Mark Zuckerberg Hacks the Harvard House Sites

This is the night of sophomore Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous hacking of the Harvard house sites. Zuckerberg wrote in his online diary that night: let the hacking begin.” Zuckerberg lived in Kirkland House, just a stone’s throw from Winthrop. Michael McKibben’s oldest son, now a surgeon, was a Harvard University student and member of the football team. He lived in Winthrop House as a junior. McKibben said “my son had a number of confidential emails from me discussing our invention in his Email Inbox.”

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t hack into the Harvard student records databases, at least directly.

Most Harvard houses had internal facebooks; they were simple web applications that served up individual students’ names, photos and email addresses freely to logged-in users. In most cases, these pages had URLs ending with a unique identifier for that student (i.e. ?studentId=12345). Changing that number would take you to another student’s page.

Mark then wrote a set of simple web scrapers that visited each of these pages in numerical order and downloaded the details. This can be easily done via wget command. Once he had all the details, he filtered the results using gender to get only girls photo and finally used the famous Elo rating system, used in chess to rate players, to rank everyone.

Mark Zuckerberg (Oct. 28, 2003). Let the Hacking Begin Online Diary. 02138 magazine.

Doc. No. 530 , pp. 2, 6, 21, Leader’s Counterstatement of Disputed Facts, Jun. 11, 2010.

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