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March 20, 2014

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White-hat hackers misunderstood for long

CHEN Liang, who successfully hacked into the latest Windows and Mac operating system at the Pwn2Own international hacking contest in Canada last week, has thrown the spotlight on professional white-hat hackers.

“Not all hackers are thieves or crooks. White-hat hackers are in the business to do good. People have for long misunderstood this industry,” the 28-year-old information security researcher told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

“I also misunderstood them as unwanted troublemakers until I was in the university doing a major in Information Security Engineering,” Chen said.

White-hat hackers spot flaws in software or systems that enable their makers to make the necessary correction or upgrade their products. Black-hat hackers, on the other hand, use the flaws to break into computer networks or systems to steal information and cause damage, he said.

“It would be profitable as a black-hat, but it is also immoral and illegal. You have to pay the price because it is against the laws.

“I don’t want to risk myself since my family is well-off and I don’t have to worry about money,” Chen said.

Chen, who was born in 1986 in Shanghai, got his first personal computer in 1996. Instead of playing games like children of his age, he was fascinated with the machine.

It eventually led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Information Security Engineering at Jiao Tong University. He also bought a lot of professional books and papers to build his excellent computer skills.

After graduating in 2008, he joined Microsoft as a staff member of security response center, collecting and analyzing bug reports from individuals and organizations. At that time, he found that exploring vulnerabilities and flaws in a system’s security was so interesting that he often talked about it with some of his colleagues.

Chen and some of his colleagues walked away from the well-paid job and started Keen Cloud Tech in 2011 with some information security engineers at Google, Intel and other companies.

He said while working for a particular company, they could only study their own systems and software. But having  their own business meant they had opportunities to probe other areas Apple computers and mobile phones systems.

Having helped a lot of companies with their security checks and submitted hundreds of flaws to system and software vendors, Chen said that he was most proud of his successful attempt against the Mac OS at the Pwn2Own contest, the only success since 2011.

“I prepared for it for almost 3 months, sleeping only 3 to 6 hours a day. I lived with my parents in Nanhui so that I could concentrate on programming and didn’t have to waste time on housework,” Chen said.

Concentration is very important for hackers and it comes at a cost. Chen said it hurts relationships and his girlfriend left him because he could not devote enough time to her.



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