Beto O'Rourke has serious hacker credentials

The presidential candidate was a member of hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
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Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke was a member of a hacking group as a teenager. 

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A presidential candidate was a hacker?

Beto O'Rourke, a former Democratic congressman from Texas and now presidential candidate, was a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow, one of America's earliest influential hacking groups. In an in-depth report by Reuters published Friday, O'Rourke talked about his time as a teenage hacker and how it affects the way he thinks.

O'Rourke said he befriended CDC founder Kevin Wheeler as a teen when he started posting to online bulletin boards after his dad brought home an Apple IIe and a 300-baud modem in the 1980s. O'Rourke reportedly stopped participating in CDC when he started college in 1991, but CDC members had kept his membership a secret until now.

Here are some of the highlights from Reuters' look into the presidential candidate's "rebellious" past:

  • The CDC was generally a small group with no more than 20 active members at a time. During the late '80s, when O'Rourke was a member, the group was "more about writing than it was about breaking into computer systems."
  • O'Rourke's screen name in CDC was Psychedelic Warlord. Many of the articles he wrote 30 years ago are still available online, such as "how the world would work without money."
  • When people still needed to dial in through the phone lines in order to get online, O'Rourke, like many others, said he stole long-distance modem call service so he wouldn't "run up the phone bill."
  • "There's just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you're doing it," O'Rourke told Reuters regarding his membership of CDC. "I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that."
  • The CDC influenced O'Rourke's support for net neutrality. "I understand the democratizing power of the internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques," he said.

O'Rourke couldn't immediately be reached for comment. 

Watch this: Hackers take on new voting machines at Defcon