On Friday, as presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made his way through Iowa, Reuters published what has been called a “bombshell” revelation that O’Rourke was once a member of a hactivist group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc).
While conducting research for his new book, Joseph Menn stumbled across evidence that suggested O’Rourke may been been a cDc hacker, a fact he could not corroborate without offering an embargo deal.
Now that O’Rourke has joined the long list of presidential hopefuls and the books is due to be released, Reuters went live with the news, which set off a cross-sector Twitter storm. Among the many comments, which range from laughable to inflammatory, was one from @keithcalder who called the news “the computer geek version of finding out Bernie Sanders was in the Wu-Tang Clan.”
O’Rourke apparently did not exhibit the same giddiness after the news went viral. According to the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke told reporters in Washington, “It was something that I was part of as a teenager, not anything that I’m proud of today.”
Members of the hacking community also have conflicting opinions on O’Rourke’s hacker past. “I definitely saw the news break, which in the hacking/infosec circles was met with much fanfare – including my own,” said Jeremiah Grossman, CEO, Bit Discovery.
“A candidate who has an understanding of technology is a rare thing. Many in the old-school hacking era did break the law in some way, but the vast majority of activities were completely harmless – motivated by curiosity rather than any malice. Most matured beyond their rebellious youth stage to go onto having incredible careers and contributed massively to society. And still do! I personally know a great number of these types, and imagine Beto to be similar.”
Still, law enforcement have long considered hacktivists akin to criminal hackers. Penetration tester and security researcher Mike Jones told Infosecurity that until recently he was considered a criminal by both foreign and domestic governments.
“The fact that he is running as a legitimate candidate for president is very disturbing. There was a headline in 2016 that called me a ‘cyber-terrorist’ in the UK. It just makes no sense. How can he even qualify for a security clearance?
“There are only a few of us who were ever able to have cleared jobs after we were subjects of investigation. When you look at cDc, they weren’t researchers. They were much like us in anonymous – hacktivists, hackers.”