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The $600,000 Joyride: Local hacker and former LulzSec member on why he went to prison

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Rivera and teacher Beatrice Villarreal in a photo from Rivera’s Somerset High yearbook

Photo: , License: N/A

Rivera’s first-place UIL awards in programming competitions


For many people, “hacker” is a pejorative: A shadowy, ill-defined threat or modern scourge that can, without rhyme or reason, wreak havoc on your world. There’s no doubt a kernel of truth to that characterization. But like most boogeymen, the myth sometimes overshadows the reality. Hackers are often nice, slightly rebellious kids like Somerset High School graduate Raynaldo Rivera.

On Thursday, the 21-year old San Antonio native will enter La Tuna Federal Correction Institute in Anthony, TX to begin a one-year and one day sentence for breaching Sony Pictures Entertainment in May 2011 as a member of Anonymous offshoot, LulzSec.

When he gets out, Rivera will face 13 months of home detention, 1,000 hours of community service and restitution of $605,663, all for taking part in what amounts to an anarchic joyride through cyberspace. On this one, LulzSec didn’t even dent the fender. (No credit cards were used, no physical damage done.)

“I wouldn’t use the term ‘joyride,’” Rivera clarifies from his parents’ home where he’s spending his last few weeks of freedom. “I mean, I went in for the knowledge and in the middle of it you get, ‘Oh shit, what am I doing?’”

Rivera continues, “Once I was in the middle of it, sure, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t like, ‘This is exciting.’ … As a kid with computers you’re like ‘it’d be really cool to be a super-cool hacker.’ Then you’re like, ‘Oh fuck, this was a terrible idea.’ But there’s a point where you’re past the point of no return.”

The inquisitive sort, as a kid Rivera would take apart home appliances and put them back together. His mother, Norma Irene Rodriguez, remembers coming home and finding the answering machine in pieces on the floor. By the time he was nine he had his first computer, and by age 10, he’d taught himself to type. He loved computer games, so he taught himself to program.

“I was like ‘OK, how hard could that be?’ So I learned C++, my first language, when I was 12,” Rivera recalls. “Eventually, however, I became more of a fan of writing middleware—code that adds a major feature to games—and I made an audio engine named CAudio. At the time, it was one of the only fully open-source audio engines that allows for full 3D audio. It’s been used in a wide range of games.”

This was around the same time Rivera’s family left San Antonio for Somerset. He has a sister three years older than him and her teenage antics prompted their move. Living in the city was too just too crazy on the family, so they ventured to Somerset, miles out of town, out past paved roads.

“These kids are like night and day,” says Rodriguez. “My daughter is very sociable. She’s a social butterfly. Guys, girls everything, all the time. I’m like ‘I’m tired, take me out of here.’ So we went to the country and everything kind of settled there [for us] and for my son. It was the best thing I could do.”

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