India arrests Russian over hacking of engineering exam

Suspect may have tampered with software used in assessment of students, investigators say

The Joint Entrance Examination is a gateway to some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, including the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, pictured in December 2021. AFP
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India’s federal investigating agency has arrested a Russian national on suspicion of hacking software used in a competitive national engineering test.

The Central Bureau of Investigation arrested Mikhail Shargin on Monday as he arrived at Delhi airport from Kazakhstan. His arrest is connected to last year's Joint Entrance Examination paper leak.

The Joint Entrance Examination is one of India's most prestigious and involves candidates seeking admission to bachelor’s degrees at colleges of engineering, technology, architecture and planning.

More than 700,000 students appeared for the Joint Entrance Examination. Fewer than 4 per cent succeeded.

In September 2021, police filed a case against a private company, its directors and three employees and private individuals for manipulating the online exams to help candidates gain admissions in exchange for money.

The bureau earlier arrested seven people, including two directors of a Noida-based private institution, in connection with the case and found the involvement of foreign nationals.

It said that Mr Shargin was suspected to be the person who tampered with the iLeon software, a system used in the exam.

Every year, more than 450,000 students take the Indian Institutes of Technology exam, hoping for entry to the hallowed public engineering institutes. Slightly more than 13,000 passed in 2010, a 3 percent success rate. AP Photo

“They solved question papers of suspected candidates through remote access from a selected exam centre in Haryana’s Sonepat,” the bureau said.

“It was found that the accused collected the 10th and 12th mark sheets of candidates along with their login details and postdated cheques. They charged approximately one to two million rupees each upon confirmation of admission.”

India, home to more than 6,000 government-approved engineering institutes, produces the world's largest numbers of engineers.

The stream of engineering and technology draws almost 2.4 million students into government and private institutes every year, according to the Human Resource Development Ministry.

The large number of applicants, expensive private colleges and limited seats in government institutes, lead to cut-throat competition.

Updated: October 04, 2022, 6:55 AM