0x80, pronounced X-eighty, is the name of a hacker interviewed by Brian Krebs of The Washington Post. During the interview, 0x80, aged twenty-one at the time, discussed his use of botnets to make money via adware. The interview was published on February 19, 2006 with the headline "Invasion of the Computer Snatchers." 0x80 agreed to the interview on the condition he was not to be identified by name of his hometown. However, after it was published, metadata from an accompanying photo revealed the location it was taken as Roland, Oklahoma, a small town with a population of 2,842. Photos with the revealing information were scrubbed from The Washington Post‘s website shortly after.
The interview reveals how 0x80 targets vulnerable computers, infecting them with viruses to build "botnets," large networks of computers that he uses to make money. 0x80 states in the interview that he doesn't use botnets for denial of service attacks and doesn't use sensitive information about the users of infected devices:
See all that info? I don't use it, and I don't sell it like a lot of guys I know do. That's too risky.
0x80 instead makes money by seeding botnets with spyware or adware. When installed adware serves pop-up advertisements and mines data about user's online browsing habits. Botnets are used to relay millions of pieces of junk e-mail or spam. 0x80 installed spyware surreptitiously without sympathy for his victims:
All those people in my botnet, right, if I don't use them, they're just gonna eventually get caught up in someone else's net, so it might as well be mine... I mean, most of these people I infect are so stupid they really ain't got no business being on [the Internet] in the first place.
During the interview, 0x80 states he controls more than 13,000 computers in over twenty countries. The morning of the interview he installed spyware on a few hundred PCs of the 2,000 vulnerable systems his system had discovered overnight while he slept. 0x80 states he makes on average $6,800 per month but has made as much as $10,000.
Throughout the interview, details about 0x80 were revealed, including the following:
- Is twenty-one years old
- Smokes cigarettes
- Blond hair (at least blond-looking hairs on his arms)
- Lives with his parents in a “brick rambler”
- Mother is “really Christian”
- Has a dog, “A small dog with matted fur”
- “Accent a slurry of heavy Southern drawl and Midwestern nasality”
- Is skinny, “wiry frame”, “tall and lanky”
- Is a high school dropout
- Was an AOL customer 7 years ago
The interview also states:
He lives with his folks in a small town in Middle America. The nearest businesses are a used-car lot, a gas station/convenience store and a strip club, where 0x80 says he recently dropped $800 for an hour alone in a VIP room with several dancers. He tells his parents that he works from home for a Web design firm.
After the Washington Post article was posted online, metadata in an accompanying photograph showed it was taken in the small town of Roland, Oklahoma, with a population 2,842. The article ran with a modified photo of 0x80, and users on Slashdot discovered this image, taken by photographer Sarah L. Voisin, which had not had its metadata removed, revealing when (December 2005) and where it was taken, who the photographer was, and even what kind of camera was used. All photos in the article were removed from the Washington Post's website.
Invasion of the Computer Snatchers
February 19, 2006