The Mirai Confessions: Three Young Hackers Who Built a Web-Killing Monster Finally Tell Their Story

Josiah’s father would take him to their church’s “auto ministry,” where they repaired worshipers’ cars for free and refurbished donated vehicles for missionaries. Josiah stood in a corner of the workshop, waiting for the foreman to give him a task, like reassembling a car’s broken water pump.

Josiah loved to impress adults with his technical abilities. But he was always drawn to computers, which were cleaner and more logical than any automobile component. “You give it input, you get output,” he says. “It’s something that gave me more control.” After years of competing for time on his family’s computer, he got his own PC as he neared his 13th birthday, a tower equipped with a Pentium III processor.

Around the same time, Josiah’s brother, seven years older, figured out how to reprogram cell phones so they could be transferred from one phone carrier to another. Josiah’s brother started doing this type of unlocking as a service, and soon the demand was so great that their father used it to start a computer repair business.

At the age of 15, Josiah worked in the family store after school, setting up Windows for customers and installing antivirus software on their machines. From there, he became curious about how HTML worked, then began teaching himself to program, then began exploring web hosting and network protocols and learning Visual Basic.

As healthy as Josiah’s childhood was, he sometimes felt like he was raised “on rails,” as he puts it, guided from school to home to church to church. family computer store. But the only rules he really chafed against were those set by his mother to limit his computer time or force him to access the Internet through school work and household chores. Finally, on these points, she gave up. “I kind of wore her out,” he says. She relented in part because a practical understanding of the finer details of computing was quickly becoming essential to the family business. Josiah, who now has almost unlimited computer time, dreamed of the day he would use his skills to start his own business, just like his brother.

In fact, like most kids his age, Josiah spent a lot of his time at the keyboard playing games. One of them was called Uplink. In it, the protagonist is an independent hacker who can choose between two warring online movements, each of which has constructed a powerful piece of self-distributing code. A group of hackers are determined to use his creation to destroy the Internet. The other on stopping them. Josiah, not one to do things by half measures, played the game on both sides.

Young person holding an octopus object

Illustration: Joonho Ko

immerse yourself in This cyberpunk simulation – and the discovery of famous hackers like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Kevin Mitnick, who had eluded the FBI in a cat-and-mouse chase in the 1990s – cultivated in the adolescent mind of Josiah a notion of hacking as a kind of secret, countercultural craft. The challenge of understanding technical systems better than their designers appealed to him. So does the subversive, exploratory freedom it offers a teenager from strict Christian parents. When he Googled a few hacking terms to learn more, he ended up on a site called Hack Forums, a group of young digital misfits: innocent explorers, wannabes, and full-fledged delinquents, all competing for weight and money.

On the Internet of 2011, the most basic trick in any unskilled hacker’s playbook was the denial-of-service attack, a brute force technique that exploits a kind of eternal and fundamental limitation of the Internet: writing a program that can to send enough unwanted data to a computer connected to the Internet and you can take it offline.

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