In the early months of 1997 CBC radio aired a terrifying story about the Tamai family in Emeryville, Ontario. It felt like something out of a nightmare—lights flickering on and off at random, incessant phone calls with no one on the other end, gargling and grunt noises coming through the lines during regular calls and voicemail passwords altered.
A hacker named 'Sommy' took credit for the pranks, occasionally speaking directly with the family through their phone.
The incident, dubbed 'The Emeryville Horror' perplexed authorities, who 'Sommy' disconnected the Tamai family from whenever they tried to call. The phone company, the power company and two separate security outfits—one from NBC and the other from The Discovery Channel were all stumped.
One of the weirdest and scariest 'hacks' was his ability to hear and record conversation in the house and add them to their voicemail recordings. It seemed like it was truly the act of the supernatural. It got so bad the family eventually put the house up for sale.
It made for great radio, great TV and a great scapegoat for the forthcoming terrors lurking in cyberspace. The story hit everywhere, you can even watch the full Dateline NBC story here.
Eventually 'Sommy' ended up being the Tamai's 15 year old son. In April of 1997 Billy, which couldn't be more of a perfect name, confessed after a four hour interrogation with police who had asked him to come in for questioning regarding the incident.
He was not charged. All reports say he was a 'normal teenager' and that it was a simple prank that escalated much too far. Obviously that explains why he could record conversations in the house, flip breakers in the basement and jump on other lines. It also goes to show you how especially inept adults were in those early internet days.
So Billy openly confessed to the world. It was not some brilliant hacker, just a punk kid who had more free time than he knew what to do with. Case closed, right?
The CBC radio story, and the media in general, did not paint hackers in an especially positive light in their 'Hacker Terrorizes Family' story. Enter The Brotherhood Of Warez.
Founded by U4EA The Brotherhood Of Warez were a Canadian hacker group and like most hacker groups came from the early phone phreaking scene. Many of their old newsletters are still up on Hack Canada and they are a charming look back as ASCII art, Warez reviews, and incomprehensible gibberish.
On April 20, 1997, The Brotherhood Of Warez took down the CBC website and replaced it with the message 'The Media Are Liars'. It was an obvious retaliation against the 'Sommy' story at large. Interestingly, while the BOW had access to the entirety of the CBC's servers, they made no efforts to steal anything, they simply wanted their message heard loud and clear.
The CBC implemented new security measures and replaced its site, and in the wake of some of the more recent stories like this, it's amusing to see there was a time when hackers weren't trying to burn the world down, they just wanted to be left alone and treated fairly. Then again, teenagers ruin everything.