Beto O’Rourke’s secret membership in America’s oldest hacking group

Source: Reuters | March 15, 2019 | JOSEPH MENN

As the Texas Democrat enters the race for president, members of a group famous for “hactivism” come forward for the first time to claim him as one of their own. There may be no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. But is the United States ready for O’Rourke’s teenage exploits?

While a teenager O’Rourke belonged to the oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history.
The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.

Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate.
… his membership in the group could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume. His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government.

An ex-hacker running for national office would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But that was before two national elections sent people from other nontraditional backgrounds to the White House and Congress, many of them vowing to blow up the status quo.

Arguably, there has been no better time to be an American politician rebelling against business as usual. Still, it’s unclear whether the United States is ready for a presidential contender who, as a teenager, stole long-distance phone service for his dial-up modem, wrote a murder fantasy in which the narrator drives over children on the street, and mused about a society without money.

O’Rourke didn’t say what techniques he used. Like thousands of others, though, he said he pilfered long-distance service “so I wouldn’t run up the phone bill.”

Under Texas law, stealing long-distance service worth less than $1,500 is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. More than that is a felony, and could result in jail time. It is unclear whether O’Rourke topped that threshold.

When he was a teen, O’Rourke also frequented sites that offered cracked software. The bulletin boards were “a great way to get cracked games,” O’Rourke said

O’Rourke credits the Cult of the Dead Cow with developing his thinking in a number of ways.

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