It would seem that Owen Walker was home educated.
By Jane Phare and Carolyne Meng-Yee
The Whitianga computer whiz kid who masterminded an international network of computer hacking has become something of a local hero, flooded with international job offers and celebrated by fellow geeks.
Last night local geekers organised a birthday/freedom party for Owen Walker, who turned 19 yesterday. The party, a LAN (local area network) night of playing computer games, was to celebrate Walker’s discharge without conviction in the High Court at Hamilton last week.
Walker has yet to make a decision about his future but his stepfather Billy Whyte told the Herald on Sunday that his son had been inundated with job offers from overseas.
In an extraordinary move backed by the police, Justice Potter last week discharged Walker without conviction on some of the most sophisticated crimes seen in New Zealand. The judge took into account that Walker could have a brilliant future using his talents overseas. He was ordered to pay $9526 towards his share of damage to Pennsylvania University’s computer system, give his computer and related assets to the police and pay costs of $5000.
In April, Walker pleaded guilty to six charges, including accessing a computer for dishonest purpose, damaging or interfering with a computer system, possessing software for committing crime and accessing a computer system without authorisation. The crimes carry maximum sentences of up to seven years in prison.
In a poacher-turned-gamekeeper scenario the Crown acknowledged that if Walker escaped conviction he could use his skills to help law enforcement agencies. The police have expressed interest in considering him for a job.
Walker told the court he was interested in forensic analysis and securities systems and would be interested in working with the New Zealand Police should an offer arise.
For the moment he is still working part time in Whitianga as a computer programmer, and living at home. His only asset is a computer he bought to replace the one seized.
Whitianga Year 13 student Ella Grierson said yesterday that she and a group of computer friends had decided to hold a birthday/freedom party for Walker to celebrate the court’s decision.
“I was glad he wasn’t convicted because people needed to focus on what he didn’t do. He is really a nice person, I mean he wasn’t hurting anybody. He is a really smart guy.”
Grierson said Walker had become a local celebrity.
“I think he will go down in Whitianga history. It’s pretty exciting, especially because he didn’t go to school and when he did he was bullied. It’s great that the world has become aware of him and his amazing skills.”
Self-taught Whitianga computer whiz Owen Walker………
Home-schooled in his high-school years and with no formal training in computers, Walker taught himself computer programming and encryption.
His mother says he was diagnosed at age 10 with mild Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism often characterised by social isolation but great intelligence…..
But he was taunted, and, by the age of 14, he had been pulled out of school by his parents.
“He was bullied by the ‘cool’ kids, especially the boys. Also because he was a computer geek. They were boys being boys but they were mean to him.
“Self-taught, he developed skills and knowledge which impressed even the FBI investigators who closed in on him. As he hit his mid teens he became increasingly fascinated by what he could do with computers.
Walker was home-schooled from the age of 13, removed from school due to bullying. He received no formal computer training, instead teaching himself programming and encryption.