The Million-Dollar Hacker
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The Million-Dollar Hacker

This is a classic Nissan Skyline. It might look like just another car, but owning one of these makes you an instant star
among car enthusiasts. And this guy’s so rich,
he owns two of them. He affords these luxuries
not by toiling away at a nine to five job like the rest of us, but by breaking into websites
and getting paid for it. My name is Tommy DeVoss and I’m a hacker. The businesses Tommy hacks are headquartered in cities
like New York and San Francisco. But Tommy works out of suburban Virginia and when I went to go
see him over the summer, he was crashing at his mom’s place. Her kitchen doubled as his office. Most of the time, if I
tell somebody I’m a hacker, the first thing they say is either, “really” or “no you’re not because real hackers don’t admit that they’re hackers.” Do people think that you
do it for bad reasons? Yeah, people like ask me, “hey, I think my
boyfriend’s cheating on me, can you help me break into
his phone so I can find out?” But Tommy’s not gonna break into your boyfriend’s phone because all the hacking
he does is legitimate. In arrangements called
Bug Bounty Programs, companies like Verizon and General Motors, pay him to look for security
holes in their systems, so they can fix them
before the bad guys get in. When you find one of
the ones that you know is gonna be like five or $10,000 payout, it’s just, you can feel
your heart racing faster and it’s just like doing drugs. I don’t want to go too into detail on… In comparison with that, it’s just, you get that same sorta rush. For some time now, tech companies have
employed legitimate hackers to test their systems. But over the last decade or so, bug bounty hunting has
become much more organized, thanks to the merchants of websites that match freelance
hackers with businesses. The prize money has now gotten big enough to make this an actual career. What’s the most money
you’ve made on a bug? A single report is $20,000. What about in a single day? A single day, $160,000 in October of last year and I think that only took three or four hours worth
of actually working. So if you were to average it out, how many hours a week
would you say you work? Five to ten. Five to ten hours a week? And how much money have you
earned over the last year? This year? $636,000. What do you think is the thing that makes you so good at it? Just the fact that I’ve
been doing it for so long. I thought Tommy was gonna be something like a lawyer or a doctor. Tommy was very, very smart. And he was so much ahead of
everybody else in the class. In our classes, you could
play on the computers when you finished all your work. I’d finish my work in 10 minutes and then just go play on the computer. It didn’t take long for Tommy to fall in love with the Internet, and one day he stumbled into a chatroom where people talked about
their illegal hacks. They taught him their tricks and he started hacking for fun. The first time he got caught
was when he was in highschool. He was expelled, spent a few
weeks in juvenile detention and was ordered to stay
away from computers. But he didn’t listen. We got into NASA computers, the US Courts, Department of Energy, anybody that had huge budgets that shoulda had secure
systems but didn’t. And he was caught, once again, but this time, as an adult. Most of these right here, I got in prison. I got prison bars there, razor wire, a guard tower. I’ve got the word hacker on my stomach and then VA. In federal prison,
everything’s geographical and I was from Virginia, so. Tommy served a total of about four years behind bars. The judge told me, if I get
arrested for computers again and come to his court, he was
gonna give me life in prison. And in 2010, right
before his 27th birthday, he got out for good. For a long time, the
only jobs Tommy could get was cooks, working in restaurants, that was about it. Nobody would hire him because
he was a convicted felon. But by 2016, a few Bug Bounty programs
were up and running and Tommy gave it a try. He explained it to his mom like this, I get to hack again. People were gonna pay me
instead of sending me to prison. She didn’t believe me. She was like, “are you sure you’re not
gonna get in trouble?” He’s been in trouble three times for this and how am I supposed to know that he might not be tempted
to do something again? For most people, bug bounty hunting is
still more of a side gig than their primary source of income. You get paid only when you’re
the first to report a bug and even those payouts
don’t amount to very much. On one platform, called HackerOne, the vast majority have earned
less than $10,000 over time. But if you’re really good,
you can make a lot more. Out of HackerOne’s 5000 contributors, Tommy’s among just six
people who’ve earned more than a million dollars. So this is where all your money goes? Yeah. My insurance appraised it at $89,000. You know your mom told me not to do this. Oh God! Oh my God! The way this car vibrates, it does not feel safe to me. It’s not vibrating. Tom still gets the
occasional speeding ticket. Oh God. But when it comes to computers, he says he’ll never cross the line again. Can I have a hug? The prospect of spending
the rest of my life away from my daughter, there’s nothing that can
make that risk worth it. You’re gonna drive with daddy, okay? She’s now the most
important thing in the world instead of me. You gotta push the button to start it. Ready? Turn it this way. I wanted her to be a hacker but her mom wants her to be a dancer. There you go. I just think it’d be fun for
me and her to hack together. Turn it this way a little bit. No the other way, don’t run into daddy’s car. Please don’t hit daddy’s car. Please don’t hit daddy’s car. There you go. Good job! She’ll get anything in
the world she wants. Pound it! Pound it. It’s gonna really end up
costing me a lot more, so I kinda have to hack a lot more I think as she gets older. As more and more of
the world moves online, cyber attacks are only gonna grow in frequency and sophistication in the havoc that they’ll
wreak on our lives. And that means were gonna need a lot more of the good kind of hackers testing our systems to
make sure we’re safe. But Tommy won’t pretend his
motivations are all that noble. The fact that we’re securing the Internet, it’s a nice side effect but I do it for the money.

About Earl Carter

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100 thoughts on “The Million-Dollar Hacker

  1. For our last episode of the season, we spent a few days with Tommy. I love stories about second chances like this one. Hope you enjoy it too!

  2. All the people talking about Tommy "Smoking" I definitely think he got this habbit in prison and sooner or later he'll be done with it ..
    it's true that people can never appreciate somebody success and always try to find faults in others just to put themselves on ease of not making it like he did. My 2 cents

  3. I have a message for him, don't smoke before your daughter. Because she means everything to you. Also try to quit smoking. I did it successfully.

  4. This guys made that much money, but we aren't going to mention the fact his laptop seems to have a battery bulge lol

  5. Everybody is a gangsta until some stupid negga from the prison make you the most shitty tattoo on your back!

  6. bug bounties also can get you in trouble, he has to go and get a legit job. I had 3 years for that cuz reported critical bug in Facebook

  7. His secret: an extremely high raw IQ. He modestly claims it's just the time he spent doing it, but not everyone can do this.

  8. It's kind of a shame that the laws of this country are almost always both made and enforced by the technologically illiterate.

  9. He worked way more than 5-10 hours a week to get where he is now, he can't say otherwise. In that case It'd be a lie.

  10. Wow glad to meet with ur story brother never had a gud opinion till date to be frank till date… But u change everything for me in real… 😍😭Now i want to learn hacking from u… If u can teach me 🙂

  11. there is something off with this story. It seems he had one big year.. and he claims he only works 5 or 10 hours a week? People i know are virually continuously thinking and reasearching and learning new things. And alls of that time needs to be included in over all hours working. However, for a hacker that time might not be considered "work" but something fun to do.

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