Transcription performed by Leah Hervoly www.leahtranscribes.com
[START OF RECORDING]
JACK: [MUSIC] With the right set of eyes you can spot hackers on Twitter. They have a strange image in their bio, something shady or obscure, and they write in Unicode characters and comment on privacy and anonymous tweets. While looking for accounts like that for the show I stumbled upon a Twitter account that went by the name of Finn. It met all this criteria. Their pin tweet read, “I have to go quiet and if you’re wondering where I am, read this.” Then there was a link to a news article which said a high school had been hacked. The article didn’t say much more than that so I messaged Finn. No response. Days go by, weeks. I eventually forgot about him.
A month later I got a reply. He said he did have a story for me so I asked if we could talk on Skype. He said he had no way to do that because he’s messaging me on Twitter through a hacked handheld video game system which was the only electronic device he had. He told me everything else was confiscated. I got the sense that he had gotten into some serious trouble. Another month went by and he messaged me again, this time asking for my number so he can call. I gave him my number and waited. Hours went by; nothing. The next day I got a message that said he’d gotten in a car accident and couldn’t call. A few more weeks went by. I got another message from him saying he’d call me this Friday at 5:00 so I waited by the phone. 5:00 comes, no call.
Ten minutes later I got a message on Twitter and he’s telling me he thought he could make free calls from this hotel he’s in but he can’t, so no call. I gave up at this point, thinking this call just wasn’t meant to be. In fact, Finn’s Twitter account got banned so I had no way to reach him but then he messaged me from another account saying he can call now if I’m available, so I agreed. He called me.
JACK: Hello. Wow, we finally connect.
FINN: I know.
JACK: He gave me the gist of what he had done. I was looking for the WiFi password of my school. I came across more than I expected and was able to access the Twitter feed of the principal.
JACK: The story felt wrong. It felt dirty to me. He was just so young and I felt like if I did this story I would glamorize him and his hacking. I wasn’t even that impressed with what he did. I just sat on this story and didn’t do anything with it for about six months but then I was talking to a friend about this story and tried to see what they thought. They saw it differently than me. To them this wasn’t another hacker story; this was a story about a really smart kid, a different kid, the kind of smart and different that public schools fail because they aren’t prepared to deal with kids like him. So I listened to his story again and I found myself glued to it.
JACK (INTRO): [INTRO MUSIC] These are stories from the dark side of the internet. I’m Jack Rhysider. This is Darknet Diaries. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]
JACK: Just a fair warning up front, this episode contains a lot of bad language. If that’s a problem for you, you might want to skip this one. At an early age Finn found computers to be really fascinating.
FINN: This one day I was eleven. I was home-schooled.
FINN’S MOM: My boss allowed me to monitor him at work.
JACK: That’s Finn’s mother and I knew if I was going to do this story I’m going to need her, too.
FINN: She was able to watch my computer constantly and one day I was messing around with command prompt and I was able to get into her computer. I started, I guess you could say, a normal eleven year old being curious just started messing around. I figured out how to set up a [00:05:00] fake screen. I took a screenshot of my initial screen and I would overlay that over what I was doing.
FINN’S MOM: It looked like he was learning and participating in the classwork but he was off doing whatever it is that he’s doing, somewhere else on the computer. He crashed my computer. That’s kind of when we knew that he had a higher skill set that we had anticipated.
FINN: I’m a huge nerd but it was derived from a multitude of films that I felt like the main character I could relate to, one of them being Tron Legacy. That was the movie that I think really kick-started me before I even know it, into computers.
S FLYNN: What am I supposed to do?
FINN: I have a sister and two twin brothers. I have a baby brother and he’s one years old. Counting me there’s five. I’m the oldest so this all lies on me. I have Asperger’s and ADHD. I have something called visuomotor complex. It’s, I think it’s when – it makes math harder for me.
FINN’S MOM: I was in denial because I’m a parent. You don’t want anything wrong with your kid. Then one day we ran out of medication and that’s when I knew we could never run out of it again. Oh my Lord, he was just everywhere. Literally he was like a ping pong ball, bouncing off the walls. It was just like he went from one thing to another. Even having a conversation with him was like, what are you talking about? But then once he has his medicine it’s more calmer, more focus, more order, and he seems to thrive on the order.
FINN: I remember as a kid we used to live on the worst of the worst side of the city that we used to live in. It was nothing but gang violence. You couldn’t walk down the street at night. Heck, if you walk down the street, you don’t carry anything on your pockets. Don’t wear expensive shoes. Walk barefoot if you have to. It was that sort of bad. I’d say at five years old, that was the last time we were there and we moved to the somewhat okay side of town but still not the best.
FINN’S MOM: He started out of course, regular school like everybody else and then he went to being home-schooled. I had to do a lot of Khan Academy and stuff to be able to teach him things. I thought, I have a college degree. I just thought it would be easy to home-school him no problem but it was quite different. It was quite a learning experience for what it is for a child that has diagnosis that he has, and what it’s like for them to learn.
JACK: Finn started to realize he was good at computers, exceptionally good. Better than anyone else in his family, even.
FINN: Someone needed a problem with a computer, I was pretty much the main IT. Yeah, I think that’s kind of where I got my cockiness from, is when I would help them they’d be like yeah, you did a good job, Finn. Congrats. I would have probably the biggest smile on my face as a kid.
JACK: When Finn has a computer problem he thinks it through differently than others.
FINN’S MOM: He sees things very differently than we do. He sees things in binary numbers, so simple things like adding and subtracting and multiplication, those things seem very easy, very simple for us but for him it seems to be more of a complicated thing. So things that are more complicated for us like quadratic equations or stuff that uses letters and numbers which we have to work at or figure out, they come very easy to him.
FINN: I like to see it as a game. I make mental maps. It’s like what can I do and what will I do?
JACK: Finn bounced around a few schools; public school, home-schooling, private school, but it didn’t matter where Finn would go. He had a hard time fitting in.
FINN: It was always tough in school for me, or anywhere dealing with people, I guess. I was always bullied. It didn’t matter where I went. I could go to church and I would be bullied. I could go to school and I would be bullied. I guess it was because I was shy and I didn’t talk or it was just the way I was dressed or something but I do not look like [00:10:00] your stereotypical African American, I’d say. I guess that’s also what kind of led me to my love of computers. I found more friends on the internet. It’s the anonymity. You and that person don’t know what you both look like so they – it’s to me growing up, it’s like they can’t judge me if they don’t know what I look like.
JACK: In ninth grade Finn moved from private school to a public school.
FINN: The ninth grade, it was fucking – I felt like I was in a war zone. It’s was like if you re-introduce the main character back into society. That’s kind of what it felt like for me. It’s like well, this is odd. I went from having say, around four or five kids in my class that I would become good friends with where now I have seven different classes, twenty different students, nobody that I know.
JACK: Just before switching schools, Finn got a new tablet and it became his primary way of going online.
FINN: I only used my tablet because my family didn’t have a laptop at the time. This was a $52, 62 GB tablet from Walmart. I would compare it to your average [inaudible] tablet. It had an anonymous wallpaper. The apps on it were from this app – I think Bugtroid. It was an app that had a bunch of the apps used for penetration testing. I was definitely addicted to that tablet.
JACK: By now Finn has been in his new public school for four months. He’s made a few friends, mostly outcasts and those kids who sit in the back of the class, and laugh. It’s ninth grade and it’s a week before Thanksgiving, and it’s Friday. He goes to school just like any normal day but on this day everything changes.
FINN: I was fourteen. I remember my day started off with me watching the show Mr. Robot.
JACK: Hello, friend.
FINN: I just recently started watching it. [BELL SOUNDS] My first period was my computer class. The class was boring. You were learning oh, this is the part of the computer. I’m like well, yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Everyone should pretty much know this by now. I would rather watch an ant pick up a leaf then sit in a classroom. I find some of the classes in schools are utterly useless. I was failing my Computer class, ironically. [BELL SOUNDS] My second period was Math and Lord God, did I hate that period. [BELL SOUNDS] Third period is Heath so I’m sitting in that class and we’re watching this video called Supersize Me.
A guy eats McDonalds, I don’t know why anyone would want to do that, but we were watching that video and I got super bored super quick. I’m not into seeing a guy eat, that’s kind of weird. I whip out my tablet. There was another guy who was also a hacker and we both came up with the goal of finding the WiFi password. [MUSIC] There’s two WiFi networks; you have the BYOD which is the Bring Your Own Device policy and then you have the WiFi that was only for the teachers.
JACK: While Supersize Me is playing, Finn and his friends started exploring the school’s network. They started looking at any shared drives and connected folders that were on the school’s network. Finn had found a specific server that seemed interesting.
FINN: The server had a redirect so if you were to type in the search bar, redirect/let’s say Doe, John Doe, it would pop up a little folder of what was on his computer. You were able to see what they had downloaded, what they were holding on their computer, the certain drives, and stuff like that. I was definitely curious as to why was this particular server open. I’m like, this isn’t right. This shouldn’t be open like this. That’s when I started I guess what I like to call my Hulk mode. I went around [00:15:00] looking for any and everything. If something looked interesting I was saving it. What I would do is I would get the folder and open Google Drive on the browser and I would copy and paste the files into there, that way there was no – I guess you could say, paper trail of me actually downloading the files.
JACK: Finn downloads a bunch of files from this shared folder. That shared folder happened to be the principal’s computer.
FINN: I didn’t know the guy was the principal at first. I didn’t know the dude, never even seen him so I thought it was nothing interesting in this but I guess I still will take a look. I’m scrolling down about a 180 files.
JACK: Finn finds a copy of the principal’s hunting license, his driver’s license, and a bunch of the student and faculty information.
FINN: I’m like okay, what more is there? There has to be more than this. I’m at the bottom of the page and there’s this little Word document file titled Passwords. Immediately I face-palmed myself ‘cause I was quite ashamed that this is what it had came to; that someone was saving passwords not only in a Word document but it was unprotected and it was obviously labeled. It was so terrible. I opened the file. I see at the bottom of the text document he has a Twitter password.
JACK: [BELL RINGS] It’s now lunchtime. Finn collects his stuff, heads to the lunchroom, starts looking for his friends.
FINN: You’ve seen Mr. Robot. I would say it’s more like the moments where Elliot’s kind of talking to himself.
JACK: Please tell me you’re seeing this, too.
FINN: I’m in that phase where I’m like okay, I’ve got two options that I could do here. I could go to whoever I can even think of, report this, or I could have a little fun. I’m sitting at lunch with my buddies. I’m still thinking about this Passwords folder ‘cause at this point it’s in my brain. It’s like, come on, dude. Do something. I’m like alright, let’s just see if he really is this dumb. I go through the list of passwords. I tried the first one on his Twitter, doesn’t work. Tried the second one on Twitter, doesn’t work. I make it to, I guess the eleventh one and I’m like, if this doesn’t work then shoot, the guy’s un-hackable. So I enter it in not expecting anything to happen. I look up to my friends who are joking and I looked back down at my tablet and all I see is ‘Twitter would like to use your location. Do you want to allow this?’ All the noise around me just stopped. I’m like, oh shit. This fucking worked. What do I do? It all kind of hit me; I could go to jail for this. That’s where hell breaks loose.
JACK: Finn starts posting stuff on the principal’s Twitter and then quickly deleting it after his friends see it.
FINN: I would post something like ‘God bless the KKK’ or something edgy and then quickly delete it. They were just laughing. Mind you the principal is no-joke, two steps away from us sitting at a table. Everyone was like dude, you’ve got some fucking balls. My little kid self comes out again and he’s like hell, yeah. Next I’m like, what if I went to the website? I went to that school’s official main webpage. I first scanned the page using this app called Admin Panel Finder. It looks for stereotypical admin page logins. I found the one for the website. I knew the principal’s e-mail. Everyone’s e-mail is set up the same. You have lastname.firstname@school. This was pretty common sense type of knowledge so I enter in his e-mail.
I realize, what if he’s using the password for his Twitter for this? At this point I’m already pretty screwed, if not. Why not? I’m more pissed at this point because I’m like, this is fucking stupid. [00:20:00] Why and how do you allow this to happen? I clicked the enter button and I look up and my friends are like dude, dude that’s fucking awesome. Then one of my friends who, I call him the Bad Luck Guy ‘cause I swear on everything that he jinxed me. He was like dude, you’re going to get in trouble, and then got up and walked away. I’m now worried, excited, scared, and pissed so I’m a fuck-ton of emotions at that point. I’m definitely like, I’m not thinking straight. If you were to ask me 1 + 1 at that point, I probably would have said 52. I looked back down at my tablet and I’m in.
JACK: [MUSIC] Finn now has logged into the school’s main website as the principal. This website has things like announcements, school closures, upcoming events, and teacher bios but Finn’s access only allows him to change the principal’s bio.
FINN: I’m like, now just fuck everyone, man. I wiped everything. His picture, that was deleted off this website. His biography, that was deleted. His e-mail gone, his phone number gone. [MUSIC] Anything associated with him was gone. I couldn’t upload anything more than an image so I took his name, deleted it, and I put Hacked By handle that I used to use. Then I upload this image from the game Watch Dogs and I uploaded that as the image of him pretty much flipping off the camera. After I pulled that, I start writing. I said fuck the school name, fuck the main IT guy, fuck my principal, and fuck the Board of Education. After that I clicked Post. [BELL RINGS]
JACK: Lunch is over. Finn heads to his next class.
FINN: I’m walking into my Literature class. I’m kind of like in this surreal state.
JACK: Finn shows the school website to a friend he had in that class.
FINN: He was like dude, did you do that? I’m like, yeah. He’s like dude, you need to like, don’t do anything else, man. Fucking chill. I’m like yeah, yeah, you’re right, you’re right.
JACK: But then a bell rang out of nowhere. [BELL RINGS] It was just the second lunch bell but for a moment he thought it was the intercom and they were calling him up to the office.
FINN: I guess you could say, I was kind of like – what set me off again. I’m like, you know what? Fuck it. I go into Twitter. I again, I go through the procedure; wipe his name, and I changed his image, put Hacked By handle that I used to use.
JACK: The rest of Literature class, Finn proceeded to tweet as the principal.
FINN: Guess who just got fucking hacked. That was the first post.
JACK: He then posted the principal’s Social Security Number and other private info. Finn went on to post links to Pastebin where he was posting private documents. The first was…
FINN: Employee data list. Their name, their birth dates, their addresses, their phone numbers, what car they drive, their license plate, where they park, it was super detailed.
JACK: Then he did another post.
FINN: Students parents’ name, e-mail, locations, phone number.
JACK: Then another post of all student e-mails.
FINN: I posted the list of everybody’s e-mail and then everybody’s password. Then I think I capped it off with like, fuck the Board of Education and fuck the main IT guy because he was not doing his job. I felt like he failed not only me but he failed my friends, my teachers, the parents, my mom. I felt like he failed everybody and that’s what, I guess, really set me off.
JACK: Somehow this whole time Finn’s teacher didn’t notice he was on his tablet.
FINN: No, she never noticed. ‘Cause I was in the back of the classroom, mind you. She has to pay attention to twenty other students which is – it’s another reason I hate public school. I feel like anything can go wrong. In this case it actually did. My friend, the guy I was talking to, was like dude, put the fucking tablet up. I’m like okay, okay, okay, I’m done. I put the tablet in my bag and at that point we’re pretty much near the end of Literature class.
JACK: [BELL RINGS] Finn grabs his backpack and walks to the next class.
FINN: I feel like I’m in – terrorist, like I’m carrying a bomb and nobody knows it but me. I felt like at any moment fucking secret service was gonna pop out of nowhere and [00:25:00] just – black bag over my head and I’m gone. I’m like fuck, fuck, fuck.
JACK: Jesus, what did I do?
FINN: I think I may have fucked up, I don’t know. I just tried to get my mind off of it while I was walking. I’m about two steps away from the door of my history class. This kid who I know who used to be in Anonymous, he passed me. He’s like yo, dude, did you hear? Somebody hacked the principal’s Twitter. I’m like goddammit. I’m like okay, maybe it’s just him who knows. I walk in the class, everybody’s fucking talking about it. I’m like whoa, is it really this big of a deal? Holy shit, how quick does news get around? JACK: Finn tries desperately to keep his mind off the hack. He keeps his tablet on his desk but keeps it off the whole class. He stays focused on his assignment. This is the last class of the day. There’s only a few minutes left of class.
FINN: Out of the blue the intercom comes on. I’m like, freaking out again. At this point I’m shaking like, obviously I’m shaking. They call Code Yellow. Code Red is an active shooting or there is a definite threat in the school. Code Yellow is where they’re like, we don’t know if it’s happening in the school or out the school. When a Code Yellow happens all doors are locked. Only the administrators are able to get in. You’re locked in, pretty much. At that point I hear the doors of the main building open and I hear a cop radio. Principal’s super pissed. They’re trying to calm him down. He’s pissed, sad, confused, I could see where he was coming from. I guess you could say that I felt his emotions.
[SHOUTING] They go through one of the classrooms. You don’t hear nothing; it’s dead silent for five minutes. I’m at my desk just sitting there. After those five minutes our door opens and it’s the assistant principal. He goes in, he’s like okay everyone, I need to see your phones. I need you to press the power button and let me see what you’re logged on. He goes through everyone on the right side and I’m now like, fuck, I’m in panic mode. I probably looked like a crack head ‘cause I’m visibly shaking. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I’m like oh, shit, NPC’s gonna have my account on [inaudible] he’s going to want to [inaudible].
Not even thinking twice, I slide the tablet behind the file cabinet to where I could still get it when I’m about to leave but you wouldn’t notice that it’s behind the cabinet. He goes through everyone, he’s like okay, radios in “All clear” and walks out. After that, ten minutes goes by. The intercom comes back on and the lady announces, “The Code Yellow is over. Everyone have a nice day.”
JACK: Finn grabs his tablet from behind the cabinet, throws it in his backpack, and starts heading for the bus to go home.
FINN: At that point, not only am I just shaking physically, I’m pretty much in tears. I’m scared at that point. I will honestly say that I definitely cried. I was like, I fucked up. There’s no way I can go back and fix this fuck-up this time. While I’m walking to the bus I was quiet. I just breathed, I guess. It was like taking your last – having your last meal before you go into jail. This is my last time probably being here. You get this moment being free.
I get on the bus and everyone on the bus is talking about it, even the guy who I was working with. He was even talking about it, said whoever fucking hacked the school is a fucking idiot. At one point I was God and now I’m the fucking devil in an instant. It’s like I had power in my hand and I blinked and it was gone. I had my shitty little old tablet and I turned it back on and I plugged in my headphones and I listened to music all the way home. [00:30:00] [MUSIC] I got home and I just sat on my bed thinking. I didn’t know what to do. Every day after school I always messaged my mom ‘cause that’s my mom; I want to make sure she’s okay. I messaged her and she was like, so how was school?
FINN’S MOM: I remember getting a call about the school being on lockdown.
FINN: I was like yeah, someone leaked the principal’s information. I don’t know what in the hell made me tell her but I fucking did.
FINN’S MOM: I asked him did you have any involvement in it? I don’t know what made me ask him that, but I did. Of course at that time he lied to me.
FINN: I think that’s when she knew that yeah, he did something and he’s not telling me.
FINN’S MOM: The school called me and asked me could I bring Finn’s tablet to the school? I did because Finn had told me that he had no involvement in the situation.
FINN: She came into my room and she’s like hey, where is your tablet? I was like oh, it’s right here. She’s like, I need to see it for a little bit. I said okay. I thought maybe she needs to do something. I didn’t think too much of it.
JACK: Mom took Finn’s tablet to the school and that’s when they told her about the hack.
FINN’S MOM: I stayed at the school while they did their little investigation, trying to figure out if this was actually the tablet that I had done it. It had a code on it so I had to call Finn and ask him what was the code?
FINN: She’s like hey, Finn, I’m at the schoolhouse. We need the code for your tablet. The first thing that goes through my head is fuck. Fucking kill me. If I’d known, I would have definitely wiped my tablet before giving it to her. The code that I had given her was to the tablet’s safe mode.
FINN’S MOM: Finn gave us some kind of mixed-up code. I was there for three hours, probably more because they called somebody off the campus to try to get past the wall inside this tablet in order to find out if this was the exact same IP address.
JACK: After three hours the school did determine the tablet was used in this hack because of a matching MAC address.
FINN’S MOM: My kid did this? Are you sure we’re talking about the same kid? Then the other part of me was wow, he did this. I didn’t understand why he had done it ‘cause it didn’t make sense. You would have thought that maybe something would have happened that would have triggered this advance, maybe he got in trouble at school, went to the principal’s office, something of that nature but none of that had happened prior to this incident.
JACK: Mom drove home and had a talk with Finn.
FINN’S MOM: Yes, yes, we’re just gonna go with that, yes. We talked.
FINN: [MUSIC] That was the first time I think I’ve ever really seen my mom cry but we talked. I can’t even remember what we talked about. I would get hit with a nuclear bomb for my mom. I would die for her. That was the first time I felt like I had hurt her. [00:35:00] I didn’t want to ever feel that again. A few minutes go by. I’m sitting in her room, my step dad’s in there. Two cops enter the house.
FINN’S MOM: Your heart drops because you know that it’s something because you just left the school and you’re wondering like dang, how’d they get them here so fast? That was number one. Then number two was like, are they going to take my child out of my house right now? Then as a parent there’s nothing I could do right now in this moment to fix it. There’s nothing I can do to protect him from this moment.
FINN: I was just like shoot, this happened way too damn quick. At least let me have some time to fucking think at least. I was worried not about going to jail but how my brothers and sisters would be affected by seeing me go to jail. I was more worried about how this was affecting them and not me.
FINN’S MOM: At the time I was also on the phone with my parents. Then my mom was like hey, y’all need to stop talking to them and you need to get a lawyer. At that time I had to tell them that we no longer could talk to them. Of course, they didn’t like that but they knew that they had to go because they weren’t there with any warrants of arrests.
FINN: The cops leave.
FINN’S MOM: Now I’m in panic mode. As a parent you never want to see your child in trouble and I knew that this was about to be bad. I didn’t realize at that time how bad it was about to get but I knew it was bad. I was frantic because this all happened leading up to a weekend, meaning that I had to try to get representation for him by Monday.
JACK: By 10:00pm that night the school’s website was back to normal and the tweets were deleted but there were a lot of views to that private information that was posted so who knows how many copies were made and who had it. That weekend the family found a lawyer and the police asked the mom to bring Finn down to the station. The police took his fingerprints and a mug shot and let him go home. The school suspended him permanently and informed the family that they would be taking him to court. He now had to go to an alternative school which is a place that kids with behavior problems or have gotten in trouble can still go to for an education. But all of Finn’s old friends were afraid to talk to him.
FINN: No one wanted to talk to me. I was kind of a superhero and within a period I was the super villain. Now with this new super villain persona labeled on me, nobody wanted to associate with me. It was back to square one again.
JACK: What were the kids like in that alternative school?
FINN: Have you ever heard of the school-to-prison pipeline?
JACK: I haven’t heard of this before so I had to look it up. The school-to-prison pipeline is where kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have a higher tendency to become locked up because of increasingly harsh school policies. It is debated but some experts believe that once a kid starts down a path of being behind, getting suspended, and going to an alternative school, they’re likely to wind up in jail or prison. As if life wasn’t hard enough for you already, if you end up here your odds of turning your life around are getting slim.
FINN: I would say if you were to walk in you’d be like yeah, there’s definitely a school-to-prison pipeline, definitely. I went from an environment where it was ninety percent Caucasians where now it was, I am a part of the majority class. We’re talking about a ratio of ninety percent African Americans and I think the alternative school that I went to, it opened my eyes ‘cause I’ve seen the school-to-prison pipeline. I’ve seen people that I used to sit in with class at the alternative school get arrested at the alternative school. I’ve seen fights happen there. I’ve seen drug deals. Bad things were happening at the school but there were people – the teachers who cared. If you were having a bad day you could sit there and talk to another teacher for an entire hour until – or for however long you needed. You also had smaller classrooms so if you were – let’s say somehow you snuck in a phone you were ninety percent going to get caught. That school really did change me.
FINN’S MOM: Yeah, he was actually doing very good at the alternative school. He was passing all of his classes. I even had requested that they leave him there ‘cause he was just doing so much better. Actually, he had gotten a job all on his own so he had started to like, okay, let me start trying to get myself together. A year goes by. My lawyer calls; hey, have you gotten a letter? No, I haven’t gotten a letter. She’s like well, [00:40:00] I’m not gonna call them. You don’t call them. They’re supposed to contact you, so we don’t. We thought it was over with. We thought nothing’s going to come of it ‘cause they had told us juvenile court doesn’t take this long to process cases. Another year comes and goes by.
FINN: I come home one day after school and my sister comes in with this paper. She’s like, this is for you. I open it and it’s a court summoning. I’m like oh, fuck. Two years? Two years and they’re now wanting to send me to jail? I was prepared on day one. Why two years? I called my mom.
FINN’S MOM: You know, you could tell in his voice like, his heart just sunk. So did mine. I was scared, like why wait so long?
JACK: The court date comes. Finn and his mom and his lawyer sit on one side of the courtroom. On the other side is the principal, district attorney, and some members from the Board of Education.
FINN: From what was said in the court, apparently in my county I’m the first person to ever been there for computer hacking.
JACK: Because this was the first hacking case seen by the court and judge and DA, a lot was confusing to them. Nothing was agreed on and the principal had brought new evidence in saying his credit was damaged because his data was leaked. They had to come back a second day. On the second day Finn pled guilty and the judge convicted him of a felony.
FINN’S MOM: It ended up being that he didn’t have to serve time because of the fact that in that time, for two years he had gotten a job, maintained that job, and actually had to go to work that weekend. They didn’t want to interfere with him being productive.
FINN: I had six months that I could not be on social media, write a letter of apology. I have an entire year in probation, I have to pay restitution which is $1300. Every time I’m on the internet I have to be supervised.
FINN’S MOM: Of course, that’s someone over eighteen so either me, my husband, or my mother had to be sitting there and able to say that we were monitoring what he was actually doing on the computer and that we saw what he was doing on the computer. But it really allowed me to see how much he spending on the computer. That’s just where our world is; everything we do is either the phone or the computer. It’s even harder to limit his access when everything that he has to do involves it. I’m constantly having to stay learning. I didn’t know that emoji was a language but it is. I constantly have to stay on my toes as a parent to learn those things.
My husband’s all for them; let’s just take them away and not let him have them. I’m like okay, but then they’re still going to find their friends that have them. I can’t tell you how many cell phones I’ve confiscated from him because he still tries to get on there. How do you as a parent in this computer age and time, monitor your kids? Yeah, there’s things out there, things like Circle and stuff that you can put on different devices to try to monitor and look at those things but what if you have a kid like mine that is smart enough to get past that? Then what do you do? How do you as a parent monitor that? Because you didn’t grow up in that age.
After this whole incident with him, the school changed their whole computer policy. When the school year started my other kids came back with a BYOD letter that we always get every year. It had completely changed and it was funny because a lot of the things they had put in there mimicked his case. I was like oh, they changed that because of my child, they changed that ‘cause of my child, they did that ‘cause of my child. But it didn’t change how they planned to deal with if another child like mine comes through there, what are you gonna do to help challenge that student?
JACK: When listening to Finn’s story I have a hard time figuring out exactly where everything went wrong. Maybe this is a normal reaction to a lifetime of being bullied or growing up with the diagnosis he has. His parents did what they could to educate him and keep him out of trouble but life happens and he had to go to public school. Maybe the public school should have looked after him more and spotted his talents and shortcomings. Maybe his teachers should have noticed him being bored in class and tried to inspire him but public schools struggle with finding good teachers who will work for little pay and to be able to afford a good IT admin, so looking back on this story it just seems like there’s a number of failures here and not just one.
What Finn did was wrong, really wrong. To expose personal public data like that can cause serious problems. There were dozens of people potentially hurt [00:45:00] because of this. The worst was the principal; the feeling of having your personal data posted publically is horrifying. You feel violated. Finn apologized to the principal saying he’s sorry that he was part of this. It’s clear from hearing this story that some schools aren’t capable of dealing with kids like him.
Courts aren’t ready for these kinds of cases either and this isn’t an isolated case. I see problems like this all the time. In fact, when I was making this episode, a school IT admin approached me with a similar story. All this is happening now in 2018. Computers have been in schools for over twenty years now and when they still struggle with issues like this, it’s clear that this is a serious problem. It’s just a reminder that we’re still in the infancy of the computer age and our parents and schools and courts are still struggling to navigate through it. [MUSIC]
FINN’S MOM: I am ready for him to kind of spread his wings and hopefully go off to college somewhere that he can hone in on those abilities that he has and that’s an environment I think that he would just thrive in. That’s my hope.
FINN: Honestly, I don’t want to be the black hat. I don’t want to be that guy who’s always on the bad side of the spectrum. I want to be the good guy. I want to continue looking for companies who give me at least an internship. I want to make sure that I’m putting my skills to good use, to make the world and the internet a better place.
JACK: Finn is a kid that the public school failed, the court systems didn’t know what to do with, and whose parents struggled to understand. A kid who wanted to be a hero just doing what he knew how to do best, and achieved his goal for one single period then became a villain of his own story.
JACK (OUTRO): [OUTRO MUSIC] You’ve been listening to Darknet Diaries. If you love this show please visit darknetdiaries.com/love. There you’ll find ways to help this show and boy, does it need help. I’m Jack Rhysider and this episode was produced and edited by me and Stephanie Jenz. She’s that friend I told you about earlier that thought there was more to this than just another hacker story. Theme music is by the talented and mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thanks for listening.
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Transcription performed by Leah Hervoly www.leahtranscribes.com