LIKE an online freedom fighter, Adrian Wood logs on to his computer each day armed for an invisible war against hackers.
The Armidale 23-year-old, who grew up in Tamworth, is known as a “white-hat hacker”, a computer guru paid by large companies to hack into their network and expose security flaws.
“Basically, I approach IT security issues from the same point of view as the bad guys,” Mr Wood said.
“I employ all the same methods without stealing your data, your credit card details or your personal information.”
Recruited mainly by utility companies, banks and e-commerce companies, Mr Wood and his four staff at Whitehack trawl the darkest corners of the web, locked in combat with a growing army of “black-hat hackers”.
He said the sheer volume of hackers, many emanating from Africa and Russia, meant the demand for his work was booming.
And, despite his ability to hack into private – and potentially lucrative – information, he said he was never tempted to “go to the dark side”.
“It’s not in my nature, I’m more of a helping person,” Mr Wood said.
“I get to do a lot of the awesome stuff the bad guys do, but I don’t get into trouble.”
In the wake of the recent celebrity nude photo scandal, he said there were simple ways people could help protect their personal details.
“A lot of people are still using the same password in multiple places,” Mr Wood said.
“That’s a really bad idea, because if one of those services gets compromised, all your services are compromised.
“For example, if the place you buy your shoes gets hacked, those usernames and passwords are on-sold to people in the dark places of the internet.
“It’s only a matter of time then until someone accesses your services.”
He said while multiple passwords could be hard to remember, password managers were available to aggregate all your passwords in one spot.
He also urged people to use “two-factor authentication” for email accounts, where a unique code is sent to your mobile phone during the log-in process.
Mr Wood established Whitehack in Armidale in late 2012, lured by the availability of the NBN.
“The NBN has made a huge difference to me; it’s saved me a lot of money,” he said.
“We use up to three or four terabytes of data a month and if I did that on an ADSL connection, it would cost me thousands of dollars and take a lot longer to download.”