On February 8, 2000, a hacker crippled the websites of Amazon, CNN, Dell, eBay, E*TRADE, Yahoo!, and CNN, causing an estimated $1.2 billion in damages. With huge investments in all these Internet companies, Wall Street reeled in the wake.
The culprit, Mafiaboy, used a DOS (denial of service) attack. He used university networks like a digital army to shut down the commerce servers with more requests than they could handle.
President Clinton set up a cybersecurity counter-defense group. Attorney General Janet Reno declared war on Mafiaboy. When the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the FBI, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police finally discovered that a 15-year-old boy was responsible, it eased no one’s fears.
After many years of silence, Michael Demon Calce finally revealed himself.
“I’m a pretty calm, collected, cool person…”
…but when you have the president of the United States and attorney general basically calling you out and saying ‘We’re going to find you’ . . . at that point I was a little bit worried.
– Michael Demon Calce
“I was a pretty bratty kid,” he said. “I come from a divorced family. My father had custody on the weekends, and he wasn’t exactly sure how to preoccupy me, so he took a computer from his work and brought it home and was like ‘Here, figure out what to do with it.’ ”
By the time he was nine, Calce hacked AOL’s system to stay past its trial and had joined hacker groups.
Guilty as charged–but still all about security
After pleading guilty to fifty-six crimes, the court sentenced Calce to eight months in a youth detention center, a year of probation, restricted use of the Internet, and a fine of $160 (£110 CA).
Today, Calce works as a Canadian IT security consultant and warns that the Internet faces much bigger threats than in 2000. He elaborates on this in Mafiaboy: How I Cracked The Internet And Why It’s Still Broken (2008) coauthored with Craig Silverman and “Mafiaboy: A Portrait of the Hacker as a Young Man” (2011).
“My attacks of 2000 were illegal, reckless and, in many ways, simply stupid,” Calce explains. “At the time, I didn’t realize the consequences of what I was doing.”
Advice from a former hacker
“Twelve years ago, they actually were real hackers. You had to work and build your arsenal of tools,” he said. “These days, they make hacker desktops that you just download, and you have every tool out there on the market. If you’re interested and you want to be a hacker, you can be a hacker in thirty minutes.”
- Long & complex (strong) passwords
- Caution when implementing WiFi
Andrew Parker is an award-winning writer whose books are published on Amazon. His novels are Chess Genius, Robots Running Wild, and Reality Gone Wrong. His short stories are The Chess Match, The Escape, Rat Story, On Being Bullied, Creep, Raggedy Ann, and Three Bears Soup. His next publication will be the first part of the Bitch Trailer Park series.