Thursday, November 25, 2010

Learning from the Past - "Happy Thanksgiving you turkeys"

Happy Thanksgiving! 

For those who had never heard, or may have forgotten, I decided to write about a Thanksgiving "hacker event" that took place in the 1980's, a time when I was getting involved with computers and was devouring everything that I could find on computers and their various topics. It was kind of like a "'Twas the night before Christmas" story but with presents that nobody wanted. 

Back on November 28, 1989 the technicians at WNET (Channel 13) in New York City were preparing for their annual Thanksgiving Day celebration when a message popped up on their computer screens.

"Happy Thanksgiving you turkeys from all of us at MOD". 

Actually, the full message read,

"Haha! You want to log in? Why? It's empty! HAHAHAHAHA! Happy Thanksgiving you turkeys, from all of us at MOD." 

This message would also be seen by teachers and librarians as well.

It was signed by: Phiber Optik, Acid Phreak, Outlaw, Corrupt and Scorpion, five members of the Masters of Deception. Later during an NBC News broadcast on November 14, 19901 , Phiber Optik, found out to be Mark Abene and Acid Phreak would take responsibilities for sending "the message".

Within hours, a mysterious group of computer hackers known as the Masters of Deception (MOD) had erased nearly all the information contained on a WNET educational network called the Learning Link.

Perception. Based upon the above information, what would be your perception of a hacker? Got it? OK, put a bookmark there and let's continue...

A later, separate, but related story1 that was taken from a U.S. Newswire on July 8, 1992, wrote of the MOD in an indictment that...

A computer hacker is someone who uses a computer or a telephone to obtain
unauthorized access to other computers.

As we have seen, hackers can often be their own worst enemy. One hacker that was interviewed on a separate occasion commented:
"It's not just winning that counts but making sure that everyone else loses." 2

People's perceptions of the hacker and hacker culture were being formed by things that were said and done by hackers and in at least the case referenced above, the legal profession.

You look at a person or group that is generally marked by intelligence, resourcefulness and curiosity and because of motivation and criminal activity ends up giving the entire group a black eye.

So what can be learned from the past?

For starters:
  1. Don't do anything illegal.
  2. Don't destroy data.
  3. Let your imagination and curiosity go.
  4. Examine your motivation... Since we are talking about the past, it'd be nice for people to revisit the days of MIT's TMRC and their Coke machine, etc. If you're not familiar with that, I'll leave that one to your own digging, but there is worthwhile reading in a lot of real "old school hacks" and what is, or should be the true motivation for people.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving!

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