The Craziness of the Digital World: Hacking and the Dark Web

The Craziness of the Digital World: Hacking and the Dark Web

Before transcribing the digital footprints imprinted over the digital world, sharing with the world how they translate to tell the story of Canadians as being the most eccentric, ballsiest, and greatest hackers to ever walk the digital world, some absolute truths need to be established first.  To start, hacking is extremely illegal in Canada, and breaking into someone’s digital device constitutes a criminal offence.  Also, Canada does not provide hackers immunity, nor has it ever encouraged hackers to attack other nations like some countries do, and it would prosecute hackers it identified who did so.  But if it did give them immunity, the digital world would be ruled by a single benevolent hacking superpower, and the digital world would “probably” be better for it.  To be clear, the reason I say “probably” and not “certainly” is because some hackers are unpredictable.  Albeit, if what Canadian Bacon (1995) said about the sovereign nation of Canada as being known for ages as a polite and clean country and if that translated over to every one of our hackers, then I would say, “certainly”.

Sometimes history and fate will cross paths.  At a certain time.  At a certain place.

Few people can understand how Canada has given rise to some of the greatest hacking talents that have ever traversed the digital world.  Maybe it has something to do with Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone, then blessing us with good fortune, which manifested in the form of dial-up internet.  What is likely to be of greater interest, however, is the over-the-top personalities involved in hacking and the dark web who have the skills that match their personalities, during the decade of 2000 and 2010. Many of those hacking OGs transitioned away from hacking and the dark web into different careers, while others simply disappeared, but this is the story of some who failed to stop while they were ahead.  The top three personalities for me during this era are: “Mafiaboy”,, and “Xenomega”.

Back in the early 2000s, the average 15-year-old boy might secretly look through their dad’s Playboy magazine collection or go to a nearby convenience store to look through Playboy magazines if their dad did not have any.  However, Mafiaboy was not your average 15-year-old, he was Michael Calce from Ile Bizard, Quebec, and his hacking exploits resulted in the RCMP and FBI launching a joint manhunt that lasted two months and resulted in a giant police-issued boot footprint being left on the front door of his parents’ home.  Mafiaboy was found guilty of 55 counts of mischief and sentenced to eight months in a youth detention center, because his hacking exploits allegedly resulted in the loss of $1.2 billion in USD.  What got this little mafioso caught was not any state-of-the-art detection system, but the fact that he went on discussion boards and chatrooms and took credit for bringing down websites including eBay, Amazon, CNN, and Dell, and claimed credit for attacks that were carried out but never reported anywhere.  Looking back, it is likely to be the first known instance of “dry snitching” before it became popular to do so on Instagram.

Some may have heard of the website “Silk Road”, created by Ross Ulbricht, or watched the documentary, Silk Road (2021), about a dark web marketplace for the most illegal contraband and services can be procured.  Few are likely to be aware that a Canadian version of the “Silk Road”, called “Alpha Bay” existed.  It  was many times bigger than “Silk Road” and estimated to have sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  The individual behind “Alpha Bay” was Alexandre Cazes, a baby-faced youth in his early 20s from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, who would end up moving to Thailand and getting involved with shady characters from the underworld.  Although he attempted to move to a country known for its vulnerable institutions, Cazes seemed to forget that the U.S.  Department of Justice’s hand stretched around the world and that on its fingertips rested the three letter agencies including the FBI and the DEA.  The U.S.  Department of Justice’s official explanation behind what got Cazes caught was his email handle, (seriously, what is it about hackers that so many end up also wanting to embody rappers or pimps?).  There were also rumors that the anthem for “Alpha Bay” traffickers was a remixed version of Asher Roth’s song I Love College, by G Malone titled I Love Dollars, with the most ironic line, “Last night I made bread. Hope the FEDs didn’t get to tape it.”

In the world of hacking and the dark web, the only thing better than being able to obtain a newly released video game by pirating methods is being able to hack into a game development studio and play games that have yet to be released.  The Mount Everest of video game hacking achievements is hacking into a gaming console development studio and finding out the exact technical specifications of a new gaming system, then deciding to build an unreleased version of that gaming console years before it is available for sale, and actually managing to sell one for close to $20,000.  Well, that is a mountain that a group of gaming hackers known as Underground Xbox (UX) managed to climb.  with the group’s leader being a Canadian.

The leader of UX was David Pokora known as Xenomega, a youth in his early 20s from Mississauga, Ontario, with a look similar to Kurt Cobain, and he was playing unreleased games like “Gears of War 3” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”.  Pokora was the person that built an Xbox One years before it went on sale, and there were talks that his group had managed to hack PayPal accounts too.  However, what guaranteed that UX members were going to get a lethal injection of anti-virus was that Pokora hacked into network systems that housed U.S.  military information – a big no-no.  Even though these hacks were extremely sophisticated, they were carried out by teenaged-youth and those in their early 20s.  However, all the sophistication could not save them from the U.S.  Department of Justice’s grasp and the FBI.  How many iterations of Alien vs Predator do people need to watch to understand that the Predator always beats every version of the Xen, from the Xenomorph to Xenomega?

When I say that the only other place on earth that can live up to Hollywood and its shenanigans is a city called Ottawa, the capital of Canada – I really mean it.  Some may wonder how that is, because Ottawa also holds the record for being the most boring city in the world, but who ever bestowed us with that title is unaware that we have some of the most interesting people in the world.  One of them was an Ottawa high school student hacking into Ottawa’s radio frequencies and creating an “underground” radio station (2010).  The hacker kid had the best radio station in all of Ottawa, and it resulted in Hot 89.9 and Magic 100.3 snitching on him because they were losing listeners.  Just kidding, the reason this hacker kid got busted was because he decided to brag about his radio escapades.

Here’s one of my crazy stories.  It is the craziest one I’ve shared so far.

Back in 2023, I shared a crazy “digital world” story about tracking down a person living in Britain who tried to hack me and steal my financial information to buy computer parts during the Covid-19 lockdowns.  The hack attack on me failed, I managed to get the order canceled and sent the hacker a photo of his front door, and we talked things out.  That might classify as a pretty “out there” story, but I have an even crazier story that dates back to 2010 when I was a high school student that blows it out of the water.

It was the Fall of 2010.  I was a high school student at Hillcrest High School in Ottawa.  The class was Global Business.  The classroom was our computer lab.  Yes, this crazy story “digital story” involves hacking during high school.  It is so out there that it is worth quoting Rod Serling’s opening monologue of Ther Twilight Zone (1959-1969) before getting into it.  “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.  A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.  That’s the signpost up ahead—your next stop, the Twilight Zone!

There was a kid in that Global Business class in 2010 who got caught exploiting a website vulnerability on the back-end where user credentials were stored and available for anyone who bothered to look during class. The website that was being exploited was that of the Ottawa Police Service. And the reason that the kid got caught for snooping around was only because they logged into the email of someone extremely important at the time and sent a very silly email to another member of the Ottawa Police Service, because they thought it was funny and wanted to look cool.  So when the first Ottawa Police Officer (female school resource officer) came to the classroom, they wanted to confiscate every single desktop computer in the lab—over thirty computers.

There was another kid in that same Global Business class that told the hacker not to send the email, to stop showing everyone, and then asked the hacker kid if they were aware that there were other police services, agencies, and departments that had the same vulnerability. After the kid hacker got caught, suspended, and charged for breaking into the Ottawa Police Service’s network systems, the other kid followed hacker “omerta protocols” and teased that female resource officer about “cool stories”, which, looking back in hindsight, probably made things worse for the hacker. But thankfully for the hacker kid, they were considered a minor, being only seventeen years old at the time of the incident.

There is no way anyone would believe that in the Fall of 2010, a grade 12 student at Hillcrest High School got caught for hacking into the Ottawa Police Services network systems from the school’s computer lab.  But it happened.  It was the start of the 2010 school year at Hillcrest High School in Ottawa, I was a student in that Global Business class, held in the school’s computer lab.  And this incident resulted in the Ottawa-Carleton School Board making significant changes to computer access, but there were Canada-wide changes too.  Other school boards followed suit, and there was even an informal “inquiry” that explored network system vulnerabilities of policing stakeholders, and those findings were scary.  There were other instances of individuals managing to hack into the network systems of other policing stakeholders.  Simply put, “big brother” was getting big brothered, and the identities of some of the individuals who managed to break into the network systems remains unknown.

Perhaps this crazy “digital world” story leaves readers with more questions than answers, but film director Christopher Nolan’s movie Inception (2010) did the same and won some Oscars for it.  So, perhaps the best way to end before the credits roll is to quote Rod Serling once more, with a minor edit, “What do we do when our world is turned upside down? When everything we thought to be true is ripped away and we’re forced to face a new reality? You’ve  just awoken to the fact that when we put away childish things, we may be closing our eyes instead of opening them and that perhaps our only hope is to face our reality:  a multitude of truths, not shrinking from that vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X beyond imagination, but to embrace it,  To open ourselves to the unknown.  Not the end of the story, but a new beginning for the Twilight Zone.”