One of the things that make Johnny an extraordinary person is his love for ideas and concepts. As a hacker, Johnny looks forward to discovering fresh ideas every day; to him, the idea of being a hacker is not to infiltrate other people’s computer systems and mess up their programs; rather, a hacker for him is someone who loves to try out and discover new things for the benefit of many—in his case, newer ideas in the field of IT security.
A Bestselling Author
Aside from being a world-renowned hacker, Johnny is also a celebrated author, having written several books that have become very helpful in providing information about the operations of network and internet hacking. One of Johnny’s most popular books is “No Tech Hacking: A Guide to Social Engineering, Dumpster Diving, and Shoulder Surfing,” a book which gives its readers a significant amount of idea in the area of network security.
By his admission, Johnny is not as good of a writer as others whose books have made it to the bestselling list. However, what is remarkable about Johnny is that his books, though technical in nature, have had amazing sales, making Johnny a bestselling author in his own right. Johnny says in an interview:
“I’m not a natural writer. It’s a struggle. The truth is that when I got bogged down in rules and regulations, I just locked up. But when I just decided to be myself, things flowed, and perhaps the writing suffered, but sales are good. That either means I figured something out or people like buying poorly-written books. The truth is, I’m a technical writer. So I’m not in the ‘big pond.’ That takes a lot of the pressure off. I’m happy being a fun, light-spirited, different tech writer.”
A Christian Hacker
One of the things that made Johnny a success in what he does is his firm belief in ‘practice makes perfect.’ Throughout his career, Johnny has always made an effort to improve himself by constantly doing what he loves to do, making him excellent in his work as a hacker. In many interviews, Johnny says:
“I can give the same advice for both writing and speaking: do it a lot. Even if you don’t have anything to write or say, just do it. These are skills that get better with practice. You have to be comfortable in your own skin to excel at either of these, and they aren’t easy things to do.”
But aside from all his accomplishments, probably the greatest thing about Johnny is his public confession of his faith in Jesus Christ. Often, Johnny cites his faith for being the reason as to why he has found fulfilment in what he does. And even though his declaration of faith caused some in the hacker community to see him and his Christian peers as ‘weird,’ Johnny never once took back his declaration; instead, he boldly showcases his love for his Lord and Saviour. In an interview where Johnny was asked how his faith in Jesus Christ helped him, he answered:
“It keeps me focused on the right things. Life isn’t about bits and bytes. Life is about people and relationships and God provided a very strict example for how that looks in the person of Christ. I find that when I am going astray in my work life, it’s because I’ve lost sight of this important fact.”
Hackers for Charity
It is because of this extraordinary faith in Jesus Christ that Johnny also spends a great portion of his time as a philanthropist. Johnny is the founder of “Hackers for Charity,” a charitable organization that employs volunteer hackers to provide significant services to the poor and destitute members of the community. Since its founding, Hackers for Charity has helped numerous families by supporting them with any means necessary. And if you think that the organization benefits only those who are being helped, it actually also benefits those who volunteer by giving them an avenue where they could fully utilize their skills for the good of the community.
Johnny often describes Hackers for Charity this way:
“From a volunteer standpoint, Hackers for Charity is about sharing your gifts, whatever they may be. Our community is such an amazing place, chock full of amazing talent. A very small percentage of that talent focusses on breaking things and doing illegal stuff. Your "unimportant" gifts can change lives when applied properly. Whether or not you care about being all altruistic, I think volunteers will discover that amazing things happen when they shift their focus to the world around them.”
Finally, Johnny believes that fulfilment comes when you really love what you are doing. Johnny often states how everyone was created to share something beautiful and beneficial to this world; the trick is finding out what it is. One of the easiest ways of knowing your gift is by realizing the things you do that you feel comfortable doing. Johnny says:
“The best career advice I can give is to build your work around what you love. If you pursue your passions, you will be successful. Oh, and work to live. Don’t live to work.”
Taking Inspiration from James Bond
It would seem quite clear that Johnny Long was born to do what he is doing today. Often, when he is asked during interviews, Johnny would jokingly say that he is a “pirate by birth”—which is actually proven by his remarkable outgoing personality and love for adventure way back when he was still young.
Johnny was born to a middle class Christian family. Even at a young age, Johnny already possessed a remarkable imagination and adventurous personality. Inspired by his favorite fictional character James Bond, Johnny often spent his evenings darting around the neighborhood with his pet dog imagining that he was a secret agent out on a mission. This, among all other childhood adventures, greatly shaped Johnny’s personality as he grew up.
Johnny’s Christian heritage was something that greatly shaped his outlook in life as he grew up. His parents, who were devout Born Again Christians, not only instilled in the young Johnny a love for God and for people through their teachings, but also went to great lengths to show it by example by pouring out their lives for their son. This is one of the things that helped Johnny develop an amazing sense of confidence, enabling him to make it through the various trials that he faced in life.
Discovering Network Security
Another thing that developed in the young Johnny was his fascination with technology. In the second half of the twentieth century, technological advancements were growing at a fast rate; by the early nineties, computer development was reaching its peak and Johnny made sure that he was there to keep up with it. In 1996, Johnny worked with the Computer Sciences Corporation, where he formed the company’s vulnerability assessment team which came to be known as the Strike Force. Prior to this, Johnny worked as a systems administrator for several companies, a job which he thought he wanted after graduating from college. After joining Computer Sciences Corporation, Johnny became drawn to the concept of network security, and soon after, found himself immersed into something that he decided would be his work for the rest of his life. As Johnny said in an interview:
“I thought I wanted to be a system administrator. I thought that’s what computer jobs were. I got a couple of boring SA jobs, and then CSC picked me up. They had a part-time security team, and as I got to know them I became very interested in the prospect of doing security work full-time.”
And so, from 1996 onwards, Johnny honed his skills in the area of network security and became a full-time hacker. Through constant studying and testing, Johnny was able to develop several security programs, learn the tools of the trade used by criminal computer hackers and counter them. Johnny went further in his career, establishing a name for himself in the network security world. One of the things that helped make Johnny comfortable in what he was doing was the environment he was in. As Johnny said in an interview made with him years later:
“There was an energy and a passion among all the members. We all loved security and technology so much and we had very compatible personalities. Each and every one of us took it so seriously that the work would creep into our personal lives, and we all geeked out at home trying to learn as much as we could. There was a cool synergy. Ha! I’m smart.”
In 2003, Johnny was invited to speak at DEFCON, an annual gathering of hackers from various places not just in the United States, but from all around the world. This was a great feat for Johnny, as the event was one of the most popular events in the hacking world. From that time on, Johnny became a frequent visitor at DEFCON meetings, and also began to write books pertaining to network security. Johnny’s first efforts in writing books were quite a disappointment due to him not being comfortable with the style of writing he was using. In an interview made with Johnny, he said:
“I’m not a natural writer. It’s a struggle. I bought lots and lots of writing books, and found lots of great insight in them. Stephen King and Anne Lamott have done amazing work guiding young writers. The truth is that when I got bogged down in rules and regulations, I just locked up. I spent many wasted days trying to eke out pages 'by the rules'.”
Eventually, Johnny decided to use his own writing style, which yielded great results in the market—his books sold more compared to his previous ones which were written in a generally accepted style.
Throughout his career, Johnny has had several opportunities to defend his faith, such as in one DEFCON event where Johnny saw two booths—one booth read “Hackers for Jesus,” while the other “Porn Hackers”—beside each other. Back then, it was really difficult to say that you were a follower of Christ especially in the company of fellow hackers due to the kind of ridicule that you would receive. But for Johnny, this was no problem. Johnny never once hid the fact that he was a Christian; instead, he embraced his faith proudly, which ushered a new era of hackers who were no longer ashamed of saying that they were Christians.
Founding Hackers for Charity in 2007
In 2006, Johnny had an opportunity of joining a team of workers on a trip to Uganda, where Johnny saw the terrible plight of the people living in the country. What struck him was how outdated the computers were, in places where there was a great need for computers. And so, even after returning to the United States, Johnny felt strongly that he was meant to help the people in Africa. He said in an interview:
“Months after my trip, my heart was still in Africa. And my wife shared that feeling. She had touched on a life-long dream to work in Africa, and for the first time, I shared her dream.”
The following year, in 2007, Johnny established Hackers for Charity, a non-profit organization that aimed to encourage other hackers to more effectively utilize their skills and talents by volunteering for countries that need their expertise. In an interview made with Johnny years later, he stated:
“I started HFC to connect the amazing positive skills of the hacker community with organizations like AOET that need those skills and to empower people that have lost hope. This empowerment extends beyond the world’s vulnerable citizens. We also seek to empower hackers or technologists by giving them a positive outlet and to help them get referrals to help them land a job they are passionate about.”
In 2009, Johnny and his wife decided to move the headquarters of Hackers for Charity from the United States to Uganda, as he believed that the change of headquarters would allow them more versatility and a faster capability of delivering their services to those who needed them. And Johnny was not wrong. From the time he started Hackers for Charity, over seven hundred hackers have since joined and voluntarily offered their services for the benefit of those who were living in a terrible lifestyle. Through the determination and efforts of the people that partnered with HFC, Johnny has been able to reach out to more villages in Eastern Africa (where HFCs projects are focused).
Today, Johnny continues his drive in using his expertise for the benefit of others. His life is an amazing reminder to each of us that we were created for a purpose. It does not matter whether your gift may seem less significant than the gift of other people, as long as you are using that gift to help others, then you will find fulfilment like you have never found it before. And just like Johnny, who in spite of the challenges that lay before him kept on moving forward, and never let the obstacles prevent him from reaching his goal, let us be encouraged to do our best all the time.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Hackers for Charity
- Food for Work Program
- Jinja House
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Received the United Security Summit Award