About

How secure are your secrets in the virtual world?

Weeks before pharma-giant Acel is ready to file a global patent application for cancer wonder-drug Colare, its offshore data center in Mumbai is hacked. The charismatic young leader of its Indian business, Dr Udai Vir Dhingra, finds himself blamed for negligence and the breach of security.

Battling market pressures, media scrutiny, livid American bosses and crumbling relationships, Vir must find the perpetrators or see his career - and his life- spiral downwards. But the deeper he gets dragged into the shadowy world of masked online identities and muddied digital footprints, the more Vir discovers that nothing is easy or obvious, and everything has a price.

Set across Mumbai, Washington DC and Guangzhou, Breach is a compelling and edgy thriller that explores the dark and dangerous underbelly of our increasingly virtual existence.

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Reviews in advance

"A gripping, transcontinental drama steeped in well-researched global pharma geopolitics. A must read cyber-crime thriller that is hard to put down"
Rohit Deshpande, Professor, Harvard Business School
"Breach is a superlative rendering of the state of cyber crime, not what might be but what is. Amrita Chowdhury delivers a multi-layered and nuanced work, with a broad array of characters and an authentic feel of big pharma and IT."
Vijay Ramachandran, Editor-in-Chief, IDG Media India, publisher of Computer World, PC World and CIO magazines
"Breach offers an expeditious, fascinating and compelling narrative that is unafraid to explore the dark and murky world of cyber crime. Amrita writes with such veracity: the characters so well nuanced in a setting that is deeply authentic. Riveting!"
Vishal Dhupar, Former MD, India and SAARC, Symantec
"A fascinating thriller, which blends together elements of real-world data theft, counter surveillance, crisis management and incident reconstruction to uncover the modus operandi and motives of the criminals. Cybercrime is on the rise in India, and this book is a timely reminder to stay safe in an increasingly digital world."
D Sivanandan, Former Police Commissioner of Mumbai and Former Director General of Police, Maharashtra
"An intelligent, page-turning cyber thriller written in a lucid style, Breach eerily reflects real world online threats. It’s an eye-opener for anyone who surfs the web without understanding its risks."
Vijay Mukhi, cyber crime expert
“At last! A globe-trotting, detail-driven, tech-powered, slick, en pointe thriller today's India deserves.”
Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times

Excerpts

Raghu opened the inner zippered compartment of his backpack, and took out Jiggs’s pendrive. With the mildest excitement, he leaned forward and penetrated the computer of the curly-haired geek, the sole other person sitting in the room, on terminal 24. Then using the host terminal as a base, he opened the website for Desi Rhythm.

Desi Rhythm’s hottest new starlet, Anya, was releasing a new music video titled Anya Aaaaahhh. Its ten-second promos on MTV revealed a sultry-looking Anya, her eyes laden with kohl, two feet of black lace and not much else, grooving and gyrating in a breathy croon. His entire class in junior college, the boys, had been salivating at this promo clip ever since he had shown it to them. Read more

He had tried to download it a few times. And failed. When Jiggs had mentioned a patch, he had felt maybe a solution could be found.

It was that pendrive that Raghu inserted into the computer. It had a clever little algorithm, which rode upon the query form on the Desi Rhythm site. As Raghu entered his inputs and the host website started processing the query, the algorithm mutated and injected itself into the website, tunnelling its way to the protected area which stored the video.

Raghu pursed his lips as the download began. It was amazing how most sites despite all the heavy duty firewalls they put in, left some loose opening. A cross-site script or an injection flaw, which a malicious code could detect and break into.

He waited for the download to complete, then logged off. He looked sideways at the lost student on the faraway terminal, who hadn’t even realized that his computer had been compromised.

Tilting his computer screen away from the door, Raghu shot another furtive glance around him. He put his computer on mute and hit the play button on the downloaded file.

Anya emerged from a veil of mist, her glistening body shimmering on the screen. The cool air-conditioned room suddenly got too warm for Raghu; his breath nearly stopped, his eyes flared and his heated breath froze inside his body.

They didn’t make girls like this in real life. Images of his classmates flitted in his mind’s eye: studious girls. Worried about grades and not clothes. Ankita was the spunkiest of them all, even-featured, lively, but not gorgeous. Plus, he had known Anki since kindergarten. Madhu. She was tall and fair. Could be pretty. If she undid that hideous plait and junked her dowdy choga-type kurtas. As Anya fizzled out of the screen, leaving stunned pixels in her wake, Raghu exhaled a sharp little breath of hot air and copied the file onto a disk for Maganbhai. He deleted the file off his computer and carefully deleted every trace of his trail from the terminals and the server.

He went back to his customized browser page. Various feeds were coming in. His own personal flipboard. A campaign against violence on women in Northern Africa by Avaaz. Euro Top list of songs from a music site. A feed from Dark Net News. A button for an anonymous chat site he frequented.

He logged onto brownphyre. The screen became dark, molten swirls of black shot with brown. White links within the page in fine print. He checked out the posts. Quests that had been announced. Patches that had been developed. Something caught his attention. Money for some data transfer. It was a quest too. Like an online war game, a capture-the-flag-type game, where many competed in a live attempt and one succeeded.

Vir craned his neck to peer out through the plane window. A rift in the sea of fluffy clouds offered a glimpse of the shadowy arid terrain of the Deccan. He was headed back to Mumbai, sitting in a cramped middle seat. Tracey slept in the window seat.

He could have been in a car instead, speeding towards Solan. He could picture the final stretch amid the scraggly foothill deodars as the road turned up. Spring had its special beauty in Solan. Freshly melted snow in the high Dhauladhar ranges made the river rush briskly. Leaves had a fresh green hue, the first wild flowers of the season burst out in masses of pink and yellow and blue.

Gleneagle. Once a Victorian folly, built by a British officer for his delicate English bride, had been bought by Vir’s grandfather. Painted lemon and white, the house was a confection of arches and thin fluted columns that ran the length of the frontage. From the sloping green lawn studded with calla lilies, the shimmering river looked bluer, the air so sharp and clean it pierced with its clarity.

Instead he breathed in the stale recycled aircraft air, the combined smells of masala aloo, buttery croissants, warm citrus, sweaty feet and musty cushions.

He stretched in his seat, exhausted from a sleepless night, but his mind was hyperactive, filled with thoughts of Colare.

He switched on his tablet and opened an image. Small crimson ovals lay scattered across a fibrous backdrop, their shading and striations adding depth, making them almost pop out. Thinnest green strands inter-crossed in the back, a million fibres webbing about, meeting at nodes, branching again, forming a woven basket around each oval. Variegated blue dusted the green strands in places.

It could be abstract art. Instead it was an image of a cancer cell viewed through a microscope, thousand times magnified. Produced by special antigens and fluorescent markers, it showed cells, their nuclei etched in red, the cellular skeleton in green, while the blues, the barely-there flecks of cobalt, the merest dots enmeshed in green, were cancerous growth.

He kept flipping between different images taken from mouse MUM102379, before and after a month of Colare medication, willing his naked eye to spot the differences. The blue flecking. Was it motile? Was it more aligned after the treatment?

Vir opened the report sent by Terry, a series of charts showing the average dimensions and density of tumour growth taken from multiple samples from rats and guinea pigs over the past three months. It was the isolated data from Acel India. The dip. The drug seemingly ineffective. It made no sense.

Vir had called Ali last night, right after Andy’s call. Ali was equally surprised by Terry’s report.
Vir had been awake all night. A thought had occurred to him: could it be data error? Yes, it had to be that.
Data corruption. He had messaged Ali in the wee hours. Check backup data. Vir rotated his neck to relieve a crick that refused to go. The plane was descending, making a wide arc over the silvery grey Arabian, flying down over roads and dense habitation. The plane touched down with a thud and sped up.

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