The place is the historic lecture theater of the Royal Institution in London. The date is the 4th of June 1903, and the inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, is about to demonstrate his new wireless system, which he claims can securely send messages over a long distance, without interference by tuning the signal.The inventor himself was over 300 miles away in Cornwall, preparing to send the messages to his colleague Professor Fleming in the theater. Towards the end of Professor Flemings lecture, the receiver sparks into life, and the morse code printer started printing out one word repeatedly: “Rats”. It then spelled out an insulting limerick: “There was a young man from Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily”. Marconi’s supposedly secure system had been hacked.Nevil Maskelyne, circa 1903. From the Royal Institution.The person behind this hack was Nevil Maskelyne, an inventor, magician, and general troublemaker who was a long-time rival of Marconi. He was the manager of a rival wireless company and had been involved in a number of disputes with Marconi over the patents that covered wireless telegraphy systems. He decided that the most effective way to show that Marconi’s claims were hollow was a practical demonstration.
Origin of Wireless Security: the Marconi Radio Hack of 1903