30 years later, it's an unimaginable hack

Even back in 1982, the astonishing emergence of a large black weather balloon from beneath the field during the annual Harvard-Yale football game was enough to have police officers drawing their guns.

Harvard vs. Yale: The Game of network and computing research

Today? SWAT teams and bomb squads would be the least of it.

So imagine if at last Saturday's 129th meeting between the football squads of Harvard and Yale, an MIT fraternity had pulled off such an audacious hack. Imagine that as the second quarter unfolded, so too did a large and rather ominous-looking black weather balloon that had been buried beneath the turf, then inflated by a Freon-driven hydraulic press and vacuum cleaner motor.

In 1982, the general reaction to this having occurred for real was surprise and bemusement, at least aside from those drawn police pistols.

If it had happened last Saturday? You could expect that mass panic would have kicked in as soon as that balloon was inflated enough to be seen from the stands. The stampede for the exits would have left many injured and perhaps some dead. Those in attendance who knew the history of this game and its attractiveness to geeky pranksters would have done their best to try and calm the situation, but this is 2012 and ... that ... balloon ... was ... about ... to ... burst! The resultant plume of smoke would have sent even the history buffs running for dear life.

Thirty years ago the weather balloon's explosive demise signaled to everyone on hand that the mischief was over and it was now time to clean up the mess, repair the small hole in the field and resume the game, which Harvard went on to win 45-7. (I'd tell you who won Saturday's game, but if you haven't figured it out by now I am writing this before it was played.)

The game actually went on. Try to imagine such a reasonable reaction in our make-believe reliving of the event this past Saturday; I mean try to imagine the game continuing even if the terrified fans hadn't already beat feet out of the stadium.

No, there would be SWAT teams and bomb squads descending on Harvard Stadium with post-9/11 urgency. Not even these professionals, however, would be approaching that hole in the ground; they'd be flying a drone over it while the bomb-sniffing robot got up and running.

There would be no more football played at Harvard Stadium on such a 21st Century day; are you kidding me? And, since the "crime scene" would require a thorough going over by local, state and federal investigators, it would be at least a month before any kind of game at all was played there.

Back in 1982, the balloon prank garnered so much national publicity that the pranksters, members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, held themselves a self-congratulatory press conference.

The 2012 balloon pranksters would not be holding any press conferences because they'd be too busy being arrested, arraigned and jailed without bail on charges ranging from domestic terrorism and bomb making all the way down to violating the city of Cambridge noise ordinance.

Prison sentences would be awaiting them.

This is 2012, after all. If you want to be a geeky funny guy, you need to build yourself a WABAC Machine.

Comments in the present should be directed to buzz@nww.com.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "30 years later, it's an unimaginable hack" was originally published by Network World.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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