Hacking Through the Ages Part 1


04 Sep 2015

Hacking Through the Ages Part 1

Most people think that hacking is a modern phenomenon, but in reality it has existed since the advent of the very first electronic devices. This article takes a look at hacking through the ages.

1903 – The world’s first recorded incident of hacking occurred way back in 1903 when the magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne disrupted a public demonstration of Guglielmo Marconi’s supposedly secure wireless telegraphy technology. Maskelyne managed to send insulting messages via Morse code through the auditoriums projector. Since then, hackers have sought to exploit any new technology.   

1940– World War Two saw the introduction of early computer technology. With the Allies on the ropes they needed to gain an advantage against the Nazis. They achieved this by cracking the German Enigma code thanks to the efforts of the famous code breakers based out of Bletchley Park. By breaking the code the Allies were able to read the enemies orders and intelligence reports. The success of the code breakers played an important role in the Allied victory.

1957 – The bizarre case of Joe Engressia led to the start of hacking known as Phreaking. Engressia was a blind seven-year old boy who was able to whistle at a frequency of 2600 HZ, the frequency that would interact with telephone lines. After the discovery, hackers quickly used it to exploit the phone system. By using a tone of 2600 HZ they could make a telephone switch to think that a call was over, but leave an open carrier line which could be exploited to provide free long-distance and international phone calls.

1980- The New York Times Describe Hackers as:

 ‘Technical experts; skilled, often young, computer programmers, who almost whimsically probe the defences of a computer system, searching out the limits and the possibilities of the machine. Despite their seemingly subversive role, hackers are a recognized asset in the computer industry, often highly prized.’

1983- Public awareness of hackers increased after Hollywood scared the pants off of them by releasing the movie, Wargames. With the Cold War still in progress the movie created hysteria over hackers as it showed that they may have the ability to break government security systems and launch nuclear missiles.

1984 – Using home computers, Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold gained access to BT’s Prestel interactive view data service. Schifreen gained access by observing a Prestel engineer inputting a username of 22222222 and a password of 1234. Using this information Schifreen and Gold explored the BT network and even gained access to Prince Philips personal message inbox.

In the same year, the AIDS Trojan Horse was introduced. AIDS would count the number of times a computer was booted. Once this boot count reaches 90, AIDS would then hide directories and encrypt the names of all the files on drive C. The Trojan effectively rendered a system unusable. The user would then be asked renew the computer’s license' and contact PC Cyborg Corporation for payment. This involved sending $189 to a post office located in Panama. Dr. Joseph Popp was arrested for introducing the Trojan, but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

1986 – As computers became widely available, the number of government and corporate systems being hacked increased sharply. The rise of hacking incidents prompted the US government to introduce the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Other nations soon followed suit in introducing their own anti-hacking laws. In the UK, the first conviction for illegally accessing a computer system was made.

1988 – Robert Morris a graduate student at Cornell University creates a worm that infects the US governments ARPA network (the precursor to the internet). The worm infects 6,000 computers and resulted in Morris being fined $10,000. He avoided jail time, but was sentenced to three years’ probation. In the same year the First National Bank falls victim to data theft worth $70 million.

1990 – In the UK, the Computer Misuse Act is introduced which criminalises any unauthorised access to computer systems

As computer technology increased in both sophistication and number so too did hackers. As the internet was introduced hacking and cybercrime really took off.

The second part of this article will focus on the biggest hacks of the 1990’s and early 21st century. 

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