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The Teens Who Hacked Microsoft's Videogame Empire—And Went Too Far

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The trip to Delaware was only supposed to last a day. David Pokora, a bespectacled University of Toronto senior with scraggly blond hair down to his shoulders, needed to travel south to fetch a bumper that he’d bought for his souped-up Volks­wagen Golf R.

The American seller had balked at shipping to Canada, so Pokora arranged to have the part sent to a buddy, Justin May, who lived in Wilmington. The young men, both ardent gamers, shared a fascination with the inner workings of the Xbox[1]; though they’d been chatting and collaborating for years, they’d never met in person. Pokora planned to make the eight-hour drive on a Friday, grab a leisurely dinner with May, then haul the metallic-blue bumper back home to Mississauga, Ontario, that night or early the next morning. His father offered to tag along so they could take turns behind the wheel of the family’s Jetta.

An hour into their journey on March 28, 2014, the Pokoras crossed the Lewiston–Queenston Bridge and hit the border checkpoint on the eastern side of the Niagara Gorge. An American customs agent gently quizzed them about their itinerary as he scanned their passports in his booth. He seemed ready to wave the Jetta through when something on his monitor caught his eye.

“What’s … Xenon?” the agent asked, stumbling over the pronunciation of the word.

David, who was in the passenger seat, was startled by the question. Xenon was one of his online aliases, a pseudonym he often used—along with Xenomega and DeToX—when playing Halo[2] or discussing his Xbox hacking projects with fellow programmers. Why would that nickname, familiar to only a handful of gaming fanatics, pop up when his passport was checked?

Pokora’s puzzlement lasted a few moments before he remembered

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