If you follow the technological news feed, odds are you know the very sad news that Reddit co-founder/ hacker/computer genius Aaron Schwartz committed suicide recently inside his Brooklyn home. Over the past year and a half, Schwartz had been under federal indictment for hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer and stealing millions of academic articles that he planned to share freely over the net.
In the context of what hackers are capable of, that doesn’t sound like a particularly malicious offense. I mean, it’s not like he tried to steal a nuclear warhead, right? Right, because not all hackers are evil. But they face the same legal scrutiny, nonetheless, as those who are.
Hackers, like old-fashioned Hollywood cowboys, are divided into two camps: the good guys — the white hat hackers — and the bad guys — the black hat hackers. White hat hackers supposedly hack purely in the spirit of technological innovation and/or intellectual curiosity. Black hat hackers hack because they want to steal your bank account. It’s that simple. And it is to the white hat hackers that this article is dedicated.
1. Saving “Farmville” and Possibly a Hundred Other Popular Mobile Device Games
Yeah, yeah, we know.Somebody actually went out of their way to save Farmville? That annoying app that’s always clogging up my newsfeed? Yes, that thing. And possibly many other Android and IOS games. So if you have an Android or IOS mobile device and like having something to dick around with while you wait at the dentist’s office, you have a 10 year old girl who goes by the hacker pseudonym CyFi to thank for saving a bunch of games you’ve probably played… from themselves.
Apparently, CyFi discovered a flaw in the programming of Farmville-style mobile device games in that since the game itself had so many time-dependent factors, a person could actually manipulate the gameplay by changing their phone’s clock. By doing this, and then disclosing her find to the very people who make the games, she alerted independent researchers to what they deem a “new class of vulnerability” in mobile device games. Thus, she inadvertently forced mobile app vendors to get their shit together.
2. Exposing Internet Pedophiles
The Internet is a vast place, and not all of it accessible via Google. Tracking an online pedophile is sometimes like trying to find a single fish inside the Mariana Trench. This is because child pornography exists in parts of the non-commercial internet framework that can only be reached via routing portals that anonymize IP addresses. Experts refer to these particular file-sharing sites as the “darknet”, both because they’re hidden from view, and seriously dark stuff typically goes on there.
But sidestepping that noise is what hackers live for. Disturbed that their beloved digital underground had become a haven for sickos, and convinced that the proper authorities didn’t have their shit together, the hacker group known as Anonymous decided to go vigilante.
By creating a booby-trapped version of a browser plug-in that pedophiles used to connect to a popular anonymizing routing portal, they were able to funnel all activity associated with the portal, log it into their server, pinpoint the IP addresses of whoever used it, and track their activity inside the kiddie porn forums.They called their little sting OpDarknet, and it ended up locating 190 people with illegal images on their computer.
3. Delaying the Looming Nuclear Holocaust
Maybe we’re giving the Iranian government a little too much credit by up and assuming they’d ever be capable of either starting or participating in a good ol’ fashioned nuclear hoedown, but we don’t bet against crazy, either. One thing is for sure—they’re trying to do something involving nuclear energy. They know it. We know it. Everybody knows it. Everybody including hackers.
Being of the opinion that the Iranian government shouldn’t being conducting the kind of research that they are, hackers infiltrated two purported nuclear facilities in June of last year by accessing the two facilities’ VPN (virtual private network) and implementing a worm that continually shut down both automated and manual operating systems.
And just because they could, they also managed to play Thunderstruck by AC/DC through the machines in many of the work stations. We assume with the volume cranked to 11, just the way Thunderstruck should be. ‘Murica!
4. Saving the Arab Spring
Lost in all the hoopla of Gaddafi dying and getting things stuck up his arse, Egypt ousting Hosni Mubarek and then deciding whether it wants to be Switzerland or Taliban 2.0, Syria collapsing in on itself via civil war, Yemen’s president resigning, Jordan’s king sacking his own government, about a hundred pro-democracy protests, political response maneuvers, and general upheaval from Dec. 2010-March 2011 now known as The Arab Spring is the fact that it all started in Tunisia, where a guy burned himself alive because he was a college graduate and couldn’t get a job.
This singular act of protest led to the then-president eventually fleeing to Saudi Arabia. But in between that guy burning himself up and the president getting out of Dodge was a civil disobedience movement that arguably never would’ve persisted without the aid of hackers. Specifically, the dudes from Anonymous, again. Remind anybody you truly love to never EVER cross these guys.
Once widespread protests began happening, the Tunisian government naturally started cracking down on digital outlets that protesters could use as organizing tools, and intercepting any information being transacted on those outlets. In response, Anonymous began hacking into and disabling several government websites. And for the protesters who so heavily relied on Facebook to organize themselves, Anonymous distributed care packages containing info on how to circumvent privacy restrictions, and a browser plug-in that could avoid proxy interception by the government. Seriously, where were these guys when Vietnam was happening?
5. Inventing Free Broadband Access Anywhere in the World
If this one sounds too good to be true, that’s because technically it is…at least for now. And by ‘too good’, we of course mean illegal. But like pot, we have a hunch it won’t stay that way forever. Behold, the Slurpr:
Simply put, it’s a WiFi router on steroids. The Slurpr automatically aggregates the six nearest and strongest WiFi networks from wherever it’s at, and combines their bandwith into one giant, ultra-powerful, free internet connection.
The Slurpr was invented by a Dutch hacker by the name of Mark Hoekstra, who unfortunately passed away back in 2008, a year after inventing the Slurpr. As far as our Google search knows, Hoekstra managed to evade the law for as long as he peddled the Slurpr, so maybe you can to. Then again, he was a hacker genius, so it’s possible he invented some other crazy technoid gizmo that stunted all police efforts to reign him in and just didn’t tell anybody.