On March 22nd, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott did something seemingly innocuous: he posted a picture of his boarding pass to Instagram. That post was the beginning of a convoluted six-month saga for hacker Alex Hope.
In a blog post, Hope details how they were sent Abbott’s post by a friend and asked if it would be possible to “hack this man” with only the information on the boarding pass. Upon realizing they were indeed able to find personal information, most notably Abbott’s passport number, on the airline website, their task quickly devolved into a black hole of emails, phone calls, and frantic Google searches for definitions of cybercrimes.
Hope, clearly a master of internet-age storytelling, divides each act with headings like “what have i done,” “calling 1300 CYBERONE,” and “Let’s call the Prime Minister’s office I guess?” Interspersed throughout are blurred screenshots, memes, clickable footnotes, and tongue-in-cheek references to Chrome’s Inspect Element being a mighty hacking tool.
The flow of events after the initial discovery are organized into a timeline based on Hope’s personal checklist: “figure out whether i have done a crime, notify someone (tony abbott?) that this happened, get permission to publish this here blog post, tell qantas about the security issue so they can fix it.”
Alerting the Australian government about this security issue proved to be surprisingly difficult. Hope tried online contact forms, various emails, and even called the current prime minister’s office in a desperate search for any relevant contact information. Eventually, they went on a journey through several layers of personal assistants before reaching Abbott himself.
Reflecting on their conversation with Abbott, during which Abbott asked how he might learn about computers, Hope writes, “We are dumb babies learning to use a spoon for the first time, except if you do it wrong some clown writes a blog post about you.” I, too, am some clown set loose on the internet, writing to tell you to go get the full experience at mango dot pdf dot zone.