How teen hackers terrorized Xbox Live
This post was sponsored by Call a Dev - the live programming support helpline for makers.
I was a basic B, from the grades in the classroom, to the fashion cues I took from department store mannequins. But one thing stuck out about me. My tongue.
Every time I murdered a child, my tongue would click. I had as much control over it as I had of a hiccup.
And it was almost killing time.
And I had the hiccups.
The assembly worker assembly line ended at precisely three o'clock and the final bell blared, uplifting kids in a way the national anthem could only dream of. Free at last! I jet home and gust in the front door like a hurricane, rushing up the spiral staircase to my room. I get a whiff of pizza and hope it’s not just me. I fire up my second favorite first-person shooter Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and the dim green glow of the console’s power light flicks a switch somewhere deep inside of me.
“Dexter Morgan’s Laboratory would be sweeeet”, the thought flutters as the game loads. I tighten and loosen my grip on the Shaq-sized controller when suddenly my TV screams, “NAZI SCUM!” The verbal assault begins before the barracks even finish loading. I wiggle my tongue and grin.
One Flew Over the Sniper’s Nest
With a self-chosen nickname like Headshot, I’m most lethal when perched, so I dash to a little place I like to call Pickoff Point, and tap A to ascend the ladder. But instead of jumping onto the ladder, I careen over the entire tower!
The movie my brain was screening suddenly made less sense than Tenet. At first, lag came to mind, but then I gently began floating back to Earth. "Click." To my virgin eyes, every toy soldier was a jack-in-a-box. "Click." Spitting lead venom at its zenith. "Click. Click. Click." My bloody hands were shaking, my heart was racing, but I was still shooting.
Die. Respawn. Jump. Slaughter. Die. Respawn. Jump. Slaughter.
By the sixth cloud of blood mist I had regained my senses enough to discern who the culprits were. I was a fly on the wall for a whole minute before I unmuted my mic, put some bass in my voice, and spoke.
“How the heck”, hiccup, “are you dudes doing this stuff?”
Despite the chatter from some players at the beginning of the match, a couple guys were pretty cool, and one of them even promised to let me in on the secret. His name was P, and I opened his friend request like a box of Christmas.
It was Pandora’s.
Click Clique Boom
In 2003, suburban middle schoolers were hacking Microsoft for shits and giggles every night. You only needed one thing to do the trick.
Action Replay was the trojan horse sent down from hacker heaven. It allowed vitamin D deficient nerds to edit game files that were stored on a memory card.
The Wolfenstein files, in particular, contained a list of variables to control game mechanics, like the level of gravity, how fast players could move, how much ammunition their weapons could hold, etc. All one had to do was fiddle with the values next to the variables, then save the changes to the memory card. Plug the hacked memory card into any Xbox and enjoy.
I knew diddly-squat about programming, so I asked P to teach me. He was all too happy to help.
I modified the values to pack enough action to kill an adrenaline junky. Every game I hosted was a magnet for friend requests. P was even a regular guest. I knew from his hearty laugh that he always enjoyed himself when we clashed in the skies of Omaha Beach with infinite ammo flamethrowers, dueling like dragons crisscrossing trails of fire.
Logging on to a short friends list of offline statuses was a thing of the past. I had piles of messages and party invites now, one even from a girl! My ego was on a sugar rush. Naturally, I started a clan, Click Clique Boom, and on Saturday nights we howled Saliva lyrics into our headsets while clicking our tongues in the course of combat.
Microsoft’s dedicated game servers had long been penetrated by the hacker high command. The shadowy group’s modified game files dominated the Action Replay database, where all hacks were distributed.
With a trove of ostentatious signature hacks from relentless experimentation, and at the behest of clan members spanning North America, I decided to upload my efforts. Only one download at first. Then two the next day. By the next week all hell had broken loose. I even wrote a poem about it in my diary.
Pigs were flying
Kills we’re mounting
If you die
Don’t do it crouching
The average mortality rate had risen by more than 32.3%, repeating, of course. The sky was on fire, and my handprints were all over the pink and green animated penises floating above players’ heads.
The jizz hit the fan Sunday night when I got a private invite from one of P’s friends. Ordinarily, P invited me, so my pulse slightly quickened. I hit accept, joined the lobby, and immediately checked for P’s name, but didn’t find it. Then I checked my friends list and saw that P was offline.
For consecutive days.
Date with Hate
The game had just started and I was wishing I had my namehack on when P’s poison-laced tongue slithered in my ear.
“Why?” He sighed. “Why?” A heavier sigh.
I swallowed and took a deep breath. This man had given me baths in Wolfenstein blood, he was entitled to my undivided attention. I didn’t want my tongue getting in the way of this exchange, so I clicked two campers in a nearby barn, hunkered down over their corpses, and started teabagging them.
“Sup dude? Why what?”
I saw the active speaker icon light up next to a name I had never seen before. Only two characters long, it was the letter H, and the number eight.
H8 continued, “Take down your files you script kiddie bitch!” Then the other speaker icons lit up with a chorus of laughter, insults, and threats. I didn’t know if they were capable of any of the threats, but I wasn’t trying to find out. “Sure”, I said. But I had one last question for my mentor. “Why did you change your name?”
He said it was one of the last two-letter gamertags available, and that too many people were bugging him on his P account. He was about to say something else when my tongue clicked, killing his character and silencing his comms. A few seconds later a message popped up informing me that I had been kicked from the game.
I sent P’s new account a friend request. It was never accepted.
One week later Microsoft patched the game, bringing the hack-fueled killing frenzies to an end.