Eight months in a maximum security prison, and then more than a year of probation with no Internet access, and then, on the night of April 19, Kane Gamble was looking at the clock in his bedroom, waiting for it to strike midnight.
Gamble, who was formerly known online as Cracka, was the best-known member of the Crackas With Attitude, or CWA, hacker group. In late 2015 and early 2016, Gamble wreaked havoc by hacking into the personal accounts of several US government officials, including then- CIA Director John Brennan’s AOL email and then- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ‘s home internet account, as well as several US government portals and tools.. At the time, Gamble was only 15 years old.
At the same time, Gamble was caught and sentenced to two years in prison, followed by a ban on using anything connected to the Internet until April 20, 2020. On the night of April 19, he watched the minutes tick by.
The CWA hackers were not the most experienced in the world, but they were loud. For them, it wasn’t about the break-in, it was about the noise they made. In a way, the CWAs were the children of Anonymous.
"Maybe I could put us in the middle?" Gamble told CNN journalist Laurie Segall when she asked how complex the group is. “We are not that stupid. But we are not very smart."
They were so persistent that the FBI warned of "hacktivists" targeting politicians and police officers, clearly referring to a group led by Gamble who claimed to be doing so to support the struggle of the people of Palestine.
The hacking activity came to an end when US and UK authorities arrested some key CWA members, including Gamble. In 2018, a British judge sentenced Gamble to two years in prison, calling him the leader of a "cyber gang" that carried out an "extremely heinous campaign of politically motivated cyberterrorism".
One of the original Crackas With Attitude Twitter accounts. (Image: Motherboard)
“As soon as it was midnight, I started Twitter and connected with old close friends," Gamble told me in a recent chat. “It was a very strange feeling. It was nice".
Gamble is now a free man, having spent eight months in Belmarsh High Security Prison, known as Hellmarsh due to its harsh conditions, and over a year of probation with no Internet access.
“I think it was insane, ha ha,” Gamble said, reflecting on what the judge called him. “It is clear that he was not a cyberterrorist and was completely misunderstood. I think they took it much more seriously than they actually did. Just teenagers messing around on the Internet, I understand that we made a lot of noise, but we were not terrorists, we were just children, and they create problems at that age, I guess."
At the same time, Gamble said he thought a lot about what he did and now regrets it.
"I think a lot of it was more serious than I thought at the time, [I] didn’t realize how serious it was until I was charged," he said. "I’m not that person anymore […] I was young and stupid."
In the past few months, Gamble has said he has been working towards launching a career in the cybersecurity industry, learning as much as he can about web applications, mobile security, and internet infrastructure — "everything that pertains to the role of a pentester," as he puts it. He said he found flaws in two popular messaging apps and was rewarded for bugs found in the company’s programs, which reward hackers and researchers who alert them to problems in their systems.
"I’m older and I’m not interested in crime," Gamble said. "I just want to get on with my life now :)".