Dylan Wheeler, a computer security and gaming enthusiast who lives near Perth in Western Australia, could very well be in a lot of trouble.
Wheeler, who is in his late teens, is by his own description somewhat of a hacker. He claims to have breached both Microsoft's and Sony's game development networks, extracting software tools used to develop games for the upcoming versions of the Xbox and PlayStation.
Wheeler's escapades have drawn more attention since Perth police raided his family's home on Feb. 19, seizing credit cards, his MacBook Pro, his mobile phone and, all told, about AU$10,000 (US$10,200) worth of technology. Wheeler was questioned but not arrested. He has not been charged with a crime, but an investigation is ongoing.
Like Gary McKinnon, the U.K. hacker who breached NASA and U.S. military systems, and Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last month while facing hacking charges, Wheeler has attracted sympathy from some for actions that could have severe legal repercussions, as prosecutors become more aggressive with computer crime cases.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Wheeler didn't portray himself as someone who got caught. Rather, it's almost that he wanted to get caught.
Police raided his home on the same day that an eBay auction expired that listed a "Durango" PC. Durango is the code name for Microsoft's next Xbox system. Microsoft has a package of software tools that it sells to vetted developers in order to build games for the system.
Wheeler says he placed the listing on eBay under his screen name "Superdae." The listing didn't have a photo, and at the auction's conclusion it allegedly sold for $50,100 after 43 bids were placed.
The listing, Wheeler maintains, was a stunt. "The listing was more for, like, publicity," he said. "It was more just to get people talking."
He continued: "No one pays that kind of price. They bid for the sake of it. There was no obligation to pay." Was he pleased with the response? "Well, I wasn't pleased with the raid," he said.
The eBay listing was the second time Wheeler had provoked Microsoft. In August, he posted his first listing for a "Microsoft Xbox Durango Development Kit." In the same month, Wheeler said, there was a knock at his door. Standing there was Miles Hawkes, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a senior program manager in investigations for Microsoft's IP Crimes Team.
"Miles knocked on the door one day and said, 'Hi, I'm Microsoft. We believe you have a Durango,'" Wheeler said.
The two had lunch at the Hyatt Hotel in Perth, Wheeler said. Over the next few months they established a friendly rapport. Wheeler said he informed Microsoft of several vulnerabilities in its network.
Wheeler, who is studying on his own to pass Cisco network security certification tests, said he scanned Microsoft's IP range and found network weaknesses that would in theory allow a hacker to shut down power to Microsoft server racks, among other problems.
But he said the company appeared never to take him too seriously. That bothers him.
"I could have leaked pretty much any information on the entire Microsoft network," he claimed. "They could have lost a lot more than the specs of a console."
In a statement, Microsoft said it found no evidence that its corporate network had been compromised. The company also said it "did not initiate this law enforcement investigation with this individual, as has been asserted in some of the articles in the media."
Wheeler said he is also responsible for leaking the same type of game development documentation for Sony's forthcoming PlayStation, which was code-named "Orbis." That hack, however, was more difficult than getting inside Microsoft's developer network.
To gain access to the Sony network, Wheeler said, a hacker needs an account that is listed within Sony's IP range. Sony watermarks its documentation so it can be linked to the person who accessed it, he said, "unlike Microsoft, where you can leak entire documentation and you cannot be identified."
Asked if he gained access to Sony's internal network, Wheeler said, "You can say that, yes." He never heard from Sony.
Since Wheeler's plight has become more public, he's attracted an ever-growing number of Twitter followers expressing their support.
He maintains he never sold the documentation he obtained. Wheeler laughed as he described how police asked him during the raid if he had "any large sums of cash."
"I said 'No, of course not,'" he said.
But he does fear prosecution: "At this point, yes. Pretty much any minute they could just come and arrest me."
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