New Delhi: A syndicate of three modules operating from Mumbai, Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan took help from Russian hackers to allow more than 450 candidates to cheat in a wide variety of competitive exams, ranging from the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to the Indian Air Force and Navy exams, the Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations (IFSO) unit of the Delhi Police said Wednesday.
The racket, in which exam candidates paid hefty sums to have someone else give the exams for them via remote access, continued for about two years. Six people have been arrested so far, and the police are now trying to track down the ‘customers’ who paid money to the accused, and are also questioning owners and employees of exam centres where the cheating took place.
According to the police, the operation to bust the racket took about six months. “We received intelligence that a few syndicates are involved in unauthorised access of various competitive exams and are charging hefty amounts — from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 15 lakh per candidate — for getting the candidates the desired scores,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), IFSO Special Cell, K.P.S. Malhotra said.
The main accused in the case and primary point of contact with Russian associates is 33-year-old Raj Teotia, a resident of Palwal, Haryana. According to DCP Malhotra, Teotia already has four cases lodged against him with the Haryana Special Task Force (STF), and there was a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh for his arrest. He was also wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“Teotia has been running exam-solving rackets for five years. The CBI and the Haryana cases against him are for JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) fraud and cheating,” DCP Malhotra said.
The JEE Mains case was registered by the CBI on 1 September last year to investigate irregularities in the competitive exam for admission in top engineering colleges. In that case, a group of so-called ‘solvers’ hacked into computers and did the exam for engineering candidates, who pretended to make calculations and solve questions.
Who is Raj Teotia?
According to the police, Raj Teotia has been running exam cheating scams for several years, not just for GMAT and JEE, but also the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Cisco and IBM certification exams, and even entrance tests for the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force.
According to a police source, Teotia had contacts in Russia because he was in the travel business, but his moment of inspiration apparently came when his wife had to give an online exam some years ago.
“Teotia used to work in a travel and tourism company, and that’s where he built some contacts in Russia. His wife had once taken an online exam and that’s when he started this racket,” the police source said.
“He started investing in coaching institutes to build the modus operandi and stayed in touch with the Russian hackers to understand loopholes in the online exam systems,” the source added.
Another Delhi Police source provided more details, saying Teotia started his illegal activities in 2017 when he opened “examination labs” in Jaipur and Kota. “His examination centre was blacklisted later, but he had mastered the art of opening and operating such establishments. If one place was blacklisted, he would just open a new one at a different location with a different name,” the source said.
This source further said that when Teotia learned that Russian hackers had developed tools for remotely accessing online examination systems, he decided to cash in on the opportunity. He apparently “got in touch with Russian hackers through a girlfriend”, the police source added.
DCP Malhotra said Teotia was “constantly in touch” with Russian hackers. “He visited Russia in 2018. Russian hackers stayed at his place during the lockdown,” he said.
“During the probe, Teotia revealed that around 450 candidates had passed various competitive exams through his syndicate. Of these, 18 candidates got high scores in GMAT,” DCP Malhotra said.
A Delhi Police source added: “During interrogation, accused Raj Teotia has disclosed that he and his syndicate had remotely accessed/hacked the recruitment examinations of SSC CHSL (Combined Higher Secondary Level Exam), Indian Navy, Indian Air force, Forest Guard, Railway Group D and JVVNL (Jaipur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited), Rajasthan.”
Crackdown revealed three distinct modules
Teotia’s thriving racket was busted after a Delhi Police constable posed as a decoy customer who wanted to cheat on the GMAT. According to the DCP, the racketeers asked for a large sum of money and struck a deal with the decoy candidate after some negotiations.
“After the deal, the constable who posed as the candidate appeared for the exam on 26 December 2021 and scored 780 out of 800 in the GMAT exam, which is around 97 per cent. It is a very high score that can get through any top MBA college abroad,” the DCP said.
The police investigations revealed that the operations of the syndicate were divided among the three modules. The Mumbai module got in touch with the candidates/aspirants and manage payments, the Rajasthan module hacked the systems for remote access, and the Delhi module focused on solving the exams.
Apart from Teotia, five others have been arrested in the case: Arshad Dhunna (39), Salman Dhunna (28), and Hemal Shah (42) from Mumbai, and Kunal Goel (39) and Mohit Sharma (35) from Delhi-NCR.
Out of these, the “exam solver” was Mohit Sharma, who has a B.Tech in mechanical engineering, and who had provided GMAT coaching in various institutes. During the lockdown, he was approached on Facebook by Kunal Goel, who asked him to join the racket, the police said.
Arshad and Salman Dhunna and Hemal Shah ran coaching institutes in Mumbai for competitive exams. According to the police, they found vulnerable aspirants through these centres and then the rest of the process continued on the dark web.
“Teotia has been doing this for years now. He had also lured some owners of exam centres and involved them in the exam hacking and solving syndicate for money,” the DCP said.
Police sources said owners and employees of 23 such exam centres are now being tracked and questioned.
“We are taking all legal courses and informing the associated agencies about candidates who have cleared these exams,” the DCP said.
The hacking and solving process
The accused allegedly asked the aspirants to download various software — such as Ultraviewer, Teamviewer, and Imperius Remote — that would allow remote access to their laptops.
Once this was done, the candidate’s device would be connected with the computer of the solver, who would then attempt all the questions of the exam.
To cover tracks, the hackers would disguise the remote access file as a systems file in the candidate’s laptop. They also installed other software to help evade detection by the security software of the exam-conducting authorities/companies, and which made it difficult for examiners to detect anomalies in pupil movement.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)