Last year, when the vice president of a company in Mumbai walked into his conference room to hear a presentation by an Internet security expert, he could not hide his surprise when he saw a 20-year-old youngster waiting for him.
The youngster claimed he would help the company plug loopholes and security flaws in its website and intranet (the network that links a company's computers) and offered the vice president a contract. The sceptical vice president asked the youngster, Yash Kadakia, to show him what he had in 15 minutes flat as he had a flight to catch.
Kadakia turned his laptop on, and in minutes, had gained access to the vice president's corporate e-mail account, passwords and other vital information. He got the contract.
A second-year BSc student at Vidyalankar Institute in Matunga, Kadakia is the chief technical officer of Security Brigade, which he co-founded with his partner 18-year-old Vineet Kumar, another teenage prodigy in IT security, in June 2006. The company provides a host of services such as testing the vulnerability of a company's web applications, corporate computer network and database to hacking, and making companies' web sites and Internet transactions secure.
It has nine employees on its roll, who operate from Kadakia's home-office, and earns an annual revenue of Rs 1 crore from work it does for blue chip Indian clients such as housing mortgage company HDFC, software services company Infosys and Tata Steel and international firms such as US companies software giant Microsoft and anti-virus firm Symantec.
"My tryst with the Internet started way back in 1995 when I was an eight-year-old kid," said Kadakia. "My quest for knowledge about all things related to the Internet never died down."
He started by playing computer games and rapidly proceeded to create small websites thanks to tutorials and resources he found on the Internet. By then, he had also come across an Indian hacking group called 'Indian Snakes' and befriended one of their members, who asked him to learn computer languages like Java, C, and Perl.
Kadakia did a course at software training institute NIIT, and by the age of 13, knew he wanted to pursue a career in IT.
At 15, he started a company called Deadbolt Technologies, which provided software development services, developed websites and managed them for clients, which he shut down after starting his second venture. He soon became a board member of the National Anti-Hacking Group, a non-profit whose aim is to create awareness about information security. The group has 4,000 volunteers and a core group of 50 ethical hackers. The managing director is Kadakia's partner Vineet Kumar, who had by then shot to fame when Bill Gates invited him to Delhi for a tête-à-tête when he visited India in 2006. Soon after that, Kadakia and Kumar founded their information security company.
While the anti-hacking group does social work like conducting seminars and awareness campaigns about network security all over India, the duo's company does the commercial part by signing professional contracts with companies.
So how did he manage to build up such an impressive client list?
"I came across certain flaws in the websites of Amazon and Microsoft which allowed a hacker to intrude into their networks and snoop in on users' information," he said. So he sent them email. They ignored it. So he published details on his blog. That caught the attention of international tech magazines. The two giants soon emailed him.
His mode of functioning is straightforward. Kadakia gives a company a proposal for maintaining and securing its website. If it accepts, the two sign a contract.
"We charge between Rs 10,000 and Rs 60,000 per day per person, depending on the kind of work," he said. If the project involves many people, Kadakia will rope in volunteers from NAG and pay them on an hourly basis. Little wonder then that the company's turnover ran into lakhs last year. This year he expects it to be about Rs 1 crore.
His priority now is to set up an independent office in Mumbai and increase staff. The company has recently begun creating software for network security and training companies on Internet safety.
"I am now looking out for investors and venture capital," said Kadakia, hoping to expand.
Kadakia may sound hard-charging when he talks about business, but going by his friends' accounts, he makes up for that when he's with them and the twenty-something in him takes over. Said his close friend Gaurav Mehta: "He's the most jovial guy around. When with us, he loves to talk much, eat much and generally enjoy life. You can wake him up at 4 am and he will list the name of all the eateries in his neighbourhood and what's special about their cuisines."