It’s no secret hackers are a central reason cybersecurity is necessary. Most of them remain in the shadows, however sometimes hackers and the groups they are associated with become well-known. One group to gain notoriety in the 90’s was L0ft, who actually helped shape the future of cybersecurity. L0Ft’s most prominent former member is Pieter ‘Mudge’ Zatka. Mudge is one of the most recognized ‘whitehat’ hackers in the world. Mudge had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Together he and L0ft would change the landscape of the cyber world.
Having an opportunity to be exposed to computers at home in the 1970s was not common for most kids. This is where Mudge had a huge advantage. His father worked on projects for NASA, and would bring home computers and various types of recorded data (1). The fact that there was no way to use the data meant they had to quite literally write their own software. Mudge and his father worked together to write the software and programs needed to effectively utilize all the technology they had available. This was unheard of in 1975. Not many other children on the planet had access to such technology at the time much less a parent who would get granular enough to write software with them. The universe could not have lined up much better to help shape young Mudge’s future.
L0ft was formed from regular meetings of hackers and computer enthusiast in Boston. One of the main topics and common interests of the group was exploits or flaws in software and programs (1). Some of the core members needed a place to keep their hardware so they shared a hat factory with their wives’ business (1). This is where the group really starting to formulate an identity. Mudge came along after the hat business ceased. Once again the universe seemed to smile upon him at just the right time. He was invited to join the group and rent some of the newly available space (2).
Mudge was working at a company called BBN Technologies. They asked him to work on windows which he wasn’t familiar with. Mudge wanted to make sure he could create strong passwords, so he wrote a program to guess passwords which would eventually become L0ftcrack (2). This is where things started to take off for L0ft as Microsoft took notice. L0ft gained notoriety by exposing flaws in computer programs and software. By going this, L0ft helped bring about the concept of responsible disclosure, which is the concept of making organizations aware of a flaw, yet agreeing to give them ample time to come up with a solution before announcing the flaw to the public. L0ft also pioneered by partnering with the government and other organizations to help make the cyber world more secure.
In 1998, Mudge once again was in the right place at the right time. Congress was just beginning to realize the need to regulate internet and computer security. He and the other key members of L0ft were invited to testify before the Senate on computer security (3). This really catapulted them into the limelight. They appeared on late night TV and had articles written about them in major publications. The next logical move would be of course to form a real company. L0ft eventually merged with Stake (4) to form a legitimate company, however it was the beginning of the end. The loose, freethinking culture that once seemed readily on hand was stifled. Mudge, however did not fail to capitalize on the momentum.
Post L0fT Success
Mudge has become one of the most respected cybersecurity experts in the United States. He was appointed a position in DARPA for the Department of Defense to help with their cyber security efforts (5). He has also worked for Motorola and Google. Most recently he formed The Cyber Independent Testing Lab (Cyber ITL) which is a nonprofit organization that independently tests software and systems, and then publishes the findings so consumers can have accurate unbiased information about the technology they are using (5).
L0ft was one of the most well respected hacker groups on the 90’s. They actually wanted to help make the cyber world safer for everyone, and most would agree they succeeded. They helped bridge the gap between the hacker world and society. Mudge’s series highly fortunate circumstances throughout his life put him in a position to become one of L0ft’s prominent members. Mudge continues to have an impact on the cybersecurity world though his work with the government, private companies, and his own nonprofit organization.