A digital whodunit

Redditors try to break the mystery of a subforum where someone -- possibly a hacking -- is posting lines of code.

Mar 3, 2020, 11:52 am*



Kevin Morris

Who is A858DE45F56D9BC9?

Five months ago the Reddit user created a subforum on the site that featured seemingly random, multi-line strings of numbers and letters.

On Sunday, that subforum attracted the full curiosity of redditors — before suddenly vanishing from the site.

It first drew the attention of the WTF subreddit. Then a user posted a request for a question and answer session with whoever was behind the A858DE45F56D9BC9 account.

With posts in two of Reddit’s bigger sections, the site’s users began flooding the subforum and commenting on A858DE45F56D9BC9’s posts. Who was this person? And what was the subreddit for?

Redditors left over a thousand comments as they tried in vain to decrypt the messages. Even Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow postulated on the purpose of it all.

Shortly after the subreddit became inundated with traffic, A858DE45F56D9BC9 put up a flurry of posts.

Then, he or she disappeared, along with the subreddit, leaving redditors flummoxed and a little annoyed. (Here is a sample of one of the posts saved in Google’s cache).

“I was really hoping there would be some form of decryption where we would figure out a code and translate it all,” wrote redditor SomeGuyWhoCanFly.

The popular consensus was that A858DE45F56D9BC9 was controlling a botnet with hexadecimal code — something he or she could use to launch distributed denial of service attacks, the kind of attacks LulzSec recently launched against the CIA and various gaming sites.

Or to put it another way: the subreddit was basically an instruction dump a hacker was using to control other computers. (A more in-depth and technical summary of everything redditors deduced about A858DE45F56D9BC9 is availble here.)

But what was it really? We asked Reddit HQ to comment, but haven’t heard back.

And we’ll probably never know for sure — especially with the account and subreddit either deleted or banned.

Many redditors, at any rate, weren’t so sure A858DE45F56D9BC9 was anything more than a sophisticated troll. As one observed:

“Did this occur to anyone that maybe A858DE45F56D9BC9 is just throwing out a random series of letters and numbers for no reason at all other than for shits and giggles?”

Whether troll, hacker, or bizarre code nerd, A858DE45F56D9BC9 at the very least provided redditors with a weekend of cryptographic drama, played out in their own virtual backyard.

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*First Published: Jul 4, 2011, 6:07 am