This college student has made $300,000 worth of frequent flyer miles for legally hacking United Airways

In early 2015, Georgia Tech student Ryan Pickren made headlines when he was arrested on charges of hacking into the calendar system of rival school University of Georgia ahead of a big football game and added an entry saying “Get Arse Kicked By GT.”

While he could have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, Pickren was allowed to complete a pretrial diversion program and the charges were dropped.

Since then, Pickren has turned his hacking progress into a lucrative side-career: He’s now the number 1 most successful contributor to United Airlines’ Bug Bounty Program, which rewards hackers with frequent flyer miles for finding security flaws in their website.

“I first started working with United because I was about to leave the state for an internship and I wanted frequent flyer miles so I could see my girlfriend back in [Atlanta] on the weekends,” Pickren tells Business Insider. “But I quickly realised how fun looking for bugs was so I just kept at it.”

Companies like Apple and Google have similar programs, though they usually pay out in cash.

For Pickren’s success on the right side of the law, he says he’s been rewarded with 15 million United frequent flyer miles. With each frequent flyer mile valued at $0.02, that’s $300,000 worth of rewards.

And he’s still at Georgia Tech, majoring in computer engineering.

Today, Pickren told us that he’s donated 5 million frequent flyer miles, the equivalent of $100,000, to his school. Those miles can be used by campus organisations, like Engineers without Borders, to do charity work.

The donation was born out of his love for Georgia Tech, he says.

“I love everything about the school, the faculty, professors, students, and facilities. I’m a die hard ramblin’ wreck,” Pickren says.

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