The Max Headroom Hacks (research for Crash Into Pieces)

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Note: This is a blog post diving into parts of the research for my new thriller, Crash Into Pieces. I’ve done my best to avoid MAJOR spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book and want to go in fresh, you might want to bookmark this one.

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There’s a story in Crash Into Pieces about a series of hacks from back in the 1980s—hacks of television broadcasts in Chicago. The stories are based on a mystery that authorities still haven’t solved.

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From Crash Into Pieces:

“Some system cracking, phone hacks, TV broadcasts—that sort of thing. It was a different time … Not everything was connected back then. Less things we could mess with.”

“Broadcasts?” Haylie asked. “What kind of broadcasts?”

Smiling and looking down at her handcuffs, Mary slowly rotated her wrists, stretching them, testing the metal. She looked up with a grin.

“Broadcast signal intrusion,” Mary said. “You ever read about the Chicago TV hack? Twice in the same night, two different channels?”

Haylie’s jaw dropped. No way. She had read all about the Chicago hacks, or the “Max Headroom hacks,” as they were known. They were two of the great unsolved exploits of the past thirty years, a topic that always got the message boards rolling. Videos of the hack, transferred off of grainy VHS tapes, were available on YouTube and were creepy enough that it took Haylie a few attempts before she could watch them all the way through.

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On November 22, 1987, Chicago’s WGN news broadcast was commandeered by an unknown group in a hack that still has authorities scratching their heads. The newscast was going as planned until the screen went black, remaining dead for around eight seconds, and then came back to life with a new video feed—a man in a Max Headroom mask.

The man on the camera wore a tan sport coat and black tie. He had what looked like some kind of ribbed metal sheeting behind him, titled right and left to give the appearance of a waveform background effect. He was bobbing and nodding to a beat that wasn’t there, with only a loud fuzzy static noise audible over the transmission. After twenty seconds, it cut out.

The newscaster, who had been able to see the interruption in his monitor, looked back at the camera and said “Well, if you’re wondering what happened … so am I.”

Later that night, Channel 11 in Chicago was showing an episode of Dr. Who when the broadcast was interrupted and the man in the mask returned.

Authorities believe the hackers used a method called “broadcast signal intrusion” to take over each broadcast. The hackers have never been found or prosecuted.

More details on the Max Headroom hacks here:

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To see this and other real-world hacks in action, check out the page-turning books in the Haylie Black series, now available on Amazon.

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Crash Alive

Haylie Black: Book One
Can you Crack the Code?

The award-winning tech thriller that introduces Haylie Black, a 17-year-old hacker with a chip on her shoulder. When her brother vanishes trying to solve a legendary Internet puzzle, Haylie knows that she’s the only one who can track him down. As she begins to reveal the mysteries behind each clue, she’s pulled deeper and deeper into a secret world she never could have imagined.

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Crash Into Pieces

Haylie Black: Book Two
Only Trust the Government as Much as the Government Trusts You.

Haylie Black, a now-infamous teenage hacker, is struggling to live a normal life. When a mysterious hacker known as the Endling emerges, she must use her skills to solve the enigma behind the man. As the hunt unfolds, she discovers secrets bigger than she ever imagined, and will be forced to make a choice that will change her life forever.

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