Hacking and Stealing: How it all started

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All I can remember is my mom shouting every day to get some fresh air. Little did she know that despite the inseparable love for my laptop, I am a huge fan of long walks.

I believe it was in the year 2015 that I first got my hands on a computer. It had a big fat monitor in which I could’ve easily stored all the gadgets I own currently. A colossal device in a middle-class family meant that it wasn’t for personal use. I hated sharing my fridge and I felt the same about my computer. But the main problem here wasn’t who used the computer. I had no problem with sharing the computer, what does a 13-year boy had to hide in his computer anyway. The frustrating part was that my dad had enabled parental control. I was allowed to use the computer for only one hour per day. I used almost 60% of my time to research how to bypass the quota restriction. Was it a wise investment? Well, yes and no. No, because obviously, I did not manage to find any trick to outsmart that software. However, there was something which I learnt – Using Google. I know that sounds like a silly thing to brag about, but do you really know how to use Google to its full potential? I am very sure that I have learnt to use that search engine more efficiently than any average user. It goes way beyond just typing a sentence. I will attach some links from where you can learn more about it.

The system was pretty solid. I can log in and use the computer for 1 hour. Although, there was one loophole – In case of an imperative need, my mom could call dad and ask for the admin password, for me to complete my made up homework. So I used my innocent face, and my mom called dad. She typed the password and boom I could use the computer again now.

Now let me tell you what actually happened when my mom entered the password. No, I did not use a keylogger. I wasn’t that smart yet. My sister had a java phone with a decent camera. I had turned on the recording and hid it next to the printer, pointing directly towards the keyboard. Later, I traced all the keystrokes and decoded the password. It was one of the biggest hacks the 13-year-old me had pulled off successfully.

After I removed parental control from my account, I started spending more time on the internet, particularly Facebook. The notifications triggered dopamine release. I used to crave likes on my new post, and this led to my discovery of auto likers. For those of you don’t know, it increases the number of likes on your post. Initially, I thought it’s a pretty sweet deal for basically nothing. I said “basically nothing” because I had no idea about the system behind it.

One fine day I was checking my Activity Log, and I realised my account had liked and commented on so many posts on its own. Initially, I thought that my account was hacked but turns out the free auto liker that I was using was behind it. I did some research and realised that essentially I was exchanging likes and comments with strangers on the internet. I immediately revoked access to the app from my account, and it stopped. However, I wasn’t satisfied with that. I needed more likes on my posts. I couldn’t find any website which gave me likes for free without compromising my account. I spent a lot of time finding such a website and one day I finally found it. It did a decent job, but the UI was terrible, and it barely gave 50 likes. That was the moment I decided to make a website on my own to solve this dilemma. Although there was one issue: I had zero knowledge about web development. I started watching Youtube videos, and the first thing I learnt was to use the inspect element and the view source code feature.

I quickly went back to that website and viewed its source code, it was a Eureka moment for me but little did I knew that there was only so much I can do with the crazy looking code that I just discovered. I still had to get the PHP file so that I could get an idea about the mechanism behind the website. There was no way to do it. I did not give up there and went ahead with building my own website by using free web hosting. There was just one problem, while the design was mine, it still relied on the original website to give likes. That means I could not increase the number of likes, and if their website shuts down or if they increased the security, it was the end for my website.

I was still pretty happy to learn something about web development, and I had joined a couple of Facebook groups related to auto likers and web development. Few days after I joined a group, someone posted the entire code of the auto liker I was using for my website. That was it. I immediately downloaded the file and started inspecting it. While I barely knew PHP, I understood that the website is relying on the other websites which asked the users to login (just like the first auto liker I used). As it wasn’t doing it via any official APIs provided by those websites, it wasn’t working very effectively as the host website used to patch the access. Now I had a basic idea of the system. It was simply a parasite-host relationship to get likes for free without compromising one’s account. So I decided to take it forward from there by myself. I spent the next couple of days making a list of all host-websites which I could use. I modified that script and the UI of my website. I also got rid of the old hosting, registered a new free domain and hosting and set up the auto-liker there. It was all coming together. The website was giving more than 300 likes on single-use. I posted about my site on a few groups, and it started getting some traction. Within a few days, it had several thousand hits. The best part was that I no longer had to use that service. I made a lot of new friends with similar interests, and I was gaining followers and likes organically. I used to update my website regularly and I even added new features like free comments and followers.

While it isn’t the most ethical story, this is how I got into web development. I had no intentions of making any profits. In fact, my thirteen-year-old self had no clue that I could have run ads on my website to make money. I wish someone told me about ads back then, but I guess everyone was enjoying the ad-free and secure experience. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a sustainable business model. I was using free hosting, and it came with several limitations. The bandwidth used to reach its limits within a few hours every day. I used to shift between domains and hostings to tackle these restrictions, and it worked for a while. I was the owner of Asia’s number one tokenless auto liker, and there was no website that performed even close to mine. I had grown from zero to 2 lakhs+ users in just a few months. But it all had to come to an end. There were no free hosting companies in my knowledge back then that could serve so many users.

I had to shut down the website permanently. It was a fun learning experiment and what’s crazier is that how making just one website taught me so much about Facebook and web development. But I was just thirteen and it wasn’t all over. What happened after that is a story for another day!

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