Daniel wasn't terribly surprised that the principal wanted to see him. After all, Daniel had dropped off a note with a link to the school's new website earlier that day. Principal Dauterive probably wanted to review it with him.

Dauterive glared at him from across the desk. "Daniel," he said sternly, "we need to talk about your recent hacking."


In the late 90s, the term "the Web" was just entering common usage. Daniel's rural Texas school district had strongly encouraged its schools to jump on this bandwagon.

Despite, or perhaps, because of the Dot-Com fever, the district provided no guidance. Or hosting, for that matter. The school's computer classes mainly focused on keyboarding using PS/2s running DOS 4 , and the school's records-system ran on a TI-990, there wasn't exactly a wealth of HTML among the faculty. Since the district's primary export was football players, the student body wasn't significantly more savvy.

Daniel received a floppy disk containing a wad of "cute" animated GIFs, a hard copy of the previous year's yearbook, and the instructions "make a website," the promise that this would "look good on a college application", and a free pass out of study hall. Since he didn't have much to work with, Daniel went to the website of another school in the district, just to get ideas- and maybe borrow a few assets.

One of the images on their front-page didn't load completely. A few refreshes didn't fix the problem, so Daniel tried to right-click and view the image in its own window. Instead of a picture, partially loaded or otherwise, he saw a page with this message:

This image was not fully uploaded. Would you like to upload a new copy?

Daniel shrugged and clicked "Yes", assuming that he'd see a login screen.

 

He landed at the admin page of the site. It was little more than a CGI based file manager, but in 1998, that was wizardry for a school website. As limited as it was, it offered to let him modify files on the site.

Daniel did the responsible thing: he emailed the site administrator, explained the problem and provided instructions to reproduce. He also tried to make the severity of the flaw clear by pointing out that he could do things like delete the entire site.


"According to their site administrator, you were threatening to delete their webzone! What do you have to say about that, young man?"

"What? No- I… wait. Look, I didn't hack anything. It just let me in!"

"We're past the point of excuses," Dauterive said. "We trusted you to put together our website, and you used that trust to flagrantly violate the Computer Use Rules."

Daniel sunk into the chair and glared at the principal's desk. Now that the official handbook was in play, Daniel was almost certainly officially screwed. Still, it was worth trying to escape undeserved punishment. "What rule did I break?" Daniel asked.

"I'm not liking your attitude," Dauterive said. "I think you should be more apologetic."

"I just want to know what I did wrong," Daniel said. "What, exactly, was against the rules?"

"I gave you a chance." Dauterive pulled out a copy of the school rules, helpfully condensed onto a single sheet. He traced down the list with a finger, skipping the non-computer rules like, "No hand holding", "no sharp objects", "no guns, spiked chains, brass knuckles, weapons or other weapons".

"I'm looking at a pretty flagrant breach of most of the rules listed here," Dauterive said. "'No transferring information between computers'. Obviously, I think we can all agree you've broken that one. Oh, 'no personal media'. You were using that floppy disk. And let's not forget the main rule: no accessing unauthorized sites. That one's for your protection, you know. You can find all sorts of horrible things on the Internet."

In the end, Daniel adopted the properly apologetic attitude Dauterive wanted and plead down to a two-week suspension from school computer facilities. When he got back at the library computer, he spent a moment looking up who the aggrieved website administrator was. It turned out to be Jacob Dauterive, Principal Dauterive's son.