Hacker Hieu PC is now a cybersecurity specialist

Those who break the law should be punished accordingly. Though seeing justice being served can be satisfying, it can be just as amazing to see a criminal redeeming himself. While most ex-prisoners take some time to reintegrate into society, some become role models because of how they’ve turned their lives around entirely.

That’s the story of Ngo Minh Hieu, aka Hieu PC, a 32-year-old Vietnamese hacker imprisoned for years in the US. After his release last year, Hieu received the offer to work as a specialist at Vietnam’s National Cyber Security Centre.

Here’s how he turned away from his criminal past into a leader on the forefront of Vietnam’s cybersecurity efforts.

He was a notorious hacker in his late teens

Hieu PC
Image adapted from: Thanh Nien News

During his teenage years, Hieu had already mastered impressive IT skills through self-study while working as an administrator on several hacker forums. 

At 18, he was sent to New Zealand for advanced education. While studying, he discovered a loophole in the school’s network system that made it vulnerable to payment data breaches. When he contacted the school management about it, they didn’t take his words seriously.

Angered by their response, Hieu responded by hacking the entire system.

After realizing he could profit off his work, Hieu continued hacking other sites and stealing the personal information of credit card users. He then sold the info on TradeMe – an auction website.

However, his less than legal activities soon caught the attention of Auckland police, and he was unable to attain a visa renewal after his first semester ended. 

Caught the attention of authorities after making USD2,000,000

Bitter about the visa process, Hieu bade farewell to his school by exploiting the system’s vulnerabilities, shutting down the school’s website for 2 days.

After returning to Vietnam, Hieu attended Ho Chi Minh City University Of Science. As a force of habit, he continued hacking the school’s system for exam questions to send to his classmates.

From 2007 to 2013, Hieu made roughly USD2,000,0000 by stealing the personal info of millions of people and selling them to third parties. 

At that age, Hieu probably didn’t understand the gravity of his actions.

The personal information he sold, including that from overseas websites, included:

  • US social security numbers,
  • birth dates,
  • and addresses,

all of which could be used to apply for loans, obtain medical treatments, and intercept their tax refunds in their names. Real users could face troubles such as huge debts, scarred credit records, and refusal of medical services. 

He was arrested in New Zealand, and spent 7 years in a US federal prison

Hieu PC Hacker
Image credit: Ngo Minh Hieu

In 2013, Hieu travelled to Guam to meet someone who claimed to be able to provide him with a large amount of personal and financial data. Little did Hieu know that the business deal was sent by US Secret Service investigators who had been hot on his heels for a long time.

Hieu was arrested, and stood trial 2 years later.

He was convicted of stealing the personal information of 200 million US citizens, pleading guilty to wire fraud, identity fraud, access device fraud, and computer fraud.

At age 25, he received 13 years’ imprisonment in a US federal prison facility.

In response to his sentence, Hieu shared, “I wanted to hang myself. My life has ended here,” reported Dustin On The Go.

Nonetheless, his sentence was reduced after he assisted US investigators in busting several cyber theft schemes.

A second chance in his homeland

Hieu PC HackerImage credit: Ngo Minh Hieu

In August 2020, Hieu was released and he returned to Vietnam.

Over 7 years in prison, Hieu had spent a lot of time reflecting on his past actions. His years behind bars were not in vain, as he received Bible studies, computing training, and psychology lessons. After his release, he expressed his newfound passion for using his talents to help and protect people from falling prey to cybersecurity fraud.

Hieu’s dream came true when he received a job offer from Vietnam’s National Security Centre as an IT specialist.

At the same time, Hieu also established a Facebook page where he shares computing tips and the obstacles he had to overcome.

Hieu PC HackerImage credit: Ngo Minh Hieu

The news of Hieu’s transformation circulated like wildfire on various social media platforms, with many netizens expressing their surprise and admiration.

While many are hopeful that he can use his talents to help the country’s cybersecurity system advance, some still remain cynical about his past. 

Today, his Facebook page has already garnered over 200,000 followers. 

A hacker’s journey to becoming a national IT specialist

Hacking is a crime, and people who commit it should do the time. However, every prisoner deserves a second chance, especially when they make efforts to rehabilitate themselves. 

Everyone, albeit with a stained past, is capable of a change of heart and becoming a productive member of society. Before we understand the full story, we should refrain from judging and offer our support to those who wish to turn over a new leaf, and create a better life for themselves.

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Cover image adapted from: Thanh Nien News and Ngo Minh Hieu

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