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Aussie bloke hacks way to top of music charts with MIDI-based tunes

Oi, actual musos, you're doing it all wrong – security expert

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A security engineer has successfully hacked his way to the top of the music charts in Australia with songs whose quality can only be enjoyed while on Class A drugs, apparently.

Peter Fillmore told SC Magazine that his fake artist account had gobbled up nearly one million hits before it was taken offline.

The Melbourne-based payments security expert said he wanted to test the robustness of music-streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora by seeing if they had fraud detection systems in place.

But, perhaps surprisingly, he was able to hack his way into the online music charts with relative ease. He inserted tunes such as I've only known you for five minutes and I want you dead, too and Right now, I'm very hungry! without a hitch.

Fillmore told the mag that he had managed to scoop up hundreds of thousands of plays for his pisspoor tunes in the space of just a month. It meant that, for a short time, the programmer's songs had surpassed the likes of artists such as P!nk, Nicki Minaj and Australian electronica star Flume.

Fillmore also made some cash from the experiment – roughly $1,000 in royalties – after shelling out just $30 to set the whole thing up.

Best of all, Fillmore said he had never played an instrument in his life before.

He told the magazine that he had bought three Amazon-linked compute instances — virtual servers that run applications — and created a bash script to simulate three listeners playing his songs 24 hours a day over the course of one month.

His first efforts - assembled from heaps of old MIDI files, were spotted several times by moderators at Spotify after he was shopped by the users. But then he decided to group some new tracks – sourced from public domain works using the computational power of Wolfram to generate the composition – into an album, and his success rate started to rise. All of his "hit songs" were released under the pretend moniker of John Matrix.

How was he able to crack the vault on online streaming music services without quickly arousing suspicion about fraudulent plays, you might wonder?

Fillmore told the mag that he believed that many of the services lacked automated analysis. Instead, as with so many Web2.0 properties out there, the systems rely heavily on users to report music that they suspect to be fake tunes.

A suspension notice then tells account-holders that they have breached the terms of service, thereby leaving another gaping hole for hackers to exploit, Fillmore argued.

The engineer, who carried out his test for Ruxcon, said that - after receiving suspension notices - he was unable to get responses to requests for more information about his account being frozen.

He reckoned that the lack of intervention opened up the system to abuse by potentially allowing artists to unleash DDoS attacks on rival musicians on the streaming services, which could then redirect clicks from cloud computing instances controlled by the hackers straight to a competitor's tracks on the network.

Another key thing Fillmore noted from his research was that gaming the system did not require "artists" to have any musical ability whatsoever.

"As it turns out, you're doing it wrong if you want to make money in music by being a musician," he told the SC.

It mattered even less that reviews of his music - which included an album named Kim Jong Christmas - were unfavourable, Fillmore said.

One reviewer, who was suspicious of the tunes, apparently said: "There's [sic] ain't no party like a Korean Worker's Party. But seriously, what the hell is this doing on high rotation?" While another simply suggested that Fillmore's music might be improved while "on cocaine". ®

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