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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


Rivera owns his punishment and accepts that he “was an idiot.” But he chafes a little at the $605,663 in restitution he’ll have to pay, as he presumably tithes the Federal government for the rest of his life. Rivera must give 10 percent of his yearly gross income to recompense Sony Pictures. But for what really? No credit cards were used, and none of their computer equipment was damaged. This is an ongoing travesty in the way the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is written.

“Largely to appease a lot of people [who] look after their stock price, Sony got two top-of-the-line cyber security firms to do a top-to-bottom on their network to the tune of $605,000,” explains Rivera’s lawyer Jay Leiderman. “Most of these are resolved via pleas and sometimes the damages are negotiable. In Rivera’s case it was ‘we’re not doing anything on damages.’ You can argue that they’re not legit, but the way the law is written, the government is going to impose those damages, which is kind of crazy.”

In a sense, Rivera’s lucky. In 2010 gray hat hacker Andrew Auernheimer exposed 114,000 iPad users’ email addresses to highlight a security flaw in AT&T’s system and received 41 months, though he’ll only pay $73,000 in restitution to AT&T. Internet prodigy Aaron Swartz faced 50 years for downloading scholarly journals before killing himself in what many see as an act of protest.

Right now, Dallas journalist (and once the unofficial spokesperson for Anonymous) Barrett Brown faces 105 years, mostly due to the First Amendment-challenging contention that linking to a public site with hacked information containing, among other things, stolen credit cards was the same as stealing those cards. Each, including Rivera, has been made an example in a cyber crime crackdown that’s featuring increasingly draconian punishments for comparatively innocuous crimes, and very little of the proactive “white hat” training that people like Harding advocate.

Moving On

Rivera has a couple books for his reading list, and has gotten some advice from the side of his family with some knowledge of “life on the inside.” They offer the expected timeworn apothegms along the lines of: keep your head down and nose clean, but don’t be a pushover. Regret’s a daily challenge for him.

“There are days I’m like ‘oh my God, I’ve destroyed my life,’ but then there’s nothing I can do about it. If it’s nothing that I can change, then I just don’t worry about it. What’s going to happen is going to happen, but I’m trying not to let it ruin right now,” he says. “Knowing at least coming out I’m going to have a job and that way I can start paying everything off and try to get everything back restarted, that’s something at least.”

Rivera’s also hoping to do some outreach when he returns from prison. He wants to reach out to kids like himself, though he’s under no illusions about how he might be received.

“I understand people’s ideals and what they believe in. I’m not going to tell them ‘don’t do it,’” he says. “I understand that if you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it. Just understand this is what happens after. Everybody gets caught eventually.”

Though Anonymous can at times seem like a bratty, petulant bunch, they also possess that idealistic, rebellious streak a nation needs to stay vital. On Tuesday, November 5, when they celebrate Guy Fawkes day with a Million Mask March on Washington, they’ll be doing it in a small way on behalf of people like Rivera, who poked his nose somewhere where he shouldn’t have in an effort to get smarter. For that he got his nose smacked, perhaps harder than it needed, and certainly misplaced relative to the real threats. Nevertheless, the 18-year-old who fell in with the wrong crowd looking for a little knowledge discovered he wasn’t so smart as he thought. A valuable and humbling lesson, however one receives it.

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