It was the ultimate hack. He was looking at an error coded into the heart of the Internet’s infrastructure. This was not a security hole in Windows or a software bug in a Cisco router. This would allow him to reassign any Web address, reroute anyone’s email, take over banking sites, or simply scramble the entire global system. The question was: Should he try it?
The vulnerability gave him the power to transfer millions out of bank accounts worldwide. He lived in a barren one-bedroom apartment and owned almost nothing. He rented the bed he was lying on as well as the couch and table in the living room. The walls were bare. His refrigerator generally contained little more than a few forgotten slices of processed cheese and a couple of Rockstar energy drinks. Maybe it was time to upgrade his lifestyle.
Or, for the sheer geeky joy of it, he could reroute all of .com into his laptop, the digital equivalent of channeling the Mississippi into a bathtub. It was a moment hackers around the world dream of—a tool that could give them unimaginable power. But maybe it was best simply to close his laptop and forget it. He could pretend he hadn’t just stumbled over a skeleton key to the Net. Life would certainly be less complicated. If he stole money, he’d risk prison. If he told the world, he’d be the messenger of doom, potentially triggering a collapse of Web-based commerce.
But who was he kidding? He was just some guy. The problem had been coded into Internet architecture in 1983. It was 2008. Somebody must have fixed it by now. He typed a quick series of commands and pressed enter. When he tried to access the Fortune 500 company’s Web site, he was redirected to an address he himself had specified.
“Oh shit,” he mumbled. “I just broke the Internet.”