Ralph Echemendia became interested in hacking other people’s computers as a teenager attending Miami Senior High as well as schools in Coral Gables and South Miami. He became so expert at it that, at age 41, he now is a security adviser and technical consultant.
Spending less time these days in the town he loves and grew up in and more in other cities around the country and the world, Echemendia recently spent two months in Germany working with Oliver Stone for his upcoming film Snowden, and was a guest at the Tribecka Film Festival in New York where, on Apr. 21, he appeared on a panel titled “Secrecy & Power” moderated by NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden. Other panelists included former spy Valerie Plame, Pulitzerprize winning journalist Bart Gellman, and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks director Alex Gibney.
Echemendia explained how he got started.
“I was a computer ‘enthusiast’ at the age of 14, so throughout high school I was ‘hacking,’” Echemendia said. “Really it was for the sake of learning. At this age computers were my conduit to educating myself about the world and technology. I was always fascinated with how things work. Machines, especially electronic machines, puzzles and encryption.”
Echemendia said that the Tribeca Film Festival was a great event and experience, and that the panel presenta- tion was geared toward filmmakers, entertainment executives, fans and consumers especially, but really everyone.
“There was a 20 minute Q&A with the audience and they were very interested in the issues at hand,” Echemendia said. “These information leaks affect the future of politics and our global economic balance.These issues are also not simple; they require our collective understanding of the effects caused by our decisions now and in the years to come. It included issues from the Sony hacks, to the Snowden leaks to Wikileaks. A topic was Responsible Disclosure vs. Full Disclosure.”
Echemendia said he was invited to be on the panel because of his work with Oliver Stone on the Snowden film, his ability to demonstrate live a hack on the audience and his knowledge of the Sony leaks and systems.
“This is an amazing time to be alive,” Echemendia said. “Not since the industrial revolution has technology reshaped humanity. Art, politics, culture, business, all are being re-constructed. I believe in net equality as well as responsible disclosure.”
Echemendia is keeping mum about his upcoming work, which may be for the best, but said he’ll likely return to Miami again soon.
“I’m part of the Cuban community there,” he said. “I can’t stay away for long.”
His website is www.theethicalhacker.net/.