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How a popular code-sharing site became the ultimate hacker hangout

In recent months, revelations of multiple hacking attempts, subsequent break-ins, and the shame of organizations that have had consumer information stolen and their reputations harmed have dominated technology news.

Gawker was subjected to a series of attacks by the online collective Gnosis – a group that posted over a million user logins to file-sharing websites – and, more recently, Sony's network of corporate websites and services was repeatedly compromised; even the FBI was not immune to an unauthorised intrusion.

The groups behind them may have shared a common purpose, possibly belonging to the same collective at one point in time, but all of the attacks had one thing in common: word of the hacks and the material acquired was posted on popular code-sharing website Pastebin.

A Website for Sharing Code?

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Pastebin is not a new website; in fact, it has been around for nearly ten years. Pastebin.com was founded in March 2002 by Paul Dixon and a group of developers who constantly contributed code to the project in order to help coders share snippets or entire copies of their source code or highly amusing IRC chat logs.

Pastebin's original incarnation identified itself as:

[A] tool for collaborative code review via the #php IRC channel. Inspired by www.parseerror.com/paste, but more simplified and capable of allowing collaboration over IRC by allowing simple changes to submitted code. Another advantage is the use of short URLs, such as http://pastebin.com/765.

The code was originally intended to run from a single open-source PHP file, and the code was made available so that users could read the source code to see how it worked. As the site's capabilities expanded, such as clipboard and Ruby support, the codebase grew too large for a single file, but it stayed faithful to its roots by maintaining all version information incorporated within the files.

Despite countless imitations, Pastebin remained one of the most popular code-sharing repositories for many years until the original founder announced on the website that he was selling the website. Jeroen Vader, an eleven-year-old serial Internet entrepreneur who was an ardent Pastebin user and believed more could be done with the site, was one person who was particularly interested in the idea of a sale.

Vader elaborates:

Pastebin is the only website I've ever owned that wasn't created by me. Except for Pastebin, I've been an internet entrepreneur for about 11 years and have always coded/designed/developed all of my projects myself. The website first went up in 2002. That guy published a notice on Pastebin in February 2010 saying it was for sale, and I quickly found out because I was an avid Pastebin user myself.

I was drawn to the project because I am a coder myself. When I purchased Pastebin in early 2010, the design and interface had not been updated in almost 8 years, so the first thing I did was create Pastebin V2. This was favorably embraced by the community, and the website began to grow swiftly. I launched Pastebin V3 earlier this year, which has increased the website's traffic even more, thanks to the addition of a member system.