In 2000, some of the biggest websites in the world crashed, including Yahoo, CNN, Amazon and eBay. The cyberattack paralyzed the sites for hours. The person behind it was Michael Calce, better known as Mafiaboy, who was 15 years old at the time.
Economic damages from the attack were estimated at several million dollars.
The RCMP and the FBI launched a manhunt.
“I thought they were going to come through, flying through the window, guns drawn, the whole nine,” Calce said while speaking in Edmonton Thursday.
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“Yahoo’s stock really started plummeting, the damages kept increasing and increasing, and then Janet Reno was on a podium [saying], ‘We’re going to get this kid.’ It was pretty scary stuff.”
The search ended two months later with Calce being apprehended at his parents’ home in Montreal.
He was tried and found guilty of 55 counts of mischief and sentenced to eight months in a youth detention centre and a year of probation. As a young offender, he was only known in the media by his online alias “Mafiaboy” to protect his identity.
But in 2008, Calce revealed his identity to the world by releasing a book entitled Mafiaboy: How I Cracked the Internet and Why It’s Still Broken, in which he discussed his fascination with computers and learning how to be a hacker.
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On Thursday, Calce spoke at the ISA Automation Expo and Conference (AEC).
Calce is now 30 and is using his hacker expertise legally, working as a cyber security consultant for major banks and corporations.
While in Edmonton, Calce shared his story and talked about how he first got introduced to computers. He said his dad was awarded weekend custody of him as a child, but didn’t know how to entertain his son so he brought a computer home from work and let Calce play on it.
When AOL first started, Calce signed up for the 30-day free trial, but started to panic when that month was ending.
“In a panic, I looked through the AOL program and there was actually a tool in there that would allow you to appear as if you were an AOL administrator to the other users. So I came up with a little idea. I started messaging users and my exact message was: ‘due to a power outage, I would like to verify your login and password.’ I couldn’t believe it but the first four attempts I got four people’s account information.”
In addition to sharing his story, Calce addressed current cyber security issues.
He also offered his top six security recommendations:
1. Download a good anti-virus firewall
“It’s as easy as one, two, three,” Calce said, “and it can add a very good layer of security.”
2. Pick good passwords and change them often, whenever you buy a new toothbrush, for example
“Make it as complex as possible and change it every so often.”
3. Research online privacy and security
“Put some time into it,” Calce said. “We’re on social media all the time, what would it do to take an hour out of your day to research better practices?”
4. Be aware and conscious of online banking and what you’re using your phone for
“People don’t realize that a keylogger on your system can give a hacker access to everything you’re doing… You’ve got to be very vigilant.”
5. Update your operating system
“All your software should be constantly up-to-date because they’re working on fixing what could potentially be a vulnerablility.”
6. Only connect to Bluetooth when you’re in the vehicle
“Bluetooth technology is almost like WiFi at this point,” Calce said. “It’s becoming a detriment. I know a lot of people have it on their phones and it’s active at all times… There are literally hackers who will sit in cafés and just get passerbys and steal as much information as they can.”
READ MORE: Customer, employee information breeched in River Cree Resort and Casino cyberattack
“Michael’s first appearance in E-town could not have been better timed,” AEC director Bob Bahniuk said. “The recent cyber attack at the River Cree Resort & Casino has reminded Edmontonians that cyber security is a very real issue.”
The ISO (International Society of Automation) Expo and Conference is the largest instrumentation show in North America.
“We put on, every two years, the Automation Expo and Conference,” Blaine Barnes, the president of the ISA Edmonton Section, said. “We have a lot industry folks in Alberta that are oil and gas related, or pulp and paper, power generation, really any industry that uses automation to keep the plants and facilities running and producing the products Alberta is known for around the planet.”