SANTA CLARA, CA -- Executives at Mattel Toys, manufacturers of the Barbie line of toys and accessories, are busy trying to track down a cyberspace vandal they say did serious damage to their image.
An anonymous message to an Internet discussion group called "alt.binaries.warez.ibm.pc" entitled "Truth Hurts" contained reversed engineered computer code that malicious computer hackers could use to program this season's new "Talking Barbie" into saying things she was never meant to say, a source at NewWave Systems told the Associated Press.
The doll comes with software that asks the child questions like "What is your name?" and "What's your favorite color?"
The software then programs the doll from a home computer. Afterwards, the doll will talk using her electronic voice to say innocuous phrases like "Hello... KATY... let's go to the mall and buy a... BLUE... dress," using the information the child fills in on the computer.
With the hacked code, easily loaded onto computers by hackers or male siblings of the dolls' owners, the doll can be completely reprogrammed. Owners can tell if they have fallen victim to this malicious maneuver if their dolls use any of the default phrases programmed into the rogue release:
- "I need a job!"
- "Do you think Christmas is too commercialized? Hee hee!"
- "Who the [expletive] do I have to sleep with to get a sports car around here?"
- "Declined?!? That [expletive] Ken couldn't afford the minimum finance charge! Let's use my Visa instead!"
- "Let's go up to my Dream House and see what Skipper looks like in leather!"
- "Please wait while I upload your child's name, age, favorite color, and social security number to the Mattel On-Line Marketing Database..."
NewWave Systems, a California-based software firm that developed the original program for Mattel, has offered a US $10,000 reward for information leading to uncovering the identity of the hacker known only in the message as "Dev Zero."
"We know the code inside and out, so of course we're the number one suspect until we can prove our employees have more common sense than to bite the hand that feeds us." The post originated from a server in Alabama, but experts believe that was just a masking tactic. "He or she probably took advantage of the low security at the site. They could have logged in from anywhere. We're focusing on a lead in Frozenarse, Finland, at the moment," a NewWave spokesman said.
Both NewWave and Mattel said that civil suits are pending the discovery of the hacker's identity, but that if he or she turns themself in, they might consider dropping any criminal charges or copyright infringement cases. Doll owners who have already fallen victim to this salacious scam say they're considering a class action suit against both the hacker and Mattel.
"It's done several hundred thousand dollars of emotional damage to my little Jessica," one irate mother proclaimed. Little Jessica's doll kept repeating, "I need a job! I need a job!"