The FBI went to his high school when the 15 year old Mr. X hacked into the largest Internet company in the world and stole 90 million credit card numbers.
“You are going to jail for a long time,” they told him.
The day after he stole them he sent them back to the company and explained what their cyber security flaws were.
He thought they would thank him.
The FBI came to arrest him. “I was scared to death,” he told me when we first met.
The head of the school, a three star general, told them, “You guys better get out of here if you aren’t writing this boy a check and saying thank you.”
Two years later when Mr. X graduated he got “the call”. The call that meant he wouldn’t go to college.
The call that meant he would parachute into enemy fire, hack foreign governments, hack our own computers. “I’ve done so many things,” he once told me. “You can’t imagine.”
The call from a three initial agency. More than one.
We met at a dinner. We were both obsessed with hacking and the latest flaws in computer security. We ignored every else and spoke for three hours.
And we haven’t stopped talking since.
I don’t mean this to be conspiracy theory. There’s already been rumors about “fake news”, election hacking, etc.
There are bot armies. There are hackers taking down electric grids every day. Every company in the Fortune 500 is completely hacked. Your computer is hacked.
I’ve spent many years talking to people in the security space.
The reality is: the war is on.
And it’s being fought with data. And it’s being fought all over the world. And it’s being fought every day.
Not just on election systems. Or at big companies. But on your computer. And the war is not always being fought by the people you expect. The enemeies we were always trained to believe.
Mr. X spent time in special forces. Was in every overseas battle. Has been involved in more news stories than he likes to admit.
He’s also built and sold two companies using his hacking abilities. He lives a good life now and doesn’t want his voice e or identity to be revealed.
So we distorted it for the podcast.
I asked him, “Do you still work for ‘them’ “.
He turned away and said, “You never stop working for them.”
The goal of this isn’t to scare people. Information is power.
And this is some of what I’ve learned from Mr. X.
1. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A VOICE, YOU HAVE TO SPEAK
“In the past, to go up against an institution, you need to be an institution.” Mr. X said. “Now more than ever, we need to stand up for what we believe in. We have these powerful, engaging tools to influence others, but we still leave it up to the powers that control us to influence us.
If you believe something, share it.
In other words, don’t let the media “program” what you believe in. Don’t let the online word “hack” into your brain. They already know more about you than you know about yourself. And they use that knowledge against you 24 hours a day.
If you want to have a voice, YOU HAVE TO SPEAK.
2. POLICE YOURSELF
We were talking about computer security. He told me all the ways you could be hacked… that you would never think of.
“Let me ask you, when’s the last time you updated your firmware on your router?”
I had no idea.
“If I’m going in, I’m going through the router,” he said. “The majority of the fortune 500 use the same router… So you either trust the government to police data OR you need to be that person.”
And that was just one weakness. Next time you are on your phone check out how many apps on your phone have permission to turn on your video camera and start recording and transmitting what they record without you being aware.
Don’t think they aren’t doing it.
3. HOW DID OSAMA BIN LADEN REALLY DIE?
Was Osama Bin Laden really casually sleeping on the third floor of a building with no access out? Or was he a prisoner and we had lost our use for him?
Mr. X: “he was our prisoner for years. Then we had no use for him.”
Always question everything the media and the government tells us. Always be a skeptic in a world where it’s not in anyone’s benefit to tell you the truth.
This is not conspiracy theory. The only truth is to trust the people you love. The people who love you.
This doesn’t mean be irrational or paranoid or come up with crazy theories.
This means practice being a skeptic every day on every issue.
Practice skepticism. Not paranoia.
4. BE VULNERABLE TO GETTING SHUT DOWN
I knew there were millions of questions I wanted to ask… but couldn’t.
I asked anyway.
“Are you still involved in the government?”
“I can’t say that,” he said.
“Well, which agency were you in?”
“I can’t say.”
“Do people know it?”
“Yes, let’s just say it’s a well-known 3 letter agency.”
Ask. Get shut down. Ask again.
When I do an interview, I don’t want to harass people for an answer. But sometimes if you poke and prod from various directions while you build rapport, you can get the answer.
Not this time.
5. KNOW WHAT DRIVES YOU
Mr. X started hacking when he was in military school.
Everything was regimented:
solute the flag
go to class
change 15 minutes
go to sports
after third mess, 2 hours of study hall, one hour of free time
go to sleep
do it all over again
The school is isolated. And the students can’t leave campus.
The only way Mr. X could talk to girls was if he found them online. “We were heavily confined,” he said.
But he kept hitting firewalls.
So he started hacking. He learned everything he could. Not because he wanted to “attack” websites. But because he didn’t want to be alone.
Always let the prison walls around you create your opportunities.
Censorship created his curiosity.
What frustrates you that can kickstart your curiosity.
6. LEARN YOUR PATTERNS
Mr. X helped find one of the most well known serial killers in recent years and put him behind bars for life.
Mr. X was paid to find patterns. He watched terrorists. The example: “a burn phone.” This is what criminals use to cover their call history. They buy a cheap phone. Call a few people, throw it away and buy a new one.
So Mr. X wrote software.
Someone calls you, then you call 3-4 people. Those 3-4 people call 3-4 more people. It’s a tree of calling. And if they follow the branches then can find the roots.
He analyzed the trees of one billion phone calls a day. He had access to all of our calls.
“Eventually, you realize that if a bunch of random numbers keep calling the same person that all those random numbers are the same guy,” Mr. X said.
People are patterns. Those patterns become your fingerprint.
He used that fingerprint to identify a notorious serial killer. Used GPS to track him down. Now the guy is in jail.
He used those fingerprints to track terrorists. “There were a lot of attacks stopped.”
7. INTERESTS PRECEDE EDUCATION
He wasn’t educated about hacking or even computers. But he was passionate about it and learned everything he could.
“I found something I was interested in… and that was the best education I ever received.”
Find an interest. List every day the things you were interested in as a kid. It’s never too late to learn now.
The one who loves what he does will always learn faster and better than the person who doesn’t love it.
The one in love will compete better against the one who doesn’t.
The one in love will be…happier.
8. TRUST THE INVISIBLE
“You were saving lives,” I said.
“No, I wouldn’t say that.”
But I insisted. Because I feel we all have invisible threads of impact. We help and hurt people in ways we don’t know.
We all have our special abilities. And abilities to help and hurt without realizing. Always be healthy enough to know the difference.
Mr. X got married. Loves his family. Loves his work. “Some of my ex partners never escaped the mindset wer were programmed with.”
Reach for the positive when trapped in a negative.
9. CHOOSE YOUR OWN NETWORTH
Mr. X measures his net worth not by dollars, not by accomplishments or promotions. “My net worth is now in data,” he said.
He comes from hacker culture where the core belief is that information should be free.
Too often, we accept what’s been given to us. “The rules” we were told to live by. The standards were set for us…
But Mr. X proved you can set your own standards. You can choose the measurement of your net worth. Rich in relationships, rich in people, rich in joy, rich in knowledge…
10. LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN
Mr. X found a pattern in his own life. He realized he loved hacking. And he loved detecting patterns. He got the same joy from both.
So he started reading books… and learned everything he could about computers, code, internet, backdoors and so on.
He used those abilities to fight wars. Then to help law enforcement track down criminals. And then to build massive companies that he sold.
I met Mr. X with his wife and daughters recently. I had never seen him so happy.
Sometimes the best pattern is the smile of your daughter. At least I think so.