Video: Avast Hacker Archives Episode 3: Chris Roberts

Grace Macej 16 Feb 2021

In our third episode, Avast CISO Jaya Baloo asks seasoned hacker Chris Roberts about his earliest “Aha!” moments

Several years ago, Chris Roberts was waiting for a train in Chicago. Bored, he found himself staring at one of the station’s LED display screens. Twenty minutes later, he had that screen programmed so that it pulsed the lyrics of “God Save the Queen” in Morse code for 30 seconds at a certain moment every single night. From what he understands, it’s still doing it to this day.

Chris has what he calls “the hacker mentality” – a constantly inquisitive state of mind that whirs into action whenever technology is near. He describes the thought process as “It’s there – what can I do with it? How does it work? Can I improve it? Could I do something different with it? And can I make it, you know, sing in a strange language just for the hell of it?”

Avast CISO Jaya Baloo has that same hacker mentality, and she and Chris have been kindred spirits in the world of breaking-things-open-to-see-how-they-work for years now. She is nothing less than overjoyed to feature her friend, the hacker virtuoso and consummate jester Chris Roberts, in our third episode of Avast Hacker Archives (AHA). Stream the episode below, in which Jaya asks Chris about everything from his earliest “Aha!” moments to his wildest hacks to his incredible, game-changing designs for the future. 

Security consultant and head hillbilly in the cutting-edge cyber braintrust known as the Hillbilly Hit Squad, Chris Roberts likes to test boundaries. How far will he go? The outer edges of our own galaxy may not be far enough. Sure, he’s hacked Fort Knox, the White House, the Pentagon, and the aforementioned train station, but Chris wasn’t satisfied until he quite literally reached for the stars. He managed to successfully adjust the temperature in the International Space Station, a stunt which garnered him some flack from NASA. He’s proud of that one, but prouder still of hacking the Mars Rover. He programmed the exploratory vehicle to play a Freddie Mercury song. What song? Why, “God Save the Queen,” of course.

As brilliant as he is mischievous, Chris provides defensive services to enterprise and government clients alike. When he’s not consulting with organizations that value his hacking skills, he’s working with fellow Hillbilly Hit Squad members on a new security model simply called “Dave.” Dave is something of a cybersecurity watchdog designed to help small businesses through a simple, easy-to-understand interface and sophisticated, dynamic security.

In the episode, Jaya asks Chris what he would like to see changed in the cybersecurity industry, and his answer is clear and passionate – more communication, more collaboration, and more humanity. He’s discouraged by the commercialization of digital security, and he strongly believes that we should all be working together, sharing discoveries and building on each other’s ideas in the name of good for all. Instead of 50 different security options clamoring for the consumer’s attention, Chris feels there should be just one or two, bolstered by the combined discoveries and developments of the best brains in the field.

Chris also talks about the utmost importance of “soft skills,” the human side of all this digital interplay. Users who are not tech-savvy need patience, clarity, and kindness from their security experts. Only with that kind of real communication can we move forward as a society and advance our collective technological abilities. 

An even bigger problem facing the general populace of internet users, according to Chris, is the emergence of digital identity. We as humans, he feels, have not gotten used to the concept yet, and as a result there is too much vulnerability and confusion surrounding the issue. Everyone has a list of passwords a mile long, and Chris firmly believes we can approach our online identities in a saner, calmer way. He tells Jaya about a project he has in the works that will address that very issue.

Conversations with Chris always bring out thought-provoking points and hilarious anecdotes. This episode has no shortage of either. When Jaya asks him about his earliest hack, Chris begins the story with its repercussions: “My father had me arrested at 14…”

Check out the episode to hear the rest of this tale, in addition to some other “Aha!” moments Chris has experienced. Learn what started him out on his hacking journey and hear his advice to young hackers just beginning. He shares his views on social media, he talks about his personal project where he is creating a fully digital version of himself, and he recounts some rowdy antics, such as the time he and Jaya hacked some robots. 

All of this and more is in Episode 3 of Avast Hacker Archives, our most epic episode yet! Watch, be astounded, and enjoy.

You can also listen to the episode as a podcast (additionally on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts as well as on Spotify.

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