updated 9:45 a.m. 18.Mar.99.PST
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Kid-Porn Vigilante Hacked Media
by Steve Silberman
9:20 a.m. 8.Feb.99.PST
A self-proclaimed ex-hacker with the charismatic pseudonyms "Christian Valor" and "Se7en" has been making headlines around the world for his alleged vigilante campaign against online pedophiles.
There's only one problem: He's a fraud.
In the past two years, profiles in Forbes, the London Independent, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Wired News, and many other publications have portrayed Valor as an old-school renegade with a cause: exposing the identities -- and trashing the hard drives -- of those who traffic in sexual imagery of children.
The illegal techniques he used were those honed during 17 years in the hacker underground, the publications reported.
In fact, the primary target of Valor's hacking has turned out to be the news media.
Several of Valor's former colleagues have come forward to brand him a technologically inept poseur with a genius for self-promotion, who was unable to safeguard his own Net account against hacker exploits, much less mount a sophisticated campaign of attacks against anyone else's.
"He never deleted a single kiddie porn server himself. He's a compulsive liar, always looking for some new thing to impress people with," said Brian Martin, an independent consultant known among hackers as jericho, who lived and worked with Valor.
Information-systems specialist and online diarist Lisa Rabey, a former intimate of Valor's, also discounted his claims: "I was there. We were reading the same newsgroups. It never happened. He doesn't have the skill to do it."
Pete Shipley, senior security architect for one of the Big Six accounting firms, administers the dis.org domain where Valor had an email account and a Web page.
"I've never seen him demonstrate any expertise in accessing any system," he said. Shipley added that he had to restrict the user privileges for Valor's account because it was hacked so many times.
These days, Valor downplays his role as an anti-porn vigilante. He earns his living teaching courses on Internet security to industry, law enforcement, and military officials with a Southern California-based firm called New Dimensions International.
NASA, Air Force, Navy, Army, and FBI personnel take his US$1,395 three-and-a half-day courses on "Maximum Internet Security" and "Internet Predators" on government time. NDI instructors are employed to develop secure systems for mission-critical clients like the Department of Defense.
Hackers dissing hackers is not news. An investigation of the sources for the stories about Valor that proliferated in the press, however, provides a cautionary tale about the dilemmas facing reporters in the age of Internet-accelerated media.
When a news hook involves a hot-button issue like online pedophilia, even seasoned reporters may be tempted to go forward with a headline-grabbing story that relies on secondary sources. And stories about hackers may be the toughest to report accurately.
In declaring himself to be the fearsome nemesis of online pedophiles, Valor created the perfect Trojan horse.
In an article published in Forbes Digital Tool in April, reporter Adam Penenberg spotlighted Valor's "Dirty Harry-like" assaults on porn traders who were using Internet Relay Chat channels like teensex to barter forbidden images.
Valor had successfully hacked 99 pedophile targets, Penenberg reported, while law-enforcement officials "turned a blind eye" to Se7en's illegal intrusions.
"I can find a pedophile and trash his machine all within 60 minutes," Valor was quoted as saying. "I could snag more of them in one night than a D.A. could prosecute in his whole career."
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