Duffy, holiday cottage arson and computer hacking

Similar classroom to the one I learnt computer hacking in

I’m glad this was a long time ago……who knows what might have happened if computer hacking laws were around back then ?

It was 1983, possibly 1984 and I was 16 years old and either just left school or just about to.

I couldn’t wait to get out of that horrible place.

My parents had constantly moved from one part of the country to another whilst I was young and finally ended up settling in North Wales. After being moved from school to school I ended up going to a practically ‘all welsh speaking’ school. There were some english speaking kids there and I ended up in a classroom with them.

I made some great friends but life wasn’t easy living in a part of the country where the english were hated.

I was now living and going to school in a part of the world where holiday cottages were being burnt down weekly by the ‘sons of Owain Glyndwr’ and the locals hated every bone in an englishman’s body. Some of you may of heard of the ‘Welsh Nationalists’ burning a lot of the holiday cottages bought by the english, as holiday homes, back in the late 70s’ and early 80’s. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_west/8408447.stm

Holiday cottage similar to those being burnt down by ‘Sons of Owain Glyndwr’ for 12 years

Ok, so I was born in Wales, but I was english speaking and had a real mixture of accents from the amount of places we’d previously lived. As a family of english speakers, we weren’t welcome at all and the locals always made a point of expressing their feelings in some form or another.

Not going into too much detail, but my parents had bought some 24 acres with our house and decided to set of a campsite just outside the village of Nefyn and no soon as my father put the ‘CAMPING’ signs up outside, they were quickly torn down again overnight. It was a constant battle with the locals and they weren’t afraid to show their feelings.

Our camping signs were always under constant attack from the locals

This sort of thing went on for years and it was only until my father started to work for the local constitutional club and do their accounts that things settled down and we were slowly welcomed into the community. Incidently, the club where my father was Treasurer was also the workplace of John Duffy, the father of singer ‘Duffy’. It’s a small world.

Singer ‘Duffy’ – we both went to the same school and she used to practice her singing in the local consitutional club where her father worked as steward.

However, the bullying always went on at school and it was difficult to get by daily without having some school bully giving me a slap, stamping on my sandwiches or stealing my dinner money.

It was an awful time and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Bullies don’t realise what they put their victims through, they just don’t have a clue.

Now, I’m not going to dwell on the fact that I was bullied a lot in school. I’m going to take this story off on a different tangent and I’m not going to talk about the singer Duffy either, even though she has a fabulous voice.

Remember, I had left school and had just been placed into a new Government scheme run by the Manpower Services Commission and called the YTS ( Youth Training Scheme ). This was the new replacement to the YOP ( Youth Opportunities Scheme ). It was a 6 week course if I remember and I was paid £26.25 a week to attend.

YTS (Youth Training Scheme) replaced YOP (Youth Opportunities Programme) back in 1983 and paid £26.25 a week to attend.

I think I had an option of what course to take and I opted for the Word processing and Typing course probably because I was interested in computers. I didn’t own a computer then but I’d seen my friends ZX80 and eventually did get to own an Amstrad CPC 464 with built in tape deck and green monitor but this was sometime after my YTS days. Thankyou Alan Sugar.

This course I attended, had mainly welsh speaking as a ‘first language’ students. There were three of us a the back that were only english speaking and possibly why we were shoved at the back, who knows.

Anyway, we all had access to a keyboard, a computer monitor and headphones and were all given daily tasks to complete from formatting documents and speedtyping. It wasn’t exactly floating my boat so to speak.

Type of computer we had – old with a floppy disk but state of the art nonetheless

I was always first to complete, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’d been the best, it just meant I understood each task easily and found them a doddle. The other two sat either side of me also seemed to finish quicker than the rest also.

Whilst everyone else was still getting to grips with their challenges, the three of us sat at the back, messing about and doing things that normal teenagers do in front of a keyboard.

We were all messing with the keyboard and the screens and trying to get the computers to do things they shouldn’t.

Now I can’t remember exactly what systems they were operating on but each individual pc was linked up to the ‘master terminal’ at the front of the classroom and the one the tutor had access to.

The tutors computer had ‘restricted access’ and couldn’t be used by the students but noticed when the tutor had to sort out any issues with other students work then she would have to log out and re-access the system using her own password.

That was it, another challenge was awaiting. The three of us were sat at the back, with no-one looking over our shoulders and were twiddling our thumbs out of boredom, looking for something to fiddle with.

I remember seeing the tutor get access and quickly thought “I wonder if I could hack into her details”. I mentioned it to the others and we all started frantically hitting different keys and trying different passwords, dates etc to see if we could get in.

The challenge was on and I was the first to find the tutors password. It wasn’t too difficult after much trial and error. I was in….

I had hacked into the main computer and had access to everything on it’s hard drive.

Well, guess what I found ?. Not only files relating to everyone in the class but the actual examination tests used at the end of the course.

It was like a Eureka moment. I was 16 years old and had done something that perhaps many other’s couldn’t or didn’t see the reason to. It was a definite thrill and can understand exactly what ‘hackers’ get out of infiltrating computer systems.  However, I was brought up well and I was honest ( apart from a little hacking ).

What was I going to do ?

Apart from trying to calm down and showing the other two sat either side of me that I’d got in, I realised that perhaps I shouldn’t have really been in there messing about. But I couldn’t just leave it there….

I couldn’t resist the fact that I had access to the examination files. I couldn’t help myself, I had to leave some sort of a ‘message’, or ‘visitors card’ to say the system had been accessed and was open to a security breach. I suppose it was a bit like scratching your name into the bark of a tree or scribing your initials into the school desk.

I wasn’t going to ‘logout’ without leaving my calling card.

I selected the examination file that covered out whole course and hit the ‘delete’ button.

It was gone ! OMG what had I done ????

I told the boys to quickly get out of the system and sat there shaking with fear.

It was a frightening experience, I knew I shouldn’t have deleted the examination files but I couldn’t resist it.

They shouldn’t have left them so vulnerable ! If I could hack into the computer then so could anyone else, so something needed to be done.

Look, I’m already trying to put the blame on them when it was clearly my fault !

The course ended a week earlier than it was supposed to and we were all ‘marked’ on our daily tasks and attendance rather than having to be marked on an actual examination.

Something tells me that they didn’t have any back up of the exam files and weren’t prepared to get another copy from the Education Authority for fear of embarrassment of losing their own copy so we didn’t have to sit it.

I’ve never written about this before but felt it was necessary to share with others about how I feel about insecure security systems and have always felt the same way. Possibly which is why I was drawn to Vodafone’s pathetic voicemail security 13 years ago and wanted to expose phone hacking in its early days.

This was the phone I used back in 1997 – A Motorola Microtac – Voicemail on Vodafone was hackable because of poor security.

To read more about that then please visit http://hackergate.co.uk/

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.

Steven Nott

5th September 2012

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