We have all marveled over the mysteries behind secret societies. Most are exclusive and fueled by rumors and controversy, some occasionally reveal themselves to be working towards some greater cause.
Meet a society of hackers who have come together to create some of the most famous and lucrative tech companies around. With members such as the co-founder of Napster, Shawn Fanning, and recent billionaire and creator of WhatsApp, Jan Koum, “w00w00” was an elite group of hackers that claimed to be the largest nonprofit security team in the world.
w00w00 was founded in 1996 and remained active until the early 2000s. At one point, it had more than 30 participants that spanned 12 countries across five continents.
At the age of 17, w00w00's founder Jonathan Bowie (aka "Jobe”) decided to start a “#!dweebs” channel on EFNet. He wanted to provide a platform for a bunch of “teenage whiz-kids” who were interested in computer security like he was. He invited other hackers to join and after a chunk of time, Matt Conover (“shok”), current founder and CTO of CloudVolumes, suggested that they changed the name to “w00w00” and the name stuck.
We felt the world was ours to take.
The w00w00 website states that there were no “members,” instead, "participants" were only invited based on technical knowledge and not reputation. "Participants" made the affiliation more informal, which was preferred since most of the participants worked for huge security companies. Steve O'Hear from TechCrunch recalls a story of a hacker trying to join w00w00 without an invitation.
"In one story I came across, a hacker from Denmark [who] tried to gain entry to the group’s private chat room by exploiting a weakness in the original IRC protocol. In retaliation, a member of w00w00 attacked the intruder’s box and retrieved his home phone number. They then called him up and asked him to explain in 20 words or less why he wanted to join w00w00.
His answer: I want to change the world."
With so many powerful minds collaborating and sharing ideas, it was no surprise when members experienced or watched other members experience monumental success. Shawn Fanning brought together a group of w00w00 affiliates to work on a music file-sharing service that would later become Napster. Jan Koum ("yan") sold his messaging app startup, WhatsApp, for $16 billion to Facebook.
“I believe at one point in the late 90s/early 2000s we had representative membership with ties to every major security consulting firm, hacker think tank, and security team on Wall Street,” says Bowie.