Editor’s note: Aaron Crayford is the CEO of Mighty whose main product is a smart real-time communication framework. While in high school was prosecuted by the US government for what the DoD called “The most organized systematic attack the Pentagon has seen” and was banned from touching a computer or talking about the story for a decade. You can follow him @aaroncray.
Heroes, hackers or douchebags? I’ve seen many takes. Mine goes something like:
FBI agent: “Tell us how you got into the satellite control systems at Lawrence Livermore.”
Kid: “You wanna know, (whisper) you really want to know?”
FBI agent: “yeah tell me”
FBI agent: “this isn’t a fucking game kid!”
Game on! It was 1998 when 20 FBI agents raided my house. The awkward fat kid with working class folks in the corner of your physics class . . . that was me. But what about the LulzSec guys and these Anonymous members? Who are these guys? What the hell are they doing screwing with the cia…THE CIA!? They are revolutionary’s friends. The Washingtons of our times. Their guns are botnets 500gigabit/s strong, and their spies are automated entry system worms and rootkits. They’re taking out injustice one root at a time . . . right?
I knew I wasn’t going to jail and I knew that I had a great excuse for not handing in my chem homework.
Kid: “I was being interrogated by the FBI all night, I didn’t have time”
Teach: “Aaron go back to your seat. That’s the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard”
(Did I just say I knew I wasn’t going to jail?) That’s the mind frame folks. Criminals never see themselves as criminals simply because of how subjective that word is. Even to this day if you were to ask me what I was doing, I’d focus on the fact that we took down pedophile porn ISP’s, patched thousands of compromised government systems and turned hate monger websites into Happy Hanukkah pages . . . for the lulz. Noob, leet, lulz we used those terms before square bears on Facebook and game networks did and they were just as funny then as they are now.
FBI agent:”Look asshole, you guys leveled Sweden with your bullshit”
Happens sometimes. One group comes to test another group…war…WAR! Right? It’s more like scrabble than devastating economies; barely mentionable in passing the next day. You rooted your friends system, you laugh, and that’s it. It’s hard to understand the impact of what taking down a site like Ebay, Facebook or Sony does. Lulz thinks it’s funny; hell it is pretty funny but the unfortunate fact is at the end of the day workers are hurt and the CEO of Sony still gets in a Maybach and is driven to his mansion. They even call him Sir. Knighthood for someone who strikes at the heart of innovation, at the guy in the garage.
So what is it? What makes these guys do this stuff? They must be evil, they must be huge assholes, they must be geniuses? Maybe. One thing is for certain they understand how to bypass systems of control much better than the techs at Sony. Think of it like this: imagine if, given enough time, you could break into anything or type a command and stop any website in the world from working. What would you do? The hard part of this isn’t figuring out what you would do (in case that’s what you were just doing). I’m not talking about a Harvard dropout patting you on the back and telling you you’re a hard worker because you wrote some php script or you’re in “The Harvard of Silicon Valley” (careful fackers bunnies bite). I’m talking about writing down a piece of code, an exploit no one’s ever seen, on a bar napkin while you’re intoxicated; when you try it later, it compiles and executes perfectly, proving you understand an extremely complicated system better than its creator. The hard part is obtaining that kind of skill and the guys that do never do it with the intention of breaking into places. The application of what you can do with that kind of skill is an after thought. So once you have the skill you hear a story about some innovative smart guy . . .
The guy in the garage. A guy like you;
who reversed engineered a game console . . .
because he bought and owned the game console . . .
and thought he should be able to do with it what he wants . . .
like most normal people would think.
There you go. The company that tries to tear that man down and the ideal of innovation just volunteered for your hell, your wrath. The bully is going down! That’s how they see it. Even though the reality is the FBI or CIA agent that will be tracking you down over the next few months/years doesn’t get paid squat and what drives him is the same thing that drives you; they think what they are doing is justice. The workers that get laid off from the game network because it went down are just 0.1% of the company (up to 10% is acceptable to the guys on Wall Street without much concern . . . considered “leaning out”) and Sir Howard won’t lose a minute of sleep in his big comfortable king sized bed in his mansion on the hill.
What Lulzsec and Anonymous don’t realize is these companies aren’t their enemies. Their exploits are shockingly funny and probably karma but there is a much more difficult system to hack . . . becoming the guy at the head of the board. So when you’re the 40-something-year-old CEO who hears that some kid, some guy in his garage, is tearing your product apart and doing amazing things with it that is hitting your top line revenue, and the VP of Operations is getting the legal team together to discuss your options; you stop the meeting and say “Go find that guy, pay him and lets see what he can do.” That’s a real hack worth touting and it ends with you sleeping in a king-sized bed in a mansion on the hill and few can claim it’s been done before.
Not many, if any, of the people I know from back then made it big in tech. The ones that stayed in security disappeared, working for people I’m too scared to ask about.
So happy hacking. I hope you leverage your skill to your advantage. Stay safe and don’t get caught. If you do and they ask how you did it simply reply, “magic.”
Photo credit: Anonymous9000