Reformed LulzSec hacktivist joins payments firm

London comp-sci study scores part-time gig

Updated A payments firm has hired reformed LulzSec hactivist Mustafa Al-Bassam (formerly known as tFlow) for a new blockchain research project.

London-based payments group Secure Trading has taken on Al-Bassam to help develop a platform that applies the verification benefits of blockchain technology in order to improve the visibility and security of online payments. Codenamed “Trustery”, the project aims to create a commercial platform.

Secure Trading approached Al-Bassam, who agreed to work for the firm part time while continuing his computer science degree at King's College London.

Blockchain is arguably safer than current payment methods because it offers a verifiable record of transactions. This facility, some experts such as Secure Trading argue, makes it easier to verify the source of payments and thereby reduce illegal activities such as money laundering, the thinking goes.

The firm is working with Al-Bassam to create a commercial platform to bring these security benefits of the technology to its customers. Beyond the Trustery project, Al-Bassam will work closely with the payments group and its cyber security sister company, Cognosec, as a security adviser.

“Working with Secure Trading, I want to develop tools to make online payments safer,” Al-Bassam said in a canned statement. “The financial services industry has traditionally been a few years behind the curve when it comes to security practices. Secure Trading is trying to get ahead with blockchain technology and create modern, secure and fit-for-purpose services for its customers.”

Kobus Paulsen, chairman of Secure Trading, said that payments are moving away from credit cards and e-wallets, and towards cryptocurrency technology, hence the firm’s decision to invest in a blockchain research project.

Secure Trading’s board members include former home secretary Lord David Blunkett, a non-executive director. ®

Updated to add

In response to questions from El Reg about why Secure Trading hired someone with a criminal history, the firm said that Al-Bassam was a reformed character and the best person for the job.

Kobus Paulsen, chairman of Secure Trading, pointed out that the youngster was incredibly young – 16 – at the time of his arrest. He was eventually sentenced to a suspended sentence and ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service as punishment for his admitted hacking exploits as a core member of LulzSec.

"Having learned to code at a young age, he channelled his talent in the wrong direction but he has since shown a lot remorse for what happened, Paulsen said.

Secure Trading's hire is not about rehabilitation, because Al-Bassam is already reformed, according to Paulsen.

“This is not about rehabilitation; Mustafa is reformed and Secure Trading has hired him for his talent," Paulsen argued. "While there are security experts without a criminal history, there is a big difference between reality and simulation. It’s one thing to assess the difficulties of hacking an organisation, and quite another to have actually done it.

“In Mustafa we have someone who is a true expert in cyber security; one with knowledge on technologies such as blockchain that you simply do not come across every day. We need to be able to give customers the best services and advise them on security. With his skills and experience I can’t think of anyone better placed to provide advice than Mustafa,” he added.

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