CyberRoot Gets in the Spotlight as an Indian Hack-for-Hire Group
In the age of cyber conflict, information warfare has become a tool for influencing operations, legal and strategic analyses, and sometimes, even international politics. Cyberspace often remains the most leveraged platform to conduct information operations, as cyber firms continue to grow their global presence.
Although India still has a long way to go when it comes to offensive cyber capabilities, few private actors have been found to develop such capabilities. Last year, an Indian firm – CyberRoot Risk Advisory Group, was seen to be involved in one such controversial incident of hack-and-leak case. The firm was even listed in CERT-In’s updated report on the IT Security Auditing Organisations.
A deep dive into CyberRoot’s history made some surprising findings. The firm is into many controversies for Farhad Azima’s hack-and-leak case. The Indian hack-for-hire group was sued in a federal court in North Carolina, the UK in October 2020, for leaking an Iranian-American businessman’s emails. The victim, Farhad Azima, had accused a pair of Indian companies of stealing his emails and publishing them on the web in 2016.
In the UK lawsuit, Azima claimed that CyberRoot took help from a New Delhi-based Security Company, BellTroX InfoTech Services, for the digital break-in, on behalf of an American Private Intelligence Company – Vital Management Services. This management firm was hired by the International Law Firm – Dechert upon the orders of the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), an investment fund based in the United Arab Emirates.
The lawsuit further claimed that US-based private investigator, Nick Del Rosso, who is also the head of Vital Management Services, looked after the hack-and-leak case. Azima accused Rosso and Neil Gerrard, lawyer of the London law firm Dechert, of involvement in the hacking operation.
Both Azima and RAKIA have a history of lawsuit battles and CyberRoot became the medium to display dominance in cyberspace. Azima even took the case to the US in 2019, where it was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. He accused RAKIA of stealing and leaking his emails in the UK lawsuit. He claimed that CyberRoot was paid more than $1 million by the involved entities for the hacking.
The lawsuit was, however, ruled in favour of RAKIA, while Azima had to pay more than $4.1 million on charges of defrauding the investment firm. Azima was, however, granted an appeal to provide evidence of his hacking accusations.
A private investigator, Jonas Rey, head of Athena Intelligence firm, brought fresh evidence in the Azima case in the appeal hearing that opened on March 2. He tracked down several employees of CyberRoot and got the confirmation that the firm had hacked Azima’s email account on behalf of the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund.
It’s not the first time when Indian cyber firms have been in the spotlight for incidents of hacking. BellTrox was found at the centre of a vast-hacking campaign that targeted more than 10,000 accounts across the globe in June 2020.
Other Indian hack-for-hire groups, like Phronesis and Aglaya, were also in the limelight for displaying strong cyber offensive capabilities in association with State actors, while launching malware attacks against hostile neighbours. In cyberspace, offensive cyber weapons have more importance than defensive cyber capabilities.
The CERT-In Empanelled Security Audit Company is responsible for carrying out a comprehensive security audit of website, network & applications as per the CERT-In Guidelines for IT Security Audits. The firm provides cyber forensics investigation, penetration testing, physical access control and security testing, wireless security, network security and mobile application audit. It handles Middle Eastern and Asian business.