Hired Hackers


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Various
10 Saturday 10th September 2011

Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg invites you to befriend him and/or enjoy a good poke

Facebook made headlines this week as Mark Zuckerberg and co made the controversial decision to pay would-be-hackers to work for them in detecting flaws and windows in Facebook’s privacy options. So far over $50,000 has been paid out to bug bounty hunters in an attempt to highlight and eradicate the chinks in the social media site’s privacy armour. Reportedly, one hacker earned themselves $5,000 for detecting a single high-level glitch.

Security Chief, Joe Sullivan said on Facebook’s official blog recently that "the program has...been great because it has made our site more secure - by surfacing issues large and small, introducing us to novel attack vectors, and helping us improve lots of corners in our code." And Facebook aren’t the only company to be making the most of the skills of the hacker community. Microsoft, Apple and even the American government have been getting in on the action.

Michael Mooney aka Mikeyy

Back in April 2009, a 17 year old from Brooklyn, New York made the headlines when he infected more than 200 Twitter accounts and sent out more than 10,000 infected Tweets to users on the micro-blogging website. Using the worms, named Mikeyy and StalkDaily, Michael Mooney decided to ‘make a name for himself’ in the programming community – and it worked. After his identity was uncovered and his virus corrected, he was offered a job with app developing company ExqSoft Solutions, which is more than most 18 year-olds can aspire to.

Owen Thor Walker; the self-taught hacker has been diagnosed with Aspergers

New Zealand teenager Owen Thor Walker (AKA AKILL) made the international headlines back in 2009 for his role in a helping a gang of criminals steal over $20 million from online bank accounts across the world. He made them again less than a year later when he was hired by New Zealand firm TelstraClear to act as their security consultant. Walker left court with a clear record after forfeiting the money he earned for the group’s heist and paying an additional fine, and since then he’s gone on to use his powers for good, protecting TelstraClear customers and the company itself from malicious viruses and security threats.

It seems companies aren’t the only ones cashing in on turncoat hackers skill sets; the FBI is widely rumoured to be capitalising on the abilities of the hacker community whilst maintaining a vigilant eye on programmers from within. According to a recent article in the Guardian, Eric Corley (publisher of 2600, a major hackers’ quarterly), ‘25% of hackers in the US may have been recruited by the federal authorities to be their eyes and ears. "Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation”’.

Johnny Chung Lee, an internet sensation

But you probably won’t feel sorry for the hackers for too long when you find out hacking seems to be a really effective way-in for a number of tech-savvy individuals. Take for example the case of Johnny Chung Lee who hacked a Nintendo Wii remote in 2008 using a ballpoint pen and some infrared lights. Following his Mission Impossible improv. Lee was offered a job by Bill Gates’ company Microsoft to develop Kinect for the Xbox before being poached by Google earlier this year. Likewise teenage hacker George Hotz, Chris Putnam, Jeff Moss, and Peter Hajas all ended up fat in the wallet after being hired by major telecom and software companies to work within their companies.

80s heartthrob Rick Astley

But not all hackers start off on a path to criminality with their eyes on the cheese – some just want to have fun. 21 year-old Australian hacker Ashley Towns created the very first iPhone worm. Rather than eradicating contact lists, skimming bank accounts of dialling up international numbers, Towns did something entirely more evil; he replaced the iPhone user’s wallpaper with an image of 80s pop star, Rick Astley.

Had an annoying experience with a hacker? Does your computer suffer from a viral infection? Vent your spleen.

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