In 2004 Computer Engineering student Ryan Gregory Pickren hacked into a pre-football game message on his schools calendar to post this:
Sat, November 29, 2014/12:00 pm/ Get Ass Kicked by GT.
To which his grandfather called the best prank ever. Georgia law saw it as a felony.
Two years later, Pickren has received job offers, written an apology to the University of Georgia, completed 12 months of community service with a non-profit organization that provides tech support for other no profits. He now has a spotless record that had been wiped clean.
Pickren has done what one can only assume hackers want to do, taken his love for hacking and made it into his livelihood. Business Insider recently reported that Pickren has been the number one most successful participant in the United Airlines’ Bug Bounty Program.
Brought to life in May 2015, the program gives up to one million free air miles to hackers who discover security flaws in the airlines websites and apps, as well as databases. The program has made it clear that there are to be no tampering with onboard flight systems like onboard Wi-Fi and entertainment.
The program was debuted after a hacker was banned from flying on United after he Tweeted that he was able to hack into onboard systems and deploy the oxygen masks.
Pickren told that he it was an out of state internship that got him involved with looking for the bugs.
“I first started working with United because I was about to leave the state for an internship and wanted the flyer miles so I could see my girlfriend back in Atlanta on the weekends. But I quickly realized how fun looking for bugs was, so I just kept at it,” he said.
To date, Pickren has earned 15 million United frequent flyer miles, worth around $300,000. He also said he had donated 5 million of his miles to his school to be used by charity organizations like Engineers without Borders.
“I love everything about the school, the faculty, professors, students, and facilities. I’m a diehard ramblin’ wreck,” Pickren stated.