back to article College PRIMOS prankster wreaks havoc with sysadmin manuals

As we edge closer to Christmas, Mondays might be getting just slightly more bearable. To make that more so, we bring you another instalment of Who, Me?, The Register's tales of the mistakes our readers have brought upon themselves. This week, "George" tells us about a time back in the late '70s when he was doing post-grad work …

  1. gw0udm


    Surely this is just an example of a poorly configured system? Almost by definition you'd think 'administrator' commands should only be available to administrators?

    This reminds me of experiences in our school computer room in the late 1980s. We had a reasonably number of BBC Bs on a Econet network. Whilst there were various admin commands these were locked down, but a few clever kids in the school wrote various so-called 'crash programs' which could wreak all sorts of havoc. The simple versions simply dropped text (usually abusive) into the keyboard buffer, but the more advanced ones would scramble screens, lock up buffers, play sounds etc.

    There was even a virus version which could be released and then silently spread itself from one computer to another causing random crashes. These so enraged the teacher in charge that he permanently closed the computer room - depriving us of BBC related goodies in the mid-1990s.

    More constructive versions 'pushed' complete files across the network, and I do remember a synchronised rendition of 'Bones' which was great fun:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Seem to recall that Acorn's EcoNet by design enabled one machine to push small amount of code to the next machine in the network and run it ... I was working at Acorna t the time during a University summer vacation and seem to recall coming up with a program that scrolled a banner message round all the monitors in the room!

    2. David 132 Silver badge

      Aaaah, that brings back memories. My school had a lab of about 20 Beebs - mostly Bs, but with a handful of Master 128Ks towards the end of my time there. All were linked over Econet. There was a “hacking toolkit” (ahem) that the cool kids got a copy of (and me, somehow. I was never one of the cool kids.)

      As I recall, it was called “The Gremlin”, and had all the features mentioned above. Crash another machine, send text to the screen/keyboard buffer, capture a copy of the remote screen - much fun for kids whose sense of ethics and diligence was, uh, still forming.

      I also recall having great fun making wiggly patterns on the Microvitec Cub monitors with a large horseshoe magnet. Mr Higgins the computing teacher, if you’re reading this, consider this a very belated apology...

      1. Tom 38

        BBC Bs + Econet - you could change the network id of a network connection on the fly, and if you changed it to the same id as one that a user is already logged in as and they aren't actively using it, you also inherit their session.

        This lead to complex The Sting style schemes to get the lab technician to log in to his admin account in his office, and then distract him with conversation whilst accomplices switched to his id and gave disk quota upgrades to us all.

      2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        BBC Micros at college

        I happened to go to a school and a college that were in the pilot for the Computers for Schools project in the early 80's. This meant that I had access to a computer room with a dozen BBCs at a time when most schools only had a single machine.

        Ours were running ENet rather than EcoNet, which meant that they had a central (BBC Micro) server for the admin rather than allowing the 'admin' software to be run from any of the machines.

        We developed a password grabber, cracked the file storage system on the MASSIVE 20MB hard drive, and finished by obtaining a complete list of all user passwords!

        Ah, the joys of youth!

        1. Ol'Peculier

          Re: BBC Micros at college

          We developed a password grabber, cracked the file storage system on the MASSIVE 20MB hard drive, and finished by obtaining a complete list of all user passwords!

          I did exactly the same thing! Didn't get caught, but I was looked at with great suspicion by the staff.

          Happy days!

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: BBC Micros at college

            I did exactly the same thing!

            During my first proper job (mainframe assembler programmer - ah the joys of running the 3270 terminal emulator on IBM PS/2 50z machines connected to a 4mb token-ring..) I got bored a lot. One day, I discovered the joy of MD-DOS system calls and a freeware DOS assembler..

            We used OS/2 LAN Server as our network management and so had a whole heap of print and file servers scattered around the building, none of which had any security at all.

            Then one day, I didcovered the network enumeration API.. one broadcast storm later (and a PC that I hurredly switched off to stop said storm), I had a complete list of all the file servers.

            I amended my code and (overnight) ran it again and ended up with a complete list of all the files on all the servers - most of which had been put there by staff and were unknown to the Powers That Be (and, in quite a few occasions, that was probably just as well - even if in the mid-90's, the porn was pretty low-res..).

            There were quite a few games though, all of which I copied onto floppies and took home.

        2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: BBC Micros at college

          My alternative was less hi-tech. At Uni (sorry guys) I wrote a simple program that looked exactly like the login system (custom screen, easy to mimic and logged out the current user, me, after recording login details) and ran around a computer room or two, logged in as myself, ran this application and merrily harvested the login details of countless students and staff. They had a bit of a sense of humour failure (sorry, again) when I presented this list to them - including a sys admin login or two.

          Students. We were probably all dicks at some point in time.

          Oh, and I also worked out how to get free laser printing.

          1. sisk

            Re: BBC Micros at college

            My alternative was less hi-tech. At Uni (sorry guys) I wrote a simple program that looked exactly like the login system (custom screen, easy to mimic and logged out the current user, me, after recording login details) and ran around a computer room or two, logged in as myself, ran this application and merrily harvested the login details of countless students and staff.

            There was a guy who did that on our EduQuest system (I don't know what OS they ran - I didn't go to school here and the things were on their way out when I started working here) at the high school here. He ended up working for the school district technology department. In fact, for a couple years we had everyone over the age of 20 who had been caught hacking our network when they were in high school working for us.

            Sadly those days are past. We catch far too many kids attempting to hack the network these days to hire them all down the road.

        3. swm

          Re: BBC Micros at college

          At Xerox PARC when they brought up a new TENEX machine they had to get all of the user passwords for the new machine. Rather than bother all of the users they ran a net sniffer for a week and picked up most of the passwords which they then loaded into the new machine.

          In those days passwords were mainly to prevent stupid mistakes rather than for security.

          I once mailed the head of computer security his password but that is another story.

          Long before TCP/IP etc.

      3. gw0udm

        Haha, well you and me were clearly both at the same school, no doubt we shared the room at some point! I remember the Gremlin, I always wanted it but never knew anyone cool enough to give it to me :-(

        Poor old Mr Higgins could not cope, I still remember the fateful day when he kicked us all out because of "one of those wretched virus programs" and locked the door behind us, for it never to open again...

        I did score a reasonable amount of quite nice BBC kit when they cleared the room out a few years later, although sadly not the fabled 6502 second processor. Still more sadly I later got rid of most of it but still have a couple of disk drives including a 3" model which I have never seen before or since on anything except an Amstrad.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          @gw0udm Oh, that’s hilarious. Soon as I read your original post I thought “oh, that sounds just like my school experience.”

          What are the odds?

          I remember the 6502 co-processor (the “tube”) that was on the BBC B in the corner of the room. It was a file-server, so it had been upgraded - TWO 5.25” disk drives, the tube, and ISTR there was a Teletext decoder there too but I might be mistaken.

          I was there between 1985 (Removes) and 1992 (Upper Sixth). I have fond memories of the place. There were some good teachers there. I recall with particular fondness Mrs Flitcroft the formidable French mistress & the awesome English masters Mr Philpott & Mr Nelson - it sounds corny, but they were dedicated, committed, and really inspired me, so thanks all of you, wherever you are now.

          I went back to the old place a couple of months ago when I was in England on business. Didn’t go in but drove around the car-park (and am probably logged on CCTV as a suspicious lurker, as a result). A lot’s changed. Can’t cross the same river twice, and all that.

          Still hated the mandatory end-of-term cathedral services, though. Two hours on a cold stone (and stone-cold, ahaha) pew? No thanks.

          1. gw0udm

            @David 132

            Well we obviously learned something from those BBCs. Yes there was a Tube but not a Teletext adapter. There was a print server, and my favourite station (number 6, batch) which had an upgraded keyboard and was beautiful to type on.

            Plus an ancient hard disk pack from a mainframe and a weird thing covered in switches which belonged to my friends Dad.

            Yes I enjoyed my time there too but changed beyond recognition... They even let girls in, tsk tsk.

            +1 for shivering in the cathedral too

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Mr Higgins the computing teacher, if you’re reading this"

        Red head Southerner with extreme anger issues? Wirral Grammar?

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          AC Red headed southerner?...

          Nope. Dark-haired bearded bloke with no apparent anger issues. It seems it was mandatory in the ‘80s for school IT teachers to have the surname Higgins.

          It’s probably a tradition, or an old charter or something.

          1. Soruk

            Not going to name it, but I'm thinking of a certain school (with a wonky school shop) in Canterbury, based on the description.

            1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

              Ah yes the memories of EcoNet come flooding back, the joys of A-level comp-sci in the 80s...

              My teacher foolishly let me borrow a copy of the manual, at which point I of course duly wrote my own versions of all the priviledged commands which worked surprisingly well. I think it may have been a rite of passage thing anyway towards earning system privs, which I ended up with later on (the project I was working on conveniently needed them).

              That said when I did get such privs of course the first thing at least two of my peers (who hated one another) asked was for me to give them the password of the other one (so that they could "have some fun" with the content of the accounts). So I of course duly obliged, by swapping the passwords over so they each had the password of the others account but no longer of their own. To say the resulting Mexican stand-off was quite interesting when they realised they'd got just what they asked for, but not what they actually wanted.

              Even the teacher enjoyed that one, with a stern wagging of finger at me before promptly cracking up laughing and complimenting me on an interesting way of coping with the request and dealing with the two of them.

    3. MJB7

      Re: Poorly configured system

      "Almost by definition you'd think 'administrator' commands should only be available to administrators?"

      You are obviously thinking with the mindset of a 21st century security consultant. The late 70's was a much more innocent time, when it wasn't completely obvious that just trusting people to be responsible wasn't good enough.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge


        However, it must be said that, to discover that you can accidentally fill up the server's hard disk with folders in no time flat is excusable - to go around purposefully disconnecting users without warning "just to see if it works" is a mindset I do not approve of.

        1. Aladdin Sane

          You do know that students tend to be complete dicks, right?

          1. hmv

            Being the official wielder of the clue stick to problematic students, I'd take issue with that. _Some_ (a tiny minority) are complete dicks.

            1. DropBear

              That is not my experience at all. More specifically, while most students would probably indeed frown upon causing significant problems or harm to others, most of them are absolutely fine "pranking" their peers with stuff that adults (including the same people later on) would find distinctly distasteful.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                "most of them are absolutely fine "pranking" their peers"

                Generally immediately owning up to it, explaining how they did it and having a good wheeze.

                It's the ones who used the "pranking" as a form of bullying who were major dicks - especially as they seldom if ever could take what they dished out. (generally narcissists and we all know where those end up in an organisation)

          2. sisk

            You do know that students tend to be complete dicks, right?

            I dunno about college students, but high school and younger groups definitely have a high dick-to-decent-human-being ratio. Thankfully most of them outgrow it eventually.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. Arion

          Bah Humbug.

          There are situations where this is is healthy; it encourages a preparedness for hardware failure, if there's a likelihood that the system could fail for some reason. It instills the ethic of frequently saving, and backing up.

    4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Econet security

      Unfortunately, the Econet implementation in the original BBC Micro's had very little in the way of security.

      The station ID was coded using a set of dip-switches under the top cover, on the keyboard PCB, but this was read into a location in page 0 of the RAM. As the 6502 and BBC OS did not have any concept of a privilege mode, it was possible to change the station ID with a simple command.

      There was a vague idea of a privileged user when you logged into the file server (and there was some minimal user-seperation on the fileserver), but again, the User ID and whether they were privileged or not was stored in page 0 again, and could easily be changed.

      It was the nature of the machines. There was no real way of securing what was effectively an open workstation.

      When I administered an Econet Level 3 network, I very quickly established that there was nothing that could be secured on the network, and told the teaching staff to only store course records on floppy, never on the fileserver.

      It was a shame really, because it was a rather nice system (with one or two drawbacks, like security and very slow byte-by-byte access to files using OSDCH and OSWRCH)

    5. Velv

      Almost by definition you'd think 'administrator' commands should only be available to administrators?

      Unless, for example, you are a college. Teaching computer related courses. Courses like "System Administration 101"

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        "Unless, for example, you are a college. Teaching computer related courses. Courses like "System Administration 101""

        Too true. Over in the Chemistry department, the course on Explosives is a real blast and in the Microbiology department they have an end-of-course Ebola-snorting contest. It may be possible to teach this more dangerous content merely as book-work, but why would you do that when there is a far more effective Darwinian method of spotting the failing students?

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Ken Hagan Over in the Chemistry department, the course on Explosives is a real blast

          Ah yes. And for bonus credits and a guaranteed 'A' grade*, selected students get to manufacture Dioxygen Diflouride.

          * conferred posthumously

          1. Hazmoid

            I remember the school of Chemistry at UWA always stunk of Hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg gas) because of students mucking around.

          2. Glenturret Single Malt

            Whoops, difluoride.

            Second most common spelling mistake I ever met in school chemistry (after "seperate").

            The lead/led confusion (see an earlier post) I find funny.

          3. sisk

            Ah yes. And for bonus credits and a guaranteed 'A' grade*, selected students get to manufacture Dioxygen Diflouride.

            You're gonna have your troublemakers manufacture FOOF? Hey, let me know when that lab is scheduled so that I know to be out of town that day.

    6. Mark 85

      I daresay that probably most of those "clever kids" found jobs in security. Exploring, testing, finding work arounds, etc. is the hallmark of a good IT security or pen tester.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Poorly configured systems - how about no password on SYSTEM!

      I used Pr1me systems in college, and spent some idle time looking up commands in the online help facility. There was a command called "arid" (add remote id) which was not privileged - if there were other Pr1me systems networked with yours you could act as another user on that system, if you provided the login and password with the "arid" command. Our school had IIRC 6 or 7 Pr1mes networked (dunno what technology they used, surely something proprietary)

      This would be innocuous except that each Pr1me had a SYSTEM account for administration. Some systems had a password on this account, other systems had no password but there was no "time" accounted to it so if you logged in you'd be immediately logged out. However, the "arid" command apparently didn't check this, so you could use it to act as SYSTEM on the Pr1mes where they had stupidly not set a password.

      With that power, I could create accounts on that other system using a script I'd found for that purpose when poking around admin directories. I just had find to find a project number with a lot of time to assign to it. One of the sysadmins had some ridiculous amount of time available, so I was able to create accounts using his project number. That made doing CS assignments a breeze, since while others were waiting 15-20 minutes each time they ran the Pascal compiler on the overloaded Pr1me used for CS, I used a lightly used one dedicated to the business college where compiles finished in seconds!

      Eventually they must have run some sort of accounting check and found an account that didn't belong. So long as I logged in directly they weren't able to catch me since I went in through via modem and they didn't have a way to trace calls from the outside through the university PBX. So they locked the password or something like that, and I used my regular account to use "arid" fix it when I wasn't able to reset my password in the normal way. I don't remember what I thought had happened, but I don't remember thinking they were on to me just that something had got screwed up. I learned later they'd enabled some sort of heavy duty trace facility on that Pr1me thinking they'd catch me, but I guess because I did it via "arid" they missed it and were even more perplexed.

      Then they deleted the account entirely, and while I should have figured the jig was up I got greedy wanting to finish my semester project more quickly and re-created it, and they were able to link it to me though they still weren't sure how I did it despite the trace facility. All they knew was a standard student account was able to create an account on a different Pr1me, so they were probably pretty worried. I got called in for a meeting with the head of IT, explained to him how I did it (at the time he didn't believe me when I told him the SYSTEM account had no password, and assumed I had stolen the password somehow, I bet the admins got an earful when they owned up to it) and was banned from using university computing resources. Luckily this was a couple weeks before graduation so it didn't impact me!

      These days of course they'd probably call the cops, and it would have been a lot worse for me, but at least I didn't deliberately destroy anything. But they were unhappy they had to enable that heavy duty trace facility on all the Pr1mes to catch me, which apparently led to a lot of complaints during the few days they'd done so because it hurt performance so much. Nowadays they'd probably include some fictitiously high cost for that performance penalty in restitution payments...

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Poorly configured systems - how about no password on SYSTEM!

        It is a shame because these days utterly fictitious values of cost will be assigned to relatively trivial student "experimentations" where no real harm has been done. Yes, you used account time that wasn't yours but if the institution owned then systems then were was no real cost to them, just time slices and a bit of electricity.

        I got banned for a couple of weeks too, and one point I wound up sitting at the student help desk and particularly annoyed the staff there by clearing the queue of students with computer issues quicker than they would have - and genuinely helped them too.

        To show the difference, rather more recently I browsed a colleget network and came across a student PC with an open/anonymous share with rather a lot of pornography on it. I could have pretty much cost them their course by reporting them but instead messaged them and advised them that open shares with such was ill advised and they should stop doing it. The fear from them was ridiculous bearing in mind it was just content that anybody with a non-College network could have accessed easily. I think they appreciated the gentle hint rather than a full censure. On the other hand, September was a terrible time for the network... thousands of new, unpatched and utterly vulnernable PCs from (new) students hitting the network made things glacial at best.

    8. BillG

      We're Just the Guys to Do It

      Disconnecting students randomly just to see if it works is a dumb waste of a hack. Better to just carefully test it under the radar, then just tuck that nice hack away for a rainy day. Sooner or later you will come upon a situation that "absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part". Then you can use what you have learned for the betterment of all mankind (IOW crush your enemies).

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had fun with a printer attached to a pub's guest wifi network, not bad just the occasional test page.

    I liked to think about the landlords confused expression as a single test page appeared for no apparent reason.

    Anon because I still drink there. :)

    1. Anonymous C0ward
      Paris Hilton

      Oh FFS at least print some pr0n.

    2. Adam 1

      Printer test page, missed a trick there

      [Company Logo]


      Directive to all service staff - Beer O'clock Super Special Tuesday

      From this Tuesday afternoon, we will be commencing our new Super Tuesday initiative. We value our regular patrons, so whenever an order is placed for a craft beer, the first one is on the house.



  3. sorry, what?

    Fatal Futil and inter-school rivalry

    I was a young nerd in the very late 70s and had managed to get myself access to the hallowed computer room at my school. This had a real TTY terminal that connected us the PRIMOS machine at a relatively local university. The university hosted logins from a number of schools, each identified by accounts like SCH008 (which was our login). A rival school in the same town had the account SCH007 and they would broadcast brags to us about how much cooler they were, frequently related to a License to Kill.

    One of the super nerds at my school, a chap a year or two older than me, somehow managed to get hold of a useful commands list and found that the FATAL FUTIL command let him mess with other user's processes (I don't remember the detail).

    However, the upshot was that it was SCH008 that gained an effective License to Kill, by way of terminated processes.

    1. Chris 244
      Thumb Up

      Re: Fatal Futil and inter-school rivalry

      Bill would have had the same License as James.

  4. druck Silver badge

    A decade of poor configuration

    Such shenanigans were still possible at many universities 10 years later in late 80s on unix systems, where you could inject characters in to other terminals stdin, or boot them off all together with stty 0 > /dev/tty1

    1. Dr Dan Holdsworth

      Re: A decade of poor configuration

      Another university that shall remain nameless had, in the mid nineties, a fair number of unix machines of various sorts (very few Linux systems back then) all of which had unsecured X sessions on them. As a result, pranks of all sorts abounded; screen flips, random windows popped up on other peoples's X sessions, screen meltdown spoofs and the like.

      All fairly detectable; all you had to do was turn round and look behind you for the most virtuously innocent-looking person in the room, and there was your culprit.

      Mind you, the other trick often played was to log into someone else's system using rhost, start off a Netscape process (a notorious CPU and memory hog) and echo it back to your own machine. Hey presto, your system was still nice and responsive and someone else had a sluggish system with a foreign web browser process running on it. This generally lasted until the victims found out about top.

      This is the beauty of universities; wonderful teaching environments, whether you want to learn or not!

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A decade of poor configuration

        "All fairly detectable; all you had to do was turn round and look behind you for the most virtuously innocent-looking person in the room, and there was your culprit."

        Until people realised that the easiest way of not being detected was to push nutscrape from a computer in the adjoining lab.

    2. Nick Kew
      Thumb Up

      Re: A decade of poor configuration

      Not just the late '80s, when xhost + was still a default. Right into the '90s you could - and inevitably sometimes did - make someone else's computer burst into song, tell a joke, admonish the user, or just fart. You could also trivially run your prank from another computer again to leave a false trail in case someone investigated: a local area version of the CIA routing an attack to come from China or Russia.

      But we did it for laughs, and drew the line at actually damaging anyone's work.

      Oh, and this wasn't even a university. Though it was a research institute funded by (many) governments, so not quite the corporate world.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A decade of poor configuration

        "You could also trivially run your prank from another computer again to leave a false trail in case someone investigated: a local area version of the CIA routing an attack to come from China or Russia."

        Try explaining THAT to a journalist and you get blank stares. They very much work on "XYZ says the attack came from russia, therefore it must be so"

        In one case I got mixed up in, the culprit was a spotty overgrown 14yo (he was actually in his mid 20s, just never grew up) who would bounce attacks all around the world so that he couldn't be traced - forgetting that if you don't want to be traced, you don't behave like an ass in other areas (mainly IRC) and get the direct attention of the organisations you're targetting. (yes, there was a lot of monitoring of the "hacking" channels to see who was boasting of what and it doesn't matter if you bounce through a bunch of proxies when certain orgs keep logs, watch where you first started showing up on the net from and note social network structures (these always giveaway name changes eventually) plus language syntax (it's hard to fake your origins for very long))

        IRC was a great educator as to how attacks were being performed (including social motivations) and a good canary of what was coming down the pipeline.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A decade of poor configuration

          I went to university around the time it became compulsory if you wanted to continue working in IT. So I got there in the early aughts.

          It was Kazaa which forced my university to lock things down, since most of the IT labs were unusable when a couple of machines were running it 24/7.

      2. EVP

        Re: A decade of poor configuration

        >Not just the late '80s, when xhost + was still a default. Right into the '90s you could - and inevitably >sometimes did - make someone else's computer burst into song, tell a joke, admonish the user, or >just fart.

        One day, my lab’s sysadmin decided to prank me and opened up a Netscape window on my X terminal’s screen with content that raised some questions among the lab’s staff.

        Next day, I wanted thank him and sent a video clip on the ever so popular series ”This is how mammals reproduce” on the screen of his workstation. I was kind enough to make sure that there were no students obtaining their logins, neither head of the laboratory making his daily complaint about his mailbox being full, in his room. Nor the sysadmin himself, for that matter. He used to leave door to his room open, though, and loudspeakers swithed on. Did I already mention, that he kept his speakers’ volume turned high? Audio track of the educational piece of video raised some questions among the lab’s staff, too.

  5. trevorde Silver badge

    Value added installer

    Many years ago, I worked on some *really* expensive software. It was about $25k USD *per seat* about 20 years ago. Only problem was the installer only took a few seconds to run. Where is the value in that? I wrote a small, err, 'installer helper' which just displayed a dialog box with a progress bar and some customisable text eg 'Configuring datastore' (there was none), 'Acquiring network connections' (not required), 'Updating discombobulator' etc. The installation procedure went from 20s to well over 10 minutes. Now *that* is value for money!

    1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

      Re: Value added installer


      So it was you that wrote the Microsoft Windows file copy progress bar*.

      *and the Outlook 'copy mailbox to local pst for backup' progress bar, which defies reason.

      1. pavel.petrman

        Re: Value added installer

        Re "copy mailbox to local pst for backup" - its clearly the first human-like artificial intelligence thing. As in "let me just file this old mail away without opening a single envelope and reading every line of the letter and finding myself in my armchair two hours later with the very same letter in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other, lost in thought remembering the good old times". So basically that is how Outlook does the pst backup thing.

      2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: Value added installer

        My favourite copy progress bar was the OS/2 Warp 4 installation bar, part way through the installation the bar went *backwards*.

        Warp 4 was thrown together in a relatively short time. It showed, even if it was an improvement over the multitude of Warp 3 versions.

        1. macjules

          Re: Value added installer

          Ah, that's the the Windows Vista installer comes from!

          I was wondering who invented the backward installer bar that seems to start with "10 minutes remaining" and eventually gives up after showing "3 hours remaining"

    2. aje21

      Re: Value added installer

      Many years ago I was working on a small program to edit the configuration file on a Novell server, pressing Save wrote the file to disc, but as that took a fraction of a second I added a one second delay while it displayed "Please wait" to give the reassurance that something had actually happened.

    3. Richard Gray 1

      Re: Value added installer

      I did something similar, but to software with no value.

      I wrote a very small Pascal program, that created a text whirlygig (remeber those) that said something like "Updating Database" .

      An that's all it did. Cue sit down with cup of tea not having to do anything. Shame there wasn't really any internet back then (Yes I know it existed, but not many people had it) to waste my time more productivly.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Value added installer

        You wrote the startup screens to Kerbal Space Program, and I want my £10

        1. Killfalcon Silver badge

          Re: Value added installer

          My first guess was the flight sim in Excel, but that was back in the 90s so probably not 2GB.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Value added installer

        "Cue sit down with cup of tea not having to do anything."

        If that were coffee I'd claim you to be Dilbert's Wally.

    4. Martin

      Re: Value added installer

      In a similar vein; a friend of mine many years ago worked on a local authority computer installation - the old fashioned room full of computers, discs, tape drives etc.

      They finished ahead of schedule (yes, I was impressed too!) and there was going to be a little ceremony with the mayor coming in to cut a ribbon. The guys were sitting in the machine room a day or so before hand, admiring their handiwork - and someone said "It's great - but it looks a bit boring, doesn't it?"

      So, they wrote a little program which just made the tape drives go back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly it looked like a real computer room, just like in a film. Which was a lot more impressive when the mayor arrived.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Value added installer

        I always smile when I remember my days testing Univac big iron computers in the early 80's. When the Local TV crews came in to report on the latest big news from the plant. The news story would usually show a clip of a computer.

        But the only thing with lots of lights was the Transition Unit that configured the up to 4 CPUs into 1 or more systems. But when working on a real system. mostly just the CPU address lights changed, But the tester for the TU's could flash all the lights rapidly in various patterns designed to find shorts and opens. So that's what the news story would show. The "computer" with it's multitude of flashing lights.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Value added installer

        ”So, they wrote a little program which just made the tape drives go back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly it looked like a real computer room, just like in a film. Which was a lot more impressive when the mayor arrived.”

        Too many moons ago we felt like joking and wrote a piece of software for Amiga that pretended to crack into a bank’s system. Green on black terminal and stuff. When the software would find the right password, it gave you a prompt to wire money to another account.

        Then we ripped a video signal modulator of its case and taped it to Amiga. It kind of looked quite credible and utterly stupid at the same time. A self-made modem, you see!

        Then we needed a victim and invited one of the kids we used to play with to see something, or whatever. The software was left running on the screen, like casually. Naturally, passwords whirring on the screen got the target’s attention and we needed to explain: ”Um, yeah, we are experimenting something. Oh, that? It’s just a modem, you can use it to connect remotely to other computers.”

        Certainly, the software ’found’ the login password right then and we were in. And of course, we had to wire some (lots of!) funds to our bank accounts right away, otherwise the system would time out, kick us out and it would not have been guaranteed that we would get in ever again.

        Look on the face of the unsuspecting fool was... priceless.

        The joke that was supposed to be funny, turned sour. First, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Then he started to believe that there could be something in it. After a moment of silence, he stated that he wanted his share, or he would turn us in. It took a while for us to explain him that it’s not real but a joke. He was so disappointed. So were we.

        It was an impressive show, too, but unlike with the mayor’s visit, result was not everybody happy.

    5. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Value added installer

      When we had a similar "issue" with code that was too efficient and lean to justify the price charged we added a 2 Gb Easter egg to make the install time and disk footprint feel more expensive.

    6. Adam 1

      Re: Value added installer

      I once had to handle a complaint about system responsiveness. The client application had to wait for a bunch of data from the server, but given that the penny pinchers had, er, purchased network kit and internet connections that one could make a case were more suited to a small household than a business, occasionally these responses would time-out/retry or just take absurdly long to complete.

      For reasons that largely boil down to historic cries of "just push it out, we promised it two weeks ago" from the PHB, the calls themselves locked up the UI thread which as anyone with an ounce of foresight can see was going to make the application appear unresponsive.

      I couldn't magic up better performance given the data required and network conditions, but it's amazing how the complaint disappeared as soon as I included an animated gif progress bar and demonstrated how much faster the new version was.

    7. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Value added installer

      > 'Acquiring network connections' (not required), 'Updating discombobulator' etc

      One installer I've run into recently has "checking your porn stash", "adjusting registry" "god grief, you have a lot of porn"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At the Uni I attended back in the 80s, there was a network of Unix workstations, and we played all the usual predictable student pranks as we discovered what all the commands did.

    One day, one of the lecturers announced he was tired of receiving jokey emails from the students, and that he had written a script that replied to any incoming message with 'Don't send me junk emails'. Not only that, but any further infraction would be greeted by two copies of the warning message being sent, then three, and so on.

    He was so proud of this, that he gave everybody in the room a copy of the script.

    'So what happens if I'm running this script and I send an email to you?' I asked innocently. The smile slowly faded from his face as the implications of what he had just done slowly sank in.....

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      and what about address spoofing? it was even easier to do then as it is now

    2. iainr

      Many moons ago I was a sysadmin at a university department and a Phd student asked me about mail forwarding. He was going to be working at a dutch university for a month or so. I explained how forwarding worked and cautioned him to not to forward email back to his account in the UK from his Dutch account whilst that forward was in place otherwise the mail would loop.

      It seemed he then went on a 2 week visit to the states and arranged for his email to be forwarded on to the states. At some piint someone didn't warn him about mail looping and when he left the states he forwaded his email back to the UK. I was alerted to this state of affairs by the mail server (as was typical in academia at the time it was a sun workstation) going "thrumm" every 30 seconds or so. a little investigation found about 20M and inreasing of mail looping from the UK, through holland, to the west coast in the states and then back to the UK. it wasn't an issue for our mail server but it did provoke an "oh shit" from the student when his plane landed

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      ''So what happens if I'm running this script and I send an email to you?' I asked innocently '

      Or, given how there's zero security in SMTP to prevent forgery (spoofing), what happens if "he" sends an email to "himself"?

      I've seen systems spiral themselves into the ground with millions of copies of undeliverable non-delivery-notices (for postmaster) sent to postmaster - and admins who are so clueless they don't know how to clear the spools out, so as soo as they rebooted it just happened again (and again, and again....)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thames Poly ?

    They also had the complete system manuals available. In no time I ripped through it (and learned FORTRAN, PL1/G and a variety of oddball assembler snippets).

    MSG$ and SMSG$ spring to mind.

    1. Miffo

      Re: Thames Poly ?

      I was wondering if it was Teesside Poly as they went from punched cards to PRIMEOS there too.

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: Thames Poly ?

        @Miffo, you missed a couple of steps. They had a UNIVAC 1110, which initially was batch only (coding sheets sent in, punched cards and output sent back). They added interactive terminals. The poor UNIVAC struggled under the load. Sperry said they could upgrade it (for a fee), only to discover that someone had already changed the jumpers so the upgrade was in place. At that point they moved to a cluster of Prime minis.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thames Poly ?

      Writing a message program using SMSG$ was a right of passage for all Thames Poly students !

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    lucky bastards

    we only had a couple of apple]['s which later got upgraded to i386PC's (unfortunately not networked)

    But all the students loved the i386 as pr0nz got copied and passed around a lot (and also viruses).

  9. b0llchit Silver badge

    Beloved integers - PRIMOS print job

    Happy student memories are awakened by one of my (long time ago) colleague students, who found a rather amusing hole. We were only allowed to print 4 jobs per semester. However, as my esteemed colleague found, the arguments to the print command included a "number of copies" argument. Promptly he tried -1 copies and voila, he had 5 print jobs for the semester and one paper copy at the printer.

    Happy memories, indeed.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ""In hindsight, it did inflict some unwarranted pain on some users but it also quickly moved the system administrators to lock down the system before something really bad, and unrecoverable, happened," George said."

    This is more or less what an under-grad at my university said after gaining unauthorized write access to usenet, resulting in complete loss of access for all other undergrads. Asshole.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sys Admin != Security

    I worked at a remote site, when the Sys Admin (who was based at the main site) went on a security course. A week later she sent an email to everyone explaining about all the security activities she had done to lock down the system - except (of course) she had not done anything, not even sent the email :-)

    When our remote site was shut down, all our PC's were removed while we were in the meeting room being told - at least they learnt something!

  12. Brindles73

    This reminds me of when we found the Administrator Manuals for my school's BBC Model B network , we didn't abuse this new found power at all ;-)

  13. Mint Sauce

    primeOS mail

    Post, I think it was called? Anyway it was trivially easy to send messages FROM any user... Shout out to any OxPoly bully boarders on here. I still have lineprinter output from some of the boards in a box somewhere. Must go rummaging for old times sake :-)

    1. buserror

      Re: primeOS mail

      Ah, I had written a complete replacement in 1990 or so, inspired from 'elm' the unix fancy client of the time (mutt din't even exist :-)). It even made it into the wild, as I've got an email about 4 years ago from a happy user. Who knew :-)

  14. Andy Taylor

    Brings back some fond memories of exploiting issues for fun and then reporting them before getting into trouble.

    Discovering the lpr flag that (incorrectly) didn't check file permissions so you could print anything that you knew the path to without read access.

    Discovering that the brand new Sun workstations and existing unix systems had overlapping userID numbers.


    Escalating email auto-reply wars that filled the system storage.

    Swapping around the serial cable connectors that were all jumbled up in the corner of the room and making people's sessions jump to a different terminal.

  15. Alien8n

    School computer rooms

    Reminds me of school, we had a room full of BBC Bs. The interesting bit though was that I had a full set of keys for the computer room for my entire time at school. Not sure what the odds would be for this but my house keys fit both the outside and inside doors, as well as having another key from home that fit the stores cupboard where they kept the floppy disks. They never did find out about those keys...

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: School computer rooms

      We had a key to the school's computer room too - it was a cupboard with about a dozen stand-alone BBC Bs. One April 1st we got in early, hid all the computers and posted a note on the door on local authority headed paper saying they'd been confiscated.

      Much hilarity ensued, but we did make sure to put the computers all back where they should have been before the first class was due. See, we weren't vindictive.

      This was in the days when probably no more than 30% of teaching time on Computer Studies O-level was actually spent sat in front of a computer. Given this clueless report by Qualifications Wales perhaps we should look to return to those days. Even some of the HYS comments are sane - don't think that's ever happened before!


    2. swm

      Re: School computer rooms (keys)

      I was in the habit of making grand master keys at college so they just gave me a master key to the computing center. Spoiled some of the fun.

  16. SoaG

    Security through hilarity

    Any of my staff leaving their workstation unlocked promptly finds they've sent an email to the department declaring how much they love cheese.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: Security through hilarity

      Genius! Sheer genius

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Security through hilarity

      We routinely send breakfast invitations from colleagues' sessions. The shtick is that if you get caught out, you do have to pay for everyone's breakfast. It's light-hearted and helps raising security awareneness, without damaging team spirit (as higher management never gets involved)

    3. ma1010

      Re: Security through hilarity

      When I give a talk about email security, I like to use the following example:

      "You may think your email password isn't all that big a deal, because you don't send anything really sensitive via email. How about I log on as you and send some death threats to, then pick up some popcorn and park down the street from your house and wait for the show to start?"

      That tends to get them thinking.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Security through hilarity

        "How about I log on as you and send some death threats to, "

        I don't NEED to login as you to be able to send email _as you_

        I don't even NEED to be on the same systems as you.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah, PRIMOS...

    At university, I recall discovering that in PRIMOS you could delete the parent directory (..) from a child directory, thus totally bollixing up the filesystem. I naively reported the problem and got barred from using the system. No good deed unpunished!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lucky you

    I do have entirely unnecessarily priviledged access to one of our main production mainframe partitions. Some month ago I received a notification stating that my access was being revoked. I few days ago I was still able to log in... although the idea of a prank crossed my mind, I was stopped by the fact that even a minor slip-up in the prank could litterally cause millions in damages - depending on the MF support team's reactivity - and the consequences would probably include several years of hard time behind the bars.

    Anon for I'd like to enjoy both employment and full access to interesting systems for a wee bit longer.

  19. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Unencrypted passwords in user profiles

    I remember when my community college (step below a state university) switched from a punched-card machine to a Data General (MV?) box (remember them?) in the mid-80s. I was learning FORTRAN on it. We could still get packs of punch cards with the college logo in the vending machines.

    It was running some flavor of DG/UX. I was messing around and discovered where my "user profile" was stored, so I looked at it with a hexdump. And the first part of the file was my unencrypted password. Seriously.

    Yeah... when I mentioned that to people, it went to hell in a handbasket pretty quick.

    Edit: now that I think about it, this must have been something locally written, not part of DG/UX. DG was smarter than that.

    1. disgruntled yank

      Re: Unencrypted passwords in user profiles

      DG was pretty smart.

      But in their own AOS/VS operating system, one had the option to create a user account with unencrypted password. This led to an odd case on a contract where I worked: I arrived to find the staff trying to figure out why our admins could log in to server X, but the users couldn't. Our privileged accounts all had encrypted passwords, so I suspected a failure in the EXEC process, which managed logins (and spooling). We confirmed that accounts with encrypted passwords could log in, accounts with unencrypted passwords could not, and we copied over a good version of EXEC.EXE, which fixed the problem.

      And I must admit that the unencrypted password did come in handy for pranking once, when we were challenged to test the security of an adjoining network--one of our sometime co-workers had (having moved from the contract) an account with unencrypted password on a machine we had access to. We did no damage, but we made it clear that we could log in as him.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Unencrypted passwords in user profiles

      I worked for DG.

      DG was smarter than that.

      Not always :-)

      But IIRC, there's an option, when setting up a UNIX system, to encrypt passwords. It's supposed to be enabled by default, but maybe...

      CSB: when DG decided that maintaining their home-grown schematic capture system was silly, the engineers all got Sun workstations. Shortly thereafter, they discovered "xnetrek". 50 engineers roaming the known universe, shooting at everything that moved, is a surprisingly effective way to bring a thick-wire 10mbit Ethernet to its knees. A memo was issued requesting that conquest of the galaxy be restricted to after four o'clock.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Unencrypted passwords in user profiles

        I should also mention: I have the front panel to a Nova 3 somewhere in my attic. I salvaged it from a machine headed for the scrapheap.

        Real Computers have switches and lights.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More Innocent Times

    Way back then, systems were more trusting.

    In the early 1970s, I was still at school but the school had an arrangement with both the universities in the city (this was before all the colleges became unis) where we could use their mainframes. Mostly this was batch job submission on punched cards. One of them had a sophisticated (ahead of its time) online system which we had seen but weren't allowed to use unsupervised. The other had an ICL 4130 running both batch processing and the Kent Online System (KOS). After school we would often go to one of the university buildings and mess about using KOS.

    Documentation was in the form of a number of dog-eared printed user manuals lying about the terminal room detailing all of the commands available. One of these was (as I remember) called "kill". The documentation suggested that it would shut down KOS completely.

    Neither my friends nor I believed that this could possibly be correct but were too scared to try it.

    Then, one time we came in to use the system and found out that the "kill" commands had been heavily scored out using ball point pen on all of the user manuals.

    I guess someone had not been so scared.

    1. disgruntled yank

      Re: More Innocent Times

      A customer once called our support line in some distress. Somebody there with admin privileges had been working his way through commands and utilities manual, and had incautiously chosen to run FORMAT. As I recall, they had backups, but restoration took a while.

  21. Rich 11 Silver badge

    What is this PRIMOS you speak of?

    Don't you mean PR1MOS?

  22. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Crash programs

    I remember writing simple MS-DOS programs that could (harmlessly) crash a computer, basically by catching interrupt 9 (keyboard) and processing it with my own interrupt handler, which did little else than IRET, effectively ignoring any keyboard input. We had two versions: crash.exe and hang.exe. Both did essentially the same, but hang cleared the screen and printed "Your computer has crashed", whereas crash made the entire screen blink as well, along with producing an annoying beeping sound. I just put these amongst the programs people were supposed to use, and waited to see which users were inquisitive and adventurous enough to find and then run these executables. I did not have to wait long before I was called to a computer that was beeping its top off, with an annoying flashing screen. I asked the used what he thought a program named "crash" would do, and got a rather sheepish look. They generally tried (in vain) to reset the machine using ctrl-alt-del, but hey, that is keyboard input, so got ignored. The trusty old reset button on the front of the beige box was the only way out. I didn't tell them that. Otherwise they would know what to do when next they tried hang.exe.

  23. Ochib

    Boot Floppys

    When I was at College there were a number of Amstrad 1640s in the computer lab for general use. They stated that the HDD were locked down so you couldn't copy any information to the HDD.

    However a quick boot from a FDD proved that the software was run in the config.sys file.

    A quick FDSIK later and there is no C: drive

  24. rcx141

    That must be pre Rev 19 Primos if you could log any user out.

  25. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Student days

    Ahhh...the memories

    I had acquired for myself, a Teletype and modem before arriving at school. This meant that I could access the timesharing system from my dorm room, rather than having to trek tot he shared terminal room on campus.

    Not knowing how to maintain my Teletype, I wandered into the Computing Center at the end of my first year, and discovered that they were looking to hire a Teletype repair person. I applied for the job, stated that my qualifications were that I was in the EE program and owned a Teletype, and was promptly hired!

    I spent the next three years, with a permanent login to the mainframe, no time limit and access to all the free manuals I could ever want. This turned out to be handy.

    After my first week of Linear Algebra, I decided I was finished finding matrix determinants by hand, and learned APL to complete my assignments without having to multiply and divide all night.

    When my Assembly Language class was invited to submit our programs on punched cards, I learned how to do remote job entry using a file of card images submitted from a timesharing terminal,

    As I entered grad school, I salvaged and repaired an old DEC VT05 "glass teletype" and upped my speed from 110 baud to 300 baud.

    Playing around with this stuff probably taught me at least as much as I learned in my formal classes.

  26. FensMan

    Anyone remember Primix? Me neither.

    1. MarkB

      "Anyone remember Primix? Me neither."

      Gave your Pr1mos system the performance of the equivalent volume of ready-mixed concrete?

      And the "magnet" utility described as something to keep away from tapes at all costs?

      (I worked for Pr1me in a previous existence)

  27. Stevie


    George is a wanker. A rationalizing wanker, but a wanker first and foremost.

    "I caused the admins to blah blah blah"

    This is like saying deflating the tyres on your car causing you to check the air pressure in them like you should be doing regularly makes up for the fact that you missed your dentists appointment trying to find a foot pump or compressor.

    Wanker with a capital wank.

  28. MGyrFalcon

    Audio prank

    My first job out of college was as a entry level systems admin for Sun servers at an international bank with offices in Chicago. As the new guy, I spent a fair amount of time on the HellDesk which had Sun workstations on it.

    Someone had pointed out you could just cat properly formatted audio files to the audio device and they would play. I was in a playful mood one day and I set all of the Sun workstations on the HellDesk (6 I believe) to randomly play a catcall every 10-30 minutes if I remember correctly. I didn't think much of it, since I wasn't assigned to the desk that week, and about a week later turned it off.

    A few months after that I was talking with one of the women who worked the desk every day and apparently the random catcalls from various directions had been attributed to people walking around the desk and HR had been called. Luckily she and I were friends and she didn't mention my involvement to anyone.

  29. bodi_thung

    Unintended consequences

    In high school - around 1972 - students in the rather new "Computer Science" could use the Board of Education's IBM 1103 for projects by submitting card decks, which were run and returned with printouts of the results. I went to the local IBM office and bought the 1103 system manual.

    For some forgotten project, I wanted to alert the operator to do something... adjust the printer or whatever, and used a "//" command in the job control cards required in each deck to print out a message to the operator on the Selectric system terminal. Almost nothing ever typed out on that so I figured it would get attention.

    Apparently that command redirected all printing to the terminal rather than the 1403 line printer.

    They had to reload the OS from punch cards, several full boxes. This system printed the pay cheques for the entire board, dozens of schools and many hundreds of staff. Not very practical on a Selectric.

    Needless to say future student projects were less welcome. I was among a select group of "bright" students who had unsupervised physical access to the computer room after hours... that access program was promptly cancelled and I was specifically banned for the room for life. I was, for a while, none too popular among the other students who had access. Until I managed to get us after hours access to a commercial PDP10 timesharing system - we didn't mess with that one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unintended consequences

      IBM 1130 surely. </pedant>

    2. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: Unintended consequences


      You are Bill Gates, and I claim my $1,000,000.00

  30. Peter Christy

    My first "hands on" experience with computers was at college. It was a DEC PDP-8, running FOCAL, and had the capacity of sharing <gasp!> FOUR teletypes! We only had three connected - budget restraints, even then! But we did have the optional 4K RAM expansion - a box the same size as the PDP-8 itself, full of ferrite cores!

    FOCAL had a debug command. To run a program normally, you just entered GO at the "prompt", but if you entered "GO?", it would go into full debug mode, printing out everything it was doing, while it did it!

    This not only resulted in reams of paper spewing out of the teletype (there goes the ole rain forest!), but also reduced the other teletypes to a 1-character per minute crawl!

    Unfortunately, the reams of paper were something of a giveaway as to the identity of the culprit, so it wasn't really a very practical joke! But it did encourage you to write bug-free code - or at least, not use the debug option to, er, debug it, for fear of swift and violent retribution!

    Happy days!



    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      PDP-8, FOCAL and the 1130

      We spent the same years in high school, I guess.

      Before the HS got our 1130 (in my senior year), we had an IBM unit record setup. This was used to run attendance reports, submitted on mark-sense cards, for the 15 or so schools in town. I thought it would be cool to work there, so I applied, and for some reason was hired for 15 hours a week.

      The 402 accounting machine, used to run the reports, was a motor-driven relay logic behemoth, weighing about as much as a small car. It was basically a glorified adding machine combined with a printer, which took its input from punched cards and you told it exactly what to do by pushing jumper wires into a 12" x 24" Bakelite plugboard. I actually took a course and learned how to wire the plugboard (being a fan of moribund technology). I also learned how to run (and unjam) the 082 sorter. Surprisingly, this came in handy in college, when we were learning sorting and searching algorithms. Card sorting (from the least significant column to the most significant) is bubble sort.

      Thanks for the memories...core, of course.

      // face down, 9 edge first!

      1. Alterhase

        Re: PDP-8, FOCAL and the 1130

        // face down, 9 edge first!

        Wow, that brings back memories.....

  31. buserror

    I was a system engineer on Pr1mos when I was a baby

    Ah, I was a sysadmin on a few very big primos systems when I was a baby -- I wrote system tools, cool APIs and so on.

    One day, I was making a new tool tool that was using shared memory; on pr1mos, there wasn't ANY ACL on shared memory, so you had to be a bit careful about what you were doing, thus ME, the trusted wizard, making APIs for it.

    Anyway, my test program was taking a very very long time to start for a bizarre reason, and and I control-C'ed it, the phone started ringing with people on the same system complaining their their application was crashing and it seems the whole shared memory segment (for everyone) had been erased...

    Of course, being the all wize admin, I blamed a glitch in the OS and/or a bug somewhere else and/or a cosmic ray..

    But on that day, I learned to use parenthesis on *every* *single* *macro* and every *single* expression in my header files, and I've never stopped doing it.


  32. sisk

    When I was in high school the Windows 95 machines in the computer lab could be accessed by clicking Cancel on the login screen. Which I did, frequently, because I was lazy and it was quicker than typing my credentials. I never did any mischief like that but I did confirm that I had full access to the net command and could remote shutdown machines (when I tried it I targeted a machine that wasn't being used at the time).

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The saga of a class, Pascal, network, and a Novell server...

    When I was in college in the early 1990's, the computer labs at the community college that I went to had some very spiffy high end 80386DX-33 machines. They were quite loaded. They had a full 16MB Ram, 256K cache, 120MB harddisks, and even the optional math coprocessor. I was in the programming class, so I was learning Pascal. Come to find out, the Pascal compiler had the ability to compile the program to protected mode target. No more limited memory to 640KB.

    All the machines were using 10mbit thick ethernet on a common bus. I spent some time learning how to write an IP stack and device driver in DOS so my programs could run exclusively in protected mode, for performance reasons of course. All you had to do was link in the library to use the procedures in it.

    Come to find out, the staff liked my idea and asked if I would share the library with them so others could use it. I didn't think anything of it at the time.

    Later, we had an assignment that specified an IPX address that we are supposed to talk to. We were told to be very careful when keying it in so as to not mess it up. So 60-70 students coded the assignment and ran it. Come to find out, the IP address that we were given was wrong on the assignment. Instead of connecting to a dedicated server which was for our use, we were bombarding the main server in the office, which crashed, and it took the administrative network down with it.

    We didn't know anything about it until next class meeting when the head of IT came in and was asking who blew up the server. Nobody knew what was going on. Apparently, when the server crashed, it corrupted the harddisk and they had to restore from backups, loosing a few days work. Since the machines didn't have logins (you just booted to a dos prompt), they couldn't pin it on any one person.

    Anonymous because the head IT guy reads this and AFAIK, he's still there.

    1. sisk

      Re: The saga of a class, Pascal, network, and a Novell server...

      When I was in college in the early 1990's....I was learning Pascal

      Was Pascal around longer than I thought or was your college just a little behind the times? I know it was effectively dead by the time I was in college later that decade.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Admin added a "hint" line to UNIX password file

    in the ninetys one UNIX computer I used had a "hint" line as to the format of entries in the password file. The entry was:


    Other admins were unaware of a problem with this, until I demonstrated:

    su ''

    and achieved root access by su to a zero length string.

    The line was quickly removed.

  35. Jeff from California

    Excessively trusting system, that was

    I have fond memories of PRIMOS, as our school had a Prime 650 with a roomful of terminals back around 1980. The manuals were freely available on a rack in the terminal room. Perusing them, I discovered that what we now would call the root-level password was a) hard-coded and b) published in said manuals.

    I understand that later versions of PRIMOS repaired those defects, but at the time, it was mind-blowing. Here's a roomful of kids, split between the I-gotta-get-through-this and I'm-in-a-candy-store crowds, and the keys to the safe were in full public view. "The honor system stretched beyond its limits", one of the pranksters called it.

  36. Nematode

    Ah, Pr1mos. I remember that. Sort of like VMS but a more human friendly interface. Loved the script language. Used to run a program, inspect the output, grab data from it to feed into next program(s) and iterate until solved. Try doing that with "Apps" or even MS's OS-level script language, which I use so often I can't even recall its name. Also let you do shenanigans, like the chasp in this article.

  37. EVP

    > and what about address spoofing? it was even easier to do then as it is now

    It certainly was... Back in the day, one of the older students kindly showed me how to spoof an email address to make it look like it was someone else was emailing to you. Then some days later I received an email from the rector telling me ”You nasty boy” etc. Of course, I figured out that it was the aforementioned guy emailing me and wrote back ”Ha haa, you fscking guy, you don’t fool me!” and some other quite a bit nastier things. About 17 ns before hitting send, it struck me that the spoof didn’t only spoof name of the sender, but address as well. If my memory serves me, the prankster got an email back from the ’dean’ telling him to stop abusing his email account, or he will be keelhauled.

    The rector wasn’t renowed for his great sense of humour. To this day, I wonder what had happened if I had realised it >= 18ns later. I should have sent it anyway x)

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