Ever since that first C64 and through the x86 years, I’d been hacking away – mostly software; initially bypassing copy-protection, then game cracks and cheats, followed by security bypasses and basic exploit development.
- The first Mhz digitizer cards were only just hitting the market
- PC buses finally had enough speed to handle Mhz digitizer cards
- Mass storage devices (i.e. hard drives) were finally reaching an affordable capacity/price
- My supervisor was the Dean of Physics and had oversight of all departments “unused budgets”
- Digital radar had yet to be built
- Tracking bumblebees. Back in 1994, while GPS was a thing, it didn’t have very good coverage in the southern hemisphere and, due to US military control, it’s positioning resolution was very poor (due to Selective Availability). So, in order to work out a precise longitude and latitude of the radar system, it was back to ancient ways and tracking the sun. I had code that ran the radar in passive mode, scanned horizontally and vertically until it found that big microwave in the sky, and tracked its movements – and from there determine the radar’s physical location. (Un)fortunately, through a mistake in my programming and leaving the radar emitting it’s 25kW load, I found it could sometimes lock-on and track bright blips near ground-level. Through some investigation and poor coding, I’d managed to build a radar tracking system for bumblebees (since bumblebees were proportional to the wavelength and over-sampled bin size – they were highly reflective and dominated the sun).
- Weather inside valleys. The portability of the camper-van and the high resolution of the radar also meant that for the first time ever it was possible to monitor and scientifically measure the weather phenomenon within complex mountain valley systems. Old long-range radar, with resolutions measured in thousands of cubic meters per pixel, had only observed weather events above the mountains. Now it was possible to digitally observe weather events below that, inside valleys and between mountains, at bumblebee resolution.
- Digital contrails. Another side-effect of the high resolution digital radar was its ability to measure water density of clouds even on sunny days. Sometimes those clouds were condensation trails from aircraft. So, with a little code modification, it became possible to identify contrails and follow their trails back to their root source in the sky – often a highly reflective aircraft – opening up new research paths into tracking stealth aircraft and cruise missiles.
It was a fascinating scientific and hacking experience. If you’ve ever stood in a doorway during a heavy rainfall event and watched a curtain of heavier rainfall weave its way slowly down the road and wondered at the physics and meteorology behind it, here was a system that digitally captured that event from a few meters above the ground, past the clouds, through the melting layer, and up to 10 km in the air – and helped reset and calibrate the mathematical models still used today for weather forecasting and global climate modeling.
By the end of 1994 it was time to wrap up my thesis, leave New Zealand, head off on my Great OE, and look for full-time employment in some kind of professional capacity.
When I look back at what led me to a career in Information Security, the 1980’s hacking of protected C64 games, the pre-Internet evolution of BBS and it’s culture of build collaboration, and the hardware hacking and construction of a technology that was game changing (for it’s day) – they’re the three things (and time periods) that remind me of how I grew the skills and developed the experience to tackle any number of subsequent Internet security problems – i.e. hack my way through them. I think of it as a unique mix. When I meet other hackers who’s passions likewise began in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, it’s clear that everyone has their own equally exciting and unique journey – which makes it all the more interesting.
I hope the tale of my journey inspires you to tell your own story and, for those much newer to the scene, proves that us older hands probably didn’t really have a plan on how we got to where we are either 🙂
This is PART THREE of THREE.
*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Technicalinfo.net Blog authored by Gunter Ollmann. Read the original post at: http://technicalinfodotnet.blogspot.com/2019/01/hacker-history-iii-professional-hacker.html