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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 13, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Amazing story: Valve and Seattle FBI “recruit” Half-Life hacker

Wired has a fascinating writeup of how Bellevue game company Valve Software and the Seattle FBI office tried to lure a German hacker who nabbed the Half-Life 2 source code and leaked it through BitTorrent.

Valve boss Gabe Newell almost reeled him in by dangling a flight to Seattle and a job interview. The Seattle feds had used the same trick before to lure Russian hackers. I wonder if Newell would have brought a crowbar to the “interview.”

The German declined the trip, but was still caught in his native country, where a public radio station dug up details that led to the Wired piece.

An excerpt:

Coordinating with the FBI in Seattle, Valve began a correspondence with DaGuy, who expressed interest in getting a job with the company. From clues in the e-mail, the FBI identified the aspiring employee as Axel Gembe, of Schonau, Germany.

In March, several Valve managers staged a 40-minute “job interview” with DaGuy over the phone, in which the hacker confirmed that he was Gembe. Gembe detailed how he’d cracked the company’s network, first entering through an account that had no password, then ramping up to root access using remote CGI exploits and scanning software.

After the interview, the then-21-year-old Gembe sent the company his resume. “Well, I really hope you hire me,” he wrote. “I’m no bad guy, just a little misguided.”

Newell passed the resume along to the feds, then invited Gembe to travel to Seattle for a follow-up interview in person. “We pay for all interview related expenses (travel, hotel, food, etc. …) as well as relocation expenses (pretty standard for the game business).”

The same Seattle FBI office had successfully used an identical gambit in 2001, when they created a fake startup company called Invita, and lured two known Russian hackers to the U.S. for a job interview, where they were arrested.

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