Former hacker warning teenagers on dangers of cybercrime

A former hacker sacked after bypassing his employer’s security system has teamed up with police to help steer teenagers away from illicit online activity.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 8:00 am
Tom Johnson, who works with police to steer teenagers away from cybercrime.

Tom Johnson was formerly a ‘grey-hat hacker’, highlighting vulnerabilities in systems, hacking security systems, writing programmes and scanning overseas computer servers.

As a teenager, he learned how to copy and pirate games, write programmes to bypass security settings, and more.

But at 17-years-old, he received a visit from two police officers, friends of his mam, who scared him into using less internet.

Tom said: “When I got my first job, the boss told me I wouldn’t be able to bypass the system but to a hacker that’s a challenge – so I wrote a programme which captured about 60 passwords, including the boss’s – he wasn’t impressed and I got sacked.

“Then I spiralled. That’s when I started looking at how to access computers overseas.

“The knock on the door really scared me. I had an addiction and no moral or ethical compass.”

Tom, who stopped using computers for several years, added: “It’s a totally different era now – one small mark on your record means you’ll never get a job in the industry because it’s based on trust and that’s what many young people don’t think about when they’re messing around.”

Tom, 42, has a degree in advanced computing and works with Northumbria Police’s cybercrime unit to help steer talented youngsters away from becoming cybercriminals with no morals or ethics.

The father-of-two said: “We need to train them, inspire them and show them what’s out there. There are so many skills we can tap into it’s important we nurture that.”