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Top 10 Most Spectacular Hacks

From hacking PS3 cell processors into a home supercomputer to taking down the most challenging of government and corporate networks, we look at the most spectacular hacks of the computer age.

Hacking is big news at the moment, with the exploits of LulzSec showing up more and more security holes in trusted online institutions. But hacking covers a wide range of pursuits, both legal and illegal, from DIY hardware modification to political action.

10. Traffic sign hacking warns of zombies

Although the results are impressive, hacking into traffic signs requires less technical ability and more by way of a reckless spirit and ownership of a pair of bolt cutters. Both information on how do it – the portable dot matrix sign boards have a built-in keyboard which is often minimally secured, if at all – and information on their default passwords is widely available online.

You can see plenty of hacked signs from around the world at [a ref=”” target=”_blank”]SignHacker[/a] and stories about amusing sign hacks make “and finally” style news fillers on a regular basis. Before any of you start getting ideas, we’d like to note that hacking road signs – whether you break into them or not – is illegal and presents a potential danger to road users. Even if the sign says “sign not in use”.

zombies road sign

Plus, the passwords for British signs aren’t as widely published as their US equivalents, and we’re almost positive they’d be different. (ps. If you see anything amusing on the North Circular in the next few days, then they weren’t different. Also, we didn’t do it.)

9. Stuxnet worm allows crackers to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities

Industrial control computers were at one time considered safe – isolated from outside networks and running dedicated software or firmware. However, the spread of total connectivity and the Windows operating system means that now, even the computers that control factories, oil pipelines and power stations suffer from the key vulnerabilities associated with those systems. More importantly, the wide availability of Windows makes it easier for malware writers to find a testbed for their work.

Stuxnet, though, is very cleverly and specifically designed. It requires not only Windows, but also the specific architecture of Siemens’ S7 PLC controllers and the software the runs them. The origins of Stuxnet remain shrouded in mystery, with fingers being pointed at the US and Israeli governments, Mossad and shadowy figures in the underground malware economy. Whoever created it, Stuxnet has proved that industrial hardware is no longer immune to cyberwarfare.

8. The Chaos Computer Club plays Tetris on the side of a building

Berlin’s Chaos Computer Club was one of the earliest hacker groups to achieve public notoriety during the l80s, famously transferring and returning money from German banks and breaking into US government computers. The 1990s and 2000s saw the group take on a role now more associated with hacktivism – security hacking in order to draw attention to particular issue or make a political point. They protested against nuclear testing, drew attention to Microsoft security holes and proved the flaws in Germancy’s nascent biometric identity systems.

Chaos Computer Club tetris

For the CCC’s 20th anniversary, the group set up Project Blinkenlights, an art installation that transformed the side of a building into the world’s largest computer display by arranging computer controlled lamps behind each window. While this hardware hack is a long way from the group’s past and present security hacking activities, it’s one of the most spectacular displays of computer-controlled ingenuity around.

Our favourites are the 2008 Stereoscope installation in Canada and 2002’s Arcade in France, which allowed members of the public to call a number to play one of several games displayed on the building, including Space Invaders and Tetris. Check out the Project Blinkenlights website for video footage and more information about how they do it.

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