It would not be inaccurate to say that Adrian Lamo is a child prodigy when it comes to hacking; he knew how to hack even before he could legally drive.
His life as a professional hacker started off on the right track as he hacked to help people and companies by exposing any loopholes on their network. In other words, he was a respectable white hat. However, no one is safe from the tendrils of cybercrime. During the course of his work, he stepped over the line when he hacked into The New York Times' network. He was subsequently punished.
One of his most memorable childhood memories is that of figuring out how to make both sides of a floppy disk writable. This happened during his computer exploits when he was just eight years old. "It was quite the discovery for me," he said.
Interestingly, in spite of being far more talented at hacking compared to his contempories, Lamo was least interested in impressing his peers. He hacked only for the sheer joy of hacking and the learning experience. Deeply fascinated by the hacker culture, he read everything he could about the culture before encountering it during adulthood. When he finally made contact with other professional hackers, he realized that working in a team did not suit him and his solo career began.
His incomparable prowess as well as his unconventional and unorthodox style earned him a reputation among high-profile companies and employers as a hacker who worked outside of rules. His skills enabled him access into high-profile and very well-protected networks owned by companies like Microsoft, America Online, and many others. He could have dealt severe damage to these networks if had wished but his intentions were always good. Each and every time he penetrated these supposedly “impregnable” networks, which was very often, he would contact the network administrators to tell them exactly how he did it and suggested safety procedures for them to implement.
His career was going well until, in 2002, he made the mistake of hacking into The New York Times' network to access its contributor database. Unlike all his previous exploits, this particular hacking was not at all accepted well. Apparently he had managed to gain access to all the social security data of many high profile public figures and celebrities including former US president Jimmy Carter, former United Nations weapons inspector Richard Butler and Hollywood actors Robert Redford and Warren Beatty. Worse still, the database included home phone numbers and other personal details.
From being a purely technological matter, this issue went out of his control as the very privacy of all these influential people was at risk. As a result warrant was issued for Lamo by the US authorities. He had no choice but to turn himself in and he pleaded guilty to one charge of computer crime.
"I'll either get prison, or house arrest," Lamo said at that time. "I hope for the best ... [and] will make the best possible experience out of any sentence that's handed down. No experience we ever have is wasted." The hacker finally got sentenced to six months' home detention as well as two years of strict probation by a federal judge. He also had to pay $65,000 in damages.
He said that he never did and never will draw a clear distinction between real life as well as online exploration. “I try to see things differently, no matter what venue I'm in. I'd be just as likely to spend the morning talking to a stranger who just got out of city jail, buy him breakfast, and learn about his life, as I would be to break into a company ... or just randomly explore the Net. It's all the same principle, the same desire to see things that other people gloss over in their daily lives."
Referring to his sentence, he said, "Actions have consequences. I never thought it was inevitable, but I always knew that something like that could happen."
"Lamo's Adventures in WorldCom", by Kevin Poulsen
Adrian Lamo Fan Site
He Hacks by Day, Squats by Night
Hackers: Under the hood: ZDNet Australia: Insight: Security