We want to shed some light on the topic of "What is a Hacker?". We're selling privacy with Duple, and Greg developed the technology himself, and he's a hacker. So I've decided to interview my Co-Founder.
You can watch the video here
Me: So... what is a hacker?
Greg: A hacker is mainly a philosophy of living. It’s based on challenge, freedom, and curiosity. It's been around since the beginning of computers and IT, and it originally described people who were ingenious enough to make the system do something it was not supposed to do. So people with high skills and high knowledge.
With Hollywood, though, it evolved into criminals, so new terms were invented to differentiate between the people who do illegal stuff and the ones who don't. Since the terminology changed it evolved into three categories: "Black Hats", "White Hats", and "Grey Hats". The Black Hats do illegal stuff- they're criminals. Then the White Hats are at the other extreme of the spectrum. And finally the Grey Hats are in-between.
Me: Is this the highest level of IT there is?
Greg: Probably, yes. Because to be able to work in security, that requires you to know how the system works from one end to the other. You need to understand how the system works entirely. And that's really hard to do because you need high knowledge in every discipline of IT. You also become obsolete very fast, so you always have to learn new stuff, because the system is always changing. So it’s really hard to keep up with the knowledge you need.
Me: An example of what a White Hat does?
Greg: What most White Hats do is called ethical hacking: you get hired by companies to test their defence. You basically attack the company, legally. So it can be as simple as trying to access their system from the outside, getting inside their computers. You also have techniques more complex and sophisticated: from trying to infiltrate them physically, social engineering, that involve interacting with people, being disguised, to plugging in microphones, spying devices on their network,... A lot of things that are actually really fun to do!
Me: What about "Black Hats"?
Greg: "Black Hats" can try stealing your credit card information, to take money out of it or to sell it. They may steal databases to sell them on the black market, etc. Then there's more high tech stuff: selling exploits, i.e. weaponized numerical weapons on the black market. With the iPhone, for example, if you have an exploit to actually access one remotely, it goes very high on the black market; I think now we may be talking about millions.
Me: When did you become a hacker?
Greg: My father put me on a computer when I was 3 years old, and he taught me how to program when I was 8. Since that time I got interested in security. When I was 10 I was analyzing how viruses work. My best period was between my 15-25 years old, since I was basically able to access everything around me, and hack into anything I wanted. During that time I was working for the police, the Ministry of Defense, private spying companies for governments on classified projects. It was a fun period and I learned a lot. But I got tired of the security world, in the end you don't have much freedom when you're in it. So I decided to retire from being a security expert and I switched to startups, since the startup world can give you the three main cores that I was mentioning: challenge, freedom, curiosity.
Me: Why do you think there's such a bad connotation with the word "hacker" nowadays?
Greg: I'd say mainly because of Hollywood. They show what was originally called a "cracker", which they now use to describe what is a "hacker", so the terminology shifted, because of Hollywood. But as I was saying, being a hacker is a philosophy of living, and it's knowledge. Knowledge is not good or bad, it's just how you use it. Some people use it to steal money, some people use it to do better stuff.
Me: We're selling privacy with Duple. Private data storage. And you're a hacker. Which we've seen tends to have a negative connotation. Some may still see you as not trustworthy. And that’s a problem when you’re promising privacy. What do you have to say about this?
Greg: I can understand. But remember that a hacker is a philosophy. It's mainly about knowledge. And it’s how you use your knowledge that defines whether you’re a good or bad person.
And I will go even further: Who else is more suited to design and develop a privacy and secure way of storing and sharing your data, than an IT expert who worked at a high level in the spying world? Who else is going to make a better high quality product in security than a security expert?
And from the point of view of trust, you've got two things: Firstly, the product was originally designed for myself, at the beginning it was not intended to be commercialized. It was mainly because we noticed that a lot of people around us were also interested in it that the project started. But Duple was made for me at first and I'm the first user of it. I don’t want anyone snooping around my data, and I don't want my data to get out. The product is designed to protect privacy and to be safe, not to attack users. Then, another point: you may be able to get away with selling user data in the short term, but in the long term you're going to destroy your reputation, and lose your credibility, it is going to get out one way or another. So it's not something intelligent to do, not to mention it's highly unethical. And finally, our business model is designed around protecting user data, so if we do a bad job at it, we don't make money!
Me: Can you give us an example when your actions were maybe not entirely legitimate as a hacker?
Greg: Well everything around it is based on secrecy and classified information, so that's a bit delicate to do.. but I can tell you some fun stuff: For example, there was a period when I was having drinks with my friends and colleagues and I used to grab their phone, access through their passcode/fingerprint security, take a picture of myself and put it as their background, and then put the phone back without them noticing (even though they were literally in front of me). So just as an example to tell you how easy it is to do whatever you want with the things around you. If you think about it: if I’m able to do that, I can also install some application and some backdoor on your phone to spy on you. And that's even faster, because in that case I don’t even have to take a picture of myself before!