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March 24, 2009

Telstra meets hacker, employs hacker

We'd be interested in your reaction to the news that Telstra has put a 19-year-old former hacker on its part-time payroll. As a 16-year-old, Owen Thor Walker came up with his own botnet.

Now he'll be talking to Telstra's NZ subsidiary, Telstra Clear about ... who knows what? Telstra says Walker won't be accessing any computers on the company's network, but he was "very keen to help businesses in their understanding of computer systems and protocols".

Three years ago he helped the owners of 1.3 million computers in the United States, Europe and New Zealand to give him power over their PCs, before the FBI cyber crime investigation unit caught up with him. His botnet was particularly resistant to anti-virus software. He pleaded guilty to six charges, but the NZ High Court did not record a conviction.

The model for this, we suppose, is Kevin Mitnick, who is now on the celebrity lecture circuit and giving advice to big business on how to keep their computers secure. We've heard him speak, and written about him, and he's very good value.

It's a fascinating issue, in our opinion. On the one hand, it surely isn't a great example for would-be copycats. On the other hand, 16-year-olds can do some crazy things, and we don't agree they necessarily should be burdened through life with the consequences. He's got Asperger's Syndrome, so his reality isn't quite the same as it is for most of us. On the other hand, he was at work for two years before being tracked down, and in that time he was busily engaged in controlling his army and fighting botwars.

One year after a court slapped him on the wrist, will he have learned his lesson? In our particular case, we're not sure we started growing up until we were about 60, but we admit to being slow learners.

Posted by cw at March 24, 2009 07:18 PM

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