The Youngest Troublemaker

By Nicholas Jackson

11:20 p.m., Friday, June 10: This story has been updated to reflect Microsoft's denial that they offered to mentor or employ the 14-year-old hacker in question. Also, an earlier version of this story included a photo of a boy that we identified as the hacker. Based on e-mail exchanges we had with a woman who said she is the mother of the boy in the photo, we do not believe that the boy depicted was in any way involved in the attack on Microsoft. We regret implying that he was.

On Thursday, Business Insider assembled a gallery of the "young troublemakers" who received job offers after hacking into Facebook, Apple and the websites of other big-name companies. Included in that slideshow was a boy they called Jake, a 14-year-old from Dublin, Ireland, who allegedly broke into the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 servers and started a phishing scam to collect user information.

Microsoft had first thought that the hack was related to the attack on the PlayStation Network that came after Sony's decision to take the young hacker George Hotz to court. Like Anonymous' decision to bring down the Visa and Mastercard websites in response to the cold shoulder they gave WikiLeaks, the PlayStation hack was the latest in a string of attacks made in retaliation for an action and not, as so many others are, simply for the lulz.

After discovering that the hack wasn't related to the Sony problem, Microsoft issued an alert. The news quickly made the rounds on hacking portals and some alternative weeklies, but went largely unnoticed in the mainstream press; it was overshadowed by the PlayStation network outage.

Jake, Business Insider and other sites claimed, is now working with Microsoft. "According to the managing director of Microsoft in Ireland [Paul Rellis], the company is helping the hacker 'develop his talent for legitimate purposes,'" Hacker News reported. "Rellis delivered his keynote address during Bank of Ireland Business Week," TekGoblin added. "Rellis revealed that Microsoft planned to work with the Dublin teenager." But Microsoft denied the story, adding that "the company has not offered to mentor or hire a 14-year-old from Tallagh who purportedly was related to a phishing scheme," according to a representative for the software giant.

Even if Microsoft refused to work with the young troublemaker, many hacking websites argued that this is exactly what they should have done -- and what Sony should have done with George Hotz. Clearly Hotz is a talented programmer -- he's also responsible for first jailbreaking Apple's iPhone -- with considerable skill navigating Sony's networks. When Hotz broke into Sony's network so that he could play PlayStation 2 games on the PlayStation 3 console, he was committing a crime, but it wasn't one that hurt Sony in any significant way. When Sony decided to sue, an army of hackers took down the company's network. All of that could have been avoided, but should we be rewarding, and even encouraging, hackers?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/the-youngest-troublemaker/240203/