March 25, 2010

Twitter Hacker Claims Himself A ‘Kind Pirate’

A Frenchman who illegally gained entry into president Barack Obama and Britney Spears' Twitter feeds argued that he is not a hacker, but rather a "kind pirate," saying he was only trying to expose security weaknesses.

The 23-year-old, who was arrested Tuesday after an operation by French police and the FBI, said he did not act with destructive aim. "I wanted to warn them, to show up the faults in the system," he said.

Francois C., an unemployed computer technician, sat in his parents' home in France on Thursday and told reporters of how he broke into the popular micro-blogging site. The Frenchman spoke to AFP on condition that his surname not be used.

Francois made bail and is due to appear in court on June 24 and faces up to two years in prison if he is convicted of the crime.

He operated under the name "Hacker Croll", which was taken from the popular Pacman video game he loved when he was a child. He bragged online about the attacks he made on Twitter.

He said he was able to break into Twitter by gaining access to the mailboxes of the company's employees by "guessing their passwords" or figuring them out by studying their Facebook pages, profiles and blogs.

He cracked the site's administrator codes last April and then got into individual accounts and made screen captures which he posted on chat forums, he said. "Everyone thought it was a joke until Twitter complained," he added.

Francois' mother told AFP that her son had always been reclusive. "I don't know anything about computers," she said. "I knew he spent a lot of time on his computer but I never thought it would end like this."

Francois said he does not go out much and spends a good part of the day -- upwards of ten hours -- surfing the web. He said he attacked Twitter simply to show "that big companies are no more secure than any internet user. That's the message I wanted to get across."

Francois maintains that he is no hacker. Local prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat agreed. "He is not a hacker in the classic sense. He entered a house whose door had been left open."

This is not Francois' first run-in with the law. Last year he was given an eight-month suspended sentence and a fine for gambling online with money that wasn't his, police told AFP.

In July, US tech blog TechCrunch.com reported it received a file containing 310 confidential corporate and personal documents from "Hacker Croll" about Twitter and the firm's employees. They said the documents included minutes of executive meetings, partnership agreements, financial projections, phone logs, and other information. The blog published some of the documents.

Twitter confirmed that the documents had been obtained, but insisted the hacker did not gain access to any Twitter user accounts.