[ISN] The 'homeless hacker' talks

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue Sep 16 2003 - 04:38:09 PDT

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    By Declan McCullagh 
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    September 16, 2003
    The past two years have been a wild ride for Adrian Lamo: The
    22-year-old has publicly taken credit for tunneling into networks
    belonging to Yahoo, Microsoft, Excite@Home and WorldCom.
    But unlike a typical electronic intruder, Lamo would inform the
    companies exactly how he gained access--a move which let them repair
    the security vulnerability he exploited while sneaking in. Some of his
    targets even went so far as to call him "helpful" for offering advice.
    All that changed in February 2002, however, when Lamo took credit for
    breaking into the network of The New York Times and snagging a
    database of about 3,000 op-ed contributors. That incident eventually
    led to a pair of federal criminal charges against Lamo and his arrest
    and appearance in district court in Manhattan last week.
    Lamo is known for a radically mobile lifestyle with no fixed address
    that's led to him being called the "homeless hacker." He likes to
    wander the United States on Greyhound buses, sleeping on friends'
    couches and, when necessary, camping in vacant or derelict buildings.
    Now his homeless days are over. U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman
    said last Friday that Lamo could be released on $250,000 bail, but
    only if he agreed to stay with his parents in their home near
    Sacramento, Calif.
    CNET News.com caught up to Lamo at the airport last Thursday and
    interviewed him on the way to surrender himself at the FBI's New York
    field office.
    Q: When you were poking around inside The New York Times' network, did
    you ever think that you'd end up here today?
    A: I can't comment on which systems I may or may not have entered in
    the past.
    You've told reporters many times in the past that you've entered
    corporate networks without permission. Did you?
    Certainly not. (laughs) Yes, yes, I have.
    When you were entering those unnamed systems, did you ever think this
    would be the result?
    I always knew it was a possibility, but I always expected better of
    the government.
    How so?
    I expected them to allocate their resources in a meaningful and
    worthwhile way. I really just expected that they would know better
    than this. I don't see what they are trying to accomplish here, who
    they think they're going to help, what precedent this will set. It
    doesn't matter how much restraint you show or what good faith you're
    trying to act in. There's no point in bothering at all. They'll come
    after you regardless. And as such, really, where is the motivation for
    anyone to behave honestly?
    But if you violated federal criminal laws, isn't this a perfectly
    reasonable response?
    It's a perfectly appropriate response under the letter of the law, but
    I don't think it to be a reasonable response...I believe it has been a
    waste of resources. The sheer number of agents it took to stake out my
    parents' neighborhood could have been doing many, many better things
    at that point in time.
    So your argument is that they should have been trying to find
    kidnappers or al-Qaida members?
    That's not something that I seek to use as a defense. It would be
    crass of me to invoke the whole "Why aren't they looking for
    terrorists" thing. I'm not going to do that. But I do think that they
    could have been doing something better.
    You could have done some things differently to avoid being here today,
    I believe that everything that has brought me here has been in its own
    way part of the design for the world around me, and I have faith it's
    going to work out for the best.
    So you believe in fate, not free will?
    Not at all. I believe that history tends to itself, the universe sees
    to itself, and that we are all equally facets of the universe. And
    even as the universe sees to itself, we contribute to its evolution
    and everything that we do causes a ripple that makes it a better
    place...That's the closest thing I have to a belief in a higher power.
    So you don't think if you had chosen to publicize your exploits a
    little bit less, things would have turned out differently?
    I think that things could have turned out differently if I had acted
    differently. But I think to act in a way other than what I feel I was
    here to do during my time would have been spiritual fiduciary
    Are you mentally preparing yourself for a possible prison sentence?
    Faith manages.
    That's your favorite saying. What does it mean?
    It means that nothing we do is wasted and that in the universe that we
    inhabit, it's a closed system under the laws of physics in which
    energy is never destroyed and everything that we do is redistributed
    and recycled to the place it should be.
    I don't think it's my place to question these things. They may be
    unpleasant, but I've had good times and now I'm having bad times and I
    intend to see them through.
    How long do you think these bad times are going to last?
    Really as long as I continue to see them as being bad times. My time
    in the custody of the federal marshals could have been a bad time.  
    When you go in there, the people in that small holding cell with you,
    it really does look like people out of a bad prison movie. But the
    reality was that just giving them a chance to be real human beings,
    they all warmed up conversationally. They were all being very
    supportive. They shared their advice and their experience and their
    troubles and what brought them there. We shook hands as best we could
    through our shackles on the way out.
    Not just handcuffs, but shackles?
    Actual honest-to-god shackles.
    What was it like?
    Everybody on the side of the U.S. Marshals was doing a job. Some of
    them were helpful, some of them were not. Some of them tried to get a
    rise out of me, some did not. One of the marshals, when offering me
    food, addressed me as "hey, thug." To the inmates, you're one of them
    and you're in it together.
    (The experience let me) do exactly what I always said that I'd do:  
    take confinement and turn it into a learning experience like anything
    else. I think that the government feels that they can take away what I
    do by restricting me from computers and forcing me to get a job. But
    I'm of the opinion that they can't even see what I do. It's so
    inherently alien to them that they really don't even understand or see
    it well enough to restrict it.
    You've mentioned that some of the Feds been treating you
    decently--that is, not as harshly as they could have. Is that true,
    and if so, why?
    I really couldn't speculate why except that perhaps I have a
    reasonable prosecutor. I also like to think that he has really
    unknowingly been passed inaccurate information by The New York Times
    in terms of the facts that they've given him. And once the truth comes
    out, he may revise some of his standpoints.
    As a condition of your release on bail, you're supposed to get a job
    or go to school. Which is it going to be?
    I'm considering going to school part-time. If I get a job, it will not
    be security-related. I have no intention of letting them whore out my
    talents at their command. If I go to school, I intend to go to school
    for general education in preparation for a career in law or
    What news organization would you want to work for?
    You know, that's a great question. It's really hard to say because
    there are very few for which I really have a great deal of respect.
    You're friends with Kevin Poulsen and Kevin Mitnick, who are both
    reformed hackers. Do you see either as a role model?
    No, I do not.
    Are you hoping for a legal defense fund?
    A legal defense fund has been set up for me by Darcy, Kevin Mitnick's
    girlfriend. I'm not soliciting donations and I'm not asking anybody to
    do so...
    But you're not objecting to them...
    No, I'm certainly not in a place in my life where I can tell people
    who want to give me money not to. We like to hope that the defense
    fund will cover some of our expenses.
    Is any of this a lesson to other folks, like younger would-be hackers,
    who might look up to you?
    I like to think that nobody would see me as a role model because I
    don't think there's necessarily value in repeating what's already been
    done. They should do something that's not been done before.
    It sounds like you think the law is there, but it's irrelevant when
    you feel it interferes with what you want to do.
    Not at all. I understand that the law applies to me and actions have
    consequences. I'm here today because I'm willing to face the
    consequences of my actions--that is, my alleged actions.
    So you're willing to violate the law as long as you accept the
    consequences. Is that right?
    I'm holding out hope that it will be found at the trial that I have
    broken no law...With the charges as they stand, I do not find them to
    be factual. I will not plead to charges that are not factual.
    You only have two counts against you. Do you have any fear that the
    FBI will investigate other incidents and add more counts?
    If that's the case I'll deal with those as they come. However, if they
    want to charge me for intrusions into companies that have thanked me
    for alleged intrusions, I don't know what kind of career they're
    trying to make for themselves.
    How are your mother and father taking this?
    It's been very hard for my family and those close to me. It's been
    extremely stressful. It's also been a bonding experience.
    Have your parents said: "Look, you idiot, your actions are going to
    cost us thousands of dollars that we can't afford. Our house will be
    staked out again by the Feds and camera crews and we've had to put up
    our home as bond to get you out of jail. Don't do this again?"
    No. My parents support me. They want me to stay out of jail. But they
    also understand that all the things I've done with my life are things
    that were important to me. And they support me in my happiness and
    they understand the value of what I do.
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