they refused to give any further information but said the data was authentic. At least two others refused to comment on the source of the data or its authenticity.

While some websites demanded that people pay money and buy the data, some others had made it available for free. “Are you looking for Fresh 2019 NEET/ AIPMT, AIEEE/ IIT JEE/MBBS Admission/12th/Medical Entrance/Engineering Entrance/Under Graduate Database Leads Lists?” reads one such website.

Many students also told ThePrint that they got random calls from brokers who promised them admission in private medical colleges.

“I got a call from an unknown number about two weeks ago, asking me if I want to get a seat on donation in a private medical college,” said Sonali from Delhi who is preparing for NEET. “They told me that they were aware I am a medical aspirant. It was surprising for me because I never gave my contact to any such brokers or consultants who facilitate medical admissions.”

Another student forwarded a message that he received, which said, “Dear NEET aspirants! Get 100 % direct admission for MBBS & BDS in private medical colleges of Karnataka, under management quota in best packages.”


Also read: Lucknow medical institute server not secure, ripe for data theft, says expert


 

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