The Twisted Genius Who Started A Social Network So He Could Hack It

David Kent is charged with hacking the oil industry social networking site he created—so he could build another one

Mar 31, 2016 at 3:17 PM ET

An entrepreneur who created and sold a social networking site for people who work in the oil industry has been charged with hacking his old site, then using its customer databases to grow a similar site he founded, and then trying to sell that second site back to the people who bought his first one.

David Kent, 40, founded a site called Rigzone in 2000, before even LinkedIn launched. Pages saved by the Internet Archive show that then, as now, it was a go-to site for people who worked in oil: a combination of industry news, classified ads and a membership program for employees and employers to connect.

Kent built the site for a decade before selling it to Dice, another job recruiting site, for around $51 million in 2010. He stayed on as president for a year before quitting. In 2013, almost exactly when his non-compete clause was over, Kent founded a similar site called OilPro, which proclaimed itself a “professional network built for oil and gas professionals” that encouraged users to “Re-connect with colleagues, share your expertise and stay on top of the latest news.”

Oilpro grew rapidly, reaching 500,000 registered users by the beginning of 2016. But according to the FBI, the company didn’t come by them legally. An FBI investigation found Rigzone was hacked over two periods between 2013 and 2015.

Rigzone employees were alerted that something was amiss in 2014, when a customer emailed its support line, saying it had received invitations to join Oilpro, despite not ever using the service. So the employees laid a trap. They created fake profiles of Rigzone users, paired them with throwaway email addresses that served no purpose outside of those profiles, and waited. It worked: A few weeks later, both addresses received invitations to join Oilpro. Soon after that, according to FBI testimony, Kent emailed Rigzone to indicate he wanted to sell Oilpro, writing, “My original mission was to build something that [Rigzone’s owners] would be interested in acquiring.”

Kent continued attempts to sell Oilpro to Rigzone’s Owners, even flying to New York in January 2016 to tell them his site had grown because of a rapid push on LinkedIn.

But another Oilpro employee, unnamed in the FBI’s testimony, tells a different story. Emails from Kent to that employee indicate he actively sought out hackers for hire who might help add users in Rigzone’s database to Oilpro. At one point, he sent a hacker resume to that unnamed employee, writing “We should hire him … He might find backdoors, etc.”

In a statement provided to Vocativ, Michael Durney, President and CEO of DHI, the company that now owns Rigzone, said that after realizing their database had been hacked, “we launched an internal investigation, contacted the FBI, and took steps to ensure that no further information was taken.”

“Only resume profile information was accessed,” Durney said, and “protection of our members’ data is of the utmost importance to us.”

Oilpro didn’t return request for comment. Kent is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and faces up to 20 years in prison.