Daniel Kaye or “Spdrman” fits just about every description that you’ll have for a hacker: lanky, pale, with a medical condition discovered at an early age that robbed him of social life and made him more of a recluse.
However, the Brit found something seemingly more valuable than the companion of human friends around- he found computers, and he quickly mastered how to manipulate them.
The Hacker Who Took Down a Country Daniel Kaye, also known as Spdrman, found regular jobs tough but corporate espionage easy. He’s about to get out of prison. https://t.co/osnzAYiXJA
— Peter Kurilecz (@RAINbyte) December 22, 2019
It’s easy to forget what Kaye did, given that there have been many cyber-attacks across the world since he became famous. However, this exceptional hacker pulled off what is perhaps the single greatest job in history- sending an entire country into darkness for days.
Thrust Into an Ugly Feud
Kaye started his career doing freelance jobs, as he was never really able to get a stable job as a programmer. He eventually landed one, however, as a cybersecurity consultant at Cellcom, a Liberia-based firm.
At the time, Cellcom was in the midst of a cut-throat battle for supremacy with rival firm Lonestar MTN for dominance in the Liberian telecommunications industry.
Cellcom CEO Avishai “Avi” Marziano had devised a plan to best his rivals once and for all, and Kaye’s expertise was integral to the success of the project.
Kaye was thrust into the middle of this feud, as Marziano asked him to hack Lonestar’s systems to find evidence of any form of misconduct. After not being able to find anything, Kaye downloaded all of Lonestar’s customer data and it to Marziano.
Then, the time came to strike the fatal blow. By 2015, both men spoke about deploying a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Lonestar’s systems to affect the company. Essentially, this form of attack uses several commandeered machines to connect to a single online access point. When they do, networks become congested, and connections become slower.
Lonestar was one of the largest telecom companies in the nation, with about 500,000 machines sending data at once. This attack was expected to flatline its network completely, and that’s what it did. Kaye launched at least 226 attacks between October 2016 and February 2017, causing the company to bleed customers while Liberia’s Internet was blacked out.
Citizens were cut from banking activities, and basically, everyone who had any use for the Internet in the country was left stranded. In the wake of a deadly Ebola outbreak, medical centers were on their own, and left unable to contact international organizations.
Everything Comes Full Circle
Kaye went on to sell his software, making profits off it. One of the buyers, as it turned out, was a hacker who was more than happy to launch attacks on several British banks- including Barclays Bank and Lloyd’s Bank Plc.
Kaye was eventually arrested on his way from London to his home in Cyprus, after he flew into the country to meet with Marziano for his final payments. He was charged with computer sabotage and given a suspended sentence in Germany, as he explained that the Deutsche Telekom fiasco was a mistake.
In the U.K., however, he didn’t find things so easy; he got 12 charge counts overall, including blackmail, money laundering, and several other computer offenses. Prosecutors wanted to use him as the scapegoat for the Barclays and Lloyd’s attacks, and he was also made accounts table for the entire situation in Liberia.
After a year of negotiations, the hacker pled guilty to the attacks on Liberia in December 2018, but remained adamant that he had nothing to do with the attacks on the banks. He was summarily sentenced to 32 months in jail in January 2019.
The Brit will be released in early 2020, but will be made to face court-mandated restrictions that limit him from devices and encryption software. Until then, he’ll be spending his time in the kitchens at the maximum-security Belmarsh prison.