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Dylan Wheeler was just 17 when police charged him with being part of a group that allegedly hacked into theCOMPUTERS ofMICROSOFT and the US Army. He ended up fleeing the country, facing a possible 10-year jail sentence, even though he’d been ordered to surrender his passport.
Now he’s told Lauren Day he has no regrets and no plans to return.
DYLAN WHEELER, HACKER: To be honest, I don’t see it as on the run. I mean, what’s coming out of Australia now, I don’t really want to be associated with the politics. All these draconian laws, I don’t feel comfortable calling myself Australian. Really, I feel a lot better being free.
LAUREN DAY, REPORTER: Dylan Wheeler’s not your average opinionated 19-year-old on a gap year. He’s wanted by police and his name is on a Europol list. If found guilty, he faces up to 10 years in jail.
DYLAN WHEELER: At this point in time, I don’t plan to return to Australia. This is on the advice of human rights lawyers I’ve spoken to. Basically because I am not guaranteed a fair trial.
LAUREN DAY: He’s accused of being part of an international hacking ring alleged to have stolen more than US$100 million worth of intellectual property.
DYLAN WHEELER: My role was I was a system administrator for the servers and they utilised my servers to kind of play a part in accessing all different things.
LAUREN DAY: Those things included the design specifications for the unreleased Xbox One system and software used to train US soldiers to fly Apache helicopters, exposing a major weakness in the US Army’s cyber security.
The four other members of the group, from the US and Canada, have all pleaded guilty. Three are spending time in jail.
The hackers were bugged by the FBI as they boasted of their work infiltrating government departments and high-profile companies.
So, how did a kid from Perth become a fugitive hacker?
ANNA WHEELER, DYLAN’S MOTHER: Dylan was a introvert. People used to say how lucky I am to have a child like him. Even the teachers always thought he was best kid in the classrooms.
LAUREN DAY: That was until he hacked his teachers’COMPUTERS at just 13, a sign of much bigger things to come.
Did you ever suspect that he was doing anything illegal in his bedroom when he was playing on his computers?
ANNA WHEELER: No. No, no, no, no. I just thought he playing games, you know, with his mates.
LAUREN DAY: Early one morning in 2013, that illusion came crashing down as the FBI and WA police raided her Perth home. Dylan Wheeler’s five-year-old brother was asleep in the next room.
ANNA WHEELER: I placed the hand in front of his eye so he can’t see, but he could see where he was walking and I said, “Just watch this as you’re walking so you don’t trip, but don’t look anywhere and one day Mummy explain it, what’s going on.”
LAUREN DAY: How did you explain that?
ANNA WHEELER: I said to him, you know, “Dylan was a naughty boy.” What do you say to a five-year-old, you know? So I said, “But he be OK. I am sure he hasn’t done anything wrong.” So, yeah. But, yeah, I didn’t know that was the start of the big, big, big problem, yeah.
LAUREN DAY: In May, 2013, the teenager was charged with a string of offences, including illegal use of a computer and possession of child exploitation material. He claims the servers he was operating were being used not only by hackers, but by people accessing child porn.
DYLAN WHEELER: They’re charging me with what was found on the servers and at the same time they don’t realise a service provider is not liable for those – for what files are actually on the servers unless they know. And if I didn’t know that that information was on the servers, I shouldn’t be charged with that offence.
ANNA WHEELER: Two years later, after a second raid on his home and still yet to face trial, the teenager fled.
DYLAN WHEELER: To be honest, it’s quite scary that I was able to leave on my Australian passport because they have a – they actually have a system called PACE. It’s a system that they use at Border Control to basically find out if you’re a criminal, if you’re trying to leave the country, and it will flag you, normally.
LAUREN DAY: Dylan Wheeler has since done a Freedom of Information request on himself, which reveals he was placed on that system six days after he’d already fled the country. It also reveals that he’d been monitored by authorities since he was 17, with one AFP officer noting that he’d attended a Perth hacking conference wearing frilly socks. WA Police declined an interview, saying the case is still technically before the courts. They also refused to comment on how a teenager who’d been ordered to surrender his passport was able to flee the country so easily.
Anna Wheeler is now facing charges of her own for allegedly helping her son leave the country, a claim she denies.
ANNA WHEELER: You don’t want your child to leave. I know what it’s done to my mother. It’s destroyed her. It killed her. And I just thought, you know – (becoming emotional) sorry about that. You know, it’s caused pain on parents. And, like, you know, I know he’s safe and that’s the most important. I know he didn’t die, which I know some people have to face that, but he’s not here to give me hugs.
LAUREN DAY: Since leaving Australia, Dylan Wheeler claims he’s been hacking for good, helping European government agencies protect themselves from malicious hackers. He’s not afraid of being caught or that his past will catch up with him.
DYLAN WHEELER: Most friends, family, if I really wanna – if they wanna see me and I wanna see them, I have more than enoughFUNDS nowadays to actually send them over anywhere in the world that isn’t Australia and meet up with them. The accusations they have claimed are untrue and to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t committed a crime. I’d like them to just drop their charges, drop their accusations and face defeat and say, “Hey, we stuffed up.”