Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Hacker or Virus (computer) (12/15/11)
- TITLE: Brooksville Prankster-Hero
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Seventeen-year-old Ron, football quarterback and honor roll student, wasn’t a trouble-maker - he just liked adventure. He was the ringleader on the junior class trip, the one who rode the scariest roller coaster and convinced others to join him on a second and third and fourth runs. He was the daredevil who skydived from the Rent-a-Chute airplane - a just-watch-me-do-it escapade to celebrate his seventeenth birthday. And he was the Prince Charming who dared ask the untouchable Homecoming Queen, who was a full year older than he, for a date. (She accepted, by the way.)
Ron hung out with a handful of equally bright, energetic, adventurous buddies - all intelligent young men who attended the same church youth group. They spent inordinate amounts of time together daydreaming about forthcoming risks and gambles, and spurring each other on to conquest.
One Saturday afternoon Ron addressed the gang while playing Pig at the basketball hoop mounted above Ron’s parents’ garage. “Think I could hack … the computer? And get into … say … the Brooksville Bank?” he yelled while dribbling for a lay-up.
“The bank?” his friend, Thomas, shouted after rebounding. “THE BANK?”
The others guffawed heartily: “Hey man, you’re crazy! Think you’re an electronic con man, huh?” However, their chiding only served to cement Ron’s curiosity and resolve. He would dare to try. Could he break into the bank’s records and remain there, undetected, without ever leaving home? Would he have the guts and know-how to pull it off?
The year was 1983, and personal computers were still relatively new. Ron was fortunate that his family owned a PC, and that he seemed to have an innate understanding of its workings.
Security holes in business computers were sometimes still unprotected in the early 80’s. Ron had a distinct advantage in that he knew the operating system used at the bank; his Uncle worked there as a teller. He began playing with both common and default passwords, looking for a match.
Ron saw his pursuit as a harmless prank. He was curious, and resolved to conquer something that seemed larger than life. He was simply having fun – no harm intended.
Within the week he’d succeeded in a high-profile network hack, and found himself privy to bank statements belonging to some of the most prominent businessmen in Brooksville and the surrounding area. He’d broken in!
When Ron announced his victory after school, his cronies lifted him onto their shoulders and carried him around the parking lot chanting accolades: “He’s our man, the hacker-man, the hacker-man, the hacker-man … he’s our man …” To them, as well as Ron, it was all a lark, an ultimate adventure, and an adrenaline-inducing notch on their jointly expanding manly belts.
Simultaneously, a bank administrator discovered the electronic break-in and notified the FBI. Eventually Ron was apprehended, although not prosecuted. There had been no damage, although obviously the potential for damage had been huge. He pleaded guilty and agreed to stop his activity.
As a result of media coverage of Ron’s prank, others became more aware of the dangers of computer hacking. Protective measures tightened, even at the national level. In fact, a series of bills concerning computer crime were introduced into the House of Representatives that same year. And Ron? His story appeared in a prominent magazine, enabling the general American public to learn of his grand adventure. In that article, he was identified as a prankster-turned-hero who alerted computer users nation-wide of their need to guard against other more sinister hackers with malicious intentions.
Note: This fictional story reflects non-fiction. In 1983, a group of teenaged boys called the 414s from Milwaukee, Wisconson broke into prestigious computer systems in places like Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Security Pacific Bank. Their recreational computer hacking, led by a seventeen-year old named Neal Patrick, changed computer legislation forever. Due to news coverage of the 414s exploits and Patrick’s testimony, which explained the danger of leaving vital national networks exposed, Congress examined cyber-security in a public forum for the first time. As a result, six bills concerning computer crime were introduced into the House of Representatives. Patrick was featured in Newsweek, where he offered various suggestions as to how to secure such networks in the future.
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