All characters in this story are fictional 😉
The year is 1997. I'm 15 and my high school had just started. Instead of doing my homework, I am connecting to Internet from my OpenBSD system using 33.6k dial-up modem and checking how many internet hours I have at ISP. Not good, only few hours left and I can't bother my parents anymore to give me more money for Internet. I need a plan...
I stumbled upon a mysterious hacker called Weird, after some time of researching. He is from my country, and he developed a trojan horse Kuang, simple 14k executable that infects Windows machines and sends their dial-up password to predefined email address. If user changes his password, Kuang will resend it. Brilliant!
I downloaded Kuang, set my email address and compressed the virus using UPX high-performance executable packer. Made fake identity and posted it on a local news group naming the file NewActionWithPamelaAnderson.exe. Just a few minutes later I started receiving passwords for dial-up access. I had scrambled telephone line, so I could connect to ISP without leaving any trace. The thing simply worked.
Few days later I realized that I have over 80 dial-up accounts and even some corporate access without limits. It felt good not to steal hours from regular users. I decided to share the knowledge with the community and make some bucks, so I created a pseudonym Dr. Brain and put my offer online — for 20 bucks I teach people how to get unlimited Internet access by going to their place, showing them everything in 15 minutes on their machine. I was selling it ~ 10 times per day while average salary in my country was 5 bucks per month, it was a full-time job, and I was moving around the city with my ATX motorbike.
Simultaneously, I was writing security articles on famous local website in exchange for advertisement that I am installing Windows, cleaning viruses and fixing computer problems. Virus was spreading like a fire and it was a win-win for me, as I was doing two contradicting jobs.
In a matter of just a few weeks many things happened:
- I met many interesting people doing my work.
- I was offered a job from one of my clients that happened to be owner of one serious company doing TV commercials, which I accepted.
- Computer newspapers published Dr. Brain's offer as a main story.
- One company offered me new fast satellite internet that only big companies could afford, which I accepted in exchange for providing IT services for them.
- One of ISP owners was victim of my virus and my physics professor as well.
- I got in touch with some serious hackers and managed to access bank's network.
But one day I got a call to fix some Windows problem. When I came to the place, two guys were waiting for me with guns. That was the end of my entrepreneurship. My country didn't have cybercrime laws, so I was basically not doing anything wrong, but my activities were harming ISP business, so they took a non-standard approach to explain me some things.
Ten years later I was attending one IT conference and was impressed about the guy who organized it, let's call him Oblac, I had a feeling that he is brilliant engineer and I decided to email him to join forces and start some interesting projects together. We met, and I was telling him my life story, briefly mentioning my Black Hat adventures when he looked at me surprised and asked: Do you know who is Weird? That's me, I wrote Kuang. It was a magical moment, I couldn't believe that I am sitting in front of a guy, 10 years later, who was responsible for many adventures I had with Kuang, and he couldn't believe someone was making money with his little project.
I learned that Oblac had some adventures related to FBI, CIA and Korea with Kuang.
We became colleagues and friends, went through some projects together, even had a company, and I learned a lot from him. My intuition was right — he is a great engineer, and we are still working together, more than 20 years after we met for the first time.
I learned many things:
- There is no coincidence.
- Everything is possible.
- One simple action can open many new opportunities, you just have to start.
- You grow by taking risks, be brave, don't overthink and just do it, it's worth it!
- You can't fail, you can just learn.
- By solving your problem first, you can sell the value later.
- Product can be simple and successful simultaneously, if it solves the real problem people have.
- Minimalism and Keep It Simple Stupid approach to life.
- One has to go through the dark side to learn that the bright side is better.
- Privacy matters.
- The most vulnerable part of computer system is human. Social engineering is the biggest threat.
- Hacker is not a computer guy, it's a person genuinely interested how system works and playing with it. By breaking it you make the system stronger.
- As always — HAVE FUN!