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10 Hugely Embarrassing Information Leaks

Kyle D.


In today’s Internet age, the hardest thing for anyone to do is keep a secret. It seems that, every day, there’s some new scandal about how someone’s e-mails or confidential information have been stolen by some group or another, or spoilers to a hit show somehow found their way onto Internet forums.

If you’re a company and you need to keep things secret, it seems your only real option would be to completely cut your business off from the outside world. But even that might not be enough, as you’re about to learn.

10AOL Leaks The Search History Of Over 650,000 Users

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For three solid days, AOL hosted a file containing three months’ worth of detailed search queries from over half a million of its users. Surprisingly, this wasn’t by accident. AOL purposefully released the information and intended for it to be used for research purposes only. To make sure it wasn’t leaking any sensitive information about its paying customers, AOL was so kind as to remove the users’ names and replace them with designated numbers above their search history. What AOL didn’t do was censor any of the searches made by its users, making it frighteningly easy to identify them by their search history.

Have you ever searched for your own name or perhaps for the history of the house you’re living in? If you had and ended up on AOL’s list of 650,000 users, then everything else you looked up in those three months could easily and quickly be attached to your name, with no way for you to stop anyone interested in snooping into your life. It was so easy to identify users that within days of the information leak, websites began posting the names of people on the list—but only after getting permission from the people affected, of course.


9Sony Releases Game Demo, Ruins Its Entire Advertising Campaign

There was once a time when companies could release a product and hide whatever secrets they wanted in it, gleefully knowing that no one would likely stumble upon their surprise for years to come. In the present day, with people data mining every scrap of information they can get their hands on, the best you can hope for is that whatever secret you’ve planned doesn’t get revealed before you can even get your product out the door. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened to Sony’s gaming division when it released a beta of its first ever mascot fighting game: the hotly anticipated PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

With access to only a few characters and levels, data miners who managed to get access to the beta proceeded to tear the game’s files apart, looking for any hints of unannounced special features and characters that might appear in Sony’s first attempt at catching the spark of Nintendo’s Smash Brothers series. They hit pay dirt when a beta file surfaced revealing every single character in the game. This was devastating for the company behind the game as it completely nullified every single planned advertisement. With nothing to show off and months before the game’s release, Sony was forced to twiddle its thumbs and hope gamers didn’t lose interest.

8Half Of Game Of Thrones Season Five Leaks Online Before The Premiere

It isn’t uncommon for a production company to send out screener copies of feature-length movies or the first few episodes of its biggest and best shows to a variety of trusted publications, well in advance of the premiere. These screeners are sent out as a means of building interest through magazine or website reviews, or to prepare voters who will be taking part in the different awards shows that happen each year. One company that does this is HBO, and the show it chose to send out for review was the first half of the fifth season of the hugely popular Game of Thrones series.

This is likely the last time HBO does something like this, as the entire first half of the season was immediately leaked online, weeks before the season began airing. Usually, when a screener is sent for review, a company includes a special code that randomly appears in different areas of the screen, with each reviewer getting their own unique video. This way, even if the code is later blurred out, leakers can still be caught thanks to its placement. What HBO did instead was put a single stationary code that sat in one spot, never changing between episodes. All the leaker had to do was blur that one area and be done with it. The fifth season of Game of Thrones was still wildly popular, but that leak will sting HBO for quite some time.



7Game Developer Tries To Pull A ‘Taken‘ On Hacker

It was the fall of 2003, and the Valve Corporation had just announced that it wouldn’t meet its September 30 deadline for the highly anticipated Half-Life 2, a game that had been five years in the making and cost the company millions as each deadline came and passed. To make matters worse, the company was suffering from unexplained issues with its servers and random computer crashes during work hours. That’s when the unthinkable happened: The game Valve had spent so much time and money working on appeared online for download.

Unbeknownst to Valve, a German hacker had managed to gain access to its database weeks prior and was personally responsible for all of the issues the company had been having. The hacker happened to be a fan of the Half-Life series and was dying to know more about the game but had never bargained on getting access to the entire game in its incomplete form. Shortly after the game had leaked online, the hacker personally e-mailed Valve’s Gabe Newell to apologize for what he had done. To his surprise, Valve seemed not only to be okay with what he did, but the company even offered him a job interview.

The company worked with the hacker to get him a green card so he could enter the United States for his interview—only the interview was never going to take place. Valve had secretly been working with the FBI to get the hacker on American soil and charge him with enough felonies to put him in prison for a very long time. When German police got wind of Valve’s plan, they quickly arrested the hacker before he ever had a chance to board a plane to America. He served only two years of probation and has since turned his life around.

6BBC Releases Extremely Unfinished Versions Of The New Doctor Who

After the exit of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, the BBC announced that the actor replacing him would be none other than longtime Doctor Who fan Peter Capaldi. This was huge news, as the last few Doctors were considerably younger than Peter, and this would be the first time the rebooted version of Doctor Who would feature an aged Doctor. Fans were clamoring to find out how this new Doctor would behave, considering how vastly different he was from all the previous Doctors. With nearly nine months before anyone could get their hands on even a shred of the new Doctor Who footage, fans were left completely in the dark.

That was, of course, until entire scripts started leaking out of the first few episodes of the new series over a month in advance. While it isn’t entirely known how the scripts leaked, the official statement from the BBC was that it likely occurred when they were sent to a new BBC office in Latin America that had an unsecured server. Shortly after the scripts leaked, the accompanying episodes followed—low quality, black-and-white, and missing most of the special effects, but still complete. The leaked episodes allowed impatient fans to see what the new Doctor had to offer months before the season aired.

5Nintendo Gets Attacked From The Inside

Much like the story about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, this leak involved a mascot fighting game: Super Smash Brothers for Wii-U. While the video games themselves are similar, the circumstances behind their leaks aren’t. Whereas Sony accidentally leaked its own private information in a beta download, Nintendo’s leak came from an employee who had access to a camera and an unreleased version of the game.

Posting anonymously on 4chan’s video games board, the leaker shared images of multiple unconfirmed characters along with screenshots of different game modes that hadn’t yet been shown to the public. At first, the leak was deemed to be a hoax due to the outrageous claim that one of the characters was the dog from the popular ’80s game Duck Hunt. But within hours, the leaker had posted videos of themselves playing as all of the characters that had yet to be announced, along with pictures of different collectibles that didn’t make it into the main game. There are unconfirmed reports that Nintendo had figured out which employee leaked all of this sensitive information and had dealt with them.



4Harry Potter And The Tale Of $20 Million Down The Drain

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With the release of the final Harry Potter book on the horizon, tensions were high in the Bloomsbury offices. After dealing with nightmarish leaks a few years prior, where people actually took time out of their day to ruin the story for others by yelling out death spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in public before the book’s release, Bloomsbury wasn’t taking any chances on letting the final book in the series be spoiled in the same manner.

In an attempt to block spoilers and leaks, the company proceeded to spend upward of $20 million on security measures for the book shipments going out to retailers and threaten any store that even dared to open the containers holding the precious books. In the end, this was all for nothing, as someone still managed to get a copy of the book days before its release. Much to the horror of Bloomsbury, the person proceeded to take pictures of every single page in the book and post them online for everyone to see. The big finale was spoiled, and Bloomsbury was out a huge chunk of money for its troubles.

3Trio Pulls A Krusty Krab Caper At The Coca-Cola HQ

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In the children’s cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, the villainous character Plankton continuously tries and fails to steal the secret formula for the Krabby Patty in an attempt to get rich quick with his rival business. The reason you’re reading about this is because a group of would-be spies essentially followed this exact plot when they tried to destroy the Coca-Cola company from the inside by stealing Coca-Cola’s secret formula and selling it to the company’s main competitor, Pepsi.

It all started when a secretary to a high-level Coca-Cola executive got her hands on confidential files meant only for the company’s absolute top brass. Instead of just doing her job, the secretary decided to pocket the top secret files so she could sell them to Pepsi. While some people might find Coca-Cola to be villainous in its own way, Pepsi wasn’t cartoonishly villainous enough to accept stolen secrets from its arch rival. Instead, Pepsi immediately reported the secretary to Coca-Cola, who in turn reported her to the FBI. While the woman thought she was making a cool $30,000 from Pepsi, she was in fact selling her secrets to a federal agent, going so far as to give them a vial of liquid that Coca-Cola confirmed to be the top secret flavor that was never meant to see the light of day.

With the help of two of her friends, the woman then opened a bank account so “Pepsi” could transfer a whopping $1.5 million for the rest of the secrets that she had been caught on camera stuffing into her bag. Instead of getting a huge payday, the secretary and her cronies got some nice shiny bracelets, courtesy of the FBI.

2Apple Keeps Losing Top Secret Technology In Bars

Apple is notoriously strict when it comes to keeping its technology under wraps, going so far as firing an employee for letting Steve Wozniak, the literal number one Apple employee, use a new iPad a few hours before it was supposed to be officially released. Back in 2010, an employee carrying a prototype iPhone 4 walked into a bar, and when he walked out, the phone was no longer with him. What followed was dramatic, to say the least.

The lost phone was purchased by Jason Chen of Gizmodo for a whopping $5,000. Chen then posted in-depth pictures of the phone on the website and gave his opinions on the device. For Chen’s troubles, his house was raided by police and his computers seized as evidence. Ultimately, Chen wasn’t charged with any crime, as he was protected by the shield law, which was put in place to protect journalists from being forced to reveal the sources of their information.

After all that, you’d think Apple would be a little more careful with its priceless prototype phones. But you might actually be wrong, as there were unconfirmed reports that another Apple employee successfully lost another secret phone in another bar. Allegedly, Apple tracked the missing phone to an apartment building but came up empty-handed when police searched the apartment.

1The Most Brazen Theft Of Information Ever

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Everything you’ve read so far has involved things being done under the cover of anonymity. When a hacker is dealing with files on a screen or a journalist is getting one-on-one time with a prototype they lucked into, there’s no inherent sense of danger. Who is going to catch you when there isn’t anyone around to even see what you’re doing? That is what makes this story so interesting. Have you ever heard of someone trying to steal files in broad daylight, in front of a crowd of people who all know that they aren’t supposed to be where they are?

That very thing happened during a convention known as PAX East. While the studio Atomic Games was setting up its booth for the people waiting nearby, a man in the crowd decided it would be a good idea to hook his laptop up to computers containing the source code for Atomic’s new game, Breach. Employees immediately questioned the man as to what he was doing, only to have him admit he was in the process of stealing their code. Sensing he was likely about to be in some pretty big trouble, the man disconnected his laptop and ran into the crowd of onlookers, only to be nabbed by security and taken into police custody. All in all, he managed to steal 14 megabytes of data before his capture.

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