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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.


4. China (allegedly) hacks Google

In March 2010 and again in January 2011, Gmail accounts belong to Chinese human rights activists and senior US government officials were hacked, with all evidence pointing towards the Chinese government.

Although Google initially stopped short of accusing the Chinese government of being behind the attacks, internet speculation was rife, particularly since news that the Internet Explorer vulnerability that was exploited was discovered by a Chinese “freelance security consultant”. A US analyst quoted by the Financial Times claimed that the Chinese government had “privileged access to these researchers’ work”. Google’s response was to threaten to close its Chinese operation and saying that it would no longer censor search results on in accordance with Chinese law.

The Chinese government has continued to maintain that Google’s claim that the hacking attacks had originated in China were “groundless” and that the accusation was “unacceptable”. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the allegations of the hacking of US officals’ accounts as “very serious” and said that they would be investigated by the FBI.

The issue continues to be unresolved, with all sides apparently unwilling to take overt action.

3. The News of the World phone hacking scandle

In a story that continues to drag the reputation of the British tabloids through even more muck than they’re accustomed to wallowing in, the continuing saga of The News of the World’s involvement and commissioning of phone hacking has been going on for years.

Editor of the time, Andy Coulson, resigned in 2007 over the allegations, although he continued to maintain that he’d had no personal involvement or knowledge of what was described as the actions of one rogue staff member. During an enquiry, Coulson stated that “my instructions to the staff were clear – we did not use subterfuge of any kind unless there was a clear public interest in doing so. They were to work within the PCC code at all times”. Despite his emphatic claims of ignorance, a resurgence of interest in the case was enough to prompt his resignation as Tory communications director in 2011, though.

Far from the isolated affair it was originally claimed to have been, News of the World staff and contractors are thought to have hacked into the voicemail messages of dozens of politicions, actors, sportspersons and members of the royal family, among others.

The latest development saw a £20,000 settlement with disgraced sports pundit Andy Gray on the 11th of June, making him the fifth claimant to receive compensation.

2. Using PS3s to make a super-computer

In the realm of hardware hacking, the increasing power and relatively low unit prices of games consoles makes them ideal for alternative uses, whether it’s shunting Linux on to an old Xbox or making the legendary PS3 supercomputer. The PS3 Cluster Guide details the reasons for using the consoles as the basis for a more powerful cluster computer: “In short, the Cell Processor ‘packs a punch’. One of the authors (Khanna) estimates that his MPI computations run much faster than on desktop workstation chipsets, and that his original 8 PS3 (i.e. 64 core) Cell cluster had comparable if not better performance to a 200 Node IBM Blue Gene system.”


Unfortunately, the days of the PS3 supercomputer may have come and gone. In 2010, Sony removed the option of installing other operating systems from its firmware. Since then, keen hackers have worked on creating modified firmwares to re-introduce the option. You can get them from the OtherOS++ wiki, which means that your dream of a PS3 cluster might not be dead after all. We’re fairly sure that Sony won’t be happy about it, but as it turns out, the technology giant has had other things to worry about lately …

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