At age 19, the Argentinean Santiago Lopez made history: he is the first “ethical hacker” to reach the amount of US $ 1 million, equivalent to R $ 3.8 million, discovering information errors.
“Ethical hackers” are professionals who simulate cyber attacks to test vulnerabilities in technology systems. Also known as “white hat hackers,” the “good” hackers, who provide security services to businesses – as opposed to “black hat hackers,” “evil” hackers who use their knowledge to hack into websites to steal , spying on or spreading widespread chaos.
Santiago’s job is to make systems safer by detecting and solving weaknesses and bugs, software failures. There are many companies willing to pay large sums of money to those who are able to solve these problems.
Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Nintendo, Lufthansa, General Motors and other large companies and institutions hire this type of hacker to improve their cyber security. Many of them are teenagers.
Lopez was able to make a fortune with his computer talent.
So much so that he became a millionaire, with an income that equals 40 times the average annual salary of an Argentinean.
More than 1,600 ‘bugs’
“I helped Twitter, Verizon, private companies and the US government,” he told BBC journalist Joe Tidy. The young man said he feels good knowing that he is improving security on the internet.
“With every bug, you make the internet safer. It’s amazing.”
In total, he has found more than 1,600 computer bugs, which allowed millions of Internet users to be protected from cyber attacks.
He achieved this through the world’s largest ethical hacking platform: HackerOne, a San Francisco-based company, which ethical hackers work for in many countries.
Hackers can receive between $ 50 and $ 500,000 for just two hours of work.
Hundreds of companies have partnered with HackerOne, which has surpassed the record of 100,000 vulnerabilities found. The amount in rewards paid to hackers exceeds US $ 45 million (R $ 170 million).
“The perception about hackers is changing,” said Luke Tucker, director of content and community at HackerOne.
“With the frequency of cyber attacks on new levels, businesses and government agencies are realizing that in order to protect themselves on the network, they need an army of very skillful and creative individuals on their side: hackers.”
“The more companies that join the hacking community, the safer their customers and citizens will be.”
An Unconventional Hacker
“I like to spend the money,” says Lopez, who joined HackerOne in 2015.
Lopez moved house and bought a new car thanks to the money he earned from his work. Now he lives in a private condominium with his own security system.
“It’s more expensive than a ‘normal’ place, but it’s worth it,” he tells BBC cameras.
At his residence, he has a private tennis court, swimming pool and other amenities that he sometimes displays in his Instagram account.
“I do not like being the typical movie hacker with long hair and glasses. I like being a normal guy, but a hacker.”
When asked if he was ever tempted to use his skills as a hacker with other intentions, he says that at first yes. “I was a bit tempted, but a bad deed can get you straight to jail.”
“The bounty hunter system saved me in that regard.”
“I like hacking and I like money, so it’s a good combination.”
He also says that in Buenos Aires he likes to be one more and go unnoticed. Although he has ambitious goals: “My real dream is to have my own company, a great company that everyone knows.”
Every day there are more bug hunters in the world, but Lopez says there is work for everyone. There will always be a new information error to find.
“The race is well disputed, but I hope to win.”