The Gately Report: Black Hat USA Edition — Former Child Hacker Warns of 'Catastrophic' Cyber Event

The cybersecurity community's overall feelings about security posture get worse and worse each year.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

August 14, 2023

10 Slides

BLACK HAT USA 2023 — A former child hacker says Black Hat USA 2023 should have served as a “wake-up call” that “we’re on the precipice of something truly disastrous.”

The-Gately-Report-logo-300x200.jpgPaul Dant, Illumio‘s senior director of cybersecurity strategy and research, is one of many cybersecurity experts we spoke to at last week’s massive Black Hat conference. He started hacking at the age of 9.

“I called it call to action maybe five years ago and now I truly think it’s a wake-up call that’s needed,” he said. “I think conferences like this can certainly provide the forum for that wake-up call. It’s really when people come to a conference like this, are they listening for it? Everybody has different reasons for coming to Black Hat, but I do think it’s becoming more and more of a collective wake-up call.”

While Black Hat grows bigger and bigger, “our overall feelings about security posture in general get worse and worse each year,” Dant said.


Illumio’s Paul Dant

“These ransomware actors started out …with the proclamation that they would not go after health care, they’re not going to go after hospitals,” he said. “That’s been tossed to the side now because they’re financially motivated. We’ve seen so many close calls. We see regional microcosmic aspects of potential impacts to society. When a hospital is turning patients away and sending them to other emergency rooms because they can’t get their computers to work, that tells me we’re really close to something that we don’t want to see, something really catastrophic. I see these security conferences explode every year, more and more, and I hope that we’re reaching that wake-up call where we acknowledge that we are on the precipice of something like that.”

Black Hat USA 2023: Hacking in the 1980s

During our conversation at Black Hat USA 2023, Dant recounted his history with hacking, beginning with his interest in PC games in the mid-’80s.

“I decided that I wanted to start publishing my own,” he said. “I was around 8 [years old] and I taught myself how to code and created a couple of silly games, and started selling them. And my game got cracked by someone that I sold it to and it was my first real introduction into the idea of security. And this is 1987, 1988. Not many people were thinking about it at the time, but it really set my mind onto that path… We talk about hacker culture and exploration, and curiosity. It really was that I didn’t start out with any malicious intent, just kind of exploring and understanding how things worked. But I started to realize the more exploration I did, the deeper into things I could get that I probably shouldn’t have been able to get into. It was probably [when I was] 13 or 14 years old.”

The movie “Sneakers” came out in the early 90s, and that was “kind of a really cool wake up call that I could do this as a living,” Dant said.

“I could have people pay me to break into their things and then show them how to prevent people from doing the same,” he said. “And so that was kind of the child hacker. I definitely got involved in my teens in some things that would be considered illegal activity today. But that’s … your cliche story of getting in trouble in school and then getting hired by the school. That’s what happened. So I was hired by the board of education, I think it was my junior year, to help them start securing some of the challenges with security that I had found. And that kind of is what led me to start doing it professionally. And here we are.”

See our slideshow above for more from Dant and more from Black Hat USA 2023. (Black Hat is part of Informa Tech, Channel Futures’ parent company.)

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Edward Gately or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

Free Newsletters for the Channel
Register for Your Free Newsletter Now

You May Also Like