High school, the year 1999, Word Processing class, I hacked a computer. It was awesome.
I started relatively late on the whole computer thing. I was 12 years old when my family got our first computer, so I didn’t really know much about them. In fact, in elementary school, we’d have computer lab every Friday, where we got to use the next generation of computers, the Apple IIe, and I was so dumb with computers that I didn’t even know how to turn them on. The story is that I had been using the computer, and it turned off, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it back on, and then the teacher got mad at me for hacking around with the computer, and I had to sit out the rest of the day. I was devastated. I mean, I only got to play ”Oregon Trail” once a week, and this time I wasn’t going to get to play it at all. You know what too? I wasn’t even the guy that turned off the computer, it was my buddy Kyle that turned it off, he had been pressing buttons on my computer, and he pressed the right buttons to shut it off. So it wasn’t even my fault it turned off to begin with.
Well I showed them! After getting a computer in 1997, I learned the fundamentals. I learned about booting in safe mode, and the command prompt, and booting in safe mode with command prompt. Yeah, I knew about things! By 1999, most people were using Windows 98 or Mac OS or some such other thing where they could point and click their way through their computing needs, but I knew more than that.
When I was in high school computers and the internet were all new and powerful, and kids wanted to use them, and not necessarily for school related stuff, so you had to restrict their ability to use them. My high school used Novell Netware to do just that. Novell limited the Windows interface to a few applications. There was no start menu, no “My Computer” icon. No access to the CD-ROM drive or hard drive. In my word processing class we got WordPerfect and Notepad, and a few other pieces of software. Nothing really that interesting. Nothing fun.
Now let me tell you about word processing class: It’s basically an easy A class. That’s the only reason you take it. If you want an A on your transcript, you take word processing. All you do is show up, process some words, then leave. If you do all your work, you get an A. There isn’t much to word processing, and you have half a year to do it, so basically you could spend 10 minutes a day doing the assignments, then you had 40 minutes to do anything you wanted. Or you could do 5 days worth of assignments in a single day, and have the rest of the week free. There was no homework. There couldn’t be. Not everyone had computers, and no one was expected to purchase WordPerfect.
Most kids would skip the class. Or at least show up for role call then leave. I was too good a student to skip class, in fact I only ever did it once my senior year, so instead I’d just sit there, bored out of my mind. Wondering how I could possibly unlock the potential of these computers. But all I could do was run WordPerfect and Notepad. Sure I could maybe write a story or something, but I wanted more.
Then one day as I was booting the computer, I had an epiphany. I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind! The sign was the bootup text that windows has that said, “For troubleshooting and advanced startup options for Windows 98, press F8.” So I pressed F8, and sure enough it let me boot up in Safe Mode with Command Prompt. Command prompt! I knew about command prompt. I knew commands for command prompt! Everything came full circle.
Remember how I said the Novell client gave us access to a few programs, and one of them was Notepad? If you aren’t familiar with Windows, Notepad is a text editor that resides in the Windows directory. You know what else resides in the Windows directory? A very powerful tool called ”Windows Explorer”. Let me show you the commands I typed when I got to the command prompt:
ren notepad.exe notepad.exe.bak
copy explorer.exe notepad.exe
I then restarted the computer. Now some of you will know what those commands do. Some won’t, so I’ll explain: An application is stored in a file, the file has a name. The Notepad application is stored in a file called notepad.exe. The Windows Explorer application is stored in a file called explorer.exe. Those commands make it so the Windows Explorer application will also be stored in notepad.exe. Notepad was accessible from the Novell interface, but the Novell interface didn’t know I renamed the file, so, voila, I could now access windows explorer from the Novell interface, and once you can do that, the world is yours. Because Windows Explorer gives you access to everything, it gives you access to the hard drive, to the CD-ROM drive, you can run applications you can install applications. Almost anything you want to do, you can do. Including what everyone in a word processing class wants to do, play games!
Indeed, I got the Quake demo installed on that machine and I’d play all day. Then some kids found out what I was doing. At first they’d watch me play, and ask me what I was playing, then later they wanted to play games too, so I helped them hack their computers as well. Of course I kept it on the hush-hush. I didn’t want the teacher to know what was going on. So there was only a small collective that knew how to hack the computers.
What’s truly weird though. Is I must have not been the only person to have been hacking these computers, because one of the guys whose computer I hacked, found a football game, ”Tecmo Super Bowl”, on the computer, and he thought I had installed it on his computer, but I hadn’t, it was just there. Someone else had put it there. Then the others in the collective were asking me how to put the football came on their computers, but I didn’t know how because I didn’t know anything about transferring files over networks, so I told them they needed a CD or a floppy disk to copy the game onto, then they’d be good. But that kid kept telling people I installed that football game for him, and I thought it was hilarious that he thought that because I had only ever touched his computer to show him the commands to get into Windows Explorer.
Ultimately I got kind of bored of playing games, so I only hacked the computers a few more times, and then I just sort of felt bad about playing games at school, so I’d spend my hour in word processing class shooting the breeze with my buddy Kenny, and he told me all about how to impress the ladies, using such techniques as wearing cologne and stuff, but I was like, “I don’t want to be a tool and wear cologne because I’m 16 years old!” So I never wore cologne much in high school, but I did on a couple of occasions.
To make a long story short, I had come a long way from not knowing how to turn a computer on when I was in 5th grade, to hacking one in 11th grade. By which I mean, while I got caught with my computer turned off in 5th grade, the teacher never knew I spent the whole hour playing video games in 11th grade. Indeed my covert abilities had increased tenfold! I got an A, by the way. It was an easy A too.