Russian hackers are notorious for their hacking skills, but one American says he hacked a Russian cyber gang at just 15 years old. Eric Taylor, who went by the nickname Cosmo the God, also posted personal information of celebrities and government officials, including Michelle Obama, former CIA director John Brennan, Kim Kardashian and Tiger Woods.
The government eventually caught up with Taylor and he pleaded guilty to posting the personal information on the internet, among other charges. Now, Taylor is trying to help companies and recently started working for a cybersecurity start-up.
Taylor’s life as a hacker began when he was just 12 years old and playing video games at home.
“Just imagine being 12 and having the power just to take anybody off your video game. So I felt a lot of power. And then I started learning other things and I moved on to joining a hacking group,” Taylor told CNBC.
The hacking group he joined was able to crash websites, including taking Twitter offline for about an hour in 2012, according to Taylor. Twitter did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
According to Taylor, he also accessed customer account data at major corporations like Amazon, Apple, AT&T, and Netflix, sometimes gaining access to customers’ personal information. The companies did not acknowledge this access.
“The security of Amazon customer accounts is one of our highest priorities,” said an Amazon spokesman.
Taylor then moved on what he is most famous for – targeting celebrities and politicians and sharing their personal information.
“It was pretty hard. I actually had to go after Russian hackers that owned a website … where they sold your Social Security number, your credit reports, your address and date of birth,” he said. “I hacked into their website and then blackmailed them with their information, and they just made me a part of the site somewhat….They gave me free credentials to buy Social Security numbers.”
Every day, Taylor would post Social Security numbers, home addresses and sometimes even full credit reports on the Internet for all to see.
Eric Taylor and his fellow hacking gang members posted personal information for celebrities and political figures online for the world to see.
Sometimes Taylor and his hacking group took things even further, by participating in what is known as swatting — prank-calling the police to report an urgent or violent crime, to get them to arrive at a location, usually someone’s home.
“People that were in my group would do swatting attacks on them [people whose information was posted]. And we had a TMZ reporter that I knew personally that we tell before we did a swatting,” Taylor said.
Unlike many cyber gangs, Taylor says his group was not motivated by money.
“I was never financially motivated because I was just in it for the thrill and politically motivated,” he said.
His message was that nobody is safe online.
“I went after people that in my mind at the time thought deserved it. But now that I reflect on it, nobody deserves to get their information stolen because it’s an invasion of privacy,” Taylor said.
Taylor made the website with the leaked information look like it came from Russia, but the government figured out who was really behind the postings.
“First, it was the FBI SWAT they sent in, I guess because they thought I could be armed and dangerous. And then after FBI SWAT cleared the house, they sent in the agents from Secret Service and FBI,” he said explaining his fourth and final arrest.
Taylor now says he regrets posting the information. He was sentenced to probation that recently ended.
Now 21 years old, Taylor says he’s turned his life around.
“There is no way I could go back [to hacking’s dark side] after all the things that I went through to just be free and be here right now,” he said.
Taylor recently became an advisor to cybersecurity start-up Path which helps companies make sure their websites are properly loading around the globe.
“We want to rent your computer to send network requests to various websites on the internet so that we can tell our customers how long it takes for their website to load in different areas,” said Marshal Webb, Path’s Chief Technology Officer.
“It was a challenging thing, you know? Computer systems [are] designed to keep you out, right?” Webb said. “It’s like the most complicated game of chess you can imagine.”
Taylor and Webb say their background have not scared any potential customers away.
“That’s what people are looking for nowadays. They’re looking for people that were experienced and had action in the front lines of hacking in the past. But are doing good now,” Taylor said.