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The next big thing: Co-opting hackers

George Hotz, a 17-year-old hacker, is shown in his bedroom workspace Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007, in Glen Rock, N.J. Hotz has broken the lock that ties Apple's iPhone to AT&T's wireless network, freeing the most hyped cell phone ever for use on the networks of other carriers, including overseas ones.
AP/The Record, Carmine Galasso
George Hotz, when he was 17-years-old in 2007
AP/The Record, Carmine Galasso

Now that he's all rested - albeit presumably no longer tanned - from his spring break skidaddle to South America, Sony PS3 jailbreaker George Hotz must be laughing all the way to the bank.

The 21-year-old Hotz, best known for unlocking the iPhone and for hacking the PlayStation 3 - and then being sued by Sony (they've since settled) - now works at Facebook.

We're not sure about the job though one would have to assume the job description has something to do with security. Hotz apparently has been on the payroll since May, just one month after Sony announced a settlement with the hacker to never publish more codes. (Facebook had no comment other to confirm Hotz's employment.)

For Hotz, it's a great gig, especially for someone with a claim to fame as a cyber-nuisance. Yes, legions of admirers consider Hotz as an emblem of Internet freedom of speech and were appalled when Sony sicced its lawyers on him. Leaving value judgments aside for the moment, this much is clear: From the point of view of Apple and Sony, Hotz's undeniably impressive feats of technological legerdemain were both uninvited and unappreciated.

There's not much they can do to put an end to these sorts of antics. But the truly interesting aspect of this story is the trepidation inspired by an increasingly technically-adept cohort of faceless hackers who can wreak havoc upon their targets, seemingly at will.

After watching Sony's servers buckle under the recent cyber-assaults launched by hacktivists from Anonymous and LulzSec, few Silicon Valley companies are now so clueless as to needlessly stir up a hornet's nest by duplicating Sony's strategy. Why invite retaliation in a fight they can't possibly win? If anything, they're anxious to get on the hackers' good side and co-opt them, when possible. (Was that why Hotz got hired at Facebook?)

Also, keep in mind that Hotz's story isn't that exceptional. PC Magazine has terrific piece up today which takes note of other famous (or shall we say infamous?) hackers who got hired by technology companies. The list includes:

  • Peter Hajas, creator of uber-popular iOS jailbreak app MobileNotifier: Hired by Apple
  • Johnny Chung Lee, who hacked Nintendo: Hired by Microsoft, now at Google
  • Chris Putnam, who hacked Facebook: Hired by Facebook.
  • Ashley Towns, who created what's considered to be the first iOS worm. Hired by iPhone app developer "mogeneration."
  • Michael Mooney, who invented a Twitter worm. Hired by web application developer, exqSoft Solutions

You can find the full profiles assembled by PC Mag here. When you're done, you'll agree with Dylan about not needing a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Fact is that if you're angling for a good tech job these days, then outwitting the security experts protecting the corporate jewels in a cyber-duel can turn out to be just the ticket.

  • Charles Cooper On Twitter»

    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.