Hacker Crackerby David Chanoff, Ejovi Nuwere
Like other kids in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Ejovi Nuwere grew up among thugs and drug dealers. When he was eleven, he helped form a gang; at twelve, he attempted suicide. In his large, extended family, one uncle was a career criminal, one a graduate student with his own computer. By the time Ejovi was fourteen, he was spending as much time… See more details below
Like other kids in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Ejovi Nuwere grew up among thugs and drug dealers. When he was eleven, he helped form a gang; at twelve, he attempted suicide. In his large, extended family, one uncle was a career criminal, one a graduate student with his own computer. By the time Ejovi was fourteen, he was spending as much time on the computer as his uncle was. Within a year he was well on his way to a hacking career that would lead him to one of the most audacious and potentially dangerous computer break-ins of all time, secret until now.
Before he finished high school he had created a hidden life in the hacker underground and an increasingly prominent career as a computer security consultant. At the age of twenty-two, he was a top security specialist for one of the world's largest financial houses.
Hacker Cracker is at once the most candid revelation to date of the dark secrets of cyberspace and the simple, unaffected story of an inner-city child's triumph over shattering odds to achieve unparalleled success.
The offspring of a drug-addicted mother and a largely absent father, Nuwere found solace in performing and protection in gangs, recognizing early on that in Bedford-Stuyvesant, "your life can go away at any time. You have to be prepared." With the encouragement of an assistant principal at his middle school, he began tinkering with computers in the early 1990s, eventually learning enough about them to become a neighborhood resource, an entrepreneur, and then a 14-year-old whiz-kid at a startup Manhattan Internet provider. At the same time, Nuwere was loading his own machines with pirated software, cracking into systems around the country, stealing credit card numbers online ("I was so completely ignorant of these things that I assumed everyone who had a credit card must have a ton of money"), taking an honored place in the hacker demimonde, and from time to time getting caught. At the ripe old age of 17, having managed not to get thrown into jail, he became a security consultant and began catching fellow hackers at their online shenanigans; as we leave our narrator, he is busily closing backdoors, ferreting out sniffers, mastering karate and OpenBSD, and—in a nicely developed turn to this coming-of-age tale—getting a Wall Street brokerage’s system up and running again in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. The account is well intended, though repetitive and sometimes unfocused; Clifford Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg (1989) and Steven Levy’s Hackers (1984) are far better, if now dated, glimpses of the shadowy world of computer hacking and contain more circumstantial detail forreaders with knowledge of computers.
Nonetheless, Nuwere’s version is noteworthy as an account of a techie’s sentimental education—and a testimonial to the power of positive, if sometimes illegal, thinking.
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Read an Excerpt
Bed Stuy, Do or Die
I didn't know my mother was dying, even after I called home and talked to Grandma. For the last two years Mom had been in and out of hospitals, whenever her AIDS got really bad. But she had always recovered. Just a week earlier she had been hospitalized in Virginia, where she was visiting my aunt, which should have meant she'd most likely be okay for a while before the disease came around and hit her again. Maybe I should have been more worried -- in Virginia she had almost died. But I talked to her the day she got back and she sounded pretty good. So I wasn't expecting her to have to go back in anytime soon. But when I called home Grandma told me she was at Woodhull Hospital and she was pretty sick. That I should go visit.
On Sunday my uncle Osie picked me up at my place in Harlem in his little red Toyota. As we drove we exchanged a few words, mostly about my new computer security job with one of the city's largest brokerage firms. But it was pretty subdued. We'd both been through a lot of hospital visits and we were psyching ourselves up for this one. I was thinking how much I hate hospitals. I'd rather visit someone in jail ten times than go to a hospital once.
At Woodhull we went in past the security guards and took the elevator up. Walking down the narrow corridor toward the room I saw a guy lounging against the wall with two or three of his friends. Neighborhood thugs, same as the ones I'd been seeing all my life. Woodhull's in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, next to three different projects, Marcy, Tompkins, and Tilden, where a lot of tough-guy rap artists and big-time drugdealers come from. Home of the famous saying "Bed Stuy, Do or Die." Not far from Grandma's house, where Osie and I both grew up.
Osie and I walked by, almost brushing them -- this hallway was a kind of narrow side corridor, not one where you could make a wide detour around someone. Glancing into the open door of the room opposite, I noticed three or four other guys inside, visiting. They all looked like hoods.
On the car ride down from Harlem I had prepared myself to be encouraging. Mom was sick, but I planned to put on a happy face and try to help her make the best of it. The moment we walked into her room I saw I had been fooling myself. She was lying in bed with the sheets tangled around her thin, haggard body. As Osie and I stood there, she kicked feebly at the top sheet, as if she was trying to get it off her. She didn't look quite alive. Her eyes were closed and sunken. She seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. When we came up to the bedside she opened them halfway, but she wasn't looking at us or at anything else in particular either. I was thinking, This isn't really her; she's already gone. Her legs were moving again, trying to kick the sheet off. She was murmuring something in a low, hoarse whisper. When I put my ear down close to her I could hear her saying, "Mommy, Mommy."
I tried to talk to her. "This is Ejovi, Mom. It's Ejovi, your son." She seemed to understand. She asked us to take her to the bathroom. They had her wearing an adult diaper, but she wanted to go to the bathroom. We couldn't, though, she looked on the edge of death. We thought that if we tried to pick her up she would just die in our arms. Seeing her like this was enough to break your heart.
I watched, thinking to myself, This isn't really my mother I'm looking at. This isn't her. I was near tears. I always tell myself, You have to be strong. You can't show weakness. The moment you show weakness is the moment you become vulnerable. But I could feel the tears coming, so I walked to the entrance of the room, trying to look casual, my back to my mother and my uncle. And I started crying. I held my fisherman's hat to my eyes to wipe the tears, hoping Osie wouldn't notice.
Finally I turned back around and walked toward the bed. I'm sure Osie knew I was crying, though he didn't look at me or say anything. Instead, he had his head down near my mother, talking to her. She seemed to be listening, but she wasn't able to respond. I looked down, then had to turn and walk back to the door. She had been so beautiful, my mother. In high school she was a dancer and an actress. If she hadn't had me when she was sixteen maybe that's what she would have become. When I came back to the bed we talked for a while, Osie and I did. I knew she understood we were there and who we were, but all she could say was that she wanted to go to the bathroom. She was moving her arms and feet, kicking off the sheet we kept putting back. When finally we said we had to leave, she said, "No, no."
Osie is a quiet man, the kind who keeps his emotions to himself. Maybe we both have those genes. Somehow we both got it ingrained in us that there's no point in displaying your feelings, especially low feelings, the kind that will bring other people down. I was thinking, I can't stand seeing my mother like this, in this awful place. I was in a state of shock, numbed. But Osie's grief was coming out in anger ...Hacker Cracker. Copyright © by David Chanoff. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
David Chanoff has written about literary history, education, foreign policy, and other subjects for such publications as the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, and The New Republic. His thirteen books include collaborations with former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, former chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Crowe Jr, and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Ejovi Nuwere is a graduate of New York's junior High School 117, the High School of Professional Performing Arts, and, more important, the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was a prominent computer hacker under several handles before becoming a security specialist for one of the world's largest financial firms. He was also a national San Shou kickboxing champion. He currently lives, works, and trains in Osaka, Japan, and New York City.
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