Born: February 20, 1981 – Malden, Massachusetts
Died: March 14, 2018 – Wichita, Kansas
Adrian Lamo (Adrián Alfonso Lamo Atwood) was born in Massachusetts and eventually went to high school in both Colombia (his father was Colombian) and San Francisco, but did not graduate. He took to computers at an early age and was said by his mother to have a “gifted analytical mind and a natural curiosity.”
Often sparring with his teachers, he was expelled after a fight with a teacher who Lamo had embarrassed by solving an “insurmountable” computer problem.
Lamo was known as “homeless hacker” because he was always on the move, coach surfing, and squatting, often “passing the night in abandoned buildings or under the stars.”
In 1995 he began working for fledgling internet company, America Online, on an online forum called “PlanetOut.com,” catering to gay and lesbian users. His job was to spend a lot of time chatting on the forum, keeping people on the pages for long durations and thus keeping advertisers happy.
Lamo eventually began providing his service as a “white hat” hacker doing vulnerability assessments for large companies. Sometimes his work was authorized and sometimes not, but his services were free.
Most of his “missions” were done from internet cafes. His laptop was said to be an old laptop that was “missing 7 keys” and Lamo went under a variety of monikers on instant messenger: Protagonist, Bitter Geek, AmINotMerciful, Unperceived, Mythos, Arcane, truefaith, FugitiveGame.
His “MO” was as follows: “Find security holes; offer to fix them; refuse payment in exchange for help; wait until hole is patched; alert the media.”
Hacks included the companies like AOL Time Warner, Comcast, MCI Worldcom, Microsoft, SBC Communications and Yahoo.
In February 2002, he found an open proxy on the N.Y. Times network and hacked into their intranet where he was able to access contact information for everyone from Yogi Berra to PLO head honcho Yassir Arafat. More than just contact information The site also listed Social Security Numbers and other PII. As a prank Lamo also added his own contact information to the files.
In August of 2003 the federal authorities issued an arrest warrant for Lamo for the N.Y. Times hack. In 2004 he pled guilty to the hack as well as other hacks against Lexis Nexus and Microsoft. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $65,000 fine.
In 2010, Chelsea Manning (formerly Private Bradley Manning) made contact with Lamo via instant message and revealed that she had leaked video of a military helicopter attack in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of 12 people to WikiLeaks. She had also handed over thousands of confidential classified diplomatic cables to Assange’s organization. Lamos promptly turned her into the FBI claiming he wouldn’t have turned her in, “If lives weren’t in danger … He was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air.”
From that point on Lamo became persona non grata in the hacker community. People from Julian Assange to Glenn Greenwald (lawyer and journalist heavily involved in the Snowden case) labeled him a “snitch,” and “a very disreputable character.”
Continuing his life paranoid and often in hiding or in psych wards and and caught up in a cycle of drug abuse and domestic violence, Lamo died in Wichita, Kansas on March 14, 2018, cause of death unknown.
- In life one of his favorite hobbies was exploring abandoned mines and underground sewage networks.
- In 1999 he was ordained a minister in the Universal Life Church.
- Lamo claimed he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but many feel it was a just “fashionable” self-diagnosis.
- A 2002 segment on NBC News where Lamo demonstrated his ability to hack into it’s internal networks on air was never aired with NBC fearing legal repercussions.
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