When you miss your assignment deadline by just two or four hours, you wish you could go back in time and submit your assignment before the limit –something which seems impossible. Turns out, it was not that hard for college student Robert Graham, who is now a well-known cybersecurity researcher. Talking to Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai in an episode of My First Hack series by Vice’s Cyber podcast, Graham shared an anecdote from his college when he hacked his professor’s computer to submit his late assignment in time.
Graham recollects that once when he was too late in submitting his assignment by a midnight deadline, he changed his computer’s date so that the timestamp on the assignment reads of an earlier time than it was actually submitted. But it was not long before the teachers became aware of this trickery students used. To make sure that assignments were actually assigned on time, teachers made it mandatory for students to send the assignment by email.
E-mails contain a piece of information called a header which cannot be modified. An email header contains information like sender, receiver, sent timestamp, received timestamp and other information. At this point, Graham’s trick to backdate his own computer and push the submission timestamp back in time would not work because as per his professor’s instructions, the received timestamp would be considered as the assignment submission time. When the deadline passed, and as usual Graham was late — this time by four hours –he had to have to get around this.
The university ran a Unix-based university environment, and the emails arrived on the professor’s computer rather than being on the cloud. Interestingly, Graham found a way. Around 4 am, “I grabbed a script for an exploit and ran it against their system,” says Graham on the podcast. Once the exploit gave him access to his professor’s computer, he changed the timestamp to match his assignment submission time, and once his email was received, he changed the timestamps back again.
Years later, Graham is now a noted cybersecurity researcher….