Election hacking has been a pretty hot topic recently. Now that we know it is possible, you know, controlling the fate of a governed body through manipulated misinformation, we must acknowledge that it could happen again. Especially in a place like Manitoba, Canada.
The term “hacker” has been around for much longer than you think. The first reported case of an unauthorized entry into a private network was conducted on June 4th, 1903—by a magician. By this point on our technological evolutionary timeline, electromagnetic waves had been discovered and were being experimented with to communicate wireless messages. Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi had gained much international attention for his accomplishment of the first successful wireless transmission across the Atlantic ocean (2,200 miles). Marconi claimed his methods to be impenetrable and Nevil Maskelyne, the skeptic British magician, sought to prove him wrong. During a very public demonstration at the Royal Academy of Sciences, Maskelyne tapped into Marconi’s signal, which was being broadcast from Cornwall, over three-hundred miles away. The hacked messages appeared in morse code on a projector screen and consisted of several jabs at Marconi and his “secure” network. Turns out, besides magic, Maskelyne was also employed by the Eastern Telegraphic Company, whose wired system would suffer from these new innovations to communication technology.
And then came phreaking. In the 1960s, it was discovered that one could “hack” into the public phone network through the manipulation of sounds. The most notable figure of the “phone freak” movement, which predates the personal computer, was a man who went by the alias of Cap’n Crunch. Mr. Crunch got his nickname from a toy whistle that came in specially marked boxes of the sugar cereal. When blown, the whistle could emit a frequency at 2600Hz, which, it was discovered, allowed a user to tap into nexus of the AT&T phone system and place free long distance calls. More advanced techniques of phreaking soon developed, through use of “blue boxes” that were built to replicate unique tones and frequencies. Before they started Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold blue boxes to the hacker community. The first example of a fictional hacker in popular culture came with the Firesign Theatre’s 1971 comedy album I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus where the main character causes an audio-animatronic Nixon robot to malfunction by asking it surreal and confusing questions.
2600: The Hacker Quarterly was started amid the phreaker scene in 1984. The seasonal publication, edited by a guy with the Orwell-inspired pen name of Emmanuel Goldstein, has served as an important resource within the hacking community as it has evolved over the years. Rather than focusing on the deliberately destructive and malicious tactics of hackers often portrayed in the media, 2600 benefits the less illegal intentions of the “grey hat hacker,” who is merely demonstrating his/her capabilities of penetrating into an off-limits system. In our complex digital world, the publication today has taken on more of an activist approach toward our digital and personal freedoms.
More of a dark-grey hat than anything, the Autumn 2007 issue of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly contained an article about hacking an election.
Continues after the jump…