The Andrey Ternovskiy infatuation tour continues: Since the creator of Chatroulette unmasked himself as a 17-year-old high school student from Moscow, he’s drawn considerable attention from the likes of The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and even venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who’s expressed interest in investing in Chatroulette.
Now, Ternovskiy is the subject of one of The New Yorker‘s trademark 4,000-word profiles. There aren’t any massive new revelations here — though 4chan types may find some glee in learning that Ternovskiy first cut his teeth on DDoS attacks when he was 11 — but it’s a fascinating read about a fascinating figure.
Like many young Russians with programming skills, Ternovskiy turned to hacking. When he was eleven, he came upon zloy.org (which translates as angry.org), a hacker forum led by a young man named Sergey (a.k.a. Terminator), who trained his followers in cyber warfare. Using the handle Flashboy, Ternovskiy soon mastered the art of the denial-of-service attack, wherein a target system is paralyzed by a mass of incoming communication requests. Next came Web-site and e-mail hacking, a service he gladly performed for girls who asked nicely. By 2007, at the age of fifteen, Ternovskiy had learned about what hackers call “social engineering”—getting what one wants through deceit or manipulation. Posing as a teacher, Ternovskiy got access to some practice tests before they were delivered to his school.
As Ternovskiy spent more and more time on the computer, his grades tumbled. Vladimir, concerned by his son’s academic languor, hired a graduate student as a math tutor. But Ternovskiy was often late to the sessions, and, worse, he seemed either unable or unwilling to solve the most basic problems. “I just don’t understand how someone can code and have such big blank spots in math,” the tutor, Fedor Puchkov, said. He soon realized, however, that, despite Ternovskiy’s inability to crack simple problems, the more unusual and visual the problem the more elegant Ternovskiy’s answer. Two robots parachute onto an infinite checkered strip; how do you make them track each other down? “Andrey found the optimal solution,” Puchkov said. How do you cut a square into convex pentagons? “Here’s how Andrey solved it,” Puchkov said, and sketched a square with two abutting pentagons in the center and lines radiating out cleanly to the perimeter. It was the simplest solution—and Ternovskiy had come to it far more quickly than Puchkov had.
Be sure to check out the whole thing.