November 06, 2001, 12:00 AM — Hacking has been around pretty much since the development of the first
electronic computers. Here are some of the key events in the last four
decades of hacking.
1960s: The dawn of hacking
The first computer hackers emerge at MIT. They borrow their name from a
term to describe members of a model train group at the school
who "hack" the electric trains, tracks, and switches to make them
perform faster and differently. A few of the members transfer their
curiosity and rigging skills to the new mainframe computing systems
being studied and developed on campus.
1970s: Phone phreaks and Cap'n Crunch
Phone hackers (phreaks) break into regional and international phone
networks to make free calls. One phreak, John Draper (aka Cap'n
Crunch), learns that a toy whistle given away inside Cap'n Crunch
cereal generates a 2600-hertz signal, the same high-pitched tone that
accesses AT&T's long-distance switching system.
Draper builds a "blue box" that, when used in conjunction with the
whistle and sounded into a phone receiver, allows phreaks to make free
Shortly thereafter, Esquire magazine publishes "Secrets of the Little
Blue Box" with instructions for making a blue box, and wire fraud in
the United States escalates. Among the perpetrators: college kids Steve
Wozniak and Steve Jobs, future founders of Apple Computer, who launch a
home industry making and selling blue boxes.
1980: Hacker message boards and groups
Phone phreaks begin to move into the realm of computer hacking, and the
first electronic bulletin board systems (BBSs) spring up.
The precursor to Usenet newsgroups and e-mail, the boards--with names
such as Sherwood Forest and Catch-22--become the venue of choice for
phreaks and hackers to gossip, trade tips, and share stolen computer
passwords and credit card numbers.
Hacking groups begin to form. Among the first are Legion of Doom in the
United States, and Chaos Computer Club in Germany.
1983: Kids' games
The movie War Games introduces the public to hacking, and the legend of
hackers as cyberheroes (and anti-heroes) is born. The film's main
character, played by Matthew Broderick, attempts to crack into a video
game manufacturer's computer to play a game, but instead breaks into
the military's nuclear combat simulator computer.
The computer (codenamed WOPR, a pun on the military's real system
called BURGR) misinterprets the hacker's request to play Global
Thermonuclear War as an enemy missile launch. The break-in throws the
military into high alert, or Def Con 1 (Defense Condition 1).
The same year, authorities arrest six teenagers known as the 414 gang
(after the area code to which they are traced).