Image and Text: https://www.wired.com/story/xbox-underground-videogame-hackers/?fbclid=IwAR0zyRQd8IFUGRM1__TlvDh6wHXLK1cZV1DT6n69NCRDjX6zSNdcOfZ4zPQ
This article tells the story of a young man named David Pokora,
a student at the University of Toronto who had a fascination for the inner workings
of videogames, and mostly for the Xbox. Throughout his elementary school years,
Pokora mastered the world of gaming and started to learn coding, which enabled
him to do high level hacking at a very young age and pulling him into online
hacking communities that were redefining what game consoles could do. He even managed
to buy a development motherboard from a Wells Fargo tech manager in California,
which allowed him to continue hacking Xbox systems as developers got rid of
security flaws present in previous generations of consoles.
As Pokora and his circle of friends in Canada grew stronger
in their hacking skills, they started stealing beta versions of unreleased software,
angering the pros behind game development from who they started receiving messages
of both anger and praise. Pokora’s actions, in his own perspective, were all in
good will and just for fun. They involved tweaking codes here and there in
order to modify small things one can do inside a game, like making characters
jump into the clouds, fire different projectiles, and turn blue skies into rain.
When he started selling hacks to gamers on Xbox live around 2009, he forgot
about his commitment to fairness and started making thousands of dollars by providing
gamers with hacks that could, for example, make Call of Duty soldiers fly, walk
through walls, and sprint at abnormal speeds. With around $8,000 flowing in from
paying customers on a busy night of gaming, Pokora had to hire employees to
administer the madness of selling hacks.
Things started to get a more intense as Pokora partnered
with another Australian gamer who lured him into invading the most private data
of Epic, a North Carolina game development company. While reading Epic’s emails,
they found out about an FBI investigation that was being launched on how their security
had been breached and game software stolen. The investigation, however, quickly
died down and the hackers thought they had gotten away with their first
encounter with the law.
After other situations involving crimes such as breaking
into the Microsoft headquarters and counterfeiting an Xbox prototype, Pokora
and his friends ended up waist deep in secret investigations involving their
names, which they did not know about until officials arrested them.
Pokora, after spending the entire winter of 2014 on his usual
routine of hacking Xbox games, decided to take a trip down to Delaware to pick
up a bumper he’d ordered online for his car. He brought his father to take
turns behind the wheel as they did not plan to pay for any lodging in the U.S.
and wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. “There is a chance I might
get arrested,” Pokora jokingly told his father as they left Toronto. As they
crossed the border, he was detained and held in a private prison in Ohio until
his court date, and was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for wire fraud,
identity theft, and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The people who worked
with him over the span of five years also got their share legal predicaments.
Nathan Leroux, the high school kid from Indiana who helped Pokora build the
counterfeit prototype, faced 23 months in prison and escaped his house-arrest in
the United States while awaiting trial, paying a friend to smuggle him into
Canada. When officials surrounded him while trying to run across the bridge
into Canadian soil, he pulled out a knife and stabbed himself multiple times.
All the people involved in these hacking cases have now left
prison and returned to normal life at various levels of success. Pokora re
enrolled at the University of Toronto upon his return to Canada. “Pokora still struggles to understand how his love for programming warped
into an obsession that knocked his moral compass so far askew. “As much as I
consciously made the decisions I did, I never meant for it to get as bad as it
did,” he says. “I mean, I wanted access to companies to read some source code,
I wanted to learn, I wanted to see how far it could go—that was it. It was
really just intellectual curiosity. I didn’t want money—if I wanted money, I
would’ve taken all the money that was there. But, I mean, I get it—what it
turned into, it’s regrettable.””