Meet Neiko—also known as Specters—a skateboarder by day, punk music enthusiast by night, a full-time skilled hacker in between, and a truly selfless individual who prioritizes giving back to his community, on top of it all. Oh, and he’s an awesome dog dad. 

Born in Chicago, Specters took to skateboarding like a fish to water. He even pursued professional skateboarding and won some AM competitions before he broke his leg. 

When he wasn’t perfecting his kickflips and ollies, Specters could be found immersed in the raw energy of punk music. His favorite artists include the Foo Fighters, Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol, Bomb the Music Industry! and Kill the President.

But beyond his love of skate parks and mosh pits, there is another side to Specters—a side deeply entrenched in the world of hacking and cybersecurity. He stumbled upon hacking during a tumultuous time in his life, when he found himself homeless and searching for a way out. Keep reading to learn how hacking changed his life.


An unconventional journey into hacking

Driven by a desire for stability and financial security, Specters delved into the world of hacking, specializing in everything from car hacking to malware analysis. His was a unique journey, but it was filled with growth, friends, opportunities, and success.

How did you get into the cybersecurity space?

“I was homeless at the time, so I figured it would be a good idea to do this because it seemed like computer people made some money.”

How have bug bounties impacted your life? 

“My first bounty was used to pay for my first apartment and quite literally saved me from homelessness.”

What and who first sparked your interest in hacking?

“I’m not sure who really inspired me. Probably old school phreaks like Mark Abene. But who inspires me today are people like RQU45, BusesCanFly, Lennert, Ziot, NullXORcist, Netspooky & Hermit, !pike, Jimmy Sandoval, EatsCrayons, Team Dumpsterfire, and so many other kind and super smart people who I have been so lucky to meet.”

Do you have any favorite tools or resources? What are they?

“A couple of my favorite tools are wire and a soldering iron. My most useful resources are: 

  • Nahamsec—he’s god-tier OSINT.
  • Haddix—he has dope talks and also god-tier OSINT.
  • Lennert—big brain stuff I will never be able to do in my life.
  • Stack smashing—great for hardware hacking and memes. 
  • Thugcrowd—for raising a skid like me into a security enthusiast.”

Do you have any advice for new hackers or people transitioning into bug bounty?

“Hack for fun, not for profit.”

What’s an important lesson that you wish you learned early on in your hacking career? 

“Not all bugs have impact, and it’s important to take a step back sometimes if you don’t get the result you want and chill out. With that, remember that triagers are people too, and just be nicer all around.”

Why do you hunt with Bugcrowd?

“Bugcrowd gave me a shot to prove myself. I had 0 credentials or achievements at the time—I was homeless, I had just started car hacking, I was literally nobody. Bugcrowd gave me a chance to change that.”


A look into hardware hacking

What do you specialize in?

“I started with car hacking but used to love malware analysis. I think now I just do everything around hardware hacking.”

Hardware hacking is experiencing a huge resurgence right now. Why do you think that is?

“To be honest, I think it’s kind of due. There are a ton of embedded devices that are not secure right now, and a lot of people are realizing that again.”

What advice do you have for beginners looking to get into hardware hacking?

“Different Arduino kits will help you learn a ton of different things hardware-related. I bought this IoT clock Arduino kit, and it had a bunch of different protocols and circuits that I had to set up, so I would definitely recommend that. Analyzing hardware with different tools will also help you learn. There are a bunch of great talks from the security community to get you started. Joe Fitzpatrick has training material.”


Paying it forward

Bug bounties played a crucial role in Specters’ journey, providing him with the means to escape homelessness and build a better future. As he progressed in his hacking career, he noticed some gaps in the community that didn’t sit quite right with him. Not one to wait around for someone else to solve a problem, Specters took it upon himself to be the change he wanted to see. 

What has been your biggest challenge while hacking? How did you overcome it?

“I think something that bothers me is the lack of Hispanic representation. Identity has always been a difficult issue for me. I am talking to so many different communities now and so many people who have had similar experiences, and just making friends has really helped me.”

What are some of the organizations you like to donate your time and funds to?

Hack the Hood and Boards 4 Bros are two organizations that are very personal to me. Their efforts go toward neighborhoods like the one I grew up in, and they help kids like me.”

You’re really passionate about helping others and offering up a path out. Can you talk more about that? 

“I work at food shelters when I can, cooking and doing necessary tasks. I do presentations for Latinx groups, introducing them to computers and hacking. I mentor people who are seeking guidance, providing them with instruction and materials to get them started.”


Looking forward

Despite the hurdles he’s faced, Specters remains determined to carve out his place in the world, both in impact on others and in hacking. Through perseverance, humility, and a punk rock mentality, he forges ahead. 

Looking forward, Specters dreams of giving back to the communities that have supported him. Whether it is through mentoring aspiring hackers or advocating for more representation in the field, he is determined to make a difference.

Hacking is strenuous work. How do you avoid burnout? 

“Skateboarding or any outdoor activities, kickboxing has been really fun lately, and anything that isn’t computer hacking time really.”

How do you take care of yourself and your mental health?

“A few things that have really helped me are therapy, meditation, and Counter Strike Global Offensive. From there, I rinse and repeat.”

Where do you see your journey going from here?

“Hopefully, I can contribute more to skateboarding and building parks and what not. It’s always been my dream.”

What are some goals you have for this year?

“Buy a house, which seems impossible right now, and continue to give back and pay it forward.”

For now, Specters finds solace in the simple pleasures in life—skating, chilling with his doggies, jamming out to his favorite tunes, and hacking away. The journey is far from over for Specters—it is just getting started.

If you want to support a couple of Specters favorite organizations, check out Hack the Hood and Boards 4 Bros.