Typically, children at five-years-old are in the throes of developing greater independence, self-control, and creativity, not to mention they are beginning to concentrate more readily on the various tasks and toys they see in front of them. Most kids at this age enjoy singing, rhyming, imaginary play, and other silly, energetic pursuits older parents might call “horse play.” But back in 2014, a kindergarten student from San Diego named Kristoffer von Hassel shattered these traditional perceptions on youth when he tried to override the parental controls on his family’s Xbox One Live account and consequently discovered a major security hole in Microsoft’s system.
Now known as the world’s youngest hacker, 5-year-old von Hassel had witnessed others playing video games on the family’s Xbox One, but when he tried to play himself, restrictions on the device made it impossible. Completely undeterred, the pint-sized “security researcher” continued to bombard the Xbox with different password combinations until he discovered a back door security glitch with the keys to the gate. By entering an incorrect password on the first login and then hitting the space bar repeatedly on the second verification screen, young von Hassel successfully compromised his dad’s Xbox account and gained unauthorized access to the restricted games. “I was like…yeah!” said the mini hacker. But it wasn’t the first time young von Hassle had discovered a vulnerability in his technology. At just one-year-old, he had successfully managed to hold down the home button on a smartphone and infiltrate the lock screen.
The boys’s father, Robert Davies, began to notice the youngster logging on to the Xbox account and playing games on the console that were not age-appropriate. When questioned about it, the mini hacker showed his father the password loophole. Himself, being a security engineer in cloud storage, Davies was understandably impressed with his tiny son’s technological prowess. “How awesome is that? Just being 5-years-old and being able to find a vulnerability and latch onto that. I thought that was pretty cool,” the father later told reporters.
Just a year before, Microsoft had established a bounty program to thank customers for bringing such security issues to their attention, offering direct payments in exchange for the reporting of certain vulnerabilities and exploitative techniques. Once they became aware of young von Hassle’s discovery, they rewarded him with four free games, $50, and a complimentary one-year subscription to Xbox Live. The kiddie hacker also had his name added to a list of security researchers who have helped make Microsoft products safer as a result of their actions.
“We’re always listening to our customers and thank them for bringing issues to our attention,” the company said in a statement. “We take security seriously at Xbox and fixed the issue as soon as we learned about it.” Thanks to the kindergarten hacker, the company was made aware of a flaw that could feasibly allow someone to log on to another player’s account without the proper password and gain full access to their personal account information, including payment and gaming history.
Kristoffer von Hassel has since been dubbed the youngest person in the world to intentionally “attack” an electronic system and find access. He has his own Wikipedia page and is currently enjoying fourth-grade somewhere in California—that is, until he takes the computing world by storm.