08 May

Chapter 12: From obstacles to opportunities: first programming and hacking experiences (2)

Earlier, I posted Chapter 1-11 of my new series of blogs, which will collectively form an online book. Below, I have attached Chapter 12. Chapter 13 is scheduled for publication in 3 weeks.

Chapter 12: From obstacles to opportunities: first programming and hacking experiences (2)

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Since this is primarily a fictional story, please do not take everything I write too seriously.

“As I became more active online, especially as a young girl approaching 16, I found myself receiving an increasing number of messages from older boys, some in their early twenties, studying at prestigious universities of technology like Delft and Twente. These institutions were renowned not just in the Netherlands but globally, consistently ranking among the top in the world.”

Receiving messages from older, more experienced individuals was both flattering and somewhat overwhelming. On one hand, it was affirming to receive attention and recognition from individuals who were pursuing their passions at such esteemed institutions. On the other hand, navigating these interactions as a young teenager required a delicate balance of caution and curiosity.

But despite the age differences, conversing with these college students anonymously through online forums opened up a world of knowledge for me about tech, art, and more. Their perspectives broadened my horizons and inspired me to push the boundaries of my own capabilities.

I stopped and smiled, saying, “It’s truly funny how life can be because, at those times in the beginning, I was so frustrated that I didn’t get the chance to pursue higher education. But little did I know that being pushed to follow a lighter education was giving me the opportunity to change my entire life path.”

Elara asked, “How so?”

“Well,” I continued, “since these boys were much more active online and had incredible skills in programming and hacking, they started to make silly jokes with me and say things like: ‘Well, online contests with digital art and Photoshop are easy, but be sure, just because you will never win any online contest on our levels, you will never be able to program and hack things just like we do!’

Some even made jokes like, ‘You’re a girl, you’ll never be able to understand this complex world of technology and programming like we do. It’s in your DNA.’

When I got into discussions with them, they always referred to the fact that history didn’t know many geniuses who were women capable of mastering mathematics and technology at a very high level.”

“How did you feel at that time?” Elara asked.

“Well,” I answered, “to be honest, I felt furious because of such comments. I might have been a girl much younger than they were, but I still didn’t believe that my age or gender meant I wasn’t capable of doing what they were doing.”

I laughed at the memory before explaining to Elara, “So their teasing actually sparked something within me. Rather of allowing their comments to depress me, I saw it as an opportunity to prove them wrong and discover new areas of knowledge.”

I leaned forward, excitement lacing my voice as I continued, “After some thought, to prove them wrong, I started to learn coding. I went to the library in our town and took every book regarding programming languages that I could find. I then sat down with my laptop in the library and started to learn programming from scratch. I learned everything I could find about programming online also, often staying up until midnight behind my laptop. For example, I began with programming simple HTML forms. I learned how to use it properly and create something with it.”

“HTML is a programming language that forms the basis of many websites,” I explained.

Elara was all ears, intrigued. “So, their playful banter kickstarted your tech programming journey?”

“Exactly,” I nodded. “Their words hurt at first, but they pushed me towards self-discovery and growth. Looking back, I’m grateful for their nudge. It reshaped my goals and skills in ways I never expected. It led me on a trajectory that would redefine my aspirations and capabilities in ways I never imagined.”

“And the funny thing is, years have passed, and I still have contact with some of these boys who triggered the deep desire in programming and technology inside me,” I smiled.

To finish the subject, I continued, “After a few months of spending hours at the library behind programming books at the age of 16, I started to make my own website bit by bit. I learned how to use open-source program packages, and I found a lot of almost-finished little program packages online on different forums and websites. There, I could go online, make some customizations, and create my own, for example, animation with Java coding or short program-queries that were available online. Later on, I became familiar with the PHP programming language, which was used for much more advanced websites. So, with Samak, my kitten by my side, I started to make my own advanced websites behind the PC, and each time I could make something work, I was so happy about it!”

I smiled as I reminisced about the experiences that altered the trajectory of my life. “And yes, over time, due to my interactions with anonymous boys in online forums, a common practice back then, I became deeply involved in programming languages and the world of technology. Some of these boys would challenge me, goading, ‘Sure, programming might be easy, but can you hack? We doubt you’re capable of hacking at our level.'”

I chuckled and continued with a smile, “Just to prove them wrong once again, I ventured into the vast ocean of the internet, teaching myself the art of hacking websites. As I navigated through online tutorials, I realized the world was at my fingertips. I learned how easy it was online to find step-by-step instructions on how to hack email addresses or even access, for example, MSN conversations of my own friends. Additionally, I discovered back then how effortlessly I could access sensitive information, like chat transcripts. Discovering all of this was both thrilling and eye-opening.

It wasn’t long before I grasped the simplicity of streaming any movie or downloading any music, regardless of its legality. These experiences sparked a growing awareness within me, even from my younger years. My father’s influence played a significant role here as well. Observing my countless hours behind the computer screen, he’d often remind me, ‘Marya, I don’t know why you spend so many hours behind this PC, but ensure that whatever you do, it remains within legal boundaries, and that your actions yield positive outcomes!’

So, influenced by my father’s words and my own burgeoning consciousness, I found myself grappling with numerous questions. One that loomed large was, “How is it possible that I’m able to read, watch movies, and listen to music that normally cost hundreds of dollars if I were to buy them at the store?”

I paused and said, “You can imagine that when I was 16, websites like YouTube and Spotify didn’t exist, and eBooks weren’t a thing back then. So, accessing books, movies, and music online was considered illegal in 2002/2003 because they were very costly and only available for purchase in physical stores. Despite this knowledge, I didn’t spend a penny, well aware that what I was doing wasn’t permitted. Yet, influenced by my online peers and driven by my own curiosity, I found myself spending increasing amounts of time online, exploring the boundaries of what was possible in the digital world.

After some experimenting and witnessing firsthand how easily I could hack into almost anything online, I found myself with even more questions. How was it possible that I could seemingly acquire online goods without any transaction? How was it possible that I could access almost any music, many movies, and books I desired with just a click on a website? And why were there readily available step-by-step instructions on hacking email addresses and accessing MSN messages? Moreover, with just a few clicks, I could infiltrate the backend of sizable forums, even Dutch ones, observing their core codes, data, and private messages. It begged the question: why was the government seemingly turning a blind eye to all of this?

Even though I understood the ethical dilemmas, I couldn’t help but be attracted to the visible results of my actions.  I felt a strong pull towards exploring further into the offerings of the internet. My ability to get into email accounts and websites and listen in on people’s chats became second nature to me. Still, I decided to stop these activities since I knew that this hobby was taking me in the wrong direction and that carrying it out would be problematic for both my parents and myself.

You can understand that in 2002/2003, hacking was considered a crime, and many young individuals were facing sanctions, including jail time. I realized that the only viable option for me was to cease these activities, to refrain from using these skill sets, and to halt further learning in this field, despite my proficiency. So, I stopped.

However, the reality persisted that even though I reduced my activities, my deep-seated desire to experiment with programming languages, my unstoppable curiosity, and my hunger for pushing beyond the bounds of what seemed impossible remained. And of course, after all of this, as I experimented with hacking techniques, I realized the immense power that came with such knowledge,” I admitted. “Suddenly, the digital world felt both boundless and fraught with consequences.”

To be continued…

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