Hacking the Bozo Bit


Eons ago, back in the heyday of high school, there was this antiquated multi-user mini computer that we all used for course work and such.  There was a computer 'club' with elected officers and a bunch of pre-geeks that gathered in the computer room after hours to muck about with projects and writing silly games that ran on the monochrome CRT terminals.  The system was pretty stringent, keeping everyones files in separate accounts.  You had to log in to get access to your meager allotment.  This was not a UNIX system. I think it probably predated UNIX.  It was gifted to the school after it became too obsolete for the business that had purchased it years before.


Of course, it begged to be hacked.


Now, I'm not condoning hacking by any means.  But lets just say that this system came to be hacked.  Those in the know eventually had ultimate control over the system.  Long before I held such honor, I had my suspicions that such hacking was possible.  When I was a mere freshman, there seemed to be way too many computer room goof-offs that had supreme mastery of the system and access to it inner workings.  Of course, I just figured that one or two school-age assistants had been given access and probably leaked the passwords off to their buddies.  It was not until the end of my Junior year that I finally understood the truth.  The old-guard were graduating out, and there would be none left to carry on.  That's when one such guardian of the machine gave me a hint.  His parting words, I remember them clearly, “Security, what security?  It's all fake.”


The next year I had a mission.  I was going to figure out how the system worked.  I did not have access to any manuals.  I did not have any experience with such things.  I knew how to program the versions of basic and pascal that ran on this machine.  (Elsewhere I had already picked up different assemblers, C and variety of fun little languages but that's another story.)  I started to treat the machine like a black box.  I would make suppositions about how the operating system functioned.  I would test out the features I had access to.  Basically, I started to simply guess.


Then one day I did it.  I figured it out.  I knew how to trick the system into giving  me access into any account.  I basically became root.  Of course, I let a few of my esteemed colleagues in on the heist.  To make things easier for all of the new elite, I added a back door password that would allow access to anywhere.  That password was plucked from one of my siblings on line handles.  It was meant to be a joke.  His CompuServe handle was Bozo the Clone.


So there it was 'Bozo', embedded into the machine mere days after having cracked it wide open.  I'm actually a loyal law abiding citizen, and had this been anything other than a single system used entirely for writing and running class temporary assignments I would never have even gotten up the nerve.  The thought of getting caught doing even this was overwhelming, for days I kept looking over my shoulder half expecting some teacher or principal to pull me aside.


Then, one day in Math class, plastered on the cork board right above the desk I almost always sat at was this particularly odd sign.  It was the image of Bozo the Clown, with a big red circle and a slash.  “No Bozo” it said.  I looked to the front of the room.  The Math teacher that taught my class was also the same teacher that taught the computer programming class.  He looked back at me.  I knew I'd been caught.


Of course, it turned out to be nothing.  The sign was part of a student campaign against drinking and driving. That day I saw the same sign everywhere in the school.  That was a relief, for sure, but I still could never shake the idea that I had been found out.


Yes, I have been irreparably affected.  No longer would I seek out a life of crime.  Sorry, INTERNET bad guys, there's no use in recruiting me.  I'm no Bozo.


Matt

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