Harnessing the talent of ‘Hackerville’ for good
19 June 2019
Source: Thomson Reuters, June 12
"Imagine a town, a very quiet town, up in the mountains. It's a very small city, and suddenly something starts to change, people start to have expensive cars like Ferraris, Porsches and BMWs," sets the scene Madalin Dumitru, CEO of Cybersmartdefence.
Welcome to Râmnicu Vâlcea - two hours from the Romanian capital Bucharest - otherwise known as 'Hackerville' having earned itself a reputation as one of the most dangerous towns going online.
Perhaps no surprise then that Madalin Dumitru, who grew up here now runs a successful cyber security company often hiring former black hat hackers.
It's places like this that have put the country and Eastern Europe on the map as a hub for cyber criminals trying to steal your money and your information hacking everything from lawmakers to the Pentagon.
"The preferred targeted countries of the cyber criminals in Romania are the United States and Western Europe," explains a senior police inspector from the Romanian cyber crime unit.
And in a place where one-third of the population lives in poverty, the lure of big bucks is too tempting for some.
To a question about how much hackers in the village make, Mr Dumitru says that black hat hackers earn around 50-60 thousand dollars per day.
HBO even created a drama called Hackerville set in Romania. Caught up in it all is a 14-year-old gamer. That's a message that hits all too close to home here. It's the next technically savvy generation that is particularly vulnerable to the lure of cyber-crime. This Romanian police campaign tries to steer youngsters away from the dark side of the web.
"The young kids were looking up to those guys who were having really nice cars, really nice properties, and somehow the young kids were seeing in those cyber criminals some models. I think that was one of the reasons why cyber-crime in Romania reached at some point such a dangerous level," explains a senior police inspector.
The police say young kids, often gamers, also like to make a name for themselves and then brag online. That might have been how one of the world's most wanted hackers, Razvan Cernaianu, got caught when he was in his early 20s. He now works with Dumitru but before that he claims he hacked some of the biggest names in tech.
He says he didn't do it for the money but for the fame and after telling his friends his online name 'Tinkode' it was eventually traced back to him.
He's an example of the deep well of talent in eastern Europe.
And he's from the same generation as the youngsters responsible for putting Ramnicu Valcea on the map as a global hacking hub.
But nearly a decade on since 'Hackerville' hit the headlines Dumitru says he's opening an academy to harness the next generation's cyber talent...for good.