ST LOUIS, MO –
Back when dial-up connections were the only means of accessing the world wide web, and hearing “You’ve Got Mail” was the first experience many had with the new technology, America Online was the conduit of choice for most Americans to connect to the internet.
And just as the cyber criminals of today stalk their victims from the dark corners of the net, so, too, did the dawn of the internet have its mischievous pranksters. One such man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for this interview, recounted his days as a proto-hacker on AOL in the early days of the information superhighway.
The Early Days
The man, who went by the handle “The Jolly Hackerman”, made a name for himself by hacking into the font controls for the AOL mail program, irritating other users with random changes to their settings.
“I remember my first hack. It was probably the first hack of any computer in the history of the internet – and you can write that down,” said the Jolly Hackerman.
“It was genius. I figured out how to change the names of fonts stored by the AOL software in my online profile. And when I realized that I could do it without logging into my account, I knew I could change the setting on other peoples’ profiles” said the Jolly Hackerman. “A light bulb went on.”
Times Roman To Dingbats
“I spent the entire summer changing other users’ fonts from Times Roman to Dingbats. It was hilarious. I could imagine some souless corporate executive selecting Times Roman for a business email. And when they started to type, all these crazy characters came popping up. It was awesome.
“Later, I would send an email saying “How’s that Times Roman treating you, Dingbat?” They would write back asking me if I knew how to fix their computer? Idiots.”
“I had all kinds of tricks: I would change font colors in AOL emails to red or indigo. Or change regular lettering to bold and back to italic. No one could figure out where it was coming from. I was the chess master, and they were the pawns.”
Problem With Login
“Then one day, this jerk started complaining about my activities on a BBS bulletin board and called me a “two-bit hack’ which was a joke because I was the best programmer in the world at that time. And probably still am,” said the Jolly Hackerman. “I posted a 14 page reply informing this imbecile that he had no idea who he was dealing with. And all he had to say in return was “we’ll see”.
“The next day, I tried to sign in to my AOL account and I got a prompt saying that the password had been changed. So I reset it, and found all of these angry emails from people who said I had been messing with their computers. Then my inbox started filling up with thousands of emails with the subject line “Moron Moron Moron Moron”. I tried to delete them, but they just kept coming.”
“I contacted AOL to tell them they had better fix the problem. But the customer service rep said they had recently received hundreds of complaints about my activities, and they were suspending my account. I said I didn’t care about their crappy service and to go ahead and cancel it.”
“Later, when I was trying to set up a new account under a different name, AOL said that my credit card was declined and when I checked, there had been 3,500 in charges from a telephone sex company. Then my bank said I had overdrawn my checking account by $25,000 and they said they were going to foreclose on my house if I didn’t pay.”
“Next my telephone, water and electricity were mysteriously shut off. And my boss said I had been fired from my job for sending lewd images to the all-company email address. That one hurt because they refused to even show me the pictures.”
Today’s Hackers Are So Obvious
“It took me about seven years to clear all that up and I spent some time living on the street and doing some things I’d rather forget. But to me, there was nothing clever about any of it. Sure that jerk destroyed my life by hacking my identity, but that’s so obvious. Hackers today have no style.”
“When I changed someone’s email to all caps, they knew they had been hacked by the Jolly Hackerman. So what if today they hold your computers ransom and make hundreds of millions of dollars? Any fool can do that! It takes an artist to know when to change courier to comic sans.”
“I could hack circles around these fools today. And I probably will, just as soon as I can figure out which AOL accounts they use.”
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