At just 19 years old, Federico Jaime infiltrated a complex computer security system and in just 18 minutes obtained a record amount. Days later, Jaime returned the money and left an unexpected message.
A couple of weeks ago, news circulated on some international portals about a 19-year-old Argentine hacker who had stolen 200 million dollars from an English bank, and who contrary to what usually happens in the vast majority of these cases, had returned the total amount of money. Even one saver received much more than they had lost due to the touching words they shared.
To put the situation into perspective, this was the largest hack in history carried out by a single person, and the “attack” lasted just 18 minutes, followed by a series of communications between the parties. The total amount obtained was returned 23 days later, leaving as a golden touch to the maneuver a message revealing his identity and encouraging the practice of “Ethical Hacking”, that is, the one carried out with the aim of revealing the flaws of a computer security system.
After learning some details of this story, I began trying to contact Federico by all means. After a couple of weeks of persistence, I managed to get a response from him and we started talking through a channel he considered safe, finally agreeing after a few days to answer some questions, but in exchange for not revealing my identity, the medium by which we communicate, and the place in the world where he currently is. He explains that he should not need to behave this way but due to some malicious and false rumors, he prefers to be cautious at least during the first few months.
I must confess that if I didn’t know his age and wasn’t looking at the face of someone who recently stopped being a child, I would bet I was talking to a seasoned academic, when in fact it is a self-taught person, who does not yet have any university degree.
Here are some excerpts from what I’ve been able to learn about Federico Jaime, the Argentine hacker who left much of the world speechless.
- Would you like to tell us a little about your story and how you gained the knowledge that makes you considered a hacker today?
I wouldn’t say I’m a hacker. It is true that for years I was interested in cybersecurity; and that since I was nine years old I’ve been playing with computer systems. And I have quite a bit of experience. But it was never more than a hobby. A hobby I learned from reading, imitation, and trial and error.
- Could you explain to us what the difference is between a white hat hacker and a black hat hacker?
Yes, of course. The black hat hacker is the one who steals your credit card, the one who sends you a fake page to get your home banking password, the one who sends you emails with viruses… in short, the black hat hacker benefits from causing harm to people or societies. The white hat hacker, on the other hand, practices what is called ethical hacking; he works for the common good, getting ahead of the black hat hacker, and quickly warning the company about the harm that could occur, or helping the affected person. It’s thanks to ethical hackers that computer systems are more secure every day.
- Since you are evidently in the top tier category, could you tell us what inspired you to carry out the maneuver?
It was March and since February I had been studying Ethereum. At one point the security side caught my attention, and I wanted to apply my experience here. So a friend passed me a list of interesting projects and I started reviewing their smart contracts.
- Why Euler Finance and not another digital bank?
Among these projects was an English lending platform, Euler Finance. Looking at it, I found the modular system of their contracts very interesting, and, becoming familiar with it, something caught my attention: a function to donate user money to the common fund. And there an error shone, and in a matter of two sleepless days, I created the program that hacked Euler Finance.
- In simple terms, how were you communicating with the fund managers?
I communicated with them through the blockchain and by mail. I have to say that they were always very frank and cordial. That’s it.
- If I’m not mistaken, this is the biggest hack in history carried out by an individual. Did you really believe the result was going to be what it was, or did you expect another amount?
It is true that it is the largest act of financial hacking done by an individual in history. But it’s also a hack to a company reviewed six times by different companies that gave it the “okay” in terms of security, and couldn’t find the error. And no, I didn’t expect it could be done until it was done. It was almost accidental, really.
- Is there anything you regret?
No, although probably some things could have turned out better.
- Beyond personal assessments that each person can make, this represents a historical milestone. As the author of it: what message would you like to leave for posterity?
The same one I left on the blockchain: don’t be naive, don’t steal. A small mistake can ruin your life.
- What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to return to Argentina and continue my studying. It’s pretty difficult for me to be stuck in a place.
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