Hacking Through History: Three People Who Hacked Without Computers

Caleb Townsend
Staff Writer   United States Cybersecurity Magazine

People usually attribute the history of cybersecurity to the Creeper. The Creeper was an infamous program that acted as the first virus in history. This 1971 virus was distributed to mainframe computers and possessed to ability to move around. The program was not malicious in anyway. The Creeper did no damage.  It simply would display a message that read “I’m the creeper: catch me if you can”. However, the history of cybersecurity and hacking actually dates back to the 1900s. Many significant security breaches took place with machines like telegraphy, punch card systems, and telephones. These people inadvertently paved the way for white hat hacking, grey hat hacking, and cybersecurity at large.

The Very First Hacking

in 1903, a Morse Code message meant to play to a public audience was intercepted and changed. British inventor and magician Nevil Maskelyne decided to thwart a public showcase of the brand new wireless Morse Code. He found that the was able to build a 50-metre radio mast that would overpower the initial message. However, Maskelyne replaced the public message with a barrage of insults. In fact, this was the first case of someone hacking a system to show how flawed a technology was, resulting in a Grey Hat Hacking situation.

Hacking to Fight Nazis 

In 1940, in a Nazi occupied France, René Carmille used  hacking to save the lives of French Jews. Carmille was the Comptroller General of the Vichy French army. In regards to his talent, people called him a “punch card computer expert”. Carmile owned information processing machines for census forms. Upon Nazi occupation, the government ordered a nationwide census to specifically target Jews that were living in France at the time.

Carmille requested the assignment of compiling data from the census forms onto tabulator cards for analysis. However, over the course of two years, Carmille and his group effectively slowed down the search for French Jews by intentionally mishandling the punch cards. He did this by hacking his own machines. Carmille would reprogram the punch card machines to ensure that they would never punch information from column eleven onto any census card. The Nazis eventually caught Carmile and he died shortly after in a concentration camp. Though his death is tragic, his bravery paved the way for nonviolent resistance through ethical hacking.

A Phreaking Hack

“Phreaks” is a term that now broadly applies to anyone who likes to explore tech systems and use their knowledge to break the security of the network. In 1957, Richmond Virginia, a blind boy named Joe “Joybubbles” Engressia was one of the first people to use phreaking. Joybubbles had absolute pitch, the rare ability to replicate any pitch perfectly. He found that when he whistled into the telephone at exactly 2600 hertz, he was able to disrupt AT&T systems. Joybubbles was able to use this vocal frequency imitators to bypass AT&T payment system. This gave him the ability to make unlimited free phone calls.  He inadvertently started the entire Phone Phreaking Movement.

Hacking History Made

These guys might just seem like low tier hackers. However, their pranks and resistance played a pivotal role in helping the public realize that with the release of every new type of technology comes a new host of risks. It is important to always be aware of the potential security breaches that await us around the corner of every new innovation.

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