Some of the most influential tech companies in Silicon Valley have been built by visionaries who are now dubbed billionaire ex-hackers. Nobody has a better understanding of internet security network systems more than the people who can find the weaknesses in those systems. Cyber attacks are not all committed by some shady underworld organization of criminals trying to infringe or steal proprietary information pertaining to individuals, corporations and government. Some hackers are just young kids who want to test their own technical acumen of penetrating a network security system. Many so-called “nefarious” young hackers have moved on to create technologies and businesses that society has become very dependent on.
Back in 1996, an underground hacking group, w00w00, formed to be a social networking platform for a collective group of people who had an interest in computer security. Also it was the breeding ground of a couple of billionaire ex-hackers who would build some of largest tech companies in the world. It was dubiously known as the largest nonprofit security organization in the world, which spanned 12 countries over five continents and had 30 or so members, up until its existence in the early 2000s. The w00w00 website consisted entirely of security tools and advisories that were given by the groups members. The w00w00 group’s mission was to expose software exploitations unlike other hacker groups that were more closed-off and elusive.
The most notorious member of w00w00, was Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster who turned the music industry on its head. He recruited w00w00 members to help develop the music-file sharing service and many w00w00 members were Napster’s first users. The most celebrated member of w00w00 is Jam Koum, an Ukrainian-American who sold his cross-platform instant messaging company, Whatsapp, to Facebook for $19 billion dollars in February. This billionaire ex-hacker entrepreneur had the foresight to see that the app industry was going to be huge when he bought an iphone in 2009.
The richest man in the world, Bill Gates and Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen were caught with an unauthorized access to an administrator account at the Computer Center Corporation because they wanted to obtain more computer time. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, while a student, used login records from TheFacebook.com, to gain access to email accounts of Harvard Crimson reporters. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey received his first job when he infiltrated the network of the dispatch company where he was applying for employment. Many billionaire ex-hackers would not have created the tech companies that have advanced society, if they were rotting in jail and revoked internet accessibility.
Prosecuting young innocuous hackers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act can stifle innovation and technical entrepreneurship. Not every kid who breaks into a network system goes on to build a large company and become part of the elite club of billionaire ex-hackers. As in the case of coding prodigy, Aaron Swartz, who was an early employee of Reddit. In 2011, Swartz was prosecuted under CFAA, for using an automated script for downloading millions of files from JSTOR, an academic journal website. He faced astronomical legal bills and many years in prison, which later he committed suicide at the age of 26.
With the recent security breach of Target, many believe that hacking is a serious problem. Zuckerberg, an ex-hacker billionaire who built the largest social media network company in the world, called Obama earlier this week urging for reform on internet security due to the National Security Agency’s Quantum software program that can invade anybody’s web browser. Nobody can understand the perils of hacking better than a hacker himself.
By Isriya Kendrick