Whistles, punch cards and telegraphs: the hacker came before the Internet

Every day, around 30,000 websites around the world are hacked, which means that unauthorized people gain access to them. The number of attacks is increasing every year, and by 2025, the bill from cyber attacks will be around $70 billion, according to estimates. Cyber ​​Crime Magazine

The digital age has made hacking a global security risk and a lucrative business for criminals. But the phenomenon arose long before the invention of the computer and the Internet.

The first hackers amused themselves by disrupting telegraphs and making free calls with whistles.

1. The first hacker attacks the telegraph

On June 4, 1903, radio telegraphy pioneer Guglielmo Marconi stood on a cliff in Cornwall.

From the far south-west of England, he wanted to send a message in Morse code for the first time to an expectant audience in a London auditorium, 300 miles away.

Marconi had checked whether the wireless connection was secure beforehand, but a few minutes before the broadcast, the magician Nevil Maskelyne managed to hack the connection with his own telegraph.

In London, to the great confusion of the public, a totally unexpected message sounded from the receiver: ‘Rats, rats, rats…’ A rhyme followed.

“A weird Italian pissed off the crowd.”

The movement was called “scientific hooliganism”, but Maskelyne did not see it that way. in a letter to The times he explained that his attack was intended to show that Marconi’s wireless technology was anything but private.

2. French saved thousands of Jews from deportation

The fact that the Nazis were able to exterminate German Jewry so “effectively” is largely due to the use of punch cards, a precursor to computer memory and data processing.

Information about the inhabitants was punched on a cardboard card. If there was a hole in a certain place, it meant, for example, that the person was married or had children. If there was no hole, then the person was not married or had no children. In Germany, information on ethnicity was also recorded, for example, whether someone was Jewish.

France also used punch cards, and when this country was occupied in World War II, the Nazis took over the punch file.

The official René Carmille, responsible for the punching system, decided to sabotage the German plans. He reprogrammed the punch presses so that they never punched a hole in column 11, indicating whether someone was Jewish.

Carmille is estimated to have saved thousands of Jews. He was deported to the Dachau camp, where he died in 1945.

3. Whispering blind boy manipulates telephony

In 1957, seven-year-old Joe Engressia sits with the telephone receiver in his hand. He purses his lips and whistles exactly 2600 hertz. The phone responds with a sound indicating that he has unlocked the system.

In the old American telephone systems, different tones were used to control specific actions on the network. The 2600 hertz tone acted like a key, locking the company out of the call, while keeping the line open. This allowed Joe to call the whole world for free without being traceable.

Joe was the first phone system hacker, a supposed phreaker (for telephone Y Automatic switch), and soon other techies and phone geeks in the US adopted the young hacker’s method.

In those circles, Joe Engressia rose to fame under the hacker name “Joybubbles,” and when he died in 2007, The New York Times he the ‘Peter Pan of phone hackers’.

An adult Joe Engressia demonstrates how he manipulates the telephone network:

4. ‘Hacker’ originated in the American university

In the 1950s, the term “hacking” took on a new meaning at MIT University of Technology in the US The word was used by the institute’s model railway club for track modification.

At first, the term had a positive connotation and was used to describe interventions that forced systems to do things other than what they were intended to do. But on November 20, 1963, an editor of the MIT student newspaper the technology the word ‘hackers’ for the first time for students who took over university phones by mimicking the tones that unlocked the phone system.

The system administrator got fed up with these jokes and warned that in the worst case the students could be expelled from school or jailed.

There are still two types of hackers: ethical hackers, who are hired to break into a system and find vulnerabilities, and hackers with criminal intent.

6. The creator of email created the first antivirus program

The first computer virus is attributed to the programmer Bob Thomas, who in 1971 worked on the ARPANET, a network developed by the US military that was a precursor to the Internet.

Bob Thomas had to develop a way to share information more quickly between primitive computers on the network.

Before that, it created the Creeper program, which infected a computer and made a copy of itself, which was passed on to the next computer on the network. Thomas’s virus was not harmful, it just infected computers with the message:


The virus was very effective and quickly spread to all 28 computers on the ARPANET.

To combat the Creeper, Thomas’s colleague Ray Tomlinson created an antivirus, Reaper, that jumped from computer to computer to remove the Creeper virus.

That same year, Tomlinson also sent the first email between two computers. That made the email a fact.

7. Computer infected with Trojan horse with proof

In 1975, programmer John Walker created the Animal computer game, in which the computer had to guess which animal the player was thinking of.

The game was a hit with Walker’s friends and colleagues, who wanted their own copy. To do this, Walker had to copy the game onto magnetic tape and physically ship it.

That was quite complicated, so he developed the Pervade program, which was secretly recorded on the magnetic tapes together with Animal. The program infected the computer and copied Animal and himself onto all the magnetic tapes which were then attached.

Walker didn’t think he was doing anything wrong; after all, everyone wanted the game from him. Magnetic tapes were often shared, and within a week, Pervade had spread from San Francisco on the West Coast to Washington DC on the East Coast.

Pervade was the first Trojan horse, a virus hidden in legal software. Today’s Trojans are often not that harmless and can cause billions of dollars in damage if, for example, a bank’s network is attacked with them.

8. AIDS activist took computers hostage

In 1989, biologist Joseph Popp sent out a survey disk to 20,000 doctors, hospitals, and researchers. He wanted to calculate the probability that someone would get AIDS. There was a lot of fear of the disease at that time, and the program was often used.

No one knew that Popp had put a Trojan horse on the floppy that, if the computer was booted 90 times, would block access to all stored files.

Victims were shown a red screen telling them to send $189 to a post office box in Panama to unlock the files.

When Popp was arrested for extortion, he told police the ransom was for AIDS research.

The action brought him little money, because his virus was poorly made and easy to avoid. However, he is considered the creator of the first ransomware, in which hackers take computer files “hostage” and ask for money to unlock them.

In 2021, approximately 714 million ransomware attacks were carried out worldwide.

Leave a Comment