How I got expelled from middle school for hacking
November 21, 2019 at 10:34 am #161256
This is a kind of funny and somewhat interesting anecdote that I’m hoping you guys will enjoy and is appropriate for this sub. I’ll put a tldr at the bottom because I don’t want to sacrifice story elements for the sake of brevity.
In 1998 I was a computer obsessed 7th grader enrolled in a fairly small Catholic school. Internet was barely a thing and despite the fact that my family had it, I was still primarily hooked on dialing into BBS’s. For those not familiar, a BBS was just a terminal interface to another computer typically accessed via direct modem-to-modem dialup connection. They were largely text based and had interactive menus, games, file sharing, chat and sometimes more. Piracy is easy these days, but before torrents there was P2P direct file sharing, before that there was warez ftp, and before that there were BBS’s. I quickly discovered I could download full version games like Doom, Commander Keen, and Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure — I got hooked.
Somehow I got ahold of a massive list of numbers for BBS’s with local area codes (long distance was expensive) and started dialing. I had access to all the DOS games my 140mb drive, 8mb of ram and 256 color graphic card could handle. Anarchist_cookbook.txt was my bible, though the only thing I ever applied it to was removing the scrambler from my parents cable source box. That got me free HBO and Disney channel plus removed the block my mom had the cable company put on MTV. It was easy to keep that a secret because back then you had to ask the TV to “auto program” it’s channel lineup which meant the newly unscrambled channels would be skipped when channel surfing but you could watch them by typing in the number on the remote.
So, now that the stage is set let’s get to the story of my expulsion. Seventh grade at a small catholic school that my parents paid good money for. Twice a week we had a computer class with a teacher whose only qualification was that she learned how to use a typewriter sometime during the Cold War era. She was insecure about her lack of qualifications so she didn’t much like me, the know-it-all pipsqueak troublemaker. I was a little turd, for sure, but the main reason she disliked me was because my basic computer proficiencies highlighted her lack thereof. That said, she had plenty of other reason to hate me as I was a pompous little shit and thought the rules didn’t apply to me.
So, when I finished the entire Type-To-Learn typing teacher game and asked if I could do something, ANYTHING, else she denied my request and told me to start over. I was pissed. Homerow keys: A S D F. A S D F. I finished the entire thing again before anyone else had finished it for the first time and again she told me to start over. The computers had some sort of explorer.exe wrapper or replacement so we couldn’t access anything but the typing game and Microsoft Word. Plus, the teacher spent the entire period patrolling the room like a guard at Auschwitz.
Here’s where the BBS’s come into play. It was rare to find anyone on the chat rooms on a BBS because each connection required an additional phone line. Sometimes you’d encounter the host who owned the system, but chatting with them was risky as I found them pretty quick to permaban my number as soon as I told them I was 12. But, one day I found myself in a long conversation with a BBS admin who was maybe a little too curious about the life of a 12 year old. When I told him about my situation in computer class, he clues me into a little exploit in Microsoft Word that could help. When you clicked file->open you could right click on a file and select “open file location” and get a Windows explorer dialog. I tried it and it worked!
So, now I have access to the drives attached to the computer which, to my surprise, included the network drive. On the network drive I found the shared folder with the Type-To-Learn game on it. Within that, I discovered a saved_game folder that had a file for every student in the class. They were .inf files that looked like gobbledy-gook when I opened them in notepad, but the file names were uniformly formatted to match our user names in the game. So my tiny brain formulated a half-baked plan.
I thought that maybe the contents .inf files were just saved game state info and that the game was (hopefully) only using the file names to associate the saves with our logins. So, with hyper-focus and determination I got down to business tapping keys to get to the last level of the game yet again. I then wrote a batch file to copy my save game file repeatedly and rename it to match and overwrite my classmates saved games. I waited until the end of class when everyone was out of the game and ran it. Crossed my fingers and waited until the next class.
Well, I was wrong. My batch file broke the entire game. And not just for my class but for every class. I got called to the principals office and there was the typing teacher with a joyful scowl on her face. They said they had to pay someone to look at the computers and that they knew it was me. They never presented any evidence that it was me, but I got a 5 day suspension and had to write a long paper about what I did and why I was sorry. Fair enough. But when I came back after 5 days they told me they were closing my semester out and asking me not to return for 8th grade. They never even asked for the paper they made me write. The worst part, though, was when the principal said some bullshit to the effect of, “before all this I was thinking about having you test the security of our computers.” Yeah right. My parents were supportive saints about the whole thing at least.
TL;DR: I got sick of having to restart the same typing teacher game in 7th grade and used a Microsoft word exploit to bypass the windows explorer lockout. Hoping to start a protest or riot, I used my access to explorer to try to get all the other kids to the last level by overwriting their save games with mine but it didn’t work and totally broke the game. 8th grade typing teacher told me I could use the class as a study hall…
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.