Six of history’s most interesting hacks

We’re living in an age where cyber-attacks are targeting high-profile web services. It’s getting to the stage where no matter how security conscious we are, we have to rely on the websites we use to be just as stringent. As Catch of the Day demonstrated, this isn’t always the case; we may not even know our information has been compromised. But at the same time, the Catch of the Day hack isn't anything out of the ordinary. Sure, we didn't find out until three years later (which shouldn't have been the case), but otherwise, such attacks are unfortunately becoming commonplace. So instead, we're going to take a look at some of history's most interesting hacks.

By Alex Choros

We’re living in an age where cyber-attacks are targeting high-profile web services. It’s getting to the stage where no matter how security conscious we are, we have to rely on the websites we use to be just as stringent. As Catch of the Day demonstrated, this isn’t always the case; we may not even know our information has been compromised. But at the same time, the Catch of the Day hack isn't anything out of the ordinary. Sure, we didn't find out until three years later (which shouldn't have been the case), but otherwise, such attacks are unfortunately becoming commonplace. So instead, we're going to take a look at some of history's most interesting hacks.

Kevin Mitnick hacks the McDonalds drive-through
Kevin Mitnick's hit-list, including Sun Microsystems, Digital Equiment Corporation, Nokia, Motorola and Netcom, landed him the title of most wanted cyber-criminal in the United States. After his arrest, authorities placed him in solitary confinement because they thought he was so dangerous that he could start a nuclear war by whistling into a phone. Despite his well-deserved notoriety, Mitnick's favourite hack was taking control of the drive-through speaker at a local McDonalds when he was a kid.

The young hacker used to sit across the street from his local Maccas and would make quips such as "Our weight detection system detected your car is a little heavy so we recommend the salad instead of the Big Mac" to customers ordering. In an interview with Forbes, Mitnick revealed his favourite prank was saying "Hide the cocaine, hide the cocaine!" when police drove up to the drive-through, leaving an unsuspecting employee to meet the suspicious gaze of the law.

Jonathon James hacks NASA
Also known as "c0mrade", Jonathon James was the first juvenile to be sent to prison for hacking. In 1999, James was able to break into NASA computers and download proprietary software for the International Space Station. According to NASA officials, the files obtained were valued at USD$1.7 million and "supported the International Space Station's physical environment, including the control of the temperature and humidity within the living space". The incident forced NASA to shut down their computer system for three weeks, and cost the organisation USD$41,000.

Gary McKinnon hacks the US Government
Gary McKinnon, also known as "Solo", is accused of undertaking the "biggest military computer hack of all time". This entailed hacking into 97 United States military and NASA computers over a 13 month period between February 2001 and March 2002. McKinnon was reportedly looking for what the US government knew about UFOs.

Authorities claim McKinnon deleted critical files from operating systems, shutting down the US Army's Military District of Washington network of 2,000 computers for 24 hour. In addition, he left a notice on the military's website saying "your security is crap". McKinnon is said to have caused USD$700,000 of damage over the 13 month period.

Kevin Poulsen hacks KIIS-FM
Kevin Poulsen is a convicted computer hacker who's specialty was hacking telephone networks. Poulsen's is renowned for a takeover of all phone lines for Los Angeles radio station, KIIS-FM, ensuring that he would be the winning caller during a Porsche 944 S2 giveaway.

"Max Headroom" hacks WGN-TV and WTTW
One evening in 1987, the WGN-TV broadcast signal was hijacked by an unknown hacker, interrupting the nightly news with half a minute of video of a person dressed as 80s TV character, Max Headroom. There was no audio other than a buzzing noise.

Later that night, "Max Headroom" interrupted a broadcast of Doctor Who on WTTW. This time, the hijack lasted about 90 seconds and included audio. Headroom uttered various unrelated phrases, ranging from advertising slogans to TV show references. The transmission concluded with a shot of the man's exposed buttocks, as an accomplice spanked him with a flyswatter, saying "Bend over, b****".

Neither the perpetrator nor his accomplices were identified.

The WTTW interruption can be viewed below.

The USA hacks Iran
Operation Olympic Games was a covert and unacknowledged campaign of cyber sabotage directed at Iranian nuclear facilities by the United States. According to The New Yorker, the operation was the "the first formal offensive act of pure cyber sabotage by the United States against another country".

Using a virus now known as "Stuxnet", Operation Olympic Games reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges. Stuxnet was spread via USB sticks so that it could target centrifuges not connected to the internet, and infected 58% of all computers in Iran. Iran was reported to have increased its cyber-warfare capabilities following the Stuxnet attack.

Sources: Forbes, Bloomberg, Kingpin, IT Security, The New Yorker, OECD Publishing, Reuters, Pariliament UK

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