The Next Generation of Cyber Sleuths

By Roberto Vazquez

Leo Garrett arrived at El Dorado Park just as skies began to turn gray and foreboding, a storm clearly brewing. Garrett looked up, smiled, and laughed like an average 18 year-old without a care in the world might laugh, however, Leo Garrett is anything but average.

A reporter had reached out to him to discuss a serious matter and the issue of crime, a new, different kind of crime. “I was playing Counter-Strike when you called,” Garrett said, and laughed again, the kid in him still very evident in his eyes.

Frightening Times, Technology

There’s nothing funny about what’s happening in America.

Headlines point to a social upheaval in the form of mass, organized retail thefts, a surge in fentanyl and meth-related deaths, donut peeling street takeovers, with social media often the common denominator.

Garrett pointed to Twitch, a free, live streaming platform owned by Amazon, which generates ad revenues for the company.

“You’re recording live, for other people to watch. There are hundreds of thousands of people watching these people play video games, live, or do donuts, or speed on the highway at 100 miles per hour, live.”

And now, cities and states across the nation, and around the world, have begun to experience the powerlessness of stopping hacks, “phishing” scams and ransomware gangs.

In Las Vegas alone, a 10-day-long data breach and subsequent ransom refusal reportedly cost MGM Resorts casino more than 100 million dollars in losses.

In California, the cities of Oakland and Modesto were attacked in April this year, two days apart, by the Play and Snatch ransomware gangs, respectively.

On Nov. 14, the cyber crime wave hit Long Beach with an attack that took systems offline, disabled the city’s website and brought home the seriousness of online vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first go around for Long Beach. Nine months earlier, Long Beach Unified School District was also attacked, resulting in personal student data being released online.

For Garrett, all of these developments are no surprise. He shrugged and laughed again, “I was like, ‘Ah, what’s new?’. I’m not really surprised. Basically, it happens every day. My grandma (Barbara Jones) got hacked recently. I had to help her recover her accounts.”

Gaming and Patriotism

Beyond a sea of drones, unregulated cryptocurrency, and the growing role of artificial intelligence, America is also facing a recruiting shortage in the military.

The shortage is so bad, that the military has reversed course and recently offered those military personnel who were kicked out for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, a chance to return to the military service.

On Dec. 14, however, the Navy will gladly welcome an exceptional young man into its fold as he leaves for basic training in Chicago. Garrett’s hair had been recently clipped in preparation for the change, “I got a buzz cut, about a week ago. It’s gonna be rocking for the next five years of my life.”

Unfortunately, it would likely be Garrett’s last Thanksgiving and his first Christmas without his family for the next several years, as he begins a career as a cyber warfare technician (C.W.T), a career that started with games.

“I’ve always built my own computers since I was 10, 11 years of age, when I got into P.C gaming,” adding, “Gaming is fun. It allows your mind to do strategies. It allows me to think and use logic.”

It’s not all fun and games, though.

“I joined the military because I know what I want to do with my life. I eventually want to work for either the N.S.A, the C.I.A, or the F.B.I, or, run my own cybersecurity firm, like the ghost in the wires,” a reference to, “The Ghost In The Wires,” a book on hacking.

The Cost of ‘Progress’

Artificial intelligence is the rage these days, leaving many concerned with what the future portends.

“It’s going to be permanent,” Garrett said. “I basically use it every day. It’s a tool like anything else, but tools can be used positively or negatively. It boils down to the person behind it.”

He continued, “Right now, A.I. has gotten so advanced I honestly use it more as a replacement for Google.”

Like many older Americans, his paternal grandmother, Susan Garrett, doesn’t like artificial intelligence. “I think it comes down to her not knowing exactly what it is. She thinks it’s all intelligent, even though it’s a statistical model.”

“My field is more, you know, hacking,” and laughed again, before wisely adding, “You cannot live in fear. Fear is a lower-level emotion. It keeps you trapped in your animal instincts, that’s what fear does.”

Born To Lead

But Garrett, who has two older and two younger sisters, grew serious when the subject of social media was broached.

A reporter asked Garrett about a well-known, popular YouTube channel, Ryan Toy Reviews, and he nodded and mentioned his youngest sister. “She wants to be a YouTuber and she posts videos on the internet. I’m constantly telling my Mom, ‘Don’t let her do this,’ I’m 100 percent against it,” adding, “That’s my seven-year-old little sister making YouTube videos online, Barbie videos, toy reviews!”

Some have begun to refer to it as the Kardashian Effect, and Garrett agreed.

“That’s kind of what I’m seeing with my little sister. Her innocence is getting tainted and that’s something so valuable in a child, their purity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

Garrett’s voice lowered just above a whisper and he added, “It makes me kinda sad.”

Then, the bright smile returned and his eyes gleamed with love, love for a little sister, and love for America.

Garrett spoke up, his voice strong and confident, “I feel like it’s my duty to make the future better, make it more secure and free.

That’s something I feel I’m here for, and that’s why I was born in this century.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Leo Garrett was born to lead.

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