Easter Eggs – The Good, The Bad and The Fun

Some hidden surprises are great – like a heartfelt note left in your kid’s lunchbox on the day of her big science test. Or the forgotten, neatly folded $10 bill tucked inside your jacket pocket. These hidden bonuses are Easter eggs — not the kind that gets tye-dyed and rolled once a year, but the kind that leaves people hunting for more secret treats.

How easter Eggs got their start

Well apparently, some software developers over the years have decided to join in on the fun. Way back in the late 1970s, when video games first went on sale, the then-king-of-consoles, Atari, had a game called Adventure. Adventure’s developer, Warren Robinett, went unnamed in the game credits because Atari was concerned that competitors would find and lure away their best employees. (Sidenote, what better way to ensure employee satisfaction than to tick them off by not crediting them for their work, right?)

The disgruntled employee inserted the line “Created by Warren Robinett” into the code, which would appear when a player hovered over a specific grey dot in the game. The surreptitious move became known as an Easter egg, as the player had to “hunt around” to find it and it went unnoticed by the Atari folks until after Robinett left for another (and hopefully, more appreciative) job. Once Robinett’s trick got a bit of PR, instead of discouraging such tactics, some video game companies, including Atari, figured it might be a good way to generate excitement. Including Easter eggs in games, like hidden levels and secret codes that helped players get more lives or power, became a semi-routine practice.

Sticking it to the man

But at the same time, inserting Easter eggs became a symbol of defiance, a way for developers to “stick it to the man” — ie, their boss or company. And while some of these surprises might just be harmless “extras”, others can be malicious — it all just depends on the developer. Moreover, it’s important to remember that Easter eggs are not part of the approved final coding of a game or program – they are essentially unverified add-ons, which means that the snippet of code in question doesn’t get updated when the software does. All this can cause incompatibilities which may affect functionality, and worse may lead to vulnerabilities that allow the software itself to be hacked. And worse still, if a developer can code in an undocumented Easter egg, what’s to stop him or her from slipping in a backdoor or something equally insidious?

Preventing Easter eggs

Springtime is an opportunity for hackers to attack users’ computers while they shop online. To prevent an Easter egg scam from happening to you, here are a few tips:

Install antivirus software – Reason Cybersecurity detects and blocks malware and viruses, stops you from accessing websites that run malicious software, prevents ad blockers from running on your devices, and protects your systems from pretty much anything else that could damage your digital security.

Patch and update everything – Yes, yes, we know you’ve heard it a million times but it’s still true: keeping your software and OS patched and updated is one of the best ways to prevent any kind of unwanted infiltration.

Improve cybersecurity awareness – Follow the signs of infection and read learn how to respond when an infection is suspected.

And now it’s time to find some Easter eggs— the chocolate kind — and get going.

Happy Easter from all of us at Reason CyberSecurity.