Remember that biblical story which involved a simple shepherd who later became the king of Israel? This is somewhat similar, and even involves that character’s namesake. Many people believe that hackers are criminals. Zeroes of society. We’ve explained that not all hackers are criminals.
Black hats (hackers), who are engaged in criminal activity are considered zeroes, while white hats (cybersecurity experts) are ones. But mind you, both types have each other’s skills and may even respect one another in terms of ability. Then again, there are those who wear black hats, not to steal money or resources, but to take on the injustices of the world. Still, roads paved with good intentions do not always lead to good places.
Like our current feature hacker who has been to dark places. Did dark stuff on quests to make others see the light. But living in darkness can be damaging, and there’s a point in one’s life when he/she says, enough. Who we have here is someone who has transitioned from being black to white. His name is David. In his line of work, he’s dealt with his inner demons and real-world giants. Let’s talk to him and find out more about his transition to become king of his own destiny.
Who are you?
That’s, believe it or not a very hard question to answer. Not only because I wouldn't know what to put on here but also I don't really want to, considering where this interview will lead in the end. But the reason you read this leaves me with a certain feeling of what you might expect. Computer hacking, stretched boundaries et cetera. I don't think it matters too much if you don't know the person behind this, even if I risk to lose credibility.
But I am talking about the past so I can help people eyeballing with the Black Hat idea to be aware of the consequences that come with it. Don't worry; nothing of this has been truly harmful, yet I feel more comfortable of not putting my identity out there and connect it with all of this. If you are in need of a name, however, feel free to call me David.
What interested you about computers as a child?
Gaming. Believe it or not, gaming and social media was the first thing that I used computers for. Both terms are relatively emphasized compared to today’s definition. I first contact with computers started in the old days, the "put down the phone I want to go online" days. I was still pretty young, so I never put that interest to any use then. But it was the first fascinating contact of that technology that I'd never completely loose over the course of the years.
Next to the first two interests I started with the early days of photoshop, editing and defacing pictures, the creative drive has packed me. From there it didn't take long for me to start modding games. Just small ones like textures, sounds, texts... there wasn't really a lot you could do with games back then. Or if there was, I never found out.
Unfortunately, since I didn't use my own computer back then I was always surveilled by my parents. Having your own computer was a big deal back then. Not only because of the trust your parents have to grant you but also the fact that these bulky monitored machines cost a fortune for a kid.
From here we went to online/Local Area Network Games and hence my introduction to Networking. I never got the hang of it at first try and there wasn't really a website you could pull up to read a tutorial/watch a video on how to infiltrate machines on your LAN - Remember, we're talking about the times when you still got the internet CD's in your mailbox...
I learned a bit of the basics and moved on. Several years to be exact. I haven't made any more hacking attempts, or anything related to that for quite a while. And I was far from believing back then that I would end up where I am now.
When did you start hacking and how did you learn?
First off, I suck at programming. Well, I'm not as good as I wish I was. I can read code and somewhat also write but if you'd read my stuff, you'd probably loop yourself in a cycle of criticism about what to do better/different. But I also wouldn't say that this is my only power.
There are other ways around and lots of research to do before you even start thinking about programming something that will help you. My inability to come up with something from scratch forced me to look for workarounds. And this widens your attention to all the little details and risks that come with it.
I think many years later, whenever I had my own gaming laptop (yeah, you can see I had no Idea what I was doing back then..) I started fiddling around with some scripts. Nothing serious, just small calculations, automated tasks, stuff that looked cool. It was the time where people would write Batch-scripts to shutdown -s -f -t 001 and echo "HAHA YOUR COMPUTER WUZ HACKED AND WON’T TURN ON ANYMORE" just to prank people (true story, happened to me once and I lost a ton of assignment work cause of it, not cool...).
Those times were the start of my on-off relationship with computer hacking. Yes, even when I had programming in school, I quit as we started Java. I had other issues that were going on during that time and, honestly, didn't do well anywhere in school.
The little scripting stuff sticked with me though. It was easier during those times; whenever I had a wave of "I want to do something related" you'd have the possibility to read stuff up now, learn about commands and then dig through the --help section to learn the correct format. But it never led anywhere but peaking enthusiasm here and there. Until I decided to put this a bit further.
The actual story is a bit embarrassing. I got scammed and got angry and took down the site that did it. I don't know how, I basically tried continuously breaching their admin login for the page after I found it and they decided to shut it down after. Wasn't really effective since the company just opened another site on another hoster [sic] and kept pulling off their shitty scams, but it was enough for me to get a taste of what is possible.
Again, I am SORRY. I was a stupid kid and didn't know any better. No, that’s not an apology for the scammers, it's because I went onto the anonymous IRC and begged people for help to join in taking them down. I really thought it would help. And by it, I mean the people there. They were just as lost as I was I guess. I got put in my place really quick there. And that left me rather inactive, reading up about a lot of stuff, new ways of hacking and most importantly, Hiding my ass(!).
What motivated you to channel your talents into becoming a black hat hacker?
You know what's funny? For the longest time, I didn't see myself as a Black Hat. I thought at least a Grey Hat is in for me.
"When the Laws are wrong, an Outlaw is always in the right"
I was trying to fight bad stuff. But if you think of the definition of Black Hats... yeah, my methods kind of fit to that. Opposite to the White Hat, who's hired to test networks and structures for holes or a Grey hat, who finds exploits and reports them to be fixed, a Black Hat always searches for ways of infiltrating places or networks where he shouldn't be, elevating user rights to be a bit more powerful than the average user.
Just a little bit more knowledge to give you an advantage. A millisecond before a punch is thrown. Pulling off a magic trick right before someone’s eyes and leave them baffled. I think that’s kind of the "Kick" you get out of that.
Remember my name? I choose David ‘cause I liked the comparison of Hackers to magicians (David Copperfield :P). No David is not my real name nor any of my Nicks, past or present. I wasn't even confident enough to use one of the past ones here just so it won't lead back to me. It's a major downside to all of this. You get extremely paranoid if you don't watch yourself.
It started with different things. Once you could kinda provide a use and found a group that was working for something you'd be able to support, you'd make a channel and work on it. I don't know if that was the go-to method, but this is how I got pulled into my first OP against a well- known right-wing community.
I didn't really do much, just provided some computer power and started sorting and securing the findings, Hosts, Addresses, Names, all that. I don't even know what they were used for later, but I didn't think that far. For me, this was just. That didn't only stick to IRC. The public social media got aware of weird stuff with the uprising of QAnon and all these weird things, 5G destroys cells etc…
I'm not stating that any of this is true or untrue nowadays. Stuff like this, if you allow yourself to get bombarded with it day by day is fucking with your head a lot. I did research, digged[sic] up patents, found connections (that might not even have been there, who knows) and made some "friends" over the web, invested in the same topic.
This went on to the point where we took action again. This time against unsolicited pornography and child trafficking. We would constantly have new information on stuff we discovered, proved the backstory of it and made it public. But it was no use by publishing it on platforms who, actively or not, were supporting that kind of behavior and the posts soon got shadow-banned. So, I found a workaround.
I used an exploit in a mailing server which was mainly used for nude trading/fake accounts and me and my team back them compromised several accounts, not only to keep spreading our message without getting immediately shadow-banned but also to start catphishing people who had contact with these accounts, exposing them as the Child predators that they were.
It wasn't all destructive. I remember having a conversation with someone who's images got shared and gave them a lecture of how not to send stuff cause once it's in their hands, you don't have any control over it anymore. They seemed to understand yet, the damage was already done, and it seemed to have partially destroyed their life without them even realizing it.
We digged up way more stuff, video footage which may or may not have had popular people involved. I wish I wasn't so hesitating about this and its credibility because it would be really valuable during today’s times with certain event's being uncovered. It'd maybe have helped uncover the situation instead of it turning into a meme and investigations die off...
I reached the peak whenever someone was trying to push an attack towards a site said to do suspicious things. It was weird, way too obvious but it was said to be attacked this instant. What we realized too late cause of the hassle was, that it was actually a honeypot to catch predators.
That was the point where I realized that my temper got the better of me and I completely cut any ties with anything that was related to the old Nick's I had, the people I was contacting, I deleted everything and moved away. I even have high anxiety writing this down on right now ‘cause I cannot foresee the consequences, but my brain does a good job of filling in the blanks with the worst.
From that moment on I started reading up and educating myself about encryption. I did some riddles for fun inspired by Cicada 3301 which was popping up during the time I was active for people who were interested in that stuff. As a reward, they'd get my self-written encryption program. I mainly did end up reading up about how to secure my connection, my traffic, my files... all of which sparked my paranoia even more.
It became so bad that one day, Net Neutrality was popping up again I coudln't help myself but reintroduce myself back to the old techniques to try spread awareness, grabbing Information about the people involved and try to make something out of all that to give people the power to fight back (we all know how that went, the voting was manipulated which no one cared about anymore one year later...).
The lack of motivation and the disinterest of trying to make other people aware of what was going on caused some sort of depression in myself. I tried shrugging it off with "you can't save anyone" but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth thinking about it. Especially because most people knew but either didn't care enough or saw the situation as hopeless right from the get-go.
I decided to drop that new Nick again and just go on to learn about keeping myself safe. I used that knowledge of course to also keep people safe that were close to me but almost no one that knows me personally knows what I've been through and the stuff I've seen. And honestly? I think it's for the better.
What kinds of communities did you associate with as a black hat hacker?
You probably think of someone saying "I'm a Black Hat" that they are ruthless monsters, cracking bank accounts and demanding ransom. Trust me, some people out there are well capable of doing so and some are actually do it. But those are either people who don't really have anything to lose or just don't think at all, may it be cause of stupidity or young age. If you're reading this, let me tell you one thing that should always be in the back of your mind when planning anything related to that:
These things can and will have consequences. So be prepared to drop anything if you have to.
With my normal life on the side, I wasn't able to maintain that mantra anymore. That's why I limit myself to small snooping at best, keeping up with the technological involvement (Wi-Fi will track you via frequency at 2024?! What is the Ripe Database?!) and security issues to keep myself safe and have access to the internet (I never owned my own Internet Access Point till this day...).
But many people I encountered weren't as bad as this. Not only because I barely kept contact with people that were into too bad stuff. I just didn't want to risk anything. They always fascinated me though.
Lots of people doing carding, phishing, cracking netflix accounts, other premium accounts, stuff like that. I even met people in person where the conversation slowly revealed their knowledge. They told me they were basically living with the Motto "Bring your laptops and Cyanide". I wasn't so sure if that was just a saying or not. I rather did not want to find out.
I also stayed on a few chatgroups for longer for people to learn hacking. Mainly to educate them, warn them about stuff that was out of their knowledge (most of them introduced themselves with "how to hack facebook sir" which kinda gives you an idea of the patronage we're talking about here...) and saw them slowly getting into other branches where I didn't want to follow.
I also talked to other guys which gave me the motivation to write this since their hacking career also influenced their life, their relationship, their mental health... I hope if people who are reading this suffer the same that I can tell them it's okay. You are not alone with this and you are not immediately ignored because people don't understand. I know it's hard to suffer from this and have the feeling you can't tell anyone. And I know very well how this can slowly turn everything you touch outside of it into shit.
And I hope me speaking up shows you that there is hope for progress. That's what I believe while writing this. It's not about stopping necessarily. But to find your path again, a good balance between your love for the kick and being a functioning human being still. I'm still far from that but see this as a little update on that it is possible.
Can't say I'm innocent to the account thing but I always knew that there needs to be a limit. So, despite me having the possibility of cracking something money related once with the dumbest exploit ever, I decided to stay away from it. I wasn't ready to cut off everything from my life again if I had to. I was just trying to get my life together again. Just as I am now.
It's not that I gave up. I am still around and still aware of those things. But I expanded my research and preparation time plus evaluating the risks compared to the benefit. To be clear: Not to enrich myself. But to bring justice to the people thinking they can do anything on the internet and get away with it...
But who watches the watchmen?
My main concern is to keep me and my loved ones safe.
What made you decide to become white hat hacker? What went wrong?
Well, I summarized most of the learning process since it developed over time that everyone can just grab a github script and watch a youtube tutorial on this. I was always intimidated of the actual field of White Hat Hackers. I never thought I could participate in there or make a good job since my knowledge is so specific and limited that I think I wouldn't survive in it.
Sure, I can read up a lot of stuff (which I already do) but so can anyone else. And if I learned something, it is that you always have to expect that someone else is out there who is better than you, even if it's just a tiny bit. This bit can decide over everything, may it be who gets the job or who loses their anonymity. And with the anxiety and (you could say) case of imposter syndrome that I struggle with, I wouldn't be able to compete.
Furthermore, I always aimed to be working in a different field which I was aiming at since I was younger. Hacking was just a tool, a power that I allowed my fear to form into a rather elevated hobby. A defense mechanism you could say. I am however using my knowledge to help, not only to educate kiddies on how to stay safe when you use that Loic (don't btw.) but also to help people close to me with technical issues they don't know an answer to. But that's as far as I am consciously comfortable to allow them in.
What is your conclusion to all of this?
Is it worth it? Maybe. That question is something you have to answer for yourself. It really depends on what you want to do in your life, where you want to go, what you can spare... For me? I tried. I tried changing the world for better even if that meant I had to use unjust methods. I never realized the irony of this until it was too late.
And it's not like I woke up as a kid and was like, "Hell yeah, let's crak sum l33d Progixx" or some bull. Interestingly enough, my backstory (the parts that I listed here which influenced my involvement with hacking) didn't show any signs at first of where I would end up.
Would I do it again? No. Way too much hassle, way too much damage done for me (also mentally) and as I said... it's depressing how ignorant people are to the sacrifices made (It's like we forgot at all about Snowden?!), so why make any sacrifices at all? Especially with the normal life I am trying to build right now, I wouldn't want someone busting through my door at one point and lock me away. Or worse.
Did I learn something from it? Definitely! I learned so much more interesting stuff about technology, I'm still trying to keep up with the tech and all the little projects and exploits, either to use them myself (to some extend) or to spread awareness to people I know need this protection or I want to have this protection.
I also learned a lot about myself and how my temper can get to me sometimes. I'm really trying to watch myself so I won't experience a complete downfall due to my hubris. Even started therapy and maybe eventually get to tackle that topic one day. That's mainly why I tried overcoming my fear and writing this interview so other people that are running the risk of getting themselves into this are aware of the consequences which are often disregarded.
It's like smoking: You know its bad for you and it's addictive... and it will eventually screw you over if you carry it to excess. Especially with the fast-evolving tech and all the new and still uncovered ways of you being tracked, you run a high risk of getting yourself in trouble. Trust me I have done tons of reading up and still feel like I know nothing cause all of a sudden they start tracking you over Browser Fingerprint or some stuff.... horrible.
But learning the ways of a Black Hat is not necessarily bad. It's a way of keeping yourself safe. It's the intention behind that learning process that defines you as a person and where you will go from there after obtaining said knowledge.
To all the people I worked with (and vaguely mentioned for a reason) I hope you are doing well and you're staying safe.