Much of the world is just learning that every major industrialized nation has a state-sponsored cyber army -- though many of the groups, including team USA, have been around for decades.
I've met a few cyber warriors. As you might imagine, they can't talk much about their duties. But if you work shoulder to shoulder with them long enough, certain patterns emerge. For starters, there are a lot of them. They are well armed with cyber weaponry, and they're allowed to experiment and hack in ways that, as we all now know, might be considered illegal in some circles.
I've been a longtime friend to one cyber warrior. On condition of anonymity, he agreed to be interviewed about what he does for a living and allowed me to record our conversation on a device he controlled, from which I transcribed our conversation. I was able to ask clarifying questions the next day.
We met in person in my boat off the coast of Florida, which might sound very clandestine, except that our primary goal was to catch some fish. It's interesting to note that he did not want me to contact him by email or phone during the months leading up to this interview or for a few months after, even though what he revealed does not disclose any national security secrets. The following is an edited version of our conversation. Certain inconsequential details have been altered to protect his identity.
Grimes: Describe yourself and your occupation.
Cyber warrior: Middle-aged, white male, not married. Somewhat smart. Music lover. Lifetime hacker of all things. Currently working on behalf of armed services to break into other countries' computer systems.
Grimes: What is your background? How did you learn to hack?
Cyber warrior: I got into computers fairly early in my life, though I grew up in a foreign country. My dad split when I was young, and my mom worked a lot. I got into computers by visiting one of the few Radio Shacks near my neighborhood. The sales guy hated me at first because I was always on their computers, but after I taught him a few things, we became good friends for years. I realized I had an aptitude for computers ... that most of the adults around me did not have. By the time I was 15, I had dropped out of school (it wasn't as big of a deal in the country I was in, as it is in most developed countries), and I was working a full-time job as the head IT guy at a federal hospital.
I was hacking everything. I hacked their systems, which wasn't too much of a problem because I was already the head IT guy. They had lost some of the admin passwords to the network and other computer systems, so I had to use my hacking skills to reclaim those systems. I hacked everything: door locks, Master locks, burglar alarms -- anything. For a while, I thought I was a master spy and thief, even though I never stole anything. I would spend all my earnings on buying security systems, install them in my house, then spend all my time trying to bypass them without getting caught. I got pretty good, and soon I was breaking into any building I liked at night. I never got caught, although I did have to run from security guards a few times.
Grimes: What did you like hacking the most: security systems or computer systems?
Cyber warrior: Actually, I loved hacking airwaves the most.