HackThePlanet - Real Life Hacks


20 years ago in the United States our favourite film and inspiration for our site design and name was released. To celebrate Hackers we are looking at all our hacking related articles. Nate McKenzie with a look at some of the hacks that really happened...

From the advent of the internet - and probably even before then - hacking has been intriguing to the general public. From the greenest of n00bs to the most savvy tech ninjas, wielding the ability to go wherever one desires throughout the entire internet has an inherent draw. Humans are, after all, explorers at our core. Sometimes hackers are malicious but often they are simply curious to see what they can accomplish and where they can go; like digital Magellan's on the cyber-seas.

There have been famous hacks in the last few decades that made headlines in the news. But the details of those hacks are often forgotten or glossed over. In the blurry vision of the myopic masses, what matters is: what did they do and how are they going to be punished? Because, of course, the court of public opinion generally supersedes any logical reasoning.

Hacking has been getting more and more notoriety over the years thanks to the TJX hack, Anonymous' popularity, 4Chan and Reddit posters, and the more sexy news stories derived from the Ashley Madison hack and the celebrity nudes leak that became known as The Fappening. Zero Cool was the king of king's in Hackers for crashing "fifteen hundred and seven computers in one day". In comparison, stealing naked pictures from celebrities who probably used their pets names as passwords for their iCloud accounts seems significantly less impressive than stealing the credit card information for over 90 million people, which is precisely what Albert Gonzalez did. Still, hacking is hacking, whether by brute force or more elegant methods. Black hat, white hat, gray hat... their goals are all the the same: get in somewhere that you're not supposed to be and find out something you're not supposed to know. What they learn is what interests me.

In many instances, the details are more interesting than the actual product of a hacker's exploits anyway. Following are five cases which have intriguing bytes, er, bits.

Ashley Madison Password Fails

We're all aware of the Ashley Madison hack. I don't care what your opinion is on the actual utility of the website. I am not judge, jury, nor executioner. I'm only interested in the details.

According to The Plague, the four most popular passwords used are "love, sex, secret, and god". Now, how accurate that is (or was) I'm not sure. But what I am sure of is that the passwords revealed, as a result of the Ashley Madison hack that took place recently, are significantly less... profound.

Of the passwords exposed, the five most popular were: 123456, 12345, password, default, and 1233456789. I suppose when you're goal is to land a romp with a mistress (or mister) the blood flowing away from your brain deems easily remembered passwords a necessity. Still, those seem more than a little uninspired. And they only get worse. Qwerty, Whatever, 7777777, and even batman made the list, as did numerous other first names like Anthony, Michael, Maggie, and Thomas.

But the thing that I am confused most about is whether I should be more concerned with the prevalent use of "killer"... or "iloveyou". Disturbing and demoralizing, to say the least.

Dark Dante: The Original Phreak

In Hackers, Renoly Santiago's character went by the alias Phreak. In the hacking community, a phreak is one who hacks telephone systems. In the 1980's, Kevin Poulson was the original phreak, and went by the alias Dark Dante. Although his nom de guerre incites a sense of ominousness, his antics were relatively tame.

His most famous hack involved co-opting the phone lines of a radio station in order to become the 102nd caller, which awarded him the prize for the call-in contest: a Porsche. A worthy bounty to be sure. But after the FBI became involved and began to pursue Poulson, he became a fugitive for some time.

When the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" featured a piece on Poulson, they asked for viewers to call in with any information regarding his whereabouts, as was customary on the show. Ironically, the phone systems that fielded calls for Unsolved Mysteries 1-800 lines crashed. No one was ever officially accused of tampering in that instance. But no one is actually in doubt about the root cause.

Kevin Poulson now writes for Wired magazine.


NASA Grounded By A Kid

In 1999 Jonathon James hacked NASA and downloaded some files that pertained to the ecological control of the International Space Station. He never indicated any intent to cause mayhem, yet he was eventually arrested when caught, making him the first juvenile to ever be convicted and jailed for hacking in the U.S.

The incredible part of this case is that James was only 16 years old when he managed to hack into NASA's computers; a feat that many could not pull off. Interestingly, James, aka c0mrade, claims that he had tried to contact the network administrators to inform them of their vulnerability but no one ever responded. More than that, James actually told the admins how to fix the issues and they never did.

I would suspect that at least one person was fired.

In an interview some years later, James stated that if he were trying to be malicious he never would have been caught. I'm inclined to believe him.

Solo's search for E.T.

“Your security system is crap. I am Solo. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”
That taunt issued by Gary McKinnon to the U.S. military between 2001 and 2002 is brash and arrogant. But how is a guy supposed to feel when he is able to gain access to almost 100 military and NASA servers within the span of a year?

The juicy part of his actions came in the form of information that the general public is meant not to be privy to.

In 2006 McKinnon told Wired magazine that while hacking the military he purposefully searched for information regarding UFOs. He claimed that he found a department server at Johnson Space Center which held massive amounts of high-res satellite images that had been airbrushed to remove the evidence of UFOs in the pictures. Of course, none of the pictures were able to download over his dial-up connection, but he remains steadfast in his claims.

Do Not Threaten An Enemy Without A Face

The hacktivist group Anonymous has become synonymous with hacking. In 2010 they managed what many consider to be their most righteous hack when they directly caused the resignation of the chief executive of a U.S. security firm that was helping the government track down cyberactivists.

Aaron Barr, who headed HBGary Federal, had boasted to the Financial Times that he would reveal the names of some of Anonymous's leaders. That didn't sit well with the Anonymous community. The group responded by hacking into HBGary's computer system through its public website, accessing 71,000 private emails. They then made the files easy to search and read, for anyone with a computer and internet access.

The emails revealed that HBGary was comfortable employing dirty tricks to preserve its image including blackmailing Glenn Greenwald, Salon journalist and supporter of WikiLeaks.

On Feb. 28, 2011 Barr was forced to resign.


A group of hackers took down a powerful employee of a multinational company, effectively ruining his professional life? That seems... familiar.

Images - morguefile.com
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