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José Robbe was once leaving her administrative center in Rotterdam when she noticed a person and a lady strolling against her. It was once a Tuesday afternoon, 20 March 2012. “Are you Mrs Robbe?” She nodded. The girl, who was once dressed in denims and a black windcheater, defined that she was once with the police. “I’d like to speak to you for a minute. It’s about your son, Edwin. We’re arresting him.” José stared, frozen. The girl requested if she would accompany them. Warily, José agreed.

On the police automotive, the officer advised her they meant to wonder her son on the circle of relatives house in Barendrecht, simply south of Rotterdam, and arrest him at the spot. She requested if José sought after to be there for her son’s arrest. “No,” she spoke back grimly. It felt as though she had simply betrayed her son. To face through and watch would make it even worse. The police requested José for her space keys and dropped her off at a plaza through the native grocery store a couple of blocks from her space. She felt horrible because the officials drove away to arrest her eldest kid, only a afflicted 17-year-old. A short time later, 3 officials emerged from the home, escorting Edwin between them. He introduced no resistance.

Edwin was once taken to a detention centre in Houten, close to Utrecht. As soon as he was once long gone, José in any case re-entered her space. She sat at the living-room settee, gazing as officials rummaged thru cupboards, filed up and down the steps and bagged up flash drives, CD-Roms and phones.

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A number of years later, I visited José and her husband, Ruud, of their terrace space in Rotterdam, the place they advised me about Edwin, and I defined to them how I had contacted him.

I had tracked Edwin down thru a supply, bought his phone quantity and sooner or later made touch with him after repeated makes an attempt. In the beginning, he didn’t reply to the WhatsApp messages I despatched. When he in any case did answer, it was once from a special quantity. What I sought after to grasp was once why he had attacked the Netherlands’ largest telecom corporate and plunged it into chaos. I sought after to understand how he’d realized to do what he did – and what had came about to him after his arrest.

Our chats had been erratic. In the future he’d be effusive and tasty, then he’d transform far flung. Every so often, days would move ahead of he spoke back a message. It might prove he was once in Asia. We additionally talked on Skype, as soon as. I sought after to fulfill. He did, too, he mentioned.

However we by no means would. Edwin died a couple of months ahead of my consult with to his folks. As we talked, grief over the lack of their son reared up a number of occasions. Ruud have been the remaining particular person to peer Edwin alive, and it nonetheless weighed closely on him.

Edwin was once not up to a yr outdated when he was once taken from his organic mom. She was once on her personal and not able to deal with an toddler. For months, she didn’t even contact him. José and Ruud fostered Edwin. José labored in healthcare, and Ruud was once a chemical engineer at an organization that processed ores for pigment. They sought after to offer child Edwin a loving house.

However he was once a afflicted kid. “I all the time idea his anxiousness began when he was once nonetheless little or no. He simply couldn’t bond with people,” José recalled. He steadily complained of abdomen aches. There have been numerous visits to the physician and to clinic. Each and every time there could be clinical assessments. “Truthfully, I feel it was once mental,” mentioned José. “Edwin had numerous anxiousness, however the medical doctors fascinated about bodily reasons.”

Edwin wasn’t like different children. His folks noticed it, and so did his lecturers. One time, at a folks’ night time, a mentor requested: “What’s in truth fallacious with him? He has nearly no buddies.” Each time he was once round people, Edwin changed into disturbing, clammed-up and withdrawn.

He nearly by no means did any recreation or performed out of doors. As a substitute, he most well-liked to sit down on the pc in his room upstairs. His folks let him, relieved that no less than he had this one pastime. They knew infrequently the rest about computer systems. They used one to ship the strange e mail or search for vacations, however that was once about it.

After graduating from a vocational highschool, in 2010 Edwin enrolled in an IT route at Albeda School in Rotterdam. He mentioned he sought after to do one thing with computer systems. His folks let him purchase a PC that he put in combination himself. It had a large reminiscence card and numerous processing energy. He set it up in his bed room. Having a look again, José thinks “that can were our largest mistake”.

Edwin was once obsessed together with his new toy and most effective got here downstairs for foods. Every so often, his folks stuck glimpses of what he was once doing. Most commonly, he performed video games, particularly the type through which persons are violently killed – corresponding to through development amusement parks after which throwing other people off the rides. There have been additionally a whole lot of shoot ’em ups. “He took categories in ethics in class,” mentioned Ruud, “so we idea it might be all proper in spite of everything.”


In the fall of 2010, the Robbes won a letter from their web supplier, KPN, informing them that their web get admission to have been blocked. KPN mentioned it had noticed “malicious job” at the circle of relatives’s IP deal with. When requested about it, Edwin brushed it off as nonsense. To José, he spoke back in jargon, announcing someone had cracked his “WPA2 key” and exploited their web connection. Baffled, José let it cross.

KPN, alternatively, didn’t let it cross. The corporate’s abuse crew performed its personal investigation. This printed that Edwin had used a rented server to mount an assault on a site providing film and TV downloads. When faced with the proof, Edwin’s justification was once that he didn’t just like the website online’s directors.

Edwin had bombarded the site with such a lot of information packets that it crashed – one thing referred to as a DDoS assault. This type of assault is a criminal offense. “Edwin may be very energetic on the web, as are a few of his buddies. In some circumstances they’re described as a hacking ring,” any person at KPN wrote to Ruud in an e mail. “We ponder whether he understands what sort of penalties his movements could have. We urge you to speak to him about this.”

Detail of cable management on a data centre server room
Element of cable control on a knowledge centre server room {Photograph}: Sergio Azenha/Alamy

Ruud spoke to Edwin, and wrote again: “I’ve had a protracted dialogue with him. He’s a delicate child and is step by step coming to peer that what he did is a major offence.” Ruud and Edwin had agreed the pc could be off limits for 3 months, and that he’d get it wiped clean through a certified. “I don’t know the rest about computer systems,” Ruud concluded his e mail. “Do you’ve got any tips on who may assist me blank up his pc?” KPN by no means spoke back.

Edwin’s folks may inform that one thing was once brewing. He was once on edge and hardly left his room. Once the pc ban was once lifted, he was once again on his PC for so long as 12 hours an afternoon. Faculty wasn’t going smartly. His route was once heavy on school room and staff paintings, which didn’t swimsuit him in any respect. He most well-liked to do issues on his personal. He was once dismissive of his lecturers. “I do know extra about computer systems than they all put in combination,” he advised his folks one night time. Additionally, the tummy aches had returned, and he was once taking an anti-anxiety drug, oxazepam, to assist him loosen up and sleep.

Along with his folks’ consent, in the summertime of 2011 Edwin transferred to a computing route at Zadkine School in Rotterdam, the place scholars got extra freedom and may paintings independently on tasks.

It didn’t assist. José and Ruud didn’t know exactly how Edwin was once spending his time. Every so often, he discussed any person he knew in England or Australia, so that they assumed he’d made buddies on-line. “No less than he’s in any case socialising,” they mentioned. Nonetheless, he appeared joyless. They advised each and every different he wanted house, that for sure there have been some issues that gave him excitement, and that he had a knack for computer systems. However on days he by no means left his display screen, it was once exhausting to not melancholy. Greater than after they questioned: “Must we pull the plug?”


If computer systems had been simply equipment for his folks, for Edwin they had been a gateway to journey, to figuring out and, maximum of all, to popularity. They let him do no matter he sought after. If he felt like gaming, he’d boot up Home windows. However extra steadily he selected Linux, his go-to running device. From there he opened other digital gadgets in order that he may undertake more than one personas.

On boards he met like-minded children his age from all over the place the arena who spent complete days at their computer systems and made the forms of social connections on-line that they couldn’t in the true global. Quiet and reclusive children, most commonly. Cloaked in made-up identities, they chatted about computer systems, ladies and going out, and devised tips to infiltrate non-public pc networks.

On-line, Edwin was once both xS or YUI – the latter a nod to the Jap singer Yui, of whom he was once a large fan. As YUI, he was once other. Bolder, extra confident. On-line, quiet Edwin with the shy smile got here alive. On chat channels he met an Australian, “Dwaan”, and an American, “Sabu”, in 2011. The 3 mentioned hacking, and his new buddies confirmed Edwin puts that they had controlled to damage in.

Sabu, because it occurs, was once a large shot within the virtual global. He was once the chief of LulzSec, a collective whose six individuals attacked a spread of organisations and hacked the internet sites of huge firms in 2011 to reveal their shoddy safety. Although teasing in some circumstances, in others their antics had severe penalties, corresponding to when the crowd stole information belonging to greater than 70,000 US contestants on the preferred TV display The X Issue, in retaliation for an alleged insult to the rapper Commonplace. Additionally centered through LulzSec had been the Sony PlayStation Community and the site of the CIA.

A number of investigation businesses had been looking for Sabu however, like Edwin, he took care to hide his tracks. The entire children went through aliases on chat channels, a few of which additionally required passwords to get in. Plus, they by no means logged on immediately from their house connections, however, moderately, thru a protected digital non-public community (VPN). Edwin hooked up to a VPN server first, then went on-line anonymously. It took some self-discipline. Forgetting to make use of VPN simply as soon as would immediately make his house IP deal with visual for any person to peer.

A person from Anonymous, the network of hackers known for cyber-attacks on government, corporate and religious websites.
An individual from Nameless, the community of hackers identified for cyber-attacks on govt, company and non secular web sites. {Photograph}: Reuters TV

After some time, Edwin discovered his manner into chat channels the place the intense hackers converged. Successful their believe was once a primary and an important step, as a result of police had been additionally lurking, seeking to infiltrate the usage of pretend identities. At 16, Edwin was once orbiting LulzSec in addition to a looser collective referred to as Nameless. Although no longer a member himself, he frolicked on their chat channels. Those had been thrilling occasions within the hacking global. Individuals of Nameless have been concentrated on a succession of organisations and pointing out their unity with WikiLeaks, which was once publishing loads of 1000’s of US diplomatic communications. When Julian Assange’s whistleblower site was once blocked through the fee products and services PayPal, Mastercard and Visa, chopping off a whole lot of donations to WikiLeaks, Nameless struck again with a DDoS assault that took out the fee products and services’ web sites and inflicted an estimated $5.5m in losses. One member would in the long run finally end up doing 18 months in jail in the United Kingdom.

Edwin’s contacts in a foreign country gave him a self assurance spice up. He spent hours speaking to other people from all over the place the arena about tactics to hack web sites. Edwin steadily mocked “customary” existence and western society. He denounced materialism and superficial issues. However maximum of all they mentioned hacking. Dwaan bragged about one of the vital puts he’d been. To them, it was once all a prank: getting out and in simply to turn out they might bypass a website online’s safety. They by no means stole. All they sought after was once to seem.

In December 2011, when he was once 17, Edwin had an internet trade with “Phed”, who confirmed him an “exploit”. An exploit is a work of code that takes benefit of vulnerabilities in a community’s safety to achieve access someplace, like a key that opens outdated locks. Pc networks, particularly at huge organisations, depend on a whole lot of other instrument. All instrument has one or two holes – some identified, others nonetheless undiscovered. Each time instrument makers uncover this sort of vulnerability, they briefly take steps to create a patch and supply an replace. Hackers, in the meantime, are snooping round for the ones exact same weaknesses and dealing simply as briefly to make a key – an exploit – to get inside of.

Edwin was once trawling the web and scanning networks to peer who could be the usage of instrument with a identified hollow. On this case, it was once HP Knowledge Protector. He searched websites manually the usage of Google, coming into “Knowledge Protector” as the hunt time period along a particular internet or IP deal with. In early December 2011, Edwin struck gold. He discovered a school in Norway, NTNU, that was once the usage of the instrument and hadn’t but put in the replace containing the patch. Edwin grabbed his exploit, finished it, and he was once inside of. Having a look across the college’s community, he came upon he had six pc servers at his command. On a roll, Edwin subsequent won keep watch over of a “supercomputer” on the College of Tromsø. He nosed round for some time after which put in a “backdoor”. Now he may get admission to the college’s pc server remotely every time he sought after to.

Edwin pulled off his stunt with out a hitch and earned himself hacker cred together with his new buddies. Dwaan spoke back to Edwin’s feat with enthused fist pumps and exclamations of “Loooooooolll” and “OMG!”. This most effective whetted Edwin’s urge for food. He went looking for new goals in different international locations. His subsequent sufferer was once the College of Twente within the Netherlands, then a site in Iceland, and after {that a} college in Japan. He was once unstoppable. So long as he took care to hook up with a VPN server in Russia first, he left no tracks to apply.


It was once whilst working any other scan that Edwin spotted some out of date instrument at KPN. Holland’s largest telecoms corporate was once the usage of HP Knowledge Protector and hadn’t put in the replace but. Right here was once an open window. Did he dare sneak in? Why no longer take a snappy peek inside of his personal web supplier? In the end, KPN was once a large fish and would earn him huge credit score. Edwin took the gamble. He entered a random KPN IP deal with, ran his exploit after which, the usage of a detour during the Jap college, slipped inside of KPN’s community.

He discovered himself in a a ways nook of the community, which is to mention he was once in, however nonetheless had to open some doorways. For example, he couldn’t ship instructions immediately from his personal pc to KPN. Nor did he have complete rights throughout the entire community. He couldn’t simply stroll round, as a result of a firewall was once blocking off his manner. However all this was once kid’s play. By way of shifting a programme from his personal PC directly to the KPN pc, Edwin may bypass the wall. Now he was once unfastened to do as he happy.

The LulzSec symbol.
The LulzSec image. {Photograph}: Wikipedia

Silly KPN, he idea to himself. The entire position was once riddled with holes. Scanning the remainder of the community from the KPN gadget he’d accessed, Edwin noticed the out of date instrument being utilized in loads of puts. Nearly each pc server within the telecom supplier’s huge community had a window open. The child from Barendrecht strolled round unimpeded, and what he noticed astonished him. He may keep watch over 514 pc servers. He may even get admission to the core router, the spine of KPN’s complete community. He may see the information of two.1 million KPN consumers. He may block loads of 1000’s of other people from connecting to the nationwide emergency phone line. He may redirect web visitors in order that individuals who sought after to consult with, say, a information website online, would finally end up someplace utterly other. Edwin may do no matter he sought after and KPN wouldn’t know a factor.

Excitedly, he advised Dwaan of his conquest. In the beginning, Dwaan refused to consider him. To turn out he’d won command of KPN, Edwin logged directly to the chat channel from the KPN community. “WTF!” Dwaan spoke back. Edwin was once overjoyed together with his newfound standing. He dropped out of his computing route. At house, the stress eased. Relieved, his mom emailed a chum to mention that “Edwin has been feeling higher. He’s been exempted from attending categories this yr and now he’s doing a highschool English route from house.”

In the meantime, up in his room, Edwin was once increasing his newest coup. “I’m hacking my ISP,” he introduced to “Combasca”, a Korean pupil. Combasca didn’t consider him and demanded proof. Once more, Edwin entered the chat channel from the KPN community. He suggested Combasca: “U will have to transform a hacker too.”


As Edwin won plaudits on-line, a bunch of fellows and one girl sat in a high-rise off the A12 dual carriageway out of doors The Hague, watching each and every different in dismay. Dozens of other people had arrange store in a vacant administrative center one flooring up from the studios of the radio station Recent FM. That they had put in desks, laptops and community cables. To any person who didn’t know what was once occurring, it might were a curious sight: other people speeding as much as the highest flooring early each and every morning and no longer re-emerging till previous middle of the night. Supply products and services losing off dinner within the evenings. Between 80 and 100 staff have been holed up like this for days, a lot of them engineers and technicians from KPN and researchers from Fox-IT, ​​a Dutch safety corporate that screens techniques and networks for consumer firms world wide.

It had all began with a message from any person calling themselves Combasca in South Korea. Combasca mentioned he’d been speaking to a man calling himself YUI, who claimed to have hacked KPN. And he had proof. After letting YUI boast about what he’d executed, Combasca had grew to become round and contacted KPN. By way of now, two weeks on, there was once authentic panic. Obviously, someone was once inside of KPN’s community. It can be a loner, or it can be a overseas state. No one knew. Nor may KPN or Fox-IT get a maintain at the extent of the wear and tear. They needed to tread calmly, analyzing computer systems whilst retaining techniques working in order to not disrupt provider to tens of millions of shoppers.

On scanning web visitors, it changed into obvious that loads of issues within the KPN community had been connecting to places out of doors. Window and doorways had been flapping open far and wide. On 20 January 2012, KPN raised its alert degree to orange. Its trade operations had been in grave threat.

Per week later, on 27 January, there was once a good larger discovery. The hacker had additionally damaged into the core router, successfully taking keep watch over of the entire community, and may do no matter they sought after: eavesdrop on web visitors, flip off TVs, take out the nationwide emergency hotline. The alert degree was once raised to crimson. With the rustic’s maximum vital telecoms supplier underneath danger, KPN notified the Nationwide Cyber Safety Centre (NCSC) and the nationwide police’s excessive tech crime unit. The following morning, one in every of KPN’s board individuals filed a police document for pc invasion.

KPN, the Robbes’ internet provider.
KPN, the Robbes’ web supplier. {Photograph}: Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters

The placement brought about fashionable alarm. The fragility of a community on which tens of millions of other people relied have been laid naked. Following the hacker’s path, the police crew, Fox-IT and KPN in any case recognized the pc server by which he’d entered the community. However after that, the puzzle changed into trickier, for the reason that hacker was once shielding himself the usage of VPN connections. The police crew flew to South Korea to speak to Combasca, and later to Japan, the place a school community have been breached through the similar person.

Investigators may see the hacker was once the usage of a Russian VPN server whose IP deal with confirmed up greater than as soon as in KPN’s community. Frustratingly, although, this data didn’t actually assist the crew, as a result of VPN servers masks a person’s id. There was once one very last thing they might check out: to apply visitors from the VPN server to a person pc in KPN’s community.

That pc grew to become out to host a site, on which a KPN buyer shared downloaded films. On that website online’s server, the investigators additionally discovered hacking recordsdata. The e-mail deal with of the website online’s administrator was once [email protected] Once they regarded it up, the investigators exposed any other lead: the similar e mail deal with have been used previous in correspondence with KPN a few blocked IP deal with. In 2010, an IP deal with belonging to [email protected] have been blocked quickly as a result of “malicious actions”. That IP deal with was once related to a space in Barendrecht, simply south of Rotterdam.

In spite of everything, the hacker made a mistake. He skipped the VPN and entered a hacked KPN pc server immediately from his house connection. With that, he uncovered his house deal with.

Police had a wiretap at the hacker’s house, to collect some remaining bits of proof. In the future their complete web feed vanished, leaving the police watching a clean display screen. Their faucet in Barendrecht was once energetic, however no information was once coming in. The issue, police came upon, was once that KPN had by accident blocked the suspect’s web connection.

Just a little greater than two months after receiving Combasca’s message, the police in any case had sufficient proof to drag Edwin from his pc. Two brokers had been despatched to intercept his mom and get her space keys. Then they sneaked as much as the upstairs room the place Edwin sat, unsuspecting, taking the web through hurricane as “xS”. Abruptly, uniformed males burst into the room. “Police! Get your palms off the pc!”


José Robbe put a plate of biscuits in entrance of me and poured espresso. Ruud sat beside me. As we talked, he pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his denims a few occasions, pushing apart his glasses to dry his eyes.

After his arrest, Edwin was once detained for 42 days, discovered accountable of hacking and given a suspended jail sentence of 240 days plus group provider. He didn’t need to do group provider, alternatively, so did the time as a substitute. Afterwards, Edwin was once much more withdrawn. He self-medicated with sedatives and experimented with a lot of medication. His dad would come house to seek out the home strewn with leaves and vegetation that Edwin was once the usage of to cook dinner up some psychedelic brew.

Edwin was once delusional through this level, and took exception to the whole lot. To his folks, the location appeared hopeless. Even pros on the rehabilitation health facility the place he was once admitted, De Bouman in Rotterdam, despatched him packing after per week, announcing his behaviour made him inconceivable. Edwin requested Ruud if he may transfer again house, however his dad didn’t really feel as much as the duty of taking in his now 22-year-old son.

As Edwin stood on his doorstep, Ruud grew to become him away with a heavy middle.

“Come on,” Edwin pleaded. However Ruud was once on the finish of his tether. “We will be able to’t,” he mentioned. “I’m sorry.”

Edwin left with a backpack. His folks had no thought the place he’d cross.

After a number of weeks without a information, Ruud attempted to get in contact thru WhatsApp and e mail. Edwin most effective spoke back to 1 e mail, announcing: “Certain, the whole lot’s high quality. I’m in Pyongyang, North Korea.” Hooked up to the message was once {a photograph}. It confirmed Edwin dressed all in black, with attention-grabbing chains on his jacket. Status subsequent to him was once a Korean soldier. He had posed in entrance of an image of the North Korean chief Kim Jong-un (most probably, actually, a vacationer enchantment in South Korea). Edwin closed his e mail with: “They observe such things as WhatsApp and telephones. However no less than they have got computer systems.”

It was once one in every of his very remaining messages. Ruud bowed his head. “Must I’ve let him come again house?” he questioned. “Must I’ve given him yet one more probability? I’d reached my restrict. I simply couldn’t do it.”

I’d sought after to listen to the tale from Edwin himself. The only time we Skyped, he’d been in a lodge room in South Korea. 8 mins into our name, he signed off with a grin and a peace signal. After that we chatted sporadically over WhatsApp. His ultimate messages had been laced with melancholy. “I don’t find it irresistible right here,” he wrote, and “They’ve were given weapons”, and “I need to get out of right here ASAP.” He stopped responding to my questions on KPN. A couple of days later I used to be contacted through a supply. “Did you listen about Edwin?” He’d been discovered useless in a lodge tub, no longer a ways from Seoul’s world airport. The door of his room have been barricaded from the interior with furnishings and pillows.

At their house, José and Ruud pulled out footage of Edwin and advised me about his difficult formative years. They requested about my remaining dialog with him, about which Ruud noticed: “That was once simply ahead of he died.”

Edwin’s arrest and incarceration had been a tipping level, they advised me – after that, it was once all downhill. And questions linger: if it’s that simple to damage in someplace, isn’t there a far larger societal downside we ought to deal with?

It unquestionably didn’t assist that his folks had just a hazy snatch of what Edwin in truth did. The technical jargon government used within the case in opposition to Edwin intended not anything to them. Consistent with the general public prosecutor, it constituted “one of the crucial severe hacks within the Netherlands’ historical past”. Edwin’s paintings was once “inventive” and the “affect on KPN and thus on society at huge, immense”. By way of KPN’s personal reckoning, it value them €3m.

After the hack, KPN took measures to ramp up safety in its techniques. Even supposing Edwin in an instant pleaded accountable to all fees in courtroom and cooperated with the judicial inquiry, the general public prosecutor was once scathing in his condemnation. Edwin’s movements, he charged, have been “malicious and planned” and brought about “drawing close threat to existence”.

“We actually had no thought what he was once as much as,” Ruud mentioned. It introduced house to him simply how hugely other the dangers of the virtual global are from the ones of the true global. “It by no means even came about to us that he may purpose one thing like this.”

“I’m extra fearful about computer systems now,” Ruud admitted. When he fills in his tax returns and will’t get the website online to paintings, he will get wired. “Every so often I’m afraid any person could be the usage of my id. I’m compelled to rely on applied sciences I will be able to’t perceive, and that worries me.”

That is an edited extract from There’s a Conflict On However No One Can See It, revealed through Bloomsbury and to be had at guardianbookshop.co.united kingdom

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