On the night of April 19, Kane Gamble was staring at the clock in his bedroom inside his family’s home in Leicester, waiting for it to hit midnight.
Gamble, who used to be known online as Cracka, was the most prominent member of the hacking group Crackas With Attitude, or CWA. In late 2015 and early 2016, Gamble wreaked havoc by hacking into the personal accounts of several US government officials, including the AOL email account of then-CIA director John Brennan and the home internet account of then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as well as several US government portals and tools. At the time, Gamble was just 15 years old.
Gamble was eventually arrested and sentenced to two years in prison by a British judge, who called him the leader of CWA. Since his arrest, he had not used a computer, and was banned from using anything that connected to the internet until 4/20/2020. On the night of April 19, he watched the minutes tick away.
The CWA hackers weren’t the most skilled in the world, but they were loud and trolly. For them, it wasn’t really about the hacking, it was about the noise they made after claiming their latest victim. In some ways, CWA were the children of Anonymous—if the hacktivist group spawned teenage rebels without a cause and with a pinch of self deprecation.
“I would kind of put us, like, in the middle, maybe?” Gamble told CNN journalist Laurie Segall, when she asked how sophisticated the group was. “We’re not, like, stupid. But we’re not really smart.”
“I smoke pot,” Gamble then said in the interview, in which he used a voice modifier. “All day, every day.”
They were so persistent that the FBI issued an alert about “hacktivists” targeting politicians and cops, clearly referring to the group led by Gamble, who claimed to be doing it to support the struggle of the people of Palestine, even though it seemed like him and his group were saying it more in an attempt to label themselves as hacktivist than anything else. The hacking spree ended when authorities in the US and the UK arrested some of CWA’s core members, including Gamble. In 2018, a British judge sentenced Gamble to two years in prison calling him the leader of a “cyber gang” that carried out “an extremely nasty campaign of politically-motivated cyber terrorism.”
“As soon as it hit midnight, I made a Twitter and got in touch with old close white hat friends,” Gamble told me in a recent chat. “It was an extremely weird feeling. It felt good.”
Gamble is now a free man, after spending eight months in the high-security prison of Belmarsh—known as Hellmarsh for its tough conditions—and over one year in probation with no access to the internet.
“I think it was crazy haha,” Gamble said, reflecting on what the judge called him. “Clearly wasn’t a cyber terrorist and was completely misunderstood. I think they took it way more seriously than it actually was. Just teenagers messing around on the internet, I understand what we did was serious but we weren’t terrorists, we were just kids at the time causing trouble I guess.”
“We weren’t terrorists, we were just kids at the time causing trouble.”
At the same time, Gamble said he reflected a lot on what he did and now regrets it.
“I think a lot of the stuff was more serious than I thought at the time, [I] didn’t realize how serious it was until I was charged with the charges I had,” he said. “I’m not that person anymore […] I was young and stupid.”
In the last few months, Gamble said he’s been working on setting himself up to start a career in the cybersecurity industry, learning as much as he can about web applications, mobile security, and internet infrastructure—”everything that’s relevant to a pentesting role,” as he put it. He said he found flaws in two popular messaging apps and got a bug bounty through the company’s programs that reward hackers and researchers who alert them of problems in their systems.
“I’m older now and I have no interest in crime,” Gamble said. “I just want to get on with my life now :).”