In 1986 when Blankenship, otherwise known as “The Mentor” wrote The Hacker Manifesto published in Phrack Magazine, I was ten years old. I didn’t hear of him until I was close to eighteen and started to really get into fixing computers and building networks. I subscribed to 2600, I donated money to the Free Kevin movement, went to and worked at computer shows on the weekends doing everything I could to be a part of the hacker culture. I built my first computer at sixteen and this was after failing my high school computer class. Like The Mentor, I was bored. My teacher was so frustrated with my horsing around that he said the most I’d ever be able to do was “flip burgers”. I smiled at him and went on my merry way knowing that he was dead wrong. I knew I was destined for greater things when at six years old when we got a microwave, a newfangled invention at the time, I cooked something in it without being told how to operate it. My entire life I had an affinity for everything electronic.
At 19, I was a manager of software and the help desk at the now defunct Family Golf Centers, Inc. I personally unpacked, turned on and configured over 160 Novell servers in three weeks and had them deployed to our pro shops working over the phone and in person with meager 56k uplinks.
At 23, I was the youngest systems administrator at Honeywell. They hired me to man the help desk. Two weeks later after the I Love You Virus hit and I programmed a custom button in Outlook to send out not only the fix but instructions to every single employee, I was given keys to seven kingdoms, or in our line of work, servers. They also let me play around with the AS400s. God, I miss those. I remember the day I became a Domain Admin for the first time. I was so proud! First password I ever gave out to a user was momoney. He was an accounting guy 😉
Yesterday I turned 41 and I still just have a high school education. This is not to say that college wouldn’t have been nice, I just couldn’t afford the *time* because while my other friends the same age were busy getting drunk while going to college, I was stuck in a server room trying to coax a Novell or NT server into playing nice with me. One time I got drunk at a bar in one of my company’s sports centers and the night manager was pouring coffee in my mouth and shaking me awake after the server went down and drunk as a skunk I fixed it.
Another time the floor above us sprung a leak and the ceiling was raining water down on my very expensive Lucent Merlin Legend PBX and I ran to a neighboring construction company’s office, stole a tarp from them and threw it over the damn thing before all was lost.
I was making the equivalent of $60,000 a year THEN with my “burger-flipping” equivalent of knowledge, if my H.S. teacher was to be believed, and I took my boyfriends out. They couldn’t keep up with me.
Since then I have been fortunate enough to have worked for Arrow Electronics, Symbol Technologies and Olympus of America, to name just a few.
Today I work for a forensics lab with some of the most amazing scientists, molecular biologists, chemists and brilliant minds this world has ever seen. I am not only their resident hacker and sysadmin but I’m also just a hacker who loves our craft dearly.
But nine years ago when I got back to hacking full-time (I was involved heavily in the scene in the late 90s, early 00’s), my life took a turn for the worst with the death of my stepfather. He got up for work on August 19th, 2008 and an hour later fell over and I was awakened by my mother screaming for me. I lived in the apartment downstairs. I ran upstairs to see her performing CPR on him. An hour after that he was gone.
Then the recession hit. I was out of work. Things got bad. They got so bad we had to suck the oil out of our pool’s oil tank during one blizzard because we ran out of heat. You know that heating program the former (now deceased) president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, had for poor people? Yeah, thanks to him we were warm that year. I don’t care that he was a tyrant. He kept my mother and I from freezing to death. I mourned him for the proper three days and every Winter, I say a silent prayer for him, in thanks. I am a witness to at least one act of kindness he did in his life.
I will spare you the gory details which followed in the subsequent years but suffice it to say, if something could go wrong in my life then, it DID. Every day it seemed like a new nightmare unfolded. I got my car repo’d, lost a temp job I took just to try and stay above water, was literally eating Ramen soup at night and trying desperately to keep my mother, who has an inoperable non-cancerous brain tumor which has caused her to go almost blind, from losing her mind as I was quickly losing mine.
I had a skill, you see, and I couldn’t fucking use it to save my immortal soul. I sent out applications EVERYWHERE. I got a rejection letter from Walmart where the hiring manager expressed surprise that I couldn’t find a job based on where I had worked previously. He thought I was trolling them. I called his office and begged him in a voicemail and said “I will clean your toilets. I don’t care. I just want to eat a piece of meat next week.”
He didn’t call me back. I don’t fault him for that. I wouldn’t have either. I sounded batshit insane. And, honestly? I probably WAS.
I came dangerously close to ending my life when we were forced to leave our home due to foreclosure. We had just three weeks left before the sherrif was coming to evict us when we FINALLY found a place to live.
You just could never know how soul-crushing it was to have been SO successful in my life and not be able to save my mother when she needed me the most. This is a woman who was told she would never have a child, she kept trying, gave me life, supported me through every scrape, every heartache and the ONE TIME she needs me, I was an epic failure.
Not that she ever said but I lost sleep every time I thought about how I must’ve been a collosal disappointment.
All my savings were gone. I sold every piece of jewelry, every computer, everything that had any SPECK of value and none of it came close to what was needed.
But then one night, five years ago now, bleary-eyed and exhausted from another horrible day that always repeated itself and never got better, I happened upon something written by Tavis Ormandy about this site Crackmes.de (It’s down right now but hopefully will be back up soon!) and how he reversed this app.
I had always been a fan of Tavis so if he was touting the site, I knew I had to be a part of it.
I immediately signed up and cracked my first crackme a week later. I jumped around, I was so excited!
The rest is too long to list. I’ve probably bored you enough already. Tavis recently followed me on Twitter and expressed gratitude for something I wrote to him. I was hysterical when I got the notification because he could never know what he did for me and what he represents to me, as a result.
I told him he was one of my personal heroes and what he doesn’t know is that he is as much responsible for saving my life as hacking in general is because if he hadn’t intrigued me with what he had written, I never would’ve tried to reverse the executable myself. I never would’ve done half of what I’ve done since if it wasn’t for him.
When I cracked that exe, I had hope again. I had a point of reference. Something to look forward to. Not the inevitable misery of the next day. Thank you Tavis. Really, man, you’re my savior!
Now let me tell you about another personal hero of mine and the true reason for this post.
His name is Jobert Abma. He is the Co-Founder of the bug bounty program coordinator company, Hacker One. And he is an amazing human being! Three days ago was Jobert’s birthday and he sent out a tweet saying that if we told him why we decided to become hackers, he would reward three of us with some really awesome swag.
Without thinking of how it might be perceived (and that it was the poor man’s birthday and I maybe shouldn’t be writing something as awful as I did), I wrote how hacking saved me from opening my wrists in a bath tub.
It was the truth. It was knee-jerk. Poorly timed. I felt horrible and said so to another hacker on Twitter that I should’ve checked myself. But Jobert’s tweet struck a chord with me. It was in that moment, reading it, that I remembered cracking the Crackme and how uplifting a feeling it had been. I said I owed hacking a debt and that is also true. It truly saved my life.
Jobert has since reached out to me and picked me as one of the winners of his amazing generosity!
I want to thank Jobert for believing in me, a complete stranger, and for taking the time out of what has to be a busy day for him to write me what he did. It was beautiful. I haven’t stopped crying some two hours later now after receiving the notification. Thank you Jobert!!!
The hacking community may be vast in numbers of actual hackers but we are still close-knit and we support one another. Look at how the community came together to support MalwareTechBlog Marcus Hutchins! I am amazed daily at all the awesome things hackers do for one another. At times it is a thankless job. Most of I.T. is, to be quite honest. We bust our asses, solving impossible problems, for individuals, who, through no fault of their own, cannot truly appreciate the gravity of our work and research because they don’t understand the technology they use which we are always on hand to fix.
But we do understand it and they need us, even if they don’t always like to admit that.
Jobert’s company, Hacker One, has a mission to bring hackers and companies together on a level playing field to ensure that hackers get paid a fair enough wage for finding vulnerabilities and companies don’t have to worry about 0-Days ruining their stock prices because some hacker didn’t disclose properly and RESPONSIBLY.
I’m not a marketing person and I probably did a terrible job of explaining what they do but please trust me when I say that what they do is very important.
I participated in Hacker One’s collaboration with the DoD during Hack the Pentagon.
They are good people.
Doing great things for humanity.
Support them and thank them, when you can.
In closing, I sent Jobert an email thanking him personally but I wanted the world to know how happy he made me tonight. This was the best birthday gift ever! If Jobert should ever need my help, he only need ask me and I’ll be there for him. Whenever. Wherever. Don’t care what it is, I told him I have a saying that we have to give back what we take.
So thanks again Jobert, from one hacker to another! Together, we do hit harder!
I will endeavor to use your gift to do good for the world like you do and hopefully make you proud!