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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


It would be almost another year before the cops finally picked up Rivera. The whole experience suggests the scenes in the last half of Goodfellas when Ray Liotta gets all twitchy as the FBI dragnet begins to close. It may be a slow-moving train, but the advancing whistle’s never far from one’s ears.

“It’s miserable. It is the worst. To say you’re constantly looking over your shoulder is an understatement. Driving home, every new car freaks you out or anybody you don’t recognize,” says Rivera. “Nobody should have to live like that. At about the seven-month mark you start to feel comfortable.

‘Maybe this isn’t going to happen.’ You start to try to ease back into normal life. And then they hit you.”

Rivera was finally arrested in August of last year. He called his mom and his bosses Rick Harding and Darren Cummings at Cummings Engineering; they told him that whatever he did, he should own up to it, they’d stand behind him. That was his plan when he reported for questioning the next day, but it was clear pretty quickly from the evidence they showed him that his friend had given him up. That disheartened him as much as anything else.

“That’s a little upsetting. That people are willing to take each other down for the sake of maybe half a year or a year less time,” says Rivera, who wound up with the very same sentence as Kretsinger.

Time to Think

When Rivera was arrested, UAT revoked his scholarship and kicked him out of school. But Harding and Cummings kept their word. They hired him on and promised him he’d have a job with them when he got out. To Harding, Rivera just fell prey to an industry lacking appropriate training platforms for its future employees.

“The reason white hats end up starting as black hats is because the world currently is not set up to provide training for hackers who want to develop their craft in a space that is safe and legal. So what ends up happening is that, typically, young kids get seduced to the dark side because they have no place else to go,” says Harding, who spent 10 years working on U.S. black programs before going into commercial enterprise two decades ago.

“The government knows that the best guys to get to fight cyber security are the guys who were on the dark side for a while and [they] grab those guys,” he says. “They’ll not grab someone that is just a white hat because he doesn’t know enough.”

Rivera’s a very good programmer and was one of the best at UAT. That’s why Cummings brought him on as an intern. But Harding says it was who Rivera is as a person that led them to hire him on full-time as a software security engineer.

“What really caused us to invest was one, his honesty and second, his humility. He said, ‘I screwed up, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to make this right.’ He wasn’t trying to hide anything,” Harding says. “I can only reflect on when I was 18 and some of the decisions I made that by the grace of God I didn’t get thrown in to prison for some of it.”

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