The Mischievous Nerd's Guide to World Domination
Author: Stephen Oberauer

Chapter 9
Light in the darkness

3 YEARS TO E-DAY

When I was 20 years old I started working as a programmer at Bold Mutual. It was a massive, corporate environment; the kind where you are not much more than a number. My employee number was 71424, the number of employees who had been working at the company since it was started over 100 years ago. When I started my job I expected them to keep me busy for 8 hours a day and 5 days a week, because they must have had their reasons for hiring me. That was, however, not the case. I discovered that it was company policy to recruit top University students straight out of University with certain qualifications whether they needed them or not. The department that I joined seemed to have too many employees and not enough work.

I kept myself busy as I always do, studying programming languages, and writing simple computer games. Occasionally I would receive a task to perform, and someone would give an estimated completion date. One particular task was given to me on 30 August, 1998. The estimated completion date was 30 October, 1998. Within a week, it was complete, and it was once again up to me to keep myself occupied until the 30th of October, or whenever next someone found something for me to do. They say, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s playground’, and I would have to agree. One thing you should not do is put a mischievous computer genius in front of a computer for 8 hours a day with access to the internet, a network of about 6000 company PC’s, as well as a mainframe with over a million customers’ information. Luckily for them, I was out to do good deeds, and not evil, except for a few little tricks I had planned for people who annoyed me.

The company had a little internal website for advertising purposes, which was quite useful for buying and selling second hand goods to and from people in the same massive building. I would often spend my free time browsing the website for bargains. I realized that I could write a simple program to check the website for me, so that as soon as someone would add an advert in a particular category, such as ‘PC’s’ with a particular key word, such as ‘Graphics’, or whatever I was looking for at the time, the program would show a message about the new item and I would be the first person to know about it.

As time went on I found other uses for my program. Some people were putting adverts for particular items in every single category, and other people were selling illegal things such as pirated games, music and videos. I knew that if management discovered the illegal things going on in the website, it would be shut down, and I decided not to let this happen. This particular website was not very well protected from hacking, which I found out quite quickly. If you right-click a website you can view the source code, so I simply had a look at the source code to see what it does when you modify or delete an advert that you place. It only allows you to modify an advert that was placed using the same PC, so all that I had to do was make a copy of the source code and create my own web page, but with some modifications, allowing me to make changes to anything.

I then wrote a program to use my newly created web pages to remove all the adverts that were copied throughout the categories and those selling anything illegal. It was great fun, making wrong things right and I felt a bit like I was Robin Hood.

I soon found that some people whose adverts were deleted simply stuck them back up, so I decided to have a bit more fun. Firstly I modified the computer name that was recorded for the annoying adverts. This was so that they would not be able to make any changes to their adverts or delete them; and then the fun started: ‘Unreleased movies on DVD at R50 each, contact Tom Edwards, etc.’ became ‘Adult movies on DVD at R50 each’. ‘Telephones’, placed in the vehicle section became ‘Mobile phones’. ‘Computer Parts’, advertised in the ‘Children’s things’ section, became ‘Body Parts’. Admittedly, it was a bit childish, but I had a huge grin on my face to think of the types of phone calls and e-mails that these people were getting.

If there was one thing I didn’t like, it was the few people who make things difficult for everyone else, getting away with it. After a few days, I would delete the adverts, and never see them being placed again.

I felt like a magician, being able to do things that most people wouldn’t even think of trying to do. Life was fun and care free until …



 

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