"It was like the heavens had opened," Aaron Cashatt says of the first time he broke into a hotel room using a homemade device made of little more than a circuit board, wires, and a nine-volt battery. Cashatt found instructions to build the device, which unlocks a very popular brand of hotel keycard lock, online. "I've always been of the opinion that if you look around on the internet you can figure out how to do anything," he says. Cashatt tested the device in the summer of 2012 on a hotel room in Phoenix. Unprepared for it to actually work, he only made off with an armload of towels and pillows. But that moment started what Wired, in a fascinating article, calls an "epic crime spree" and "unprecedented, all-he-could-eat buffet of serial digital thievery."
Cashatt estimates he broke into more than 100 hotel rooms across multiple states using his hacking device—conveniently stored inside an Oakley sunglasses case. He stole iPads, TVs, laptops, jewelry, luggage, a US marshal's gun and badge, a pilot's uniform and license, passports, and more. He used the money he got from fencing the goods to gamble and support a meth habit. Mystified, police eventually launched Operation Hotel Ca$h to catch him. And while the lock company claims it has since offered hotels a fix for the keycard glitch, Cashatt isn't so sure. "I guarantee you that if you tried this at some hotel in the Midwest, it would still work 19 out of 20 times," he says. Wired decided to test that, building its own $50 lock hacking device, and hitting up a few hotels. Read the full story here to see if Cashatt was right. (Read more Longform stories.)