Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 20/09/2004A teenage German hacker, currently on trial for creating the Sasser worm and also believed to be behind Netsky, has been hired by a firewall company. As Jo Best's report says, the company may have to wait for a bit before the wunderkind gets his feet under the desk as there's a spot of porridge on the menu.

Monday 20/09/2004
A teenage German hacker, currently on trial for creating the Sasser worm and also believed to be behind Netsky, has been hired by a firewall company. As Jo Best's report says, the company may have to wait for a bit before the wunderkind gets his feet under the desk as there's a spot of porridge on the menu.

The news has stirred some controversy of the "should you hire a hacker?" sort, with various pundits weighing in on either side of the story. What's not being discussed is how many people piping up with their opinions were themselves hackers in a previous life: although it's not a common item on industry CVs, the "Never Got Caught" club is by no means a lonely one and its members can be found at the very highest levels.

And at some of the lowest: I'm a member myself. Worse than that, I was hired on the strength of being a teenage hacker. This was before hacking was illegal - two pals were arrested and had their case thrown out of court on appeal because there was no law that applied - so it's not quite the same as our Teutonic tamperer, but doubtless a case could have been made by various victims of my online shenanigans that I'd cost them time, money and embarrassment. I don't want you to think I'm proud of what I did (although, of course, I am. Shamelessly), which included installing pirate bulletin boards on market research computers, linking a major chain store's ordering system's exit page to its entry page ("Welcome!" it said. "Goodbye!" and threw you off. Took them a day to work that one out), causing conniptions by running naughty software on nuclear research computers, and so on and so forth. All using a ZX Spectrum and a VTX5000 Prestel modem.

These activities -- and others, which I'll keep quiet about for now if you don't mind -- got me on telly in silhouette on the Six O'Clock news. All very exciting for a "teenager from West London", which was the only way I'd let myself be identified. The evening after my appearance, limited though it was, I was at a dinner party which was also attended by a certain Sir Clive Sinclair. We got talking about computing and hacking, and he shot me a quizzical look. "Hold on. I recognise your voice. Weren't you on the telly last night?" he said.

Well, you don't say no to Uncle Clive (a common problem, I can tell you). I admitted my guilt and the evening proceeded in a very agreeable fashion.

The next day, I had a phone call. "It's Sir Clive's secretary here," said a very posh voice (he didn't stint on top totty). "Fancy a job?"

What would you have said? I ended up shortly afterwards in the London offices, sitting behind a desk with a OPD (One Per Desk, a computer with built-in modem and other hackerish treats) and wondering exactly what it was I was expected to do. I never did work that bit out - I often wonder if he expected me to sniff around competitors' computers, but nothing was said - as shortly afterwards I was exported to Cambridge in order to help out with some Z80 programming. And some brushes with the boss over my habit of snooping around the VAX system we used for R&D, but that's another story.

I survived, Sinclair Research seemed happy -- if occasionally bemused -- with its acquisition, and I became the well-rounded, law-abiding, conscientious worker bee you see before you today. Hiring hackers? I'm all for it.

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