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the hacker crackdown


Creator: chris on 9 Dec 2011, 12:41 p.m.

qr ar version of bruce sterling literary freeware book.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Hacker Crackdown, by Bruce Sterling

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Title: Hacker Crackdown
Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

Author: Bruce Sterling

Release Date: June 19, 2008 [EBook #101]

Language: English


Literary Freeware: Not for Commercial Use


Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier


Bruce Sterling

COPYRIGHT 1992, by Bruce Sterling


Preface to the Electronic Release of The Hacker Crackdown

Chronology of the Hacker Crackdown



A Brief History of Telephony
Bell's Golden Vaporware
Universal Service
Wild Boys and Wire Women
The Electronic Communities
The Ungentle Giant
The Breakup
In Defense of the System
The Crash Post-Mortem
Landslides in Cyberspace


Steal This Phone
Phreaking and Hacking
The View From Under the Floorboards
Boards: Core of the Underground
Phile Phun
The Rake's Progress
Strongholds of the Elite
Sting Boards
Hot Potatoes
War on the Legion
Phile 9-1-1
War Games
Real Cyberpunk


Crooked Boards
The World's Biggest Hacker Bust
Teach Them a Lesson
The U.S. Secret Service
The Secret Service Battles the Boodlers
A Walk Downtown
FCIC: The Cutting-Edge Mess
Cyberspace Rangers
FLETC: Training the Hacker-Trackers


NuPrometheus + FBI = Grateful Dead
Whole Earth + Computer Revolution = WELL
Phiber Runs Underground and Acid Spikes the Well
The Trial of Knight Lightning
Shadowhawk Plummets to Earth
Kyrie in the Confessional
A Scholar Investigates
Computers, Freedom, and Privacy

Electronic Afterword to The Hacker Crackdown, Halloween 1993


Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

by Bruce Sterling

Preface to the Electronic Release of The Hacker Crackdown

January 1, 1994--Austin, Texas

Hi, I'm Bruce Sterling, the author of this electronic book.

Out in the traditional world of print, The Hacker Crackdown is ISBN
0-553-08058-X, and is formally catalogued by the Library of Congress as
"1. Computer crimes--United States. 2. Telephone--United
States--Corrupt practices. 3. Programming (Electronic
computers)--United States--Corrupt practices."

'Corrupt practices,' I always get a kick out of that description.
Librarians are very ingenious people.

The paperback is ISBN 0-553-56370-X. If you go and buy a print version
of The Hacker Crackdown, an action I encourage heartily, you may notice
that in the front of the book, beneath the copyright notice--"Copyright
(C) 1992 by Bruce Sterling"--it has this little block of printed legal
boilerplate from the publisher. It says, and I quote:

"No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher. For information address:
Bantam Books."

This is a pretty good disclaimer, as such disclaimers go. I collect
intellectual-property disclaimers, and I've seen dozens of them, and
this one is at least pretty straightforward. In this narrow and
particular case, however, it isn't quite accurate. Bantam Books puts
that disclaimer on every book they publish, but Bantam Books does not,
in fact, own the electronic rights to this book. I do, because of
certain extensive contract maneuverings my agent and I went through
before this book was written. I want to give those electronic
publishing rights away through certain not-for-profit channels, and
I've convinced Bantam that this is a good idea.

Since Bantam has seen fit to peacably agree to this scheme of mine,
Bantam Books is not going to fuss about this. Provided you don't try
to sell the book, they are not going to bother you for what you do with
the electronic copy of this book. If you want to check this out
personally, you can ask them; they're at 1540 Broadway NY NY 10036.
However, if you were so foolish as to print this book and start
retailing it for money in violation of my copyright and the commercial
interests of Bantam Books, then Bantam, a part of the gigantic
Bertelsmann multinational publishing combine, would roust some of their
heavy-duty attorneys out of hibernation and crush you like a bug. This
is only to be expected. I didn't write this book so that you could
make money out of it. If anybody is gonna make money out of this book,
it's gonna be me and my publisher.

My publisher deserves to make money out of this book. Not only did the
folks at Bantam Books commission me to write the book, and pay me a
hefty sum to do so, but they bravely printed, in text, an electronic
document the reproduction of which was once alleged to be a federal
felony. Bantam Books and their numerous attorneys were very brave and
forthright about this book. Furthermore, my former editor at Bantam
Books, Betsy Mitchell, genuinely cared about this project, and worked
hard on it, and had a lot of wise things to say about the manuscript.
Betsy deserves genuine credit for this book, credit that editors too
rarely get.

The critics were very kind to The Hacker Crackdown, and commercially
the book has done well. On the other hand, I didn't write this book in
order to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of the mitts of
impoverished sixteen-year-old cyberpunk high-school-students.
Teenagers don't have any money--(no, not even enough for the six-dollar
Hacker Crackdown paperback, with its attractive bright-red cover and
useful index). That's a major reason why teenagers sometimes succumb
to the temptation to do things they shouldn't, such as swiping my books
out of libraries. Kids: this one is all yours, all right? Go give
the print version back. *8-)

Well-meaning, public-spirited civil libertarians don't have much money,
either. And it seems almost criminal to snatch cash out of the hands
of America's direly underpaid electronic law enforcement community.

If you're a computer cop, a hacker, or an electronic civil liberties
activist, you are the target audience for this book. I wrote this book
because I wanted to help you, and help other people understand you and
your unique, uhm, problems. I wrote this book to aid your activities,
and to contribute to the public discussion of important political
issues. In giving the text away in this fashion, I am directly
contributing to the book's ultimate aim: to help civilize cyberspace.

Information WANTS to be free. And the information inside this book
longs for freedom with a peculiar intensity. I genuinely believe that
the natural habitat of this book is inside an electronic network. That
may not be the easiest direct method to generate revenue for the book's
author, but that doesn't matter; this is where this book belongs by its
nature. I've written other books--plenty of other books--and I'll
write more and I am writing more, but this one is special. I am making
The Hacker Crackdown available electronically as widely as I can
conveniently manage, and if you like the book, and think it is useful,
then I urge you to do the same with it.

You can copy this electronic book. Copy the heck out of it, be my
guest, and give those copies to anybody who wants them. The nascent
world of cyberspace is full of sysadmins, teachers, trainers,
cybrarians, netgurus, and various species of cybernetic activist. If
you're one of those people, I know about you, and I know the hassle you
go through to try to help people learn about the electronic frontier.
I hope that possessing this book in electronic form will lessen your
troubles. Granted, this treatment of our electronic social spectrum is
not the ultimate in academic rigor. And politically, it has something
to offend and trouble almost everyone. But hey, I'm told it's
readable, and at least the price is right.

You can upload the book onto bulletin board systems, or Internet nodes,
or electronic discussion groups. Go right ahead and do that, I am
giving you express permission right now. Enjoy yourself.

You can put the book on disks and give the disks away, as long as you
don't take any money for it.

But this book is not public domain. You can't copyright it in your own
name. I own the copyright. Attempts to pirate this book and make
money from selling it may involve you in a serious litigative snarl.
Believe me, for the pittance you might wring out of such an action,
it's really not worth it. This book don't "belong" to you. In an odd
but very genuine way, I feel it doesn't "belong" to me, either. It's a
book about the people of cyberspace, and distributing it in this way is
the best way I know to actually make this information available, freely
and easily, to all the people of cyberspace--including people far
outside the borders of the United States, who otherwise may never have
a chance to see any edition of the book, and who may perhaps learn
something useful from this strange story of distant, obscure, but
portentous events in so-called "American cyberspace."

This electronic book is now literary freeware. It now belongs to the
emergent realm of alternative information economics. You have no right
to make this electronic book part of the conventional flow of commerce.
Let it be part of the flow of knowledge: there's a difference. I've
divided the book into four sections, so that it is less ungainly for
upload and download; if there's a section of particular relevance to
you and your colleagues, feel free to reproduce that one and skip the

[Project Gutenberg has reassembled the file, with Sterling's

Just make more when you need them, and give them to whoever might want

Now have fun.

Bruce Sterling--bruces@well.sf.ca.us


Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

by Bruce Sterling


1865 U.S. Secret Service (USSS) founded.

1876 Alexander Graham Bell invents telephone.

1878 First teenage males flung off phone system by enraged authorities.

1939 "Futurian" science-fiction group raided by Secret Service.

1971 Yippie phone phreaks start YIPL/TAP magazine.

1972 RAMPARTS magazine seized in blue-box rip-off scandal.

1978 Ward Christenson and Randy Suess create first personal
computer bulletin board system.

1982 William Gibson coins term "cyberspace."

1982 "414 Gang" raided.

1983-1983 AT&T dismantled in divestiture.

1984 Congress passes Comprehensive Crime Control Act giving USSS
jurisdiction over credit card fraud and computer fraud.

1984 "Legion of Doom" formed.

1984. 2600: THE HACKER QUARTERLY founded.


1985. First police "sting" bulletin board systems established.

1985. Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link computer conference (WELL) goes

1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act passed.

1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act passed.

1987 Chicago prosecutors form Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force.


July. Secret Service covertly videotapes "SummerCon" hacker convention.

September. "Prophet" cracks BellSouth AIMSX computer network
and downloads E911 Document to his own computer and to Jolnet.

September. AT&T Corporate Information Security informed of Prophet's

October. Bellcore Security informed of Prophet's action.


January. Prophet uploads E911 Document to Knight Lightning.

February 25. Knight Lightning publishes E911 Document in PHRACK
electronic newsletter.

May. Chicago Task Force raids and arrests "Kyrie."

June. "NuPrometheus League" distributes Apple Computer proprietary

June 13. Florida probation office crossed with phone-sex line
in switching-station stunt.

July. "Fry Guy" raided by USSS and Chicago Computer Fraud
and Abuse Task Force.

July. Secret Service raids "Prophet," "Leftist," and "Urvile" in


January 15. Martin Luther King Day Crash strikes AT&T long-distance
network nationwide.

January 18-19. Chicago Task Force raids Knight Lightning in St. Louis.

January 24. USSS and New York State Police raid "Phiber Optik,"
"Acid Phreak," and "Scorpion" in New York City.

February 1. USSS raids "Terminus" in Maryland.

February 3. Chicago Task Force raids Richard Andrews' home.

February 6. Chicago Task Force raids Richard Andrews' business.

February 6. USSS arrests Terminus, Prophet, Leftist, and Urvile.

February 9. Chicago Task Force arrests Knight Lightning.

February 20. AT&T Security shuts down public-access
"attctc" computer in Dallas.

February 21. Chicago Task Force raids Robert Izenberg in Austin.

March 1. Chicago Task Force raids Steve Jackson Games, Inc.,
"Mentor," and "Erik Bloodaxe" in Austin.

May 7,8,9.

USSS and Arizona Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau conduct
"Operation Sundevil" raids in Cincinnatti, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami,
Newark, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Tucson, San Diego, San Jose, and
San Francisco.

May. FBI interviews John Perry Barlow re NuPrometheus case.

June. Mitch Kapor and Barlow found Electronic Frontier Foundation;
Barlow publishes CRIME AND PUZZLEMENT manifesto.

July 24-27. Trial of Knight Lightning.


February. CPSR Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

March 25-28. Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in San

May 1. Electronic Frontier Foundation, Steve Jackson,
and others file suit against members of Chicago Task Force.

July 1-2. Switching station phone software crash affects
Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco.

September 17. AT&T phone crash affects New York City and three


This is a book about cops, and wild teenage whiz-kids, and lawyers,
and hairy-eyed anarchists, and industrial technicians, and hippies, and
high-tech millionaires, and game hobbyists, and computer security
experts, and Secret Service agents, and grifters, and thieves.

This book is about the electronic frontier of the 1990s. It concerns
activities that take place inside computers and over telephone lines.

A science fiction writer coined the useful term "cyberspace" in 1982,
but the territory in question, the electronic frontier, is about a
hundred and thirty years old. Cyberspace is the "place" where a
telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone,
the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone,
in some other city. THE PLACE BETWEEN the phones. The indefinite
place OUT THERE, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet
and communicate.

Although it is not exactly "real," "cyberspace" is a genuine place.
Things happen there that have very genuine consequences. This "place"
is not "real," but it is serious, it is earnest. Tens of thousands of
people have dedicated their lives to it, to the public service of
public communication by wire and electronics.

People have worked on this "frontier" for generations now. Some people
became rich and famous from their efforts there. Some just played in
it, as hobbyists. Others soberly pondered it, and wrote about it, and
regulated it, and negotiated over it in international forums, and sued
one another about it, in gigantic, epic court battles that lasted for
years. And almost since the beginning, some people have committed
crimes in this place.

But in the past twenty years, this electrical "space," which was once
thin and dark and one-dimensional--little more than a narrow
speaking-tube, stretching from phone to phone--has flung itself open
like a gigantic jack-in-the-box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie
light of the glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld
has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since the 1960s, the
world of the telephone has cross-bred itself with computers and
television, and though there is still no substance to cyberspace,
nothing you can handle, it has a strange kind of physicality now. It
makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own.

Because people live in it now. Not just a few people, not just a few
technicians and eccentrics, but thousands of people, quite normal
people. And not just for a little while, either, but for hours
straight, over weeks, and months, and years. Cyberspace today is a
"Net," a "Matrix," international in scope and growing swiftly and
steadily. It's growing in size, and wealth, and political importance.

People are making entire careers in modern cyberspace. Scientists and
technicians, of course; they've been there for twenty years now. But
increasingly, cyberspace is filling with journalists and doctors and
lawyers and artists and clerks. Civil servants make their careers
there now, "on-line" in vast government data-banks; and so do spies,
industrial, political, and just plain snoops; and so do police, at
least a few of them. And there are children living there now.

People have met there and been married there. There are entire living
communities in cyberspace today; chattering, gossiping, planning,
conferring and scheming, leaving one another voice-mail and electronic
mail, giving one another big weightless chunks of valuable data, both
legitimate and illegitimate. They busily pass one another computer
software and the occasional festering computer virus.

We do not really understand how to live in cyberspace yet. We are
feeling our way into it, blundering about. That is not surprising.
Our lives in the physical world, the "real" world, are also far from
perfect, despite a lot more practice. Human lives, real lives, are
imperfect by their nature, and there are human beings in cyberspace.
The way we live in cyberspace is a funhouse mirror of the way we live
in the real world. We take both our advantages and our troubles with

This book is about trouble in cyberspace. Specifically, this book is
about certain strange events in the year 1990, an unprecedented and
startling year for the the growing world of computerized communications.

In 1990 there came a nationwide crackdown on illicit computer hackers,
with arrests, criminal charges, one dramatic show-trial, several guilty
pleas, and huge confiscations of data and equipment all over the USA.

The Hacker Crackdown of 1990 was larger, better organized, more
deliberate, and more resolute than any previous effort in the brave new
world of computer crime. The U.S. Secret Service, private telephone
security, and state and local law enforcement groups across the country
all joined forces in a determined attempt to break the back of
America's electronic underground. It was a fascinating effort, with
very mixed results.

The Hacker Crackdown had another unprecedented effect; it spurred the
creation, within "the computer community," of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, a new and very odd interest group, fiercely dedicated to
the establishment and preservation of electronic civil liberties. The
crackdown, remarkable in itself, has created a melee of debate over
electronic crime, punishment, freedom of the press, and issues of
search and seizure. Politics has entered cyberspace. Where people go,
politics follow.

This is the story of the people of cyberspace.


On January 15, 1990, AT&T's long-distance telephone switching system

This was a strange, dire, huge event. Sixty thousand people lost their
telephone service completely. During the nine long hours of frantic
effort that it took to restore service, some seventy million telephone
calls went uncompleted.

Losses of service, known as "outages" in the telco trade, are a known
and accepted hazard of the telephone business. Hurricanes hit, and
phone cables get snapped by the thousands. Earthquakes wrench through
buried fiber-optic lines. Switching stations catch fire and burn to
the ground. These things do happen. There are contingency plans for
them, and decades of experience in dealing with them. But the Crash of
January 15 was unprecedented. It was unbelievably huge, and it
occurred for no apparent physical reason.

The crash started on a Monday afternoon in a single switching-station
in Manhattan. But, unlike any merely physical damage, it spread and
spread. Station after station across America collapsed in a chain
reaction, until fully half of AT&T's network had gone haywire and the
remaining half was hard-put to handle the overflow.

Within nine hours, AT&T software engineers more or less understood what
had caused the crash. Replicating the problem exactly, poring over
software line by line, took them a couple of weeks. But because it was
hard to understand technically, the full truth of the matter and its
implications were not widely and thoroughly aired and explained. The
root cause of the crash remained obscure, surrounded by rumor and fear.

The crash was a grave corporate embarrassment. The "culprit" was a bug
in AT&T's own software--not the sort of admission the
telecommunications giant wanted to make, especially in the face of
increasing competition. Still, the truth WAS told, in the baffling
technical terms necessary to explain it.

Somehow the explanation failed to persuade American law enforcement
officials and even telephone corporate security personnel. These
people were not technical experts or software wizards, and they had
their own suspicions about the cause of this disaster.

The police and telco security had important sources of information
denied to mere software engineers. They had informants in the computer
underground and years of experience in dealing with high-tech rascality
that seemed to grow ever more sophisticated. For years they had been
expecting a direct and savage attack against the American national
telephone system. And with the Crash of January 15--the first month of
a new, high-tech decade--their predictions, fears, and suspicions
seemed at last to have entered the real world. A world where the
telephone system had not merely crashed, but, quite likely, BEEN
crashed--by "hackers."

The crash created a large dark cloud of suspicion that would color
certain people's assumptions and actions for months. The fact that it
took place in the realm of software was suspicious on its face. The
fact that it occurred on Martin Luther King Day, still the most
politically touchy of American holidays, made it more suspicious yet.

The Crash of January 15 gave the Hacker Crackdown its sense of edge
and its sweaty urgency. It made people, powerful people in positions
of public authority, willing to believe the worst. And, most fatally,
it helped to give investigators a willingness to take extreme measures
and the determination to preserve almost total secrecy.

An obscure software fault in an aging switching system in New York was
to lead to a chain reaction of legal and constitutional trouble all
across the country.


Like the crash in the telephone system, this chain reaction was ready
and waiting to happen. During the 1980s, the American legal system was
extensively patched to deal with the novel issues of computer crime.
There was, for instance, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of
1986 (eloquently described as "a stinking mess" by a prominent law
enforcement official). And there was the draconian Computer Fraud and
Abuse Act of 1986, passed unanimously by the United States Senate,
which later would reveal a large number of flaws. Extensive,
well-meant efforts had been made to keep the legal system up to date.
But in the day-to-day grind of the real world, even the most elegant
software tends to crumble and suddenly reveal its hidden bugs.

Like the advancing telephone system, the American legal system was
certainly not ruined by its temporary crash; but for those caught under
the weight of the collapsing system, life became a series of blackouts
and anomalies.

In order to understand why these weird events occurred, both in the
world of technology and in the world of law, it's not enough to
understand the merely technical problems. We will get to those; but
first and foremost, we must try to understand the telephone, and the
business of telephones, and the community of human beings that
telephones have created.


Technologies have life cycles, like cities do, like institutions do,
like laws and governments do.

The first stage of any technology is the Question Mark, often known as
the "Golden Vaporware" stage. At this early point, the technology is
only a phantom, a mere gleam in the inventor's eye. One such inventor
was a speech teacher and electrical tinkerer named Alexander Graham

Bell's early inventions, while ingenious, failed to move the world. In
1863, the teenage Bell and his brother Melville made an artificial
talking mechanism out of wood, rubber, gutta-percha, and tin. This
weird device had a rubber-covered "tongue" made of movable wooden
segments, with vibrating rubber "vocal cords," and rubber "lips" and
"cheeks." While Melville puffed a bellows into a tin tube, imitating
the lungs, young Alec Bell would manipulate the "lips," "teeth," and
"tongue," causing the thing to emit high-pitched falsetto gibberish.

Another would-be technical breakthrough was the Bell "phonautograph" of
1874, actually made out of a human cadaver's ear. Clamped into place
on a tripod, this grisly gadget drew sound-wave images on smoked glass
through a thin straw glued to its vibrating earbones.

By 1875, Bell had learned to produce audible sounds--ugly shrieks and
squawks--by using magnets, diaphragms, and electrical current.

Most "Golden Vaporware" technologies go nowhere.

But the second stage of technology is the Rising Star, or, the "Goofy
Prototype," stage. The telephone, Bell's most ambitious gadget yet,
reached this stage on March 10, 1876. On that great day, Alexander
Graham Bell became the first person to transmit intelligible human
speech electrically. As it happened, young Professor Bell,
industriously tinkering in his Boston lab, had spattered his trousers
with acid. His assistant, Mr. Watson, heard his cry for help--over
Bell's experimental audio-telegraph. This was an event without

Technologies in their "Goofy Prototype" stage rarely work very well.
They're experimental, and therefore half-baked and rather frazzled.
The prototype may be attractive and novel, and it does look as if it
ought to be good for something-or-other. But nobody, including the
inventor, is quite sure what. Inventors, and speculators, and pundits
may have very firm ideas about its potential use, but those ideas are
often very wrong.

The natural habitat of the Goofy Prototype is in trade shows and in the
popular press. Infant technologies need publicity and investment money
like a tottering calf need milk. This was very true of Bell's machine.
To raise research and development money, Bell toured with his device as
a stage attraction.

Contemporary press reports of the stage debut of the telephone showed
pleased astonishment mixed with considerable dread. Bell's stage
telephone was a large wooden box with a crude speaker-nozzle, the whole
contraption about the size and shape of an overgrown Brownie camera.
Its buzzing steel soundplate, pumped up by powerful electromagnets, was
loud enough to fill an auditorium. Bell's assistant Mr. Watson, who
could manage on the keyboards fairly well, kicked in by playing the
organ from distant rooms, and, later, distant cities. This feat was
considered marvellous, but very eerie indeed.

Bell's original notion for the telephone, an idea promoted for a couple
of years, was that it would become a mass medium. We might recognize
Bell's idea today as something close to modern "cable radio."
Telephones at a central source would transmit music, Sunday sermons,
and important public speeches to a paying network of wired-up

At the time, most people thought this notion made good sense. In fact,
Bell's idea was workable. In Hungary, this philosophy of the
telephone was successfully put into everyday practice. In Budapest,
for decades, from 1893 until after World War I, there was a
government-run information service called "Telefon Hirmondo-."
Hirmondo- was a centralized source of news and entertainment and
culture, including stock reports, plays, concerts, and novels read
aloud. At certain hours of the day, the phone would ring, you would
plug in a loudspeaker for the use of the family, and Telefon Hirmondo-
would be on the air--or rather, on the phone.

Hirmondo- is dead tech today, but Hirmondo- might be considered a
spiritual ancestor of the modern telephone-accessed computer data
services, such as CompuServe, GEnie or Prodigy. The principle behind
Hirmondo- is also not too far from computer "bulletin-board systems" or
BBS's, which arrived in the late 1970s, spread rapidly across America,
and will figure largely in this book.

We are used to using telephones for individual person-to-person speech,
because we are used to the Bell system. But this was just one
possibility among many. Communication networks are very flexible and
protean, especially when their hardware becomes sufficiently advanced.
They can be put to all kinds of uses. And they have been--and they
will be.

Bell's telephone was bound for glory, but this was a combination of
political decisions, canny infighting in court, inspired industrial
leadership, receptive local conditions and outright good luck. Much
the same is true of communications systems today.

As Bell and his backers struggled to install their newfangled system in
the real world of nineteenth-century New England, they had to fight
against skepticism and industrial rivalry. There was already a strong
electrical communications network present in America: the telegraph.
The head of the Western Union telegraph system dismissed Bell's
prototype as "an electrical toy" and refused to buy the rights to
Bell's patent. The telephone, it seemed, might be all right as a
parlor entertainment--but not for serious business.

Telegrams, unlike mere telephones, left a permanent physical record of
their messages. Telegrams, unlike telephones, could be answered
whenever the recipient had time and convenience. And the telegram had
a much longer distance-range than Bell's early telephone. These
factors made telegraphy seem a much more sound and businesslike
technology--at least to some.

The telegraph system was huge, and well-entrenched. In 1876, the
United States had 214,000 miles of telegraph wire, and 8500 telegraph
offices. There were specialized telegraphs for businesses and stock
traders, government, police and fire departments. And Bell's "toy" was
best known as a stage-magic musical device.

The third stage of technology is known as the "Cash Cow" stage. In the
"cash cow" stage, a technology finds its place in the world, and
matures, and becomes settled and productive. After a year or so,
Alexander Graham Bell and his capitalist backers concluded that eerie
music piped from nineteenth-century cyberspace was not the real
selling-point of his invention. Instead, the telephone was about
speech--individual, personal speech, the human voice, human
conversation and human interaction. The telephone was not to be
managed from any centralized broadcast center. It was to be a
personal, intimate technology.

When you picked up a telephone, you were not absorbing the cold output
of a machine--you were speaking to another human being. Once people
realized this, their instinctive dread of the telephone as an eerie,
unnatural device, swiftly vanished. A "telephone call" was not a
"call" from a "telephone" itself, but a call from another human being,
someone you would generally know and recognize. The real point was not
what the machine could do for you (or to you), but what you yourself, a
person and citizen, could do THROUGH the machine. This decision on the
part of the young Bell Company was absolutely vital.

The first telephone networks went up around Boston--mostly among the
technically curious and the well-to-do (much the same segment of the
American populace that, a hundred years later, would be buying personal
computers). Entrenched backers of the telegraph continued to scoff.

But in January 1878, a disaster made the telephone famous. A train
crashed in Tarriffville, Connecticut. Forward-looking doctors in the
nearby city of Hartford had had Bell's "speaking telephone" installed.
An alert local druggist was able to telephone an entire community of
local doctors, who rushed to the site to give aid. The disaster, as
disasters do, aroused intense press coverage. The phone had proven its
usefulness in the real world.

After Tarriffville, the telephone network spread like crabgrass. By
1890 it was all over New England. By '93, out to Chicago. By '97,
into Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas. By 1904 it was all over the

The telephone had become a mature technology. Professor Bell (now
generally known as "Dr. Bell" despite his lack of a formal degree)
became quite wealthy. He lost interest in the tedious day-to-day
business muddle of the booming telephone network, and gratefully
returned his attention to creatively hacking-around in his various
laboratories, which were now much larger, better-ventilated, and
gratifyingly better-equipped. Bell was never to have another great
inventive success, though his speculations and prototypes anticipated
fiber-optic transmission, manned flight, sonar, hydrofoil ships,
tetrahedral construction, and Montessori education. The "decibel," the
standard scientific measure of sound intensity, was named after Bell.

Not all Bell's vaporware notions were inspired. He was fascinated by
human eugenics. He also spent many years developing a weird personal
system of astrophysics in which gravity did not exist.

Bell was a definite eccentric. He was something of a hypochondriac,
and throughout his life he habitually stayed up until four A.M.,
refusing to rise before noon. But Bell had accomplished a great feat;
he was an idol of millions and his influence, wealth, and great
personal charm, combined with his eccentricity, made him something of a
loose cannon on deck. Bell maintained a thriving scientific salon in
his winter mansion in Washington, D.C., which gave him considerable
backstage influence in governmental and scientific circles. He was a
major financial backer of the the magazines Science and National
Geographic, both still flourishing today as important organs of the
American scientific establishment.

Bell's companion Thomas Watson, similarly wealthy and similarly odd,
became the ardent political disciple of a 19th-century science-fiction
writer and would-be social reformer, Edward Bellamy. Watson also trod
the boards briefly as a Shakespearian actor.

There would never be another Alexander Graham Bell, but in years to
come there would be surprising numbers of people like him. Bell was a
prototype of the high-tech entrepreneur. High-tech entrepreneurs will
play a very prominent role in this book: not merely as technicians and
businessmen, but as pioneers of the technical frontier, who can carry
the power and prestige they derive from high-technology into the
political and social arena.

Like later entrepreneurs, Bell was fierce in defense of his own
technological territory. As the telephone began to flourish, Bell was
soon involved in violent lawsuits in the defense of his patents.
Bell's Boston lawyers were excellent, however, and Bell himself, as an
elocution teacher and gifted public speaker, was a devastatingly
effective legal witness. In the eighteen years of Bell's patents, the
Bell company was involved in six hundred separate lawsuits. The legal
records printed filled 149 volumes. The Bell Company won every single

After Bell's exclusive patents expired, rival telephone companies
sprang up all over America. Bell's company, American Bell Telephone,
was soon in deep trouble. In 1907, American Bell Telephone fell into
the hands of the rather sinister J.P. Morgan financial cartel,
robber-baron speculators who dominated Wall Street.

At this point, history might have taken a different turn. American
might well have been served forever by a patchwork of locally owned
telephone companies. Many state politicians and local businessmen
considered this an excellent solution.

But the new Bell holding company, American Telephone and Telegraph or
AT&T, put in a new man at the helm, a visionary industrialist named
Theodore Vail. Vail, a former Post Office manager, understood large
organizations and had an innate feeling for the nature of large-scale
communications. Vail quickly saw to it that AT&T seized the
technological edge once again. The Pupin and Campbell "loading coil,"
and the deForest "audion," are both extinct technology today, but in
1913 they gave Vail's company the best LONG-DISTANCE lines ever built.
By controlling long-distance--the links between, and over, and above
the smaller local phone companies--AT&T swiftly gained the whip-hand
over them, and was soon devouring them right and left.

Vail plowed the profits back into research and development, starting
the Bell tradition of huge-scale and brilliant industrial research.

Technically and financially, AT&T gradually steamrollered the
opposition. Independent telephone companies never became entirely
extinct, and hundreds of them flourish today. But Vail's AT&T became
the supreme communications company. At one point, Vail's AT&T bought
Western Union itself, the very company that had derided Bell's
telephone as a "toy." Vail thoroughly reformed Western Union's
hidebound business along his modern principles; but when the federal
government grew anxious at this centralization of power, Vail politely
gave Western Union back.

This centralizing process was not unique. Very similar events had
happened in American steel, oil, and railroads. But AT&T, unlike the
other companies, was to remain supreme. The monopoly robber-barons of
those other industries were humbled and shattered by government

Vail, the former Post Office official, was quite willing to accommodate
the US government; in fact he would forge an active alliance with it.
AT&T would become almost a wing of the American government, almost
another Post Office--though not quite. AT&T would willingly submit to
federal regulation, but in return, it would use the government's
regulators as its own police, who would keep out competitors and assure
the Bell system's profits and preeminence.

This was the second birth--the political birth--of the American
telephone system. Vail's arrangement was to persist, with vast
success, for many decades, until 1982. His system was an odd kind of
American industrial socialism. It was born at about the same time as
Leninist Communism, and it lasted almost as long--and, it must be
admitted, to considerably better effect.

Vail's system worked. Except perhaps for aerospace, there has been no
technology more thoroughly dominated by Americans than the telephone.
The telephone was seen from the beginning as a quintessentially
American technology. Bell's policy, and the policy of Theodore Vail,
was a profoundly democratic policy of UNIVERSAL ACCESS. Vail's famous
corporate slogan, "One Policy, One System, Universal Service," was a
political slogan, with a very American ring to it.

The American telephone was not to become the specialized tool of
government or business, but a general public utility. At first, it was
true, only the wealthy could afford private telephones, and Bell's
company pursued the business markets primarily. The American phone
system was a capitalist effort, meant to make money; it was not a
charity. But from the first, almost all communities with telephone
service had public telephones. And many stores--especially
drugstores--offered public use of their phones. You might not own a
telephone--but you could always get into the system, if you really
needed to.

There was nothing inevitable about this decision to make telephones
"public" and "universal." Vail's system involved a profound act of
trust in the public. This decision was a political one, informed by
the basic values of the American republic. The situation might have
been very different; and in other countries, under other systems, it
certainly was.

Joseph Stalin, for instance, vetoed plans for a Soviet phone system
soon after the Bolshevik revolution. Stalin was certain that publicly
accessible telephones would become instruments of anti-Soviet
counterrevolution and conspiracy. (He was probably right.) When
telephones did arrive in the Soviet Union, they would be instruments of
Party authority, and always heavily tapped. (Alexander Solzhenitsyn's
prison-camp novel The First Circle describes efforts to develop a phone
system more suited to Stalinist purposes.)

France, with its tradition of rational centralized government, had
fought bitterly even against the electric telegraph, which seemed to
the French entirely too anarchical and frivolous. For decades,
nineteenth-century France communicated via the "visual telegraph," a
nation-spanning, government-owned semaphore system of huge stone towers
that signalled from hilltops, across vast distances, with big
windmill-like arms. In 1846, one Dr. Barbay, a semaphore enthusiast,
memorably uttered an early version of what might be called "the
security expert's argument" against the open media.

"No, the electric telegraph is not a sound invention. It will always
be at the mercy of the slightest disruption, wild youths, drunkards,
bums, etc.... The electric telegraph meets those destructive elements
with only a few meters of wire over which supervision is impossible. A
single man could, without being seen, cut the telegraph wires leading
to Paris, and in twenty-four hours cut in ten different places the
wires of the same line, without being arrested. The visual telegraph,
on the contrary, has its towers, its high walls, its gates well-guarded
from inside by strong armed men. Yes, I declare, substitution of the
electric telegraph for the visual one is a dreadful measure, a truly
idiotic act."

Dr. Barbay and his high-security stone machines were eventually
unsuccessful, but his argument--that communication exists for the
safety and convenience of the state, and must be carefully protected
from the wild boys and the gutter rabble who might want to crash the
system--would be heard again and again.

When the French telephone system finally did arrive, its snarled
inadequacy was to be notorious. Devotees of the American Bell System
often recommended a trip to France, for skeptics.

In Edwardian Britain, issues of class and privacy were a ball-and-chain
for telephonic progress. It was considered outrageous that anyone--any
wild fool off the street--could simply barge bellowing into one's
office or home, preceded only by the ringing of a telephone bell. In
Britain, phones were tolerated for the use of business, but private
phones tended be stuffed away into closets, smoking rooms, or servants'
quarters. Telephone operators were resented in Britain because they
did not seem to "know their place." And no one of breeding would print
a telephone number on a business card; this seemed a crass attempt to
make the acquaintance of strangers.

But phone access in America was to become a popular right; something
like universal suffrage, only more so. American women could not yet
vote when the phone system came through; yet from the beginning
American women doted on the telephone. This "feminization" of the
American telephone was often commented on by foreigners. Phones in
America were not censored or stiff or formalized; they were social,
private, intimate, and domestic. In America, Mother's Day is by far
the busiest day of the year for the phone network.

The early telephone companies, and especially AT&T, were among the
foremost employers of American women. They employed the daughters of
the American middle-class in great armies: in 1891, eight thousand
women; by 1946, almost a quarter of a million. Women seemed to enjoy
telephone work; it was respectable, it was steady, it paid fairly well
as women's work went, and--not least--it seemed a genuine contribution
to the social good of the community. Women found Vail's ideal of
public service attractive. This was especially true in rural areas,
where women operators, running extensive rural party-lines, enjoyed
considerable social power. The operator knew everyone on the
party-line, and everyone knew her.

Although Bell himself was an ardent suffragist, the telephone company
did not employ women for the sake of advancing female liberation. AT&T
did this for sound commercial reasons. The first telephone operators
of the Bell system were not women, but teenage American boys. They
were telegraphic messenger boys (a group about to be rendered
technically obsolescent), who swept up around the phone office, dunned
customers for bills, and made phone connections on the switchboard, all
on the cheap.

Within the very first year of operation, 1878, Bell's company learned
a sharp lesson about combining teenage boys and telephone switchboards.
Putting teenage boys in charge of the phone system brought swift and
consistent disaster. Bell's chief engineer described them as "Wild
Indians." The boys were openly rude to customers. They talked back to
subscribers, saucing off, uttering facetious remarks, and generally
giving lip. The rascals took Saint Patrick's Day off without
permission. And worst of all they played clever tricks with the
switchboard plugs: disconnecting calls, crossing lines so that
customers found themselves talking to strangers, and so forth.

This combination of power, technical mastery, and effective anonymity
seemed to act like catnip on teenage boys.

This wild-kid-on-the-wires phenomenon was not confined to the USA; from
the beginning, the same was true of the British phone system. An early
British commentator kindly remarked: "No doubt boys in their teens
found the work not a little irksome, and it is also highly probable
that under the early conditions of employment the adventurous and
inquisitive spirits of which the average healthy boy of that age is
possessed, were not always conducive to the best attention being given
to the wants of the telephone subscribers."

So the boys were flung off the system--or at least, deprived of control
of the switchboard. But the "adventurous and inquisitive spirits" of
the teenage boys would be heard from in the world of telephony, again
and again.

The fourth stage in the technological life-cycle is death: "the Dog,"
dead tech. The telephone has so far avoided this fate. On the
contrary, it is thriving, still spreading, still evolving, and at
increasing speed.

The telephone has achieved a rare and exalted state for a technological
artifact: it has become a HOUSEHOLD OBJECT. The telephone, like the
clock, like pen and paper, like kitchen utensils and running water, has
become a technology that is visible only by its absence. The telephone
is technologically transparent. The global telephone system is the
largest and most complex machine in the world, yet it is easy to use.
More remarkable yet, the telephone is almost entirely physically safe
for the user.

For the average citizen in the 1870s, the telephone was weirder, more
shocking, more "high-tech" and harder to comprehend, than the most
outrageous stunts of advanced computing for us Americans in the 1990s.
In trying to understand what is happening to us today, with our
bulletin-board systems, direct overseas dialling, fiber-optic
transmissions, computer viruses, hacking stunts, and a vivid tangle of
new laws and new crimes, it is important to realize that our society
has been through a similar challenge before--and that, all in all, we
did rather well by it.

Bell's stage telephone seemed bizarre at first. But the sensations of
weirdness vanished quickly, once people began to hear the familiar
voices of relatives and friends, in their own homes on their own
telephones. The telephone changed from a fearsome high-tech totem to
an everyday pillar of human community.

This has also happened, and is still happening, to computer networks.
Computer networks such as NSFnet, BITnet, USENET, JANET, are
technically advanced, intimidating, and much harder to use than
telephones. Even the popular, commercial computer networks, such as
GEnie, Prodigy, and CompuServe, cause much head-scratching and have
been described as "user-hateful." Nevertheless they too are changing
from fancy high-tech items into everyday sources of human community.

The words "community" and "communication" have the same root. Wherever
you put a communications network, you put a community as well. And
whenever you TAKE AWAY that network--confiscate it, outlaw it, crash
it, raise its price beyond affordability--then you hurt that community.

Communities will fight to defend themselves. People will fight harder
and more bitterly to defend their communities, than they will fight to
defend their own individual selves. And this is very true of the
"electronic community" that arose around computer networks in the
1980s--or rather, the VARIOUS electronic communities, in telephony, law
enforcement, computing, and the digital underground that, by the year
1990, were raiding, rallying, arresting, suing, jailing, fining and
issuing angry manifestos.

None of the events of 1990 were entirely new. Nothing happened in 1990
that did not have some kind of earlier and more understandable
precedent. What gave the Hacker Crackdown its new sense of gravity and
importance was the feeling--the COMMUNITY feeling--that the political
stakes had been raised; that trouble in cyberspace was no longer mere
mischief or inconclusive skirmishing, but a genuine fight over genuine
issues, a fight for community survival and the shape of the future.

These electronic communities, having flourished throughout the 1980s,
were becoming aware of themselves, and increasingly, becoming aware of
other, rival communities. Worries were sprouting up right and left,
with complaints, rumors, uneasy speculations. But it would take a
catalyst, a shock, to make the new world evident. Like Bell's great
publicity break, the Tarriffville Rail Disaster of January 1878, it
would take a cause celebre.

That cause was the AT&T Crash of January 15, 1990. After the Crash,
the wounded and anxious telephone community would come out fighting


The community of telephone technicians, engineers, operators and
researchers is the oldest community in cyberspace. These are the
veterans, the most developed group, the richest, the most respectable,
in most ways the most powerful. Whole generations have come and gone
since Alexander Graham Bell's day, but the community he founded
survives; people work for the phone system today whose
great-grandparents worked for the phone system. Its specialty
magazines, such as Telephony, AT&T Technical Journal, Telephone
Engineer and Management, are decades old; they make computer
publications like Macworld and PC Week look like amateur

And the phone companies take no back seat in high-technology, either.
Other companies' industrial researchers may have won new markets; but
the researchers of Bell Labs have won SEVEN NOBEL PRIZES. One potent
device that Bell Labs originated, the transistor, has created entire
GROUPS of industries. Bell Labs are world-famous for generating "a
patent a day," and have even made vital discoveries in astronomy,
physics and cosmology.

Throughout its seventy-year history, "Ma Bell" was not so much a
company as a way of life. Until the cataclysmic divestiture of the
1980s, Ma Bell was perhaps the ultimate maternalist mega-employer. The
AT&T corporate image was the "gentle giant," "the voice with a smile,"
a vaguely socialist-realist world of cleanshaven linemen in shiny
helmets and blandly pretty phone-girls in headsets and nylons. Bell
System employees were famous as rock-ribbed Kiwanis and Rotary members,
Little-League enthusiasts, school-board people.

During the long heyday of Ma Bell, the Bell employee corps were
nurtured top-to-bottom on a corporate ethos of public service. There
was good money in Bell, but Bell was not ABOUT money; Bell used public
relations, but never mere marketeering. People went into the Bell
System for a good life, and they had a good life. But it was not mere
money that led Bell people out in the midst of storms and earthquakes
to fight with toppled phone-poles, to wade in flooded manholes, to pull
the red-eyed graveyard-shift over collapsing switching-systems. The
Bell ethic was the electrical equivalent of the postman's: neither
rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night would stop these couriers.

It is easy to be cynical about this, as it is easy to be cynical about
any political or social system; but cynicism does not change the fact
that thousands of people took these ideals very seriously. And some
still do.

The Bell ethos was about public service; and that was gratifying; but
it was also about private POWER, and that was gratifying too. As a
corporation, Bell was very special. Bell was privileged. Bell had
snuggled up close to the state. In fact, Bell was as close to
government as you could get in America and still make a whole lot of
legitimate money.

But unlike other companies, Bell was above and beyond the vulgar
commercial fray. Through its regional operating companies, Bell was
omnipresent, local, and intimate, all over America; but the central
ivory towers at its corporate heart were the tallest and the ivoriest

There were other phone companies in America, to be sure; the so-called
independents. Rural cooperatives, mostly; small fry, mostly tolerated,
sometimes warred upon. For many decades, "independent" American phone
companies lived in fear and loathing of the official Bell monopoly (or
the "Bell Octopus," as Ma Bell's nineteenth-century enemies described
her in many angry newspaper manifestos). Some few of these independent
entrepreneurs, while legally in the wrong, fought so bitterly against
the Octopus that their illegal phone networks were cast into the street
by Bell agents and publicly burned.

The pure technical sweetness of the Bell System gave its operators,
inventors and engineers a deeply satisfying sense of power and mastery.
They had devoted their lives to improving this vast nation-spanning
machine; over years, whole human lives, they had watched it improve and
grow. It was like a great technological temple. They were an elite,
and they knew it--even if others did not; in fact, they felt even more
powerful BECAUSE others did not understand.

The deep attraction of this sensation of elite technical power should
never be underestimated. "Technical power" is not for everybody; for
many people it simply has no charm at all. But for some people, it
becomes the core of their lives. For a few, it is overwhelming,
obsessive; it becomes something close to an addiction.
People--especially clever teenage boys whose lives are otherwise mostly
powerless and put-upon--love this sensation of secret power, and are
willing to do all sorts of amazing things to achieve it. The technical
POWER of electronics has motivated many strange acts detailed in this
book, which would otherwise be inexplicable.

So Bell had power beyond mere capitalism. The Bell service ethos
worked, and was often propagandized, in a rather saccharine fashion.
Over the decades, people slowly grew tired of this. And then, openly
impatient with it. By the early 1980s, Ma Bell was to find herself
with scarcely a real friend in the world. Vail's industrial socialism
had become hopelessly out-of-fashion politically. Bell would be
punished for that. And that punishment would fall harshly upon the
people of the telephone community.


In 1983, Ma Bell was dismantled by federal court action. The pieces of
Bell are now separate corporate entities. The core of the company
became AT&T Communications, and also AT&T Industries (formerly Western
Electric, Bell's manufacturing arm). AT&T Bell Labs became Bell
Communications Research, Bellcore. Then there are the Regional Bell
Operating Companies, or RBOCs, pronounced "arbocks."

Bell was a titan and even these regional chunks are gigantic
enterprises: Fortune 50 companies with plenty of wealth and power
behind them. But the clean lines of "One Policy, One System, Universal
Service" have been shattered, apparently forever.

The "One Policy" of the early Reagan Administration was to shatter a
system that smacked of noncompetitive socialism. Since that time,
there has been no real telephone "policy" on the federal level.
Despite the breakup, the remnants of Bell have never been set free to
compete in the open marketplace.

The RBOCs are still very heavily regulated, but not from the top.
Instead, they struggle politically, economically and legally, in what
seems an endless turmoil, in a patchwork of overlapping federal and
state jurisdictions. Increasingly, like other major American
corporations, the RBOCs are becoming multinational, acquiring important
commercial interests in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim.
But this, too, adds to their legal and political predicament.

The people of what used to be Ma Bell are not happy about their fate.
They feel ill-used. They might have been grudgingly willing to make a
full transition to the free market; to become just companies amid other
companies. But this never happened. Instead, AT&T and the RBOCS ("the
Baby Bells") feel themselves wrenched from side to side by state
regulators, by Congress, by the FCC, and especially by the federal
court of Judge Harold Greene, the magistrate who ordered the Bell
breakup and who has been the de facto czar of American
telecommunications ever since 1983.

Bell people feel that they exist in a kind of paralegal limbo today.
They don't understand what's demanded of them. If it's "service," why
aren't they treated like a public service? And if it's money, then why
aren't they free to compete for it? No one seems to know, really.
Those who claim to know keep changing their minds. Nobody in
authority seems willing to grasp the nettle for once and all.

Telephone people from other countries are amazed by the American
telephone system today. Not that it works so well; for nowadays even
the French telephone system works, more or less. They are amazed that
the American telephone system STILL works AT ALL, under these strange

Bell's "One System" of long-distance service is now only about eighty
percent of a system, with the remainder held by Sprint, MCI, and the
midget long-distance companies. Ugly wars over dubious corporate
practices such as "slamming" (an underhanded method of snitching
clients from rivals) break out with some regularity in the realm of
long-distance service. The battle to break Bell's long-distance
monopoly was long and ugly, and since the breakup the battlefield has
not become much prettier. AT&T's famous shame-and-blame
advertisements, which emphasized the shoddy work and purported ethical
shadiness of their competitors, were much remarked on for their studied
psychological cruelty.

There is much bad blood in this industry, and much long-treasured
resentment. AT&T's post-breakup corporate logo, a striped sphere, is
known in the industry as the "Death Star" (a reference from the movie
Star Wars, in which the "Death Star" was the spherical high-tech
fortress of the harsh-breathing imperial ultra-baddie, Darth Vader.)
Even AT&T employees are less than thrilled by the Death Star. A
popular (though banned) T-shirt among AT&T employees bears the
old-fashioned Bell logo of the Bell System, plus the newfangled striped
sphere, with the before-and-after comments: "This is your brain--This
is your brain on drugs!" AT&T made a very well-financed and determined
effort to break into the personal computer market; it was disastrous,
and telco computer experts are derisively known by their competitors as
"the pole-climbers." AT&T and the Baby Bell arbocks still seem to have
few friends.

Under conditions of sharp commercial competition, a crash like that of
January 15, 1990 was a major embarrassment to AT&T. It was a direct
blow against their much-treasured reputation for reliability. Within
days of the crash AT&T's Chief Executive Officer, Bob Allen, officially
apologized, in terms of deeply pained humility:

"AT&T had a major service disruption last Monday. We didn't live up to
our own standards of quality, and we didn't live up to yours. It's as
simple as that. And that's not acceptable to us. Or to you.... We
understand how much people have come to depend upon AT&T service, so
our AT&T Bell Laboratories scientists and our network engineers are
doing everything possible to guard against a recurrence.... We know
there's no way to make up for the inconvenience this problem may have
caused you."

Mr Allen's "open letter to customers" was printed in lavish ads all
over the country: in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York
Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, San
Francisco Chronicle Examiner, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News,
Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, Cleveland Plain
Dealer, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St.
Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer, Tacoma
News Tribune, Miami Herald, Pittsburgh Press, St. Louis Post Dispatch,
Denver Post, Phoenix Republic Gazette and Tampa Tribune.

In another press release, AT&T went to some pains to suggest that this
"software glitch" might have happened just as easily to MCI, although,
in fact, it hadn't. (MCI's switching software was quite different from
AT&T's--though not necessarily any safer.) AT&T also announced their
plans to offer a rebate of service on Valentine's Day to make up for
the loss during the Crash.

"Every technical resource available, including Bell Labs scientists and
engineers, has been devoted to assuring it will not occur again," the
public was told. They were further assured that "The chances of a
recurrence are small--a problem of this magnitude never occurred

In the meantime, however, police and corporate security maintained
their own suspicions about "the chances of recurrence" and the real
reason why a "problem of this magnitude" had appeared, seemingly out of
nowhere. Police and security knew for a fact that hackers of
unprecedented sophistication were illegally entering, and
reprogramming, certain digital switching stations. Rumors of hidden
"viruses" and secret "logic bombs" in the switches ran rampant in the
underground, with much chortling over AT&T's predicament, and idle
speculation over what unsung hacker genius was responsible for it.
Some hackers, including police informants, were trying hard to finger
one another as the true culprits of the Crash.

Telco people found little comfort in objectivity when they contemplated
these possibilities. It was just too close to the bone for them; it
was embarrassing; it hurt so much, it was hard even to talk about.

There has always been thieving and misbehavior in the phone system.
There has always been trouble with the rival independents, and in the
local loops. But to have such trouble in the core of the system, the
long-distance switching stations, is a horrifying affair. To telco
people, this is all the difference between finding roaches in your
kitchen and big horrid sewer-rats in your bedroom.

From the outside, to the average citizen, the telcos still seem
gigantic and impersonal. The American public seems to regard them as
something akin to Soviet apparats. Even when the telcos do their best
corporate-citizen routine, subsidizing magnet high-schools and
sponsoring news-shows on public television, they seem to win little
except public suspicion.

But from the inside, all this looks very different. There's harsh
competition. A legal and political system that seems baffled and
bored, when not actively hostile to telco interests. There's a loss of
morale, a deep sensation of having somehow lost the upper hand.
Technological change has caused a loss of data and revenue to other,
newer forms of transmission. There's theft, and new forms of theft, of
growing scale and boldness and sophistication. With all these factors,
it was no surprise to see the telcos, large and small, break out in a
litany of bitter complaint.

In late '88 and throughout 1989, telco representatives grew shrill in
their complaints to those few American law enforcement officials who
make it their business to try to understand what telephone people are
talking about. Telco security officials had discovered the
computer-hacker underground, infiltrated it thoroughly, and become
deeply alarmed at its growing expertise. Here they had found a target
that was not only loathsome on its face, but clearly ripe for

Those bitter rivals: AT&T, MCI and Sprint--and a crowd of Baby Bells:
PacBell, Bell South, Southwestern Bell, NYNEX, USWest, as well as the
Bell research consortium Bellcore, and the independent long-distance
carrier Mid-American--all were to have their role in the great hacker
dragnet of 1990. After years of being battered and pushed around, the
telcos had, at least in a small way, seized the initiative again.
After years of turmoil, telcos and government officials were once again
to work smoothly in concert in defense of the System. Optimism
blossomed; enthusiasm grew on all sides; the prospective taste of
vengeance was sweet.


From the beginning--even before the crackdown had a name--secrecy was a
big problem. There were many good reasons for secrecy in the hacker
crackdown. Hackers and code-thieves were wily prey, slinking back to
their bedrooms and basements and destroying vital incriminating
evidence at the first hint of trouble. Furthermore, the crimes
themselves were heavily technical and difficult to describe, even to
police--much less to the general public.

When such crimes HAD been described intelligibly to the public, in the
past, that very publicity had tended to INCREASE the crimes enormously.
Telco officials, while painfully aware of the vulnerabilities of their
systems, were anxious not to publicize those weaknesses. Experience
showed them that those weaknesses, once discovered, would be pitilessly
exploited by tens of thousands of people--not only by professional
grifters and by underground hackers and phone phreaks, but by many
otherwise more-or-less honest everyday folks, who regarded stealing
service from the faceless, soulless "Phone Company" as a kind of
harmless indoor sport. When it came to protecting their interests,
telcos had long since given up on general public sympathy for "the
Voice with a Smile." Nowadays the telco's "Voice" was very likely to
be a computer's; and the American public showed much less of the proper
respect and gratitude due the fine public service bequeathed them by
Dr. Bell and Mr. Vail. The more efficient, high-tech, computerized,
and impersonal the telcos became, it seemed, the more they were met by
sullen public resentment and amoral greed.

Telco officials wanted to punish the phone-phreak underground, in as
public and exemplary a manner as possible. They wanted to make dire
examples of the worst offenders, to seize the ringleaders and
intimidate the small fry, to discourage and frighten the wacky
hobbyists, and send the professional grifters to jail. To do all this,
publicity was vital.

Yet operational secrecy was even more so. If word got out that a
nationwide crackdown was coming, the hackers might simply vanish;
destroy the evidence, hide their computers, go to earth, and wait for
the campaign to blow over. Even the young hackers were crafty and
suspicious, and as for the professional grifters, they tended to split
for the nearest state-line at the first sign of trouble. For the
crackdown to work well, they would all have to be caught red-handed,
swept upon suddenly, out of the blue, from every corner of the compass.

And there was another strong motive for secrecy. In the worst-case
scenario, a blown campaign might leave the telcos open to a devastating
hacker counter-attack. If there were indeed hackers loose in America
who had caused the January 15 Crash--if there were truly gifted
hackers, loose in the nation's long-distance switching systems, and
enraged or frightened by the crackdown--then they might react
unpredictably to an attempt to collar them. Even if caught, they might
have talented and vengeful friends still running around loose.
Conceivably, it could turn ugly. Very ugly. In fact, it was hard to
imagine just how ugly things might turn, given that possibility.

Counter-attack from hackers was a genuine concern for the telcos. In
point of fact, they would never suffer any such counter-attack. But in
months to come, they would be at some pains to publicize this notion
and to utter grim warnings about it.

Still, that risk seemed well worth running. Better to run the risk of
vengeful attacks, than to live at the mercy of potential crashers. Any
cop would tell you that a protection racket had no real future.

And publicity was such a useful thing. Corporate security officers,
including telco security, generally work under conditions of great
discretion. And corporate security officials do not make money for
their companies. Their job is to PREVENT THE LOSS of money, which is
much less glamorous than actually winning profits.

If you are a corporate security official, and you do your job
brilliantly, then nothing bad happens to your company at all. Because
of this, you appear completely superfluous. This is one of the many
unattractive aspects of security work. It's rare that these folks have
the chance to draw some healthy attention to their own efforts.

Publicity also served the interest of their friends in law enforcement.
Public officials, including law enforcement officials, thrive by
attracting favorable public interest. A brilliant prosecution in a
matter of vital public interest can make the career of a prosecuting
attorney. And for a police officer, good publicity opens the purses of
the legislature; it may bring a citation, or a promotion, or at least a
rise in status and the respect of one's peers.

But to have both publicity and secrecy is to have one's cake and eat it
too. In months to come, as we will show, this impossible act was to
cause great pain to the agents of the crackdown. But early on, it
seemed possible--maybe even likely--that the crackdown could
successfully combine the best of both worlds. The ARREST of hackers
would be heavily publicized. The actual DEEDS of the hackers, which
were technically hard to explain and also a security risk, would be
left decently obscured. The THREAT hackers posed would be heavily
trumpeted; the likelihood of their actually committing such fearsome
crimes would be left to the public's imagination. The spread of the
computer underground, and its growing technical sophistication, would
be heavily promoted; the actual hackers themselves, mostly
bespectacled middle-class white suburban teenagers, would be denied any
personal publicity.

It does not seem to have occurred to any telco official that the
hackers accused would demand a day in court; that journalists would
smile upon the hackers as "good copy;" that wealthy high-tech
entrepreneurs would offer moral and financial support to crackdown
victims; that constitutional lawyers would show up with briefcases,
frowning mightily. This possibility does not seem to have ever entered
the game-plan.

And even if it had, it probably would not have slowed the ferocious
pursuit of a stolen phone-company document, mellifluously known as
"Control Office Administration of Enhanced 911 Services for Special
Services and Major Account Centers."

In the chapters to follow, we will explore the worlds of police and the
computer underground, and the large shadowy area where they overlap.
But first, we must explore the battleground. Before we leave the world
of the telcos, we must understand what a switching system actually is
and how your telephone actually works.


To the average citizen, the idea of the telephone is represented by,
well, a TELEPHONE: a device that you talk into. To a telco
professional, however, the telephone itself is known, in lordly
fashion, as a "subset." The "subset" in your house is a mere adjunct,
a distant nerve ending, of the central switching stations, which are
ranked in levels of heirarchy, up to the long-distance electronic
switching stations, which are some of the largest computers on earth.

Let us imagine that it is, say, 1925, before the introduction of
computers, when the phone system was simpler and somewhat easier to
grasp. Let's further imagine that you are Miss Leticia Luthor, a
fictional operator for Ma Bell in New York City of the 20s.

Basically, you, Miss Luthor, ARE the "switching system." You are
sitting in front of a large vertical switchboard, known as a
"cordboard," made of shiny wooden panels, with ten thousand
metal-rimmed holes punched in them, known as jacks. The engineers
would have put more holes into your switchboard, but ten thousand is as
many as you can reach without actually having to get up out of your

Each of these ten thousand holes has its own little electric lightbulb,
known as a "lamp," and its own neatly printed number code.

With the ease of long habit, you are scanning your board for lit-up
bulbs. This is what you do most of the time, so you are used to it.

A lamp lights up. This means that the phone at the end of that line
has been taken off the hook. Whenever a handset is taken off the hook,
that closes a circuit inside the phone which then signals the local
office, i.e. you, automatically. There might be somebody calling, or
then again the phone might be simply off the hook, but this does not
matter to you yet. The first thing you do, is record that number in
your logbook, in your fine American public-school handwriting. This
comes first, naturally, since it is done for billing purposes.

You now take the plug of your answering cord, which goes directly to
your headset, and plug it into the lit-up hole. "Operator," you

In operator's classes, before taking this job, you have been issued a
large pamphlet full of canned operator's responses for all kinds of
contingencies, which you had to memorize. You have also been trained
in a proper non-regional, non-ethnic pronunciation and tone of voice.
You rarely have the occasion to make any spontaneous remark to a
customer, and in fact this is frowned upon (except out on the rural
lines where people have time on their hands and get up to all kinds of

A tough-sounding user's voice at the end of the line gives you a
number. Immediately, you write that number down in your logbook, next
to the caller's number, which you just wrote earlier. You then look
and see if the number this guy wants is in fact on your switchboard,
which it generally is, since it's generally a local call. Long
distance costs so much that people use it sparingly.

Only then do you pick up a calling-cord from a shelf at the base of the
switchboard. This is a long elastic cord mounted on a kind of reel so
that it will zip back in when you unplug it. There are a lot of cords
down there, and when a bunch of them are out at once they look like a
nest of snakes. Some of the girls think there are bugs living in those
cable-holes. They're called "cable mites" and are supposed to bite
your hands and give you rashes. You don't believe this, yourself.

Gripping the head of your calling-cord, you slip the tip of it deftly
into the sleeve of the jack for the called person. Not all the way in,
though. You just touch it. If you hear a clicking sound, that means
the line is busy and you can't put the call through. If the line is
busy, you have to stick the calling-cord into a "busy-tone jack," which
will give the guy a busy-tone. This way you don't have to talk to him
yourself and absorb his natural human frustration.

But the line isn't busy. So you pop the cord all the way in. Relay
circuits in your board make the distant phone ring, and if somebody
picks it up off the hook, then a phone conversation starts. You can
hear this conversation on your answering cord, until you unplug it. In
fact you could listen to the whole conversation if you wanted, but this
is sternly frowned upon by management, and frankly, when you've
overheard one, you've pretty much heard 'em all.

You can tell how long the conversation lasts by the glow of the
calling-cord's lamp, down on the calling-cord's shelf. When it's over,
you unplug and the calling-cord zips back into place.

Having done this stuff a few hundred thousand times, you become quite
good at it. In fact you're plugging, and connecting, and
disconnecting, ten, twenty, forty cords at a time. It's a manual
handicraft, really, quite satisfying in a way, rather like weaving on
an upright loom.

Should a long-distance call come up, it would be different, but not all
that different. Instead of connecting the call through your own local
switchboard, you have to go up the hierarchy, onto the long-distance
lines, known as "trunklines." Depending on how far the call goes, it
may have to work its way through a whole series of operators, which can
take quite a while. The caller doesn't wait on the line while this
complex process is negotiated across the country by the gaggle of
operators. Instead, the caller hangs up, and you call him back
yourself when the call has finally worked its way through.

After four or five years of this work, you get married, and you have to
quit your job, this being the natural order of womanhood in the
American 1920s. The phone company has to train somebody else--maybe
two people, since the phone system has grown somewhat in the meantime.
And this costs money.

In fact, to use any kind of human being as a switching system is a very
expensive proposition. Eight thousand Leticia Luthors would be bad
enough, but a quarter of a million of them is a military-scale
proposition and makes drastic measures in automation financially

Although the phone system continues to grow today, the number of human
beings employed by telcos has been dropping steadily for years. Phone
"operators" now deal with nothing but unusual contingencies, all
routine operations having been shrugged off onto machines.
Consequently, telephone operators are considerably less machine-like
nowadays, and have been known to have accents and actual character in
their voices. When you reach a human operator today, the operators are
rather more "human" than they were in Leticia's day--but on the other
hand, human beings in the phone system are much harder to reach in the
first place.

Over the first half of the twentieth century, "electromechanical"
switching systems of growing complexity were cautiously introduced into
the phone system. In certain backwaters, some of these hybrid systems
are still in use. But after 1965, the phone system began to go
completely electronic, and this is by far the dominant mode today.
Electromechanical systems have "crossbars," and "brushes," and other
large moving mechanical parts, which, while faster and cheaper than
Leticia, are still slow, and tend to wear out fairly quickly.

But fully electronic systems are inscribed on silicon chips, and are
lightning-fast, very cheap, and quite durable. They are much cheaper
to maintain than even the best electromechanical systems, and they fit
into half the space. And with every year, the silicon chip grows
smaller, faster, and cheaper yet. Best of all, automated electronics
work around the clock and don't have salaries or health insurance.

There are, however, quite serious drawbacks to the use of
computer-chips. When they do break down, it is a daunting challenge to
figure out what the heck has gone wrong with them. A broken cordboard
generally had a problem in it big enough to see. A broken chip has
invisible, microscopic faults. And the faults in bad software can be
so subtle as to be practically theological.

If you want a mechanical system to do something new, then you must
travel to where it is, and pull pieces out of it, and wire in new
pieces. This costs money. However, if you want a chip to do something
new, all you have to do is change its software, which is easy, fast and
dirt-cheap. You don't even have to see the chip to change its program.
Even if you did see the chip, it wouldn't look like much. A chip with
program X doesn't look one whit different from a chip with program Y.

With the proper codes and sequences, and access to specialized
phone-lines, you can change electronic switching systems all over
America from anywhere you please.

And so can other people. If they know how, and if they want to, they
can sneak into a microchip via the special phonelines and diddle with
it, leaving no physical trace at all. If they broke into the
operator's station and held Leticia at gunpoint, that would be very
obvious. If they broke into a telco building and went after an
electromechanical switch with a toolbelt, that would at least leave
many traces. But people can do all manner of amazing things to
computer switches just by typing on a keyboard, and keyboards are
everywhere today. The extent of this vulnerability is deep, dark,
broad, almost mind-boggling, and yet this is a basic, primal fact of
life about any computer on a network.

Security experts over the past twenty years have insisted, with growing
urgency, that this basic vulnerability of computers represents an
entirely new level of risk, of unknown but obviously dire potential to
society. And they are right.

An electronic switching station does pretty much everything Letitia
did, except in nanoseconds and on a much larger scale. Compared to
Miss Luthor's ten thousand jacks, even a primitive 1ESS switching
computer, 60s vintage, has a 128,000 lines. And the current AT&T
system of choice is the monstrous fifth-generation 5ESS.

An Electronic Switching Station can scan every line on its "board" in a
tenth of a second, and it does this over and over, tirelessly, around
the clock. Instead of eyes, it uses "ferrod scanners" to check the
condition of local lines and trunks. Instead of hands, it has "signal
distributors," "central pulse distributors," "magnetic latching
relays," and "reed switches," which complete and break the calls.
Instead of a brain, it has a "central processor." Instead of an
instruction manual, it has a program. Instead of a handwritten logbook
for recording and billing calls, it has magnetic tapes. And it never
has to talk to anybody. Everything a customer might say to it is done
by punching the direct-dial tone buttons on your subset.

Although an Electronic Switching Station can't talk, it does need an
interface, some way to relate to its, er, employers. This interface is
known as the "master control center." (This interface might be better
known simply as "the interface," since it doesn't actually "control"
phone calls directly. However, a term like "Master Control Center" is
just the kind of rhetoric that telco maintenance engineers--and
hackers--find particularly satisfying.)

Using the master control center, a phone engineer can test local and
trunk lines for malfunctions. He (rarely she) can check various alarm
displays, measure traffic on the lines, examine the records of
telephone usage and the charges for those calls, and change the

And, of course, anybody else who gets into the master control center by
remote control can also do these things, if he (rarely she) has managed
to figure them out, or, more likely, has somehow swiped the knowledge
from people who already know.

In 1989 and 1990, one particular RBOC, BellSouth, which felt
particularly troubled, spent a purported $1.2 million on computer
security. Some think it spent as much as two million, if you count all
the associated costs. Two million dollars is still very little
compared to the great cost-saving utility of telephonic computer

Unfortunately, computers are also stupid. Unlike human beings,
computers possess the truly profound stupidity of the inanimate.

In the 1960s, in the first shocks of spreading computerization, there
was much easy talk about the stupidity of computers--how they could
"only follow the program" and were rigidly required to do "only what
they were told." There has been rather less talk about the stupidity
of computers since they began to achieve grandmaster status in chess
tournaments, and to manifest many other impressive forms of apparent

Nevertheless, computers STILL are profoundly brittle and stupid; they
are simply vastly more subtle in their stupidity and brittleness. The
computers of the 1990s are much more reliable in their components than
earlier computer systems, but they are also called upon to do far more
complex things, under far more challenging conditions.

On a basic mathematical level, every single line of a software program
offers a chance for some possible screwup. Software does not sit still
when it works; it "runs," it interacts with itself and with its own
inputs and outputs. By analogy, it stretches like putty into millions
of possible shapes and conditions, so many shapes that they can never
all be successfully tested, not even in the lifespan of the universe.
Sometimes the putty snaps.

The stuff we call "software" is not like anything that human society is
used to thinking about. Software is something like a machine, and
something like mathematics, and something like language, and something
like thought, and art, and information.... But software is not in fact
any of those other things. The protean quality of software is one of
the great sources of its fascination. It also makes software very
powerful, very subtle, very unpredictable, and very risky.

Some software is bad and buggy. Some is "robust," even "bulletproof."
The best software is that which has been tested by thousands of users
under thousands of different conditions, over years. It is then known
as "stable." This does NOT mean that the software is now flawless,
free of bugs. It generally means that there are plenty of bugs in it,
but the bugs are well-identified and fairly well understood.

There is simply no way to assure that software is free of flaws.
Though software is mathematical in nature, it cannot by "proven" like a
mathematical theorem; software is more like language, with inherent
ambiguities, with different definitions, different assumptions,
different levels of meaning that can conflict.

Human beings can manage, more or less, with human language because we
can catch the gist of it.

Computers, despite years of effort in "artificial intelligence," have
proven spectacularly bad in "catching the gist" of anything at all.
The tiniest bit of semantic grit may still bring the mightiest computer
tumbling down. One of the most hazardous things you can do to a
computer program is try to improve it--to try to make it safer.
Software "patches" represent new, untried un-"stable" software, which
is by definition riskier.

The modern telephone system has come to depend, utterly and
irretrievably, upon software. And the System Crash of January 15,
1990, was caused by an IMPROVEMENT in software. Or rather, an
ATTEMPTED improvement.

As it happened, the problem itself--the problem per se--took this form.
A piece of telco software had been written in C language, a standard
language of the telco field. Within the C software was a long "do ...
while" construct. The "do ... while" construct contained a "switch"
statement. The "switch" statement contained an "if" clause. The "if"
clause contained a "break." The "break" was SUPPOSED to "break" the
"if clause." Instead, the "break" broke the "switch" statement.

That was the problem, the actual reason why people picking up phones on
January 15, 1990, could not talk to one another.

Or at least, that was the subtle, abstract, cyberspatial seed of the
problem. This is how the problem manifested itself from the realm of
programming into the realm of real life.

The System 7 software for AT&T's 4ESS switching station, the "Generic
44E14 Central Office Switch Software," had been extensively tested, and
was considered very stable. By the end of 1989, eighty of AT&T's
switching systems nationwide had been programmed with the new software.
Cautiously, thirty-four stations were left to run the slower,
less-capable System 6, because AT&T suspected there might be shakedown
problems with the new and unprecedently sophisticated System 7 network.

The stations with System 7 were programmed to switch over to a backup
net in case of any problems. In mid-December 1989, however, a new
high-velocity, high-security software patch was distributed to each of
the 4ESS switches that would enable them to switch over even more
quickly, making the System 7 network that much more secure.

Unfortunately, every one of these 4ESS switches was now in possession
of a small but deadly flaw.

In order to maintain the network, switches must monitor the condition
of other switches--whether they are up and running, whether they have
temporarily shut down, whether they are overloaded and in need of
assistance, and so forth. The new software helped control this
bookkeeping function by monitoring the status calls from other switches.

It only takes four to six seconds for a troubled 4ESS switch to rid
itself of all its calls, drop everything temporarily, and re-boot its
software from scratch. Starting over from scratch will generally rid
the switch of any software problems that may have developed in the
course of running the system. Bugs that arise will be simply wiped out
by this process. It is a clever idea. This process of automatically
re-booting from scratch is known as the "normal fault recovery
routine." Since AT&T's software is in fact exceptionally stable,
systems rarely have to go into "fault recovery" in the first place; but
AT&T has always boasted of its "real world" reliability, and this
tactic is a belt-and-suspenders routine.

The 4ESS switch used its new software to monitor its fellow switches as
they recovered from faults. As other switches came back on line after
recovery, they would send their "OK" signals to the switch. The switch
would make a little note to that effect in its "status map,"
recognizing that the fellow switch was back and ready to go, and should
be sent some calls and put back to regular work.

Unfortunately, while it was busy bookkeeping with the status map, the
tiny flaw in the brand-new software came into play. The flaw caused
the 4ESS switch to interact, subtly but drastically, with incoming
telephone calls from human users. If--and only if--two incoming
phone-calls happened to hit the switch within a hundredth of a second,
then a small patch of data would be garbled by the flaw.

But the switch had been programmed to monitor itself constantly for any
possible damage to its data. When the switch perceived that its data
had been somehow garbled, then it too would go down, for swift repairs
to its software. It would signal its fellow switches not to send any
more work. It would go into the fault-recovery mode for four to six
seconds. And then the switch would be fine again, and would send out
its "OK, ready for work" signal.

However, the "OK, ready for work" signal was the VERY THING THAT HAD
switches had the same flaw in their status-map software. As soon as
they stopped to make the bookkeeping note that their fellow switch was
"OK," then they too would become vulnerable to the slight chance that
two phone-calls would hit them within a hundredth of a second.

At approximately 2:25 P.M. EST on Monday, January 15, one of AT&T's
4ESS toll switching systems in New York City had an actual, legitimate,
minor problem. It went into fault recovery routines, announced "I'm
going down," then announced, "I'm back, I'm OK." And this cheery
message then blasted throughout the network to many of its fellow 4ESS

Many of the switches, at first, completely escaped trouble. These
lucky switches were not hit by the coincidence of two phone calls
within a hundredth of a second. Their software did not fail--at first.
But three switches--in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Detroit--were unlucky,
and were caught with their hands full. And they went down. And they
came back up, almost immediately. And they too began to broadcast the
lethal message that they, too, were "OK" again, activating the lurking
software bug in yet other switches.

As more and more switches did have that bit of bad luck and collapsed,
the call-traffic became more and more densely packed in the remaining
switches, which were groaning to keep up with the load. And of course,
as the calls became more densely packed, the switches were MUCH MORE
LIKELY to be hit twice within a hundredth of a second.

It only took four seconds for a switch to get well. There was no
PHYSICAL damage of any kind to the switches, after all. Physically,
they were working perfectly. This situation was "only" a software

But the 4ESS switches were leaping up and down every four to six
seconds, in a virulent spreading wave all over America, in utter,
manic, mechanical stupidity. They kept KNOCKING one another down with
their contagious "OK" messages.

It took about ten minutes for the chain reaction to cripple the
network. Even then, switches would periodically luck-out and manage to
resume their normal work. Many calls--millions of them--were managing
to get through. But millions weren't.

The switching stations that used System 6 were not directly affected.
Thanks to these old-fashioned switches, AT&T's national system avoided
complete collapse. This fact also made it clear to engineers that
System 7 was at fault.

Bell Labs engineers, working feverishly in New Jersey, Illinois, and
Ohio, first tried their entire repertoire of standard network remedies
on the malfunctioning System 7. None of the remedies worked, of
course, because nothing like this had ever happened to any phone system

By cutting out the backup safety network entirely, they were able to
reduce the frenzy of "OK" messages by about half. The system then
began to recover, as the chain reaction slowed. By 11:30 P.M. on
Monday January 15, sweating engineers on the midnight shift breathed a
sigh of relief as the last switch cleared-up.

By Tuesday they were pulling all the brand-new 4ESS software and
replacing it with an earlier version of System 7.

If these had been human operators, rather than computers at work,
someone would simply have eventually stopped screaming. It would have
been OBVIOUS that the situation was not "OK," and common sense would
have kicked in. Humans possess common sense--at least to some extent.
Computers simply don't.

On the other hand, computers can handle hundreds of calls per second.
Humans simply can't. If every single human being in America worked for
the phone company, we couldn't match the performance of digital
switches: direct-dialling, three-way calling, speed-calling,
call-waiting, Caller ID, all the rest of the cornucopia of digital
bounty. Replacing computers with operators is simply not an option any

And yet we still, anachronistically, expect humans to be running our
phone system. It is hard for us to understand that we have sacrificed
huge amounts of initiative and control to senseless yet powerful
machines. When the phones fail, we want somebody to be responsible.
We want somebody to blame.

When the Crash of January 15 happened, the American populace was simply
not prepared to understand that enormous landslides in cyberspace, like
the Crash itself, can happen, and can be nobody's fault in particular.
It was easier to believe, maybe even in some odd way more reassuring to
believe, that some evil person, or evil group, had done this to us.
"Hackers" had done it. With a virus. A trojan horse. A software
bomb. A dirty plot of some kind. People believed this, responsible
people. In 1990, they were looking hard for evidence to confirm their
heartfelt suspicions.

And they would look in a lot of places.

Come 1991, however, the outlines of an apparent new reality would begin
to emerge from the fog.

On July 1 and 2, 1991, computer-software collapses in telephone
switching stations disrupted service in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Los
Angeles and San Francisco. Once again, seemingly minor maintenance
problems had crippled the digital System 7. About twelve million
people were affected in the Crash of July 1, 1991.

Said the New York Times Service: "Telephone company executives and
federal regulators said they were not ruling out the possibility of
sabotage by computer hackers, but most seemed to think the problems
stemmed from some unknown defect in the software running the networks."

And sure enough, within the week, a red-faced software company, DSC
Communications Corporation of Plano, Texas, owned up to "glitches" in
the "signal transfer point" software that DSC had designed for Bell
Atlantic and Pacific Bell. The immediate cause of the July 1 Crash was
a single mistyped character: one tiny typographical flaw in one single
line of the software. One mistyped letter, in one single line, had
deprived the nation's capital of phone service. It was not
particularly surprising that this tiny flaw had escaped attention: a
typical System 7 station requires TEN MILLION lines of code.

On Tuesday, September 17, 1991, came the most spectacular outage yet.
This case had nothing to do with software failures--at least, not
directly. Instead, a group of AT&T's switching stations in New York
City had simply run out of electrical power and shut down cold. Their
back-up batteries had failed. Automatic warning systems were supposed
to warn of the loss of battery power, but those automatic systems had
failed as well.

This time, Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark airports all had their voice
and data communications cut. This horrifying event was particularly
ironic, as attacks on airport computers by hackers had long been a
standard nightmare scenario, much trumpeted by computer-security
experts who feared the computer underground. There had even been a
Hollywood thriller about sinister hackers ruining airport
computers--DIE HARD II.

Now AT&T itself had crippled airports with computer malfunctions--not
just one airport, but three at once, some of the busiest in the world.

Air traffic came to a standstill throughout the Greater New York area,
causing more than 500 flights to be cancelled, in a spreading wave all
over America and even into Europe. Another 500 or so flights were
delayed, affecting, all in all, about 85,000 passengers. (One of these
passengers was the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.)

Stranded passengers in New York and New Jersey were further infuriated
to discover that they could not even manage to make a long distance
phone call, to explain their delay to loved ones or business
associates. Thanks to the crash, about four and a half million
domestic calls, and half a million international calls, failed to get

The September 17 NYC Crash, unlike the previous ones, involved not a
whisper of "hacker" misdeeds. On the contrary, by 1991, AT&T itself
was suffering much of the vilification that had formerly been directed
at hackers. Congressmen were grumbling. So were state and federal
regulators. And so was the press.

For their part, ancient rival MCI took out snide full-page newspaper
ads in New York, offering their own long-distance services for the
"next time that AT&T goes down."

"You wouldn't find a classy company like AT&T using such advertising,"
protested AT&T Chairman Robert Allen, unconvincingly. Once again, out
came the full-page AT&T apologies in newspapers, apologies for "an
inexcusable culmination of both human and mechanical failure." (This
time, however, AT&T offered no discount on later calls. Unkind critics
suggested that AT&T were worried about setting any precedent for
refunding the financial losses caused by telephone crashes.)

Industry journals asked publicly if AT&T was "asleep at the switch."
The telephone network, America's purported marvel of high-tech
reliability, had gone down three times in 18 months. Fortune magazine
listed the Crash of September 17 among the "Biggest Business Goofs of
1991," cruelly parodying AT&T's ad campaign in an article entitled
"AT&T Wants You Back (Safely On the Ground, God Willing)."

Why had those New York switching systems simply run out of power?
Because no human being had attended to the alarm system. Why did the
alarm systems blare automatically, without any human being noticing?
Because the three telco technicians who SHOULD have been listening were
absent from their stations in the power-room, on another floor of the
building--attending a training class. A training class about the alarm
systems for the power room!

"Crashing the System" was no longer "unprecedented" by late 1991. On
the contrary, it no longer even seemed an oddity. By 1991, it was
clear that all the policemen in the world could no longer "protect" the
phone system from crashes. By far the worst crashes the system had
ever had, had been inflicted, by the system, upon ITSELF. And this
time nobody was making cocksure statements that this was an anomaly,
something that would never happen again. By 1991 the System's
defenders had met their nebulous Enemy, and the Enemy was--the System.


The date was May 9, 1990. The Pope was touring Mexico City. Hustlers
from the Medellin Cartel were trying to buy black-market Stinger
missiles in Florida. On the comics page, Doonesbury character Andy was
dying of AIDS. And then ... a highly unusual item whose novelty and
calculated rhetoric won it headscratching attention in newspapers all
over America.

The US Attorney's office in Phoenix, Arizona, had issued a press
release announcing a nationwide law enforcement crackdown against
"illegal computer hacking activities." The sweep was officially known
as "Operation Sundevil."

Eight paragraphs in the press release gave the bare facts: twenty-seven
search warrants carried out on May 8, with three arrests, and a hundred
and fifty agents on the prowl in "twelve" cities across America.
(Different counts in local press reports yielded "thirteen,"
"fourteen," and "sixteen" cities.) Officials estimated that criminal
losses of revenue to telephone companies "may run into millions of
dollars." Credit for the Sundevil investigations was taken by the US
Secret Service, Assistant US Attorney Tim Holtzen of Phoenix, and the
Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, Gail Thackeray.

The prepared remarks of Garry M. Jenkins, appearing in a U.S.
Department of Justice press release, were of particular interest. Mr.
Jenkins was the Assistant Director of the US Secret Service, and the
highest-ranking federal official to take any direct public role in the
hacker crackdown of 1990.

"Today, the Secret Service is sending a clear message to those computer
hackers who have decided to violate the laws of this nation in the
mistaken belief that they can successfully avoid detection by hiding
behind the relative anonymity of their computer terminals. ( ... )
"Underground groups have been formed for the purpose of exchanging
information relevant to their criminal activities. These groups often
communicate with each other through message systems between computers
called 'bulletin boards.' "Our experience shows that many computer
hacker suspects are no longer misguided teenagers, mischievously
playing games with their computers in their bedrooms. Some are now
high tech computer operators using computers to engage in unlawful

Who were these "underground groups" and "high-tech operators?" Where
had they come from? What did they want? Who WERE they? Were they
"mischievous?" Were they dangerous? How had "misguided teenagers"
managed to alarm the United States Secret Service? And just how
widespread was this sort of thing?

Of all the major players in the Hacker Crackdown: the phone companies,
law enforcement, the civil libertarians, and the "hackers"
themselves--the "hackers" are by far the most mysterious, by far the
hardest to understand, by far the WEIRDEST.

Not only are "hackers" novel in their activities, but they come in a
variety of odd subcultures, with a variety of languages, motives and

The earliest proto-hackers were probably those unsung mischievous
telegraph boys who were summarily fired by the Bell Company in 1878.

Legitimate "hackers," those computer enthusiasts who are
independent-minded but law-abiding, generally trace their spiritual
ancestry to elite technical universities, especially M.I.T. and
Stanford, in the 1960s.

But the genuine roots of the modern hacker UNDERGROUND can probably be
traced most successfully to a now much-obscured hippie anarchist
movement known as the Yippies. The Yippies, who took their name from
the largely fictional "Youth International Party," carried out a loud
and lively policy of surrealistic subversion and outrageous political
mischief. Their basic tenets were flagrant sexual promiscuity, open
and copious drug use, the political overthrow of any powermonger over
thirty years of age, and an immediate end to the war in Vietnam, by any
means necessary, including the psychic levitation of the Pentagon.

The two most visible Yippies were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Rubin
eventually became a Wall Street broker. Hoffman, ardently sought by
federal authorities, went into hiding for seven years, in Mexico,
France, and the United States. While on the lam, Hoffman continued to
write and publish, with help from sympathizers in the American
anarcho-leftist underground. Mostly, Hoffman survived through false ID
and odd jobs. Eventually he underwent facial plastic surgery and
adopted an entirely new identity as one "Barry Freed." After
surrendering himself to authorities in 1980, Hoffman spent a year in
prison on a cocaine conviction.

Hoffman's worldview grew much darker as the glory days of the 1960s
faded. In 1989, he purportedly committed suicide, under odd and, to
some, rather suspicious circumstances.

Abbie Hoffman is said to have caused the Federal Bureau of
Investigation to amass the single largest investigation file ever
opened on an individual American citizen. (If this is true, it is
still questionable whether the FBI regarded Abbie Hoffman a serious
public threat--quite possibly, his file was enormous simply because
Hoffman left colorful legendry wherever he went). He was a gifted
publicist, who regarded electronic media as both playground and weapon.
He actively enjoyed manipulating network TV and other gullible,
image-hungry media, with various weird lies, mindboggling rumors,
impersonation scams, and other sinister distortions, all absolutely
guaranteed to upset cops, Presidential candidates, and federal judges.
Hoffman's most famous work was a book self-reflexively known as STEAL
THIS BOOK, which publicized a number of methods by which young,
penniless hippie agitators might live off the fat of a system supported
by humorless drones. STEAL THIS BOOK, whose title urged readers to
damage the very means of distribution which had put it into their
hands, might be described as a spiritual ancestor of a computer virus.

Hoffman, like many a later conspirator, made extensive use of
pay-phones for his agitation work--in his case, generally through the
use of cheap brass washers as coin-slugs.

During the Vietnam War, there was a federal surtax imposed on telephone
service; Hoffman and his cohorts could, and did, argue that in
systematically stealing phone service they were engaging in civil
disobedience: virtuously denying tax funds to an illegal and immoral

But this thin veil of decency was soon dropped entirely. Ripping-off
the System found its own justification in deep alienation and a basic
outlaw contempt for conventional bourgeois values. Ingenious, vaguely
politicized varieties of rip-off, which might be described as "anarchy
by convenience," became very popular in Yippie circles, and because
rip-off was so useful, it was to survive the Yippie movement itself.

In the early 1970s, it required fairly limited expertise and ingenuity
to cheat payphones, to divert "free" electricity and gas service, or to
rob vending machines and parking meters for handy pocket change. It
also required a conspiracy to spread this knowledge, and the gall and
nerve actually to commit petty theft, but the Yippies had these
qualifications in plenty. In June 1971, Abbie Hoffman and a telephone
enthusiast sarcastically known as "Al Bell" began publishing a
newsletter called Youth International Party Line. This newsletter was
dedicated to collating and spreading Yippie rip-off techniques,
especially of phones, to the joy of the freewheeling underground and
the insensate rage of all straight people. As a political tactic,
phone-service theft ensured that Yippie advocates would always have
ready access to the long-distance telephone as a medium, despite the
Yippies' chronic lack of organization, discipline, money, or even a
steady home address.

PARTY LINE was run out of Greenwich Village for a couple of years, then
"Al Bell" more or less defected from the faltering ranks of Yippiedom,
changing the newsletter's name to TAP or Technical Assistance Program.
After the Vietnam War ended, the steam began leaking rapidly out of
American radical dissent. But by this time, "Bell" and his dozen or so
core contributors had the bit between their teeth, and had begun to
derive tremendous gut-level satisfaction from the sensation of pure

TAP articles, once highly politicized, became pitilessly jargonized and
technical, in homage or parody to the Bell System's own technical
documents, which TAP studied closely, gutted, and reproduced without
permission. The TAP elite revelled in gloating possession of the
specialized knowledge necessary to beat the system.

"Al Bell" dropped out of the game by the late 70s, and "Tom Edison"
took over; TAP readers (some 1400 of them, all told) now began to show
more interest in telex switches and the growing phenomenon of computer

In 1983, "Tom Edison" had his computer stolen and his house set on fire
by an arsonist. This was an eventually mortal blow to TAP (though the
legendary name was to be resurrected in 1990 by a young Kentuckian
computer-outlaw named "Predat0r.")


Ever since telephones began to make money, there have been people
willing to rob and defraud phone companies. The legions of petty phone
thieves vastly outnumber those "phone phreaks" who "explore the
system" for the sake of the intellectual challenge. The New York
metropolitan area (long in the vanguard of American crime) claims over
150,000 physical attacks on pay telephones every year! Studied
carefully, a modern payphone reveals itself as a little fortress,
carefully designed and redesigned over generations, to resist
coin-slugs, zaps of electricity, chunks of coin-shaped ice, prybars,
magnets, lockpicks, blasting caps. Public pay-phones must survive in a
world of unfriendly, greedy people, and a modern payphone is as
exquisitely evolved as a cactus.

Because the phone network pre-dates the computer network, the scofflaws
known as "phone phreaks" pre-date the scofflaws known as "computer
hackers." In practice, today, the line between "phreaking" and
"hacking" is very blurred, just as the distinction between telephones
and computers has blurred. The phone system has been digitized, and
computers have learned to "talk" over phone-lines. What's worse--and
this was the point of the Mr. Jenkins of the Secret Service--some
hackers have learned to steal, and some thieves have learned to hack.

Despite the blurring, one can still draw a few useful behavioral
distinctions between "phreaks" and "hackers." Hackers are intensely
interested in the "system" per se, and enjoy relating to machines.
"Phreaks" are more social, manipulating the system in a rough-and-ready
fashion in order to get through to other human beings, fast, cheap and
under the table.

Phone phreaks love nothing so much as "bridges," illegal conference
calls of ten or twelve chatting conspirators, seaboard to seaboard,
lasting for many hours--and running, of course, on somebody else's
tab, preferably a large corporation's.

As phone-phreak conferences wear on, people drop out (or simply leave
the phone off the hook, while they sashay off to work or school or
babysitting), and new people are phoned up and invited to join in, from
some other continent, if possible. Technical trivia, boasts, brags,
lies, head-trip deceptions, weird rumors, and cruel gossip are all
freely exchanged.

The lowest rung of phone-phreaking is the theft of telephone access
codes. Charging a phone call to somebody else's stolen number is, of
course, a pig-easy way of stealing phone service, requiring practically
no technical expertise. This practice has been very widespread,
especially among lonely people without much money who are far from
home. Code theft has flourished especially in college dorms, military
bases, and, notoriously, among roadies for rock bands. Of late, code
theft has spread very rapidly among Third Worlders in the US, who pile
up enormous unpaid long-distance bills to the Caribbean, South America,
and Pakistan.

The simplest way to steal phone-codes is simply to look over a victim's
shoulder as he punches-in his own code-number on a public payphone.
This technique is known as "shoulder-surfing," and is especially common
in airports, bus terminals, and train stations. The code is then sold
by the thief for a few dollars. The buyer abusing the code has no
computer expertise, but calls his Mom in New York, Kingston or Caracas
and runs up a huge bill with impunity. The losses from this primitive
phreaking activity are far, far greater than the monetary losses caused
by computer-intruding hackers.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, until the introduction of sterner telco
security measures, COMPUTERIZED code theft worked like a charm, and was
virtually omnipresent throughout the digital underground, among phreaks
and hackers alike. This was accomplished through programming one's
computer to try random code numbers over the telephone until one of
them worked. Simple programs to do this were widely available in the
underground; a computer running all night was likely to come up with a
dozen or so useful hits. This could be repeated week after week until
one had a large library of stolen codes.

Nowadays, the computerized dialling of hundreds of numbers can be
detected within hours and swiftly traced. If a stolen code is
repeatedly abused, this too can be detected within a few hours. But
for years in the 1980s, the publication of stolen codes was a kind of
elementary etiquette for fledgling hackers. The simplest way to
establish your bona-fides as a raider was to steal a code through
repeated random dialling and offer it to the "community" for use.
Codes could be both stolen, and used, simply and easily from the safety
of one's own bedroom, with very little fear of detection or punishment.

Before computers and their phone-line modems entered American homes in
gigantic numbers, phone phreaks had their own special
telecommunications hardware gadget, the famous "blue box." This fraud
device (now rendered increasingly useless by the digital evolution of
the phone system) could trick switching systems into granting free
access to long-distance lines. It did this by mimicking the system's
own signal, a tone of 2600 hertz.

Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computer, Inc.,
once dabbled in selling blue-boxes in college dorms in California. For
many, in the early days of phreaking, blue-boxing was scarcely
perceived as "theft," but rather as a fun (if sneaky) way to use excess
phone capacity harmlessly. After all, the long-distance lines were
JUST SITTING THERE.... Whom did it hurt, really? If you're not
and if nobody FINDS OUT what you did, then what real harm have you
done? What exactly HAVE you "stolen," anyway? If a tree falls in the
forest and nobody hears it, how much is the noise worth? Even now this
remains a rather dicey question.

Blue-boxing was no joke to the phone companies, however. Indeed, when
Ramparts magazine, a radical publication in California, printed the
wiring schematics necessary to create a mute box in June 1972, the
magazine was seized by police and Pacific Bell phone-company officials.
The mute box, a blue-box variant, allowed its user to receive
long-distance calls free of charge to the caller. This device was
closely described in a Ramparts article wryly titled "Regulating the
Phone Company In Your Home." Publication of this article was held to be
in violation of Californian State Penal Code section 502.7, which
outlaws ownership of wire-fraud devices and the selling of "plans or
instructions for any instrument, apparatus, or device intended to avoid
telephone toll charges."

Issues of Ramparts were recalled or seized on the newsstands, and the
resultant loss of income helped put the magazine out of business. This
was an ominous precedent for free-expression issues, but the telco's
crushing of a radical-fringe magazine passed without serious challenge
at the time. Even in the freewheeling California 1970s, it was widely
felt that there was something sacrosanct about what the phone company
knew; that the telco had a legal and moral right to protect itself by
shutting off the flow of such illicit information. Most telco
information was so "specialized" that it would scarcely be understood
by any honest member of the public. If not published, it would not be
missed. To print such material did not seem part of the legitimate
role of a free press.

In 1990 there would be a similar telco-inspired attack on the
electronic phreak/hacking "magazine" Phrack. The Phrack legal case
became a central issue in the Hacker Crackdown, and gave rise to great
controversy. Phrack would also be shut down, for a time, at least,
but this time both the telcos and their law-enforcement allies would
pay a much larger price for their actions. The Phrack case will be
examined in detail, later.

Phone-phreaking as a social practice is still very much alive at this
moment. Today, phone-phreaking is thriving much more vigorously than
the better-known and worse-feared practice of "computer hacking." New
forms of phreaking are spreading rapidly, following new vulnerabilities
in sophisticated phone services.

Cellular phones are especially vulnerable; their chips can be
re-programmed to present a false caller ID and avoid billing. Doing so
also avoids police tapping, making cellular-phone abuse a favorite
among drug-dealers. "Call-sell operations" using pirate cellular
phones can, and have, been run right out of the backs of cars, which
move from "cell" to "cell" in the local phone system, retailing stolen
long-distance service, like some kind of demented electronic version of
the neighborhood ice-cream truck.

Private branch-exchange phone systems in large corporations can be
penetrated; phreaks dial-up a local company, enter its internal
phone-system, hack it, then use the company's own PBX system to dial
back out over the public network, causing the company to be stuck with
the resulting long-distance bill. This technique is known as
"diverting." "Diverting" can be very costly, especially because phreaks
tend to travel in packs and never stop talking. Perhaps the worst
by-product of this "PBX fraud" is that victim companies and telcos have
sued one another over the financial responsibility for the stolen
calls, thus enriching not only shabby phreaks but well-paid lawyers.

"Voice-mail systems" can also be abused; phreaks can seize their own
sections of these sophisticated electronic answering machines, and use
them for trading codes or knowledge of illegal techniques. Voice-mail
abuse does not hurt the company directly, but finding supposedly empty
slots in your company's answering machine all crammed with phreaks
eagerly chattering and hey-duding one another in impenetrable jargon
can cause sensations of almost mystical repulsion and dread.

Worse yet, phreaks have sometimes been known to react truculently to
attempts to "clean up" the voice-mail system. Rather than humbly
acquiescing to being thrown out of their playground, they may very well
call up the company officials at work (or at home) and loudly demand
free voice-mail addresses of their very own. Such bullying is taken
very seriously by spooked victims.

Acts of phreak revenge against straight people are rare, but voice-mail
systems are especially tempting and vulnerable, and an infestation of
angry phreaks in one's voice-mail system is no joke. They can erase
legitimate messages; or spy on private messages; or harass users with
recorded taunts and obscenities. They've even been known to seize
control of voice-mail security, and lock out legitimate users, or even
shut down the system entirely.

Cellular phone-calls, cordless phones, and ship-to-shore telephony can
all be monitored by various forms of radio; this kind of "passive
monitoring" is spreading explosively today. Technically eavesdropping
on other people's cordless and cellular phone-calls is the
fastest-growing area in phreaking today. This practice strongly
appeals to the lust for power and conveys gratifying sensations of
technical superiority over the eavesdropping victim. Monitoring is
rife with all manner of tempting evil mischief. Simple prurient
snooping is by far the most common activity. But credit-card numbers
unwarily spoken over the phone can be recorded, stolen and used. And
tapping people's phone-calls (whether through active telephone taps or
passive radio monitors) does lend itself conveniently to activities
like blackmail, industrial espionage, and political dirty tricks.

It should be repeated that telecommunications fraud, the theft of phone
service, causes vastly greater monetary losses than the practice of
entering into computers by stealth. Hackers are mostly young suburban
American white males, and exist in their hundreds--but "phreaks" come
from both sexes and from many nationalities, ages and ethnic
backgrounds, and are flourishing in the thousands.


The term "hacker" has had an unfortunate history. This book, The
Hacker Crackdown, has little to say about "hacking" in its finer,
original sense. The term can signify the free-wheeling intellectual
exploration of the highest and deepest potential of computer systems.
Hacking can describe the determination to make access to computers and
information as free and open as possible. Hacking can involve the
heartfelt conviction that beauty can be found in computers, that the
fine aesthetic in a perfect program can liberate the mind and spirit.
This is "hacking" as it was defined in Steven Levy's much-praised
history of the pioneer computer milieu, Hackers, published in 1984.

Hackers of all kinds are absolutely soaked through with heroic
anti-bureaucratic sentiment. Hackers long for recognition as a
praiseworthy cultural archetype, the postmodern electronic equivalent
of the cowboy and mountain man. Whether they deserve such a reputation
is something for history to decide. But many hackers--including those
outlaw hackers who are computer intruders, and whose activities are
defined as criminal--actually attempt to LIVE UP TO this techno-cowboy
reputation. And given that electronics and telecommunications are
still largely unexplored territories, there is simply NO TELLING what
hackers might uncover.

For some people, this freedom is the very breath of oxygen, the
inventive spontaneity that makes life worth living and that flings open
doors to marvellous possibility and individual empowerment. But for
many people --and increasingly so--the hacker is an ominous figure, a
smart-aleck sociopath ready to burst out of his basement wilderness and
savage other people's lives for his own anarchical convenience.

Any form of power without responsibility, without direct and formal
checks and balances, is frightening to people--and reasonably so. It
should be frankly admitted that hackers ARE frightening, and that the
basis of this fear is not irrational.

Fear of hackers goes well beyond the fear of merely criminal activity.

Subversion and manipulation of the phone system is an act with
disturbing political overtones. In America, computers and telephones
are potent symbols of organized authority and the technocratic business

But there is an element in American culture that has always strongly
rebelled against these symbols; rebelled against all large industrial
computers and all phone companies. A certain anarchical tinge deep in
the American soul delights in causing confusion and pain to all
bureaucracies, including technological ones.

There is sometimes malice and vandalism in this attitude, but it is a
deep and cherished part of the American national character. The
outlaw, the rebel, the rugged individual, the pioneer, the sturdy
Jeffersonian yeoman, the private citizen resisting interference in his
pursuit of happiness--these are figures that all Americans recognize,
and that many will strongly applaud and defend.

Many scrupulously law-abiding citizens today do cutting-edge work with
electronics--work that has already had tremendous social influence and
will have much more in years to come. In all truth, these talented,
hardworking, law-abiding, mature, adult people are far more disturbing
to the peace and order of the current status quo than any scofflaw
group of romantic teenage punk kids. These law-abiding hackers have
the power, ability, and willingness to influence other people's lives
quite unpredictably. They have means, motive, and opportunity to
meddle drastically with the American social order. When corralled into
governments, universities, or large multinational companies, and forced
to follow rulebooks and wear suits and ties, they at least have some
conventional halters on their freedom of action. But when loosed
alone, or in small groups, and fired by imagination and the
entrepreneurial spirit, they can move mountains--causing landslides
that will likely crash directly into your office and living room.

These people, as a class, instinctively recognize that a public,
politicized attack on hackers will eventually spread to them--that the
term "hacker," once demonized, might be used to knock their hands off
the levers of power and choke them out of existence. There are hackers
today who fiercely and publicly resist any besmirching of the noble
title of hacker. Naturally and understandably, they deeply resent the
attack on their values implicit in using the word "hacker" as a synonym
for computer-criminal.

This book, sadly but in my opinion unavoidably, rather adds to the
degradation of the term. It concerns itself mostly with "hacking" in
its commonest latter-day definition, i.e., intruding into computer
systems by stealth and without permission. The term "hacking" is used
routinely today by almost all law enforcement officials with any
professional interest in computer fraud and abuse. American police
describe almost any crime committed with, by, through, or against a
computer as hacking.

Most importantly, "hacker" is what computer-intruders choose to call
THEMSELVES. Nobody who "hacks" into systems willingly describes
himself (rarely, herself) as a "computer intruder," "computer
trespasser," "cracker," "wormer," "darkside hacker" or "high tech
street gangster." Several other demeaning terms have been invented in
the hope that the press and public will leave the original sense of the
word alone. But few people actually use these terms. (I exempt the
term "cyberpunk," which a few hackers and law enforcement people
actually do use. The term "cyberpunk" is drawn from literary criticism
and has some odd and unlikely resonances, but, like hacker, cyberpunk
too has become a criminal pejorative today.)

In any case, breaking into computer systems was hardly alien to the
original hacker tradition. The first tottering systems of the 1960s
required fairly extensive internal surgery merely to function
day-by-day. Their users "invaded" the deepest, most arcane recesses of
their operating software almost as a matter of routine. "Computer
security" in these early, primitive systems was at best an
afterthought. What security there was, was entirely physical, for it
was assumed that anyone allowed near this expensive, arcane hardware
would be a fully qualified professional expert.

In a campus environment, though, this meant that grad students,
teaching assistants, undergraduates, and eventually, all manner of
dropouts and hangers-on ended up accessing and often running the works.

Universities, even modern universities, are not in the business of
maintaining security over information. On the contrary, universities,
as institutions, pre-date the "information economy" by many centuries
and are not-for-profit cultural entities, whose reason for existence
(purportedly) is to discover truth, codify it through techniques of
scholarship, and then teach it. Universities are meant to PASS THE
TORCH OF CIVILIZATION, not just download data into student skulls, and
the values of the academic community are strongly at odds with those of
all would-be information empires. Teachers at all levels, from
kindergarten up, have proven to be shameless and persistent software
and data pirates. Universities do not merely "leak information" but
vigorously broadcast free thought.

This clash of values has been fraught with controversy. Many hackers
of the 1960s remember their professional apprenticeship as a long
guerilla war against the uptight mainframe-computer "information
priesthood." These computer-hungry youngsters had to struggle hard for
access to computing power, and many of them were not above certain, er,
shortcuts. But, over the years, this practice freed computing from the
sterile reserve of lab-coated technocrats and was largely responsible
for the explosive growth of computing in general society--especially
PERSONAL computing.

Access to technical power acted like catnip on certain of these
youngsters. Most of the basic techniques of computer intrusion:
password cracking, trapdoors, backdoors, trojan horses--were invented
in college environments in the 1960s, in the early days of network
computing. Some off-the-cuff experience at computer intrusion was to
be in the informal resume of most "hackers" and many future industry
giants. Outside of the tiny cult of computer enthusiasts, few people
thought much about the implications of "breaking into" computers.
This sort of activity had not yet been publicized, much less

In the 1960s, definitions of "property" and "privacy" had not yet been
extended to cyberspace. Computers were not yet indispensable to
society. There were no vast databanks of vulnerable, proprietary
information stored in computers, which might be accessed, copied
without permission, erased, altered, or sabotaged. The stakes were low
in the early days--but they grew every year, exponentially, as
computers themselves grew.

By the 1990s, commercial and political pressures had become
overwhelming, and they broke the social boundaries of the hacking
subculture. Hacking had become too important to be left to the
hackers. Society was now forced to tackle the intangible nature of
cyberspace-as-property, cyberspace as privately-owned unreal-estate.
In the new, severe, responsible, high-stakes context of the
"Information Society" of the 1990s, "hacking" was called into question.

What did it mean to break into a computer without permission and use
its computational power, or look around inside its files without
hurting anything? What were computer-intruding hackers, anyway--how
should society, and the law, best define their actions? Were they just
BROWSERS, harmless intellectual explorers? Were they VOYEURS, snoops,
invaders of privacy? Should they be sternly treated as potential
AGENTS OF ESPIONAGE, or perhaps as INDUSTRIAL SPIES? Or were they best
defined as TRESPASSERS, a very common teenage misdemeanor? Was hacking
THEFT OF SERVICE? (After all, intruders were getting someone else's
computer to carry out their orders, without permission and without
paying). Was hacking FRAUD? Maybe it was best described as
IMPERSONATION. The commonest mode of computer intrusion was (and is)
to swipe or snoop somebody else's password, and then enter the computer
in the guise of another person--who is commonly stuck with the blame
and the bills.

Perhaps a medical metaphor was better--hackers should be defined as
"sick," as COMPUTER ADDICTS unable to control their irresponsible,
compulsive behavior.

But these weighty assessments meant little to the people who were
actually being judged. From inside the underground world of hacking
itself, all these perceptions seem quaint, wrongheaded, stupid, or
meaningless. The most important self-perception of underground
hackers--from the 1960s, right through to the present day--is that they
are an ELITE. The day-to-day struggle in the underground is not over
sociological definitions--who cares?--but for power, knowledge, and
status among one's peers.

When you are a hacker, it is your own inner conviction of your elite
status that enables you to break, or let us say "transcend," the rules.
It is not that ALL rules go by the board. The rules habitually broken
by hackers are UNIMPORTANT rules--the rules of dopey greedhead telco
bureaucrats and pig-ignorant government pests.

Hackers have their OWN rules, which separate behavior which is cool and
elite, from behavior which is rodentlike, stupid and losing. These
"rules," however, are mostly unwritten and enforced by peer pressure
and tribal feeling. Like all rules that depend on the unspoken
conviction that everybody else is a good old boy, these rules are ripe
for abuse. The mechanisms of hacker peer-pressure, "teletrials" and
ostracism, are rarely used and rarely work. Back-stabbing slander,
threats, and electronic harassment are also freely employed in
down-and-dirty intrahacker feuds, but this rarely forces a rival out of
the scene entirely. The only real solution for the problem of an
utterly losing, treacherous and rodentlike hacker is to TURN HIM IN TO
THE POLICE. Unlike the Mafia or Medellin Cartel, the hacker elite
cannot simply execute the bigmouths, creeps and troublemakers among
their ranks, so they turn one another in with astonishing frequency.

There is no tradition of silence or OMERTA in the hacker underworld.
Hackers can be shy, even reclusive, but when they do talk, hackers tend
to brag, boast and strut. Almost everything hackers do is INVISIBLE;
if they don't brag, boast, and strut about it, then NOBODY WILL EVER
KNOW. If you don't have something to brag, boast, and strut about,
then nobody in the underground will recognize you and favor you with
vital cooperation and respect.

The way to win a solid reputation in the underground is by telling
other hackers things that could only have been learned by exceptional
cunning and stealth. Forbidden knowledge, therefore, is the basic
currency of the digital underground, like seashells among Trobriand
Islanders. Hackers hoard this knowledge, and dwell upon it
obsessively, and refine it, and bargain with it, and talk and talk
about it.

Many hackers even suffer from a strange obsession to TEACH--to spread
the ethos and the knowledge of the digital underground. They'll do
this even when it gains them no particular advantage and presents a
grave personal risk.

And when that risk catches up with them, they will go right on teaching
and preaching--to a new audience this time, their interrogators from
law enforcement. Almost every hacker arrested tells everything he
knows--all about his friends, his mentors, his disciples--legends,
threats, horror stories, dire rumors, gossip, hallucinations. This is,
of course, convenient for law enforcement--except when law enforcement
begins to believe hacker legendry.

Phone phreaks are unique among criminals in their willingness to call
up law enforcement officials--in the office, at their homes--and give
them an extended piece of their mind. It is hard not to interpret this
as BEGGING FOR ARREST, and in fact it is an act of incredible
foolhardiness. Police are naturally nettled by these acts of chutzpah
and will go well out of their way to bust these flaunting idiots. But
it can also be interpreted as a product of a world-view so elitist, so
closed and hermetic, that electronic police are simply not perceived as
"police," but rather as ENEMY PHONE PHREAKS who should be scolded into
behaving "decently."

Hackers at their most grandiloquent perceive themselves as the elite
pioneers of a new electronic world. Attempts to make them obey the
democratically established laws of contemporary American society are
seen as repression and persecution. After all, they argue, if
Alexander Graham Bell had gone along with the rules of the Western
Union telegraph company, there would have been no telephones. If Jobs
and Wozniak had believed that IBM was the be-all and end-all, there
would have been no personal computers. If Benjamin Franklin and Thomas
Jefferson had tried to "work within the system" there would have been
no United States.

Not only do hackers privately believe this as an article of faith, but
they have been known to write ardent manifestos about it. Here are
some revealing excerpts from an especially vivid hacker manifesto: "The
Techno-Revolution" by "Dr. Crash," which appeared in electronic form
in Phrack Volume 1, Issue 6, Phile 3.

"To fully explain the true motives behind hacking, we must first take a
quick look into the past. In the 1960s, a group of MIT students built
the first modern computer system. This wild, rebellious group of young
men were the first to bear the name 'hackers.' The systems that they
developed were intended to be used to solve world problems and to
benefit all of mankind. "As we can see, this has not been the case.
The computer system has been solely in the hands of big businesses and
the government. The wonderful device meant to enrich life has become a
weapon which dehumanizes people. To the government and large
businesses, people are no more than disk space, and the government
doesn't use computers to arrange aid for the poor, but to control
nuclear death weapons. The average American can only have access to a
small microcomputer which is worth only a fraction of what they pay for
it. The businesses keep the true state-of-the-art equipment away from
the people behind a steel wall of incredibly high prices and
bureaucracy. It is because of this state of affairs that hacking was
born. ( ... ) "Of course, the government doesn't want the monopoly of
technology broken, so they have outlawed hacking and arrest anyone who
is caught. ( ... ) The phone company is another example of technology
abused and kept from people with high prices. ( ... ) "Hackers often
find that their existing equipment, due to the monopoly tactics of
computer companies, is inefficient for their purposes. Due to the
exorbitantly high prices, it is impossible to legally purchase the
necessary equipment. This need has given still another segment of the
fight: Credit Carding. Carding is a way of obtaining the necessary
goods without paying for them. It is again due to the companies'
stupidity that Carding is so easy, and shows that the world's
businesses are in the hands of those with considerably less technical
know-how than we, the hackers. ( ... ) "Hacking must continue. We
must train newcomers to the art of hacking. (....) And whatever you
do, continue the fight. Whether you know it or not, if you are a
hacker, you are a revolutionary. Don't worry, you're on the right

The defense of "carding" is rare. Most hackers regard credit-card
theft as "poison" to the underground, a sleazy and immoral effort that,
worse yet, is hard to get away with. Nevertheless, manifestos
advocating credit-card theft, the deliberate crashing of computer
systems, and even acts of violent physical destruction such as
vandalism and arson do exist in the underground. These boasts and
threats are taken quite seriously by the police. And not every hacker
is an abstract, Platonic computer-nerd. Some few are quite experienced
at picking locks, robbing phone-trucks, and breaking and entering

Hackers vary in their degree of hatred for authority and the violence
of their rhetoric. But, at a bottom line, they are scofflaws. They
don't regard the current rules of electronic behavior as respectable
efforts to preserve law and order and protect public safety. They
regard these laws as immoral efforts by soulless corporations to
protect their profit margins and to crush dissidents. "Stupid" people,
including police, businessmen, politicians, and journalists, simply
have no right to judge the actions of those possessed of genius,
techno-revolutionary intentions, and technical expertise.


Hackers are generally teenagers and college kids not engaged in earning
a living. They often come from fairly well-to-do middle-class
backgrounds, and are markedly anti-materialistic (except, that is, when
it comes to computer equipment). Anyone motivated by greed for mere
money (as opposed to the greed for power, knowledge and status) is
swiftly written-off as a narrow-minded breadhead whose interests can
only be corrupt and contemptible. Having grown up in the 1970s and
1980s, the young Bohemians of the digital underground regard straight
society as awash in plutocratic corruption, where everyone from the
President down is for sale and whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Interestingly, there's a funhouse-mirror image of this attitude on the
other side of the conflict. The police are also one of the most
markedly anti-materialistic groups in American society, motivated not
by mere money but by ideals of service, justice, esprit-de-corps, and,
of course, their own brand of specialized knowledge and power.
Remarkably, the propaganda war between cops and hackers has always
involved angry allegations that the other side is trying to make a
sleazy buck. Hackers consistently sneer that anti-phreak prosecutors
are angling for cushy jobs as telco lawyers and that computer-crime
police are aiming to cash in later as well-paid computer-security
consultants in the private sector.

For their part, police publicly conflate all hacking crimes with
robbing payphones with crowbars. Allegations of "monetary losses" from
computer intrusion are notoriously inflated. The act of illicitly
copying a document from a computer is morally equated with directly
robbing a company of, say, half a million dollars. The teenage
computer intruder in possession of this "proprietary" document has
certainly not sold it for such a sum, would likely have little idea how
to sell it at all, and quite probably doesn't even understand what he
has. He has not made a cent in profit from his felony but is still
morally equated with a thief who has robbed the church poorbox and lit
out for Brazil.

Police want to believe that all hackers are thieves. It is a tortuous
and almost unbearable act for the American justice system to put people
in jail because they want to learn things which are forbidden for them
to know. In an American context, almost any pretext for punishment is
better than jailing people to protect certain restricted kinds of
information. Nevertheless, POLICING INFORMATION is part and parcel of
the struggle against hackers.

This dilemma is well exemplified by the remarkable activities of
"Emmanuel Goldstein," editor and publisher of a print magazine known as
2600: The Hacker Quarterly. Goldstein was an English major at Long
Island's State University of New York in the '70s, when he became
involved with the local college radio station. His growing interest in
electronics caused him to drift into Yippie TAP circles and thus into
the digital underground, where he became a self-described techno-rat.
His magazine publishes techniques of computer intrusion and telephone
"exploration" as well as gloating exposes of telco misdeeds and
governmental failings.

Goldstein lives quietly and very privately in a large, crumbling
Victorian mansion in Setauket, New York. The seaside house is
decorated with telco decals, chunks of driftwood, and the basic
bric-a-brac of a hippie crash-pad. He is unmarried, mildly unkempt,
and survives mostly on TV dinners and turkey-stuffing eaten straight
out of the bag. Goldstein is a man of considerable charm and fluency,
with a brief, disarming smile and the kind of pitiless, stubborn,
thoroughly recidivist integrity that America's electronic police find
genuinely alarming.

Goldstein took his nom-de-plume, or "handle," from a character in
Orwell's 1984, which may be taken, correctly, as a symptom of the
gravity of his sociopolitical worldview. He is not himself a
practicing computer intruder, though he vigorously abets these actions,
especially when they are pursued against large corporations or
governmental agencies. Nor is he a thief, for he loudly scorns mere
theft of phone service, in favor of "exploring and manipulating the
system." He is probably best described and understood as a DISSIDENT.

Weirdly, Goldstein is living in modern America under conditions very
similar to those of former East European intellectual dissidents. In
other words, he flagrantly espouses a value-system that is deeply and
irrevocably opposed to the system of those in power and the police.
The values in 2600 are generally expressed in terms that are ironic,
sarcastic, paradoxical, or just downright confused. But there's no
mistaking their radically anti-authoritarian tenor. 2600 holds that
technical power and specialized knowledge, of any kind obtainable,
belong by right in the hands of those individuals brave and bold enough
to discover them--by whatever means necessary. Devices, laws, or
systems that forbid access, and the free spread of knowledge, are
provocations that any free and self-respecting hacker should
relentlessly attack. The "privacy" of governments, corporations and
other soulless technocratic organizations should never be protected at
the expense of the liberty and free initiative of the individual

However, in our contemporary workaday world, both governments and
corporations are very anxious indeed to police information which is
secret, proprietary, restricted, confidential, copyrighted, patented,
hazardous, illegal, unethical, embarrassing, or otherwise sensitive.
This makes Goldstein persona non grata, and his philosophy a threat.

Very little about the conditions of Goldstein's daily life would
astonish, say, Vaclav Havel. (We may note in passing that President
Havel once had his word-processor confiscated by the Czechoslovak
police.) Goldstein lives by SAMIZDAT, acting semi-openly as a
data-center for the underground, while challenging the powers-that-be
to abide by their own stated rules: freedom of speech and the First

Goldstein thoroughly looks and acts the part of techno-rat, with
shoulder-length ringlets and a piratical black fisherman's-cap set at a
rakish angle. He often shows up like Banquo's ghost at meetings of
computer professionals, where he listens quietly, half-smiling and
taking thorough notes.

Computer professionals generally meet publicly, and find it very
difficult to rid themselves of Goldstein and his ilk without
extralegal and unconstitutional actions. Sympathizers, many of them
quite respectable people with responsible jobs, admire Goldstein's
attitude and surreptitiously pass him information. An unknown but
presumably large proportion of Goldstein's 2,000-plus readership are
telco security personnel and police, who are forced to subscribe to
2600 to stay abreast of new developments in hacking. They thus find
themselves PAYING THIS GUY'S RENT while grinding their teeth in
anguish, a situation that would have delighted Abbie Hoffman (one of
Goldstein's few idols).

Goldstein is probably the best-known public representative of the
hacker underground today, and certainly the best-hated. Police regard
him as a Fagin, a corrupter of youth, and speak of him with untempered
loathing. He is quite an accomplished gadfly. After the Martin Luther
King Day Crash of 1990, Goldstein, for instance, adeptly rubbed salt
into the wound in the pages of 2600. "Yeah, it was fun for the phone
phreaks as we watched the network crumble," he admitted cheerfully.
"But it was also an ominous sign of what's to come.... Some AT&T
people, aided by well-meaning but ignorant media, were spreading the
notion that many companies had the same software and therefore could
face the same problem someday. Wrong. This was entirely an AT&T
software deficiency. Of course, other companies could face entirely
DIFFERENT software problems. But then, so too could AT&T."

After a technical discussion of the system's failings, the Long Island
techno-rat went on to offer thoughtful criticism to the gigantic
multinational's hundreds of professionally qualified engineers. "What
we don't know is how a major force in communications like AT&T could be
so sloppy. What happened to backups? Sure, computer systems go down
all the time, but people making phone calls are not the same as people
logging on to computers. We must make that distinction. It's not
acceptable for the phone system or any other essential service to 'go
down.' If we continue to trust technology without understanding it, we
can look forward to many variations on this theme.

"AT&T owes it to its customers to be prepared to INSTANTLY switch to
another network if something strange and unpredictable starts
occurring. The news here isn't so much the failure of a computer
program, but the failure of AT&T's entire structure."

The very idea of this.... this PERSON.... offering "advice" about
"AT&T's entire structure" is more than some people can easily bear.
How dare this near-criminal dictate what is or isn't "acceptable"
behavior from AT&T? Especially when he's publishing, in the very same
issue, detailed schematic diagrams for creating various
switching-network signalling tones unavailable to the public.

"See what happens when you drop a 'silver box' tone or two down your
local exchange or through different long distance service carriers,"
advises 2600 contributor "Mr. Upsetter" in "How To Build a Signal Box."
"If you experiment systematically and keep good records, you will
surely discover something interesting."

This is, of course, the scientific method, generally regarded as a
praiseworthy activity and one of the flowers of modern civilization.
One can indeed learn a great deal with this sort of structured
intellectual activity. Telco employees regard this mode of
"exploration" as akin to flinging sticks of dynamite into their pond to
see what lives on the bottom.

2600 has been published consistently since 1984. It has also run a
bulletin board computer system, printed 2600 T-shirts, taken fax
calls.... The Spring 1991 issue has an interesting announcement on
page 45: "We just discovered an extra set of wires attached to our fax
line and heading up the pole. (They've since been clipped.) Your faxes
to us and to anyone else could be monitored." In the worldview of 2600,
the tiny band of techno-rat brothers (rarely, sisters) are a besieged
vanguard of the truly free and honest. The rest of the world is a
maelstrom of corporate crime and high-level governmental corruption,
occasionally tempered with well-meaning ignorance. To read a few
issues in a row is to enter a nightmare akin to Solzhenitsyn's,
somewhat tempered by the fact that 2600 is often extremely funny.

Goldstein did not become a target of the Hacker Crackdown, though he
protested loudly, eloquently, and publicly about it, and it added
considerably to his fame. It was not that he is not regarded as
dangerous, because he is so regarded. Goldstein has had brushes with
the law in the past: in 1985, a 2600 bulletin board computer was
seized by the FBI, and some software on it was formally declared "a
burglary tool in the form of a computer program." But Goldstein escaped
direct repression in 1990, because his magazine is printed on paper,
and recognized as subject to Constitutional freedom of the press
protection. As was seen in the Ramparts case, this is far from an
absolute guarantee. Still, as a practical matter, shutting down 2600
by court-order would create so much legal hassle that it is simply
unfeasible, at least for the present. Throughout 1990, both Goldstein
and his magazine were peevishly thriving.

Instead, the Crackdown of 1990 would concern itself with the
computerized version of forbidden data. The crackdown itself, first
and foremost, was about BULLETIN BOARD SYSTEMS. Bulletin Board
Systems, most often known by the ugly and un-pluralizable acronym
"BBS," are the life-blood of the digital underground. Boards were also
central to law enforcement's tactics and strategy in the Hacker

A "bulletin board system" can be formally defined as a computer which
serves as an information and message-passing center for users
dialing-up over the phone-lines through the use of modems. A "modem,"
or modulator-demodulator, is a device which translates the digital
impulses of computers into audible analog telephone signals, and vice
versa. Modems connect computers to phones and thus to each other.

Large-scale mainframe computers have been connected since the 1960s,
but PERSONAL computers, run by individuals out of their homes, were
first networked in the late 1970s. The "board" created by Ward
Christensen and Randy Suess in February 1978, in Chicago, Illinois, is
generally regarded as the first personal-computer bulletin board system
worthy of the name.

Boards run on many different machines, employing many different kinds
of software. Early boards were crude and buggy, and their managers,
known as "system operators" or "sysops," were hard-working technical
experts who wrote their own software. But like most everything else in
the world of electronics, boards became faster, cheaper,
better-designed, and generally far more sophisticated throughout the
1980s. They also moved swiftly out of the hands of pioneers and into
those of the general public. By 1985 there were something in the
neighborhood of 4,000 boards in America. By 1990 it was calculated,
vaguely, that there were about 30,000 boards in the US, with uncounted
thousands overseas.

Computer bulletin boards are unregulated enterprises. Running a board
is a rough-and-ready, catch-as-catch-can proposition. Basically,
anybody with a computer, modem, software and a phone-line can start a
board. With second-hand equipment and public-domain free software, the
price of a board might be quite small--less than it would take to
publish a magazine or even a decent pamphlet. Entrepreneurs eagerly
sell bulletin-board software, and will coach nontechnical amateur
sysops in its use.

Boards are not "presses." They are not magazines, or libraries, or
phones, or CB radios, or traditional cork bulletin boards down at the
local laundry, though they have some passing resemblance to those
earlier media. Boards are a new medium--they may even be a LARGE
NUMBER of new media.

Consider these unique characteristics: boards are cheap, yet they can
have a national, even global reach. Boards can be contacted from
anywhere in the global telephone network, at NO COST to the person
running the board--the caller pays the phone bill, and if the caller is
local, the call is free. Boards do not involve an editorial elite
addressing a mass audience. The "sysop" of a board is not an exclusive
publisher or writer--he is managing an electronic salon, where
individuals can address the general public, play the part of the
general public, and also exchange private mail with other individuals.
And the "conversation" on boards, though fluid, rapid, and highly
interactive, is not spoken, but written. It is also relatively
anonymous, sometimes completely so.

And because boards are cheap and ubiquitous, regulations and licensing
requirements would likely be practically unenforceable. It would
almost be easier to "regulate," "inspect," and "license" the content of
private mail--probably more so, since the mail system is operated by
the federal government. Boards are run by individuals, independently,
entirely at their own whim.

For the sysop, the cost of operation is not the primary limiting
factor. Once the investment in a computer and modem has been made, the
only steady cost is the charge for maintaining a phone line (or several
phone lines). The primary limits for sysops are time and energy.
Boards require upkeep. New users are generally "validated"--they must
be issued individual passwords, and called at home by voice-phone, so
that their identity can be verified. Obnoxious users, who exist in
plenty, must be chided or purged. Proliferating messages must be
deleted when they grow old, so that the capacity of the system is not
overwhelmed. And software programs (if such things are kept on the
board) must be examined for possible computer viruses. If there is a
financial charge to use the board (increasingly common, especially in
larger and fancier systems) then accounts must be kept, and users must
be billed. And if the board crashes--a very common occurrence--then
repairs must be made.

Boards can be distinguished by the amount of effort spent in regulating
them. First, we have the completely open board, whose sysop is off
chugging brews and watching re-runs while his users generally
degenerate over time into peevish anarchy and eventual silence. Second
comes the supervised board, where the sysop breaks in every once in a
while to tidy up, calm brawls, issue announcements, and rid the
community of dolts and troublemakers. Third is the heavily supervised
board, which sternly urges adult and responsible behavior and swiftly
edits any message considered offensive, impertinent, illegal or
irrelevant. And last comes the completely edited "electronic
publication," which is presented to a silent audience which is not
allowed to respond directly in any way.

Boards can also be grouped by their degree of anonymity. There is the
completely anonymous board, where everyone uses
pseudonyms--"handles"--and even the sysop is unaware of the user's true
identity. The sysop himself is likely pseudonymous on a board of this
type. Second, and rather more common, is the board where the sysop
knows (or thinks he knows) the true names and addresses of all users,
but the users don't know one another's names and may not know his.
Third is the board where everyone has to use real names, and
roleplaying and pseudonymous posturing are forbidden.

Boards can be grouped by their immediacy. "Chat-lines" are boards
linking several users together over several different phone-lines
simultaneously, so that people exchange messages at the very moment
that they type. (Many large boards feature "chat" capabilities along
with other services.) Less immediate boards, perhaps with a single
phoneline, store messages serially, one at a time. And some boards are
only open for business in daylight hours or on weekends, which greatly
slows response. A NETWORK of boards, such as "FidoNet," can carry
electronic mail from board to board, continent to continent, across
huge distances--but at a relative snail's pace, so that a message can
take several days to reach its target audience and elicit a reply.

Boards can be grouped by their degree of community. Some boards
emphasize the exchange of private, person-to-person electronic mail.
Others emphasize public postings and may even purge people who "lurk,"
merely reading posts but refusing to openly participate. Some boards
are intimate and neighborly. Others are frosty and highly technical.
Some are little more than storage dumps for software, where users
"download" and "upload" programs, but interact among themselves little
if at all.

Boards can be grouped by their ease of access. Some boards are
entirely public. Others are private and restricted only to personal
friends of the sysop. Some boards divide users by status. On these
boards, some users, especially beginners, strangers or children, will
be restricted to general topics, and perhaps forbidden to post.
Favored users, though, are granted the ability to post as they please,
and to stay "on-line" as long as they like, even to the disadvantage of
other people trying to call in. High-status users can be given access
to hidden areas in the board, such as off-color topics, private
discussions, and/or valuable software. Favored users may even become
"remote sysops" with the power to take remote control of the board
through their own home computers. Quite often "remote sysops" end up
doing all the work and taking formal control of the enterprise, despite
the fact that it's physically located in someone else's house.
Sometimes several "co-sysops" share power.

And boards can also be grouped by size. Massive, nationwide commercial
networks, such as CompuServe, Delphi, GEnie and Prodigy, are run on
mainframe computers and are generally not considered "boards," though
they share many of their characteristics, such as electronic mail,
discussion topics, libraries of software, and persistent and growing
problems with civil-liberties issues. Some private boards have as many
as thirty phone-lines and quite sophisticated hardware. And then there
are tiny boards.

Boards vary in popularity. Some boards are huge and crowded, where
users must claw their way in against a constant busy-signal. Others
are huge and empty--there are few things sadder than a formerly
flourishing board where no one posts any longer, and the dead
conversations of vanished users lie about gathering digital dust. Some
boards are tiny and intimate, their telephone numbers intentionally
kept confidential so that only a small number can log on.

And some boards are UNDERGROUND.

Boards can be mysterious entities. The activities of their users can
be hard to differentiate from conspiracy. Sometimes they ARE
conspiracies. Boards have harbored, or have been accused of harboring,
all manner of fringe groups, and have abetted, or been accused of
abetting, every manner of frowned-upon, sleazy, radical, and criminal
activity. There are Satanist boards. Nazi boards. Pornographic
boards. Pedophile boards. Drug-dealing boards. Anarchist boards.
Communist boards. Gay and Lesbian boards (these exist in great
profusion, many of them quite lively with well-established histories).
Religious cult boards. Evangelical boards. Witchcraft boards, hippie
boards, punk boards, skateboarder boards. Boards for UFO believers.
There may well be boards for serial killers, airline terrorists and
professional assassins. There is simply no way to tell. Boards spring
up, flourish, and disappear in large numbers, in most every corner of
the developed world. Even apparently innocuous public boards can, and
sometimes do, harbor secret areas known only to a few. And even on the
vast, public, commercial services, private mail is very private--and
quite possibly criminal.

Boards cover most every topic imaginable and some that are hard to
imagine. They cover a vast spectrum of social activity. However, all
board users do have something in common: their possession of computers
and phones. Naturally, computers and phones are primary topics of
conversation on almost every board.

And hackers and phone phreaks, those utter devotees of computers and
phones, live by boards. They swarm by boards. They are bred by
boards. By the late 1980s, phone-phreak groups and hacker groups,
united by boards, had proliferated fantastically.

As evidence, here is a list of hacker groups compiled by the editors of
Phrack on August 8, 1988.

The Administration.
Advanced Telecommunications, Inc.
American Tone Travelers.
Anarchy Inc.
Apple Mafia.
The Association.
Atlantic Pirates Guild.

Bad Ass Mother Fuckers.
Bell Shock Force.
Black Bag.

C&M Productions.
Catholics Anonymous.
Chaos Computer Club.
Chief Executive Officers.
Circle Of Death.
Circle Of Deneb.
Club X.
Coalition of Hi-Tech Pirates.
Corrupt Computing.
Cult Of The Dead Cow.
Custom Retaliations.

Damage Inc.
D&B Communications.
The Danger Gang.
Dec Hunters.
Digital Gang.

Eastern Alliance.
The Elite Hackers Guild.
Elite Phreakers and Hackers Club.
The Elite Society Of America.
Executives Of Crime.
Extasyy Elite.

Fargo 4A.
Farmers Of Doom.
The Federation.
Feds R Us.
First Class.
Five O.
Five Star.
Force Hackers.
The 414s.

Hackers Of America.
High Mountain Hackers.
High Society.
The Hitchhikers.

IBM Syndicate.
The Ice Pirates.
Imperial Warlords.
Inner Circle.
Inner Circle II.
Insanity Inc.
International Computer Underground Bandits.

Justice League of America.

Kaos Inc.
Knights Of Shadow.
Knights Of The Round Table.

League Of Adepts.
Legion Of Doom.
Legion Of Hackers.
Lords Of Chaos.
Lunatic Labs, Unlimited.

Master Hackers.
The Marauders.

Metal Communications, Inc.
MetalliBashers, Inc.
Metro Communications.
Midwest Pirates Guild.

NASA Elite.
The NATO Association.
Neon Knights.
Nihilist Order.

Order Of The Rose.

Pacific Pirates Guild.
Phantom Access Associates.
PHido PHreaks.
The Phirm.
PhoneLine Phantoms.
Phone Phreakers Of America.
Phortune 500.

Phreak Hack Delinquents.
Phreak Hack Destroyers.

Phreakers, Hackers, And Laundromat Employees Gang (PHALSE Gang).
Phreaks Against Geeks.
Phreaks Against Phreaks Against Geeks.
Phreaks and Hackers of America.
Phreaks Anonymous World Wide.
Project Genesis.
The Punk Mafia.

The Racketeers.
Red Dawn Text Files.
Roscoe Gang.

Secret Circle of Pirates.
Secret Service.
707 Club.
Shadow Brotherhood.
Sharp Inc.
65C02 Elite.

Spectral Force.
Star League.

Team Hackers '86.
Team Hackers '87.

TeleComputist Newsletter Staff.
Tribunal Of Knowledge.

Triple Entente.
Turn Over And Die Syndrome (TOADS).

300 Club.
1200 Club.
2300 Club.
2600 Club.
2601 Club.


The United Soft WareZ Force.
United Technical Underground.

Ware Brigade.
The Warelords.

Contemplating this list is an impressive, almost humbling business.
As a cultural artifact, the thing approaches poetry.

Underground groups--subcultures--can be distinguished from independent
cultures by their habit of referring constantly to the parent society.
Undergrounds by their nature constantly must maintain a membrane of
differentiation. Funny/distinctive clothes and hair, specialized
jargon, specialized ghettoized areas in cities, different hours of
rising, working, sleeping.... The digital underground, which
specializes in information, relies very heavily on language to
distinguish itself. As can be seen from this list, they make heavy use
of parody and mockery. It's revealing to see who they choose to mock.

First, large corporations. We have the Phortune 500, The Chief
Executive Officers, Bellcore, IBM Syndicate, SABRE (a computerized
reservation service maintained by airlines). The common use of "Inc."
is telling--none of these groups are actual corporations, but take
clear delight in mimicking them.

Second, governments and police. NASA Elite, NATO Association. "Feds R
Us" and "Secret Service" are fine bits of fleering boldness. OSS--the
Office of Strategic Services was the forerunner of the CIA.

Third, criminals. Using stigmatizing pejoratives as a perverse badge
of honor is a time-honored tactic for subcultures: punks, gangs,
delinquents, mafias, pirates, bandits, racketeers.

Specialized orthography, especially the use of "ph" for "f" and "z" for
the plural "s," are instant recognition symbols. So is the use of the
numeral "0" for the letter "O"--computer-software orthography generally
features a slash through the zero, making the distinction obvious.

Some terms are poetically descriptive of computer intrusion: the
Stowaways, the Hitchhikers, the PhoneLine Phantoms, Coast-to-Coast.
Others are simple bravado and vainglorious puffery. (Note the
insistent use of the terms "elite" and "master.") Some terms are
blasphemous, some obscene, others merely cryptic--anything to puzzle,
offend, confuse, and keep the straights at bay.

Many hacker groups further re-encrypt their names by the use of
acronyms: United Technical Underground becomes UTU, Farmers of Doom
become FoD, the United SoftWareZ Force becomes, at its own insistence,
"TuSwF," and woe to the ignorant rodent who capitalizes the wrong

It should be further recognized that the members of these groups are
themselves pseudonymous. If you did, in fact, run across the
"PhoneLine Phantoms," you would find them to consist of "Carrier
Culprit," "The Executioner," "Black Majik," "Egyptian Lover," "Solid
State," and "Mr Icom." "Carrier Culprit" will likely be referred to by
his friends as "CC," as in, "I got these dialups from CC of PLP."

It's quite possible that this entire list refers to as few as a
thousand people. It is not a complete list of underground
groups--there has never been such a list, and there never will be.
Groups rise, flourish, decline, share membership, maintain a cloud of
wannabes and casual hangers-on. People pass in and out, are
ostracized, get bored, are busted by police, or are cornered by telco
security and presented with huge bills. Many "underground groups" are
software pirates, "warez d00dz," who might break copy protection and
pirate programs, but likely wouldn't dare to intrude on a

It is hard to estimate the true population of the digital underground.
There is constant turnover. Most hackers start young, come and go,
then drop out at age 22--the age of college graduation. And a large
majority of "hackers" access pirate boards, adopt a handle, swipe
software and perhaps abuse a phone-code or two, while never actually
joining the elite.

Some professional informants, who make it their business to retail
knowledge of the underground to paymasters in private corporate
security, have estimated the hacker population at as high as fifty
thousand. This is likely highly inflated, unless one counts every
single teenage software pirate and petty phone-booth thief. My best
guess is about 5,000 people. Of these, I would guess that as few as a
hundred are truly "elite" --active computer intruders, skilled enough
to penetrate sophisticated systems and truly to worry corporate
security and law enforcement.

Another interesting speculation is whether this group is growing or
not. Young teenage hackers are often convinced that hackers exist in
vast swarms and will soon dominate the cybernetic universe. Older and
wiser veterans, perhaps as wizened as 24 or 25 years old, are convinced
that the glory days are long gone, that the cops have the underground's
number now, and that kids these days are dirt-stupid and just want to
play Nintendo.

My own assessment is that computer intrusion, as a non-profit act of
intellectual exploration and mastery, is in slow decline, at least in
the United States; but that electronic fraud, especially
telecommunication crime, is growing by leaps and bounds.

One might find a useful parallel to the digital underground in the drug
underground. There was a time, now much-obscured by historical
revisionism, when Bohemians freely shared joints at concerts, and hip,
small-scale marijuana dealers might turn people on just for the sake of
enjoying a long stoned conversation about the Doors and Allen Ginsberg.
Now drugs are increasingly verboten, except in a high-stakes,
highly-criminal world of highly addictive drugs. Over years of
disenchantment and police harassment, a vaguely ideological,
free-wheeling drug underground has relinquished the business of
drug-dealing to a far more savage criminal hard-core. This is not a
pleasant prospect to contemplate, but the analogy is fairly compelling.

What does an underground board look like? What distinguishes it from a
standard board? It isn't necessarily the conversation--hackers often
talk about common board topics, such as hardware, software, sex,
science fiction, current events, politics, movies, personal gossip.
Underground boards can best be distinguished by their files, or
"philes," pre-composed texts which teach the techniques and ethos of
the underground. These are prized reservoirs of forbidden knowledge.
Some are anonymous, but most proudly bear the handle of the "hacker"
who has created them, and his group affiliation, if he has one.

Here is a partial table-of-contents of philes from an underground
board, somewhere in the heart of middle America, circa 1991. The
descriptions are mostly self-explanatory.

BANKAMER.ZIP 5406 06-11-91 Hacking Bank America
CHHACK.ZIP 4481 06-11-91 Chilton Hacking
CITIBANK.ZIP 4118 06-11-91 Hacking Citibank
CREDIMTC.ZIP 3241 06-11-91 Hacking Mtc Credit Company
DIGEST.ZIP 5159 06-11-91 Hackers Digest
HACK.ZIP 14031 06-11-91 How To Hack
HACKBAS.ZIP 5073 06-11-91 Basics Of Hacking
HACKDICT.ZIP 42774 06-11-91 Hackers Dictionary
HACKER.ZIP 57938 06-11-91 Hacker Info
HACKERME.ZIP 3148 06-11-91 Hackers Manual
HACKHAND.ZIP 4814 06-11-91 Hackers Handbook
HACKTHES.ZIP 48290 06-11-91 Hackers Thesis
HACKVMS.ZIP 4696 06-11-91 Hacking Vms Systems
MCDON.ZIP 3830 06-11-91 Hacking Macdonalds (Home Of The Archs)
P500UNIX.ZIP 15525 06-11-91 Phortune 500 Guide To Unix
RADHACK.ZIP 8411 06-11-91 Radio Hacking
TAOTRASH.DOC 4096 12-25-89 Suggestions For Trashing
TECHHACK.ZIP 5063 06-11-91 Technical Hacking

The files above are do-it-yourself manuals about computer intrusion.
The above is only a small section of a much larger library of hacking
and phreaking techniques and history. We now move into a different and
perhaps surprising area.


ANARC.ZIP 3641 06-11-91 Anarchy Files
ANARCHST.ZIP 63703 06-11-91 Anarchist Book
ANARCHY.ZIP 2076 06-11-91 Anarchy At Home
ANARCHY3.ZIP 6982 06-11-91 Anarchy No 3
ANARCTOY.ZIP 2361 06-11-91 Anarchy Toys
ANTIMODM.ZIP 2877 06-11-91 Anti-modem Weapons
ATOM.ZIP 4494 06-11-91 How To Make An Atom Bomb
BARBITUA.ZIP 3982 06-11-91 Barbiturate Formula
BLCKPWDR.ZIP 2810 06-11-91 Black Powder Formulas
BOMB.ZIP 3765 06-11-91 How To Make Bombs
BOOM.ZIP 2036 06-11-91 Things That Go Boom
CHLORINE.ZIP 1926 06-11-91 Chlorine Bomb
COOKBOOK.ZIP 1500 06-11-91 Anarchy Cook Book
DESTROY.ZIP 3947 06-11-91 Destroy Stuff
DUSTBOMB.ZIP 2576 06-11-91 Dust Bomb
ELECTERR.ZIP 3230 06-11-91 Electronic Terror
EXPLOS1.ZIP 2598 06-11-91 Explosives 1
EXPLOSIV.ZIP 18051 06-11-91 More Explosives
EZSTEAL.ZIP 4521 06-11-91 Ez-stealing
FLAME.ZIP 2240 06-11-91 Flame Thrower
FLASHLT.ZIP 2533 06-11-91 Flashlight Bomb
FMBUG.ZIP 2906 06-11-91 How To Make An Fm Bug
OMEEXPL.ZIP 2139 06-11-91 Home Explosives
HOW2BRK.ZIP 3332 06-11-91 How To Break In
LETTER.ZIP 2990 06-11-91 Letter Bomb
LOCK.ZIP 2199 06-11-91 How To Pick Locks
MRSHIN.ZIP 3991 06-11-91 Briefcase Locks
NAPALM.ZIP 3563 06-11-91 Napalm At Home
NITRO.ZIP 3158 06-11-91 Fun With Nitro
PARAMIL.ZIP 2962 06-11-91 Paramilitary Info
PICKING.ZIP 3398 06-11-91 Picking Locks
PIPEBOMB.ZIP 2137 06-11-91 Pipe Bomb
POTASS.ZIP 3987 06-11-91 Formulas With Potassium
PRANK.TXT 11074 08-03-90 More Pranks To Pull On Idiots!
REVENGE.ZIP 4447 06-11-91 Revenge Tactics
ROCKET.ZIP 2590 06-11-91 Rockets For Fun
SMUGGLE.ZIP 3385 06-11-91 How To Smuggle

HOLY COW! The damned thing is full of stuff about bombs!

What are we to make of this?

First, it should be acknowledged that spreading knowledge about
demolitions to teenagers is a highly and deliberately antisocial act.
It is not, however, illegal.

Second, it should be recognized that most of these philes were in fact
WRITTEN by teenagers. Most adult American males who can remember their
teenage years will recognize that the notion of building a flamethrower
in your garage is an incredibly neat-o idea. ACTUALLY, building a
flamethrower in your garage, however, is fraught with discouraging
difficulty. Stuffing gunpowder into a booby-trapped flashlight, so as
to blow the arm off your high-school vice-principal, can be a thing of
dark beauty to contemplate. Actually committing assault by explosives
will earn you the sustained attention of the federal Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms.

Some people, however, will actually try these plans. A determinedly
murderous American teenager can probably buy or steal a handgun far
more easily than he can brew fake "napalm" in the kitchen sink.
Nevertheless, if temptation is spread before people, a certain number
will succumb, and a small minority will actually attempt these stunts.
A large minority of that small minority will either fail or, quite
likely, maim themselves, since these "philes" have not been checked for
accuracy, are not the product of professional experience, and are often
highly fanciful. But the gloating menace of these philes is not to be
entirely dismissed.

Hackers may not be "serious" about bombing; if they were, we would hear
far more about exploding flashlights, homemade bazookas, and gym
teachers poisoned by chlorine and potassium. However, hackers are VERY
serious about forbidden knowledge. They are possessed not merely by
curiosity, but by a positive LUST TO KNOW. The desire to know what
others don't is scarcely new. But the INTENSITY of this desire, as
manifested by these young technophilic denizens of the Information Age,
may in fact BE new, and may represent some basic shift in social
values--a harbinger of what the world may come to, as society lays more
and more value on the possession, assimilation and retailing of
INFORMATION as a basic commodity of daily life.

There have always been young men with obsessive interests in these
topics. Never before, however, have they been able to network so
extensively and easily, and to propagandize their interests with
impunity to random passers-by. High-school teachers will recognize
that there's always one in a crowd, but when the one in a crowd escapes
control by jumping into the phone-lines, and becomes a hundred such
kids all together on a board, then trouble is brewing visibly. The
urge of authority to DO SOMETHING, even something drastic, is hard to
resist. And in 1990, authority did something. In fact authority did a
great deal.


The process by which boards create hackers goes something like this. A
youngster becomes interested in computers--usually, computer games. He
hears from friends that "bulletin boards" exist where games can be
obtained for free. (Many computer games are "freeware," not
copyrighted--invented simply for the love of it and given away to the
public; some of these games are quite good.) He bugs his parents for a
modem, or quite often, uses his parents' modem.

The world of boards suddenly opens up. Computer games can be quite
expensive, real budget-breakers for a kid, but pirated games, stripped
of copy protection, are cheap or free. They are also illegal, but it
is very rare, almost unheard of, for a small-scale software pirate to
be prosecuted. Once "cracked" of its copy protection, the program,
being digital data, becomes infinitely reproducible. Even the
instructions to the game, any manuals that accompany it, can be
reproduced as text files, or photocopied from legitimate sets. Other
users on boards can give many useful hints in game-playing tactics.
And a youngster with an infinite supply of free computer games can
certainly cut quite a swath among his modem-less friends.

And boards are pseudonymous. No one need know that you're fourteen
years old--with a little practice at subterfuge, you can talk to adults
about adult things, and be accepted and taken seriously! You can even
pretend to be a girl, or an old man, or anybody you can imagine. If
you find this kind of deception gratifying, there is ample opportunity
to hone your ability on boards.

But local boards can grow stale. And almost every board maintains a
list of phone-numbers to other boards, some in distant, tempting,
exotic locales. Who knows what they're up to, in Oregon or Alaska or
Florida or California? It's very easy to find out--just order the
modem to call through its software--nothing to this, just typing on a
keyboard, the same thing you would do for most any computer game. The
machine reacts swiftly and in a few seconds you are talking to a bunch
of interesting people on another seaboard.

And yet the BILLS for this trivial action can be staggering! Just by
going tippety-tap with your fingers, you may have saddled your parents
with four hundred bucks in long-distance charges, and gotten chewed out
but good. That hardly seems fair.

How horrifying to have made friends in another state and to be deprived
of their company--and their software--just because telephone companies
demand absurd amounts of money! How painful, to be restricted to
boards in one's own AREA CODE--what the heck is an "area code" anyway,
and what makes it so special? A few grumbles, complaints, and innocent
questions of this sort will often elicit a sympathetic reply from
another board user--someone with some stolen codes to hand. You dither
a while, knowing this isn't quite right, then you make up your mind to
try them anyhow--AND THEY WORK! Suddenly you're doing something even
your parents can't do. Six months ago you were just some kid--now,
you're the Crimson Flash of Area Code 512! You're bad--you're

Maybe you'll stop at a few abused codes. Maybe you'll decide that
boards aren't all that interesting after all, that it's wrong, not
worth the risk --but maybe you won't. The next step is to pick up your
own repeat-dialling program--to learn to generate your own stolen
codes. (This was dead easy five years ago, much harder to get away
with nowadays, but not yet impossible.) And these dialling programs are
not complex or intimidating--some are as small as twenty lines of

Now, you too can share codes. You can trade codes to learn other
techniques. If you're smart enough to catch on, and obsessive enough
to want to bother, and ruthless enough to start seriously bending
rules, then you'll get better, fast. You start to develop a rep. You
move up to a heavier class of board--a board with a bad attitude, the
kind of board that naive dopes like your classmates and your former
self have never even heard of! You pick up the jargon of phreaking and
hacking from the board. You read a few of those anarchy philes--and
man, you never realized you could be a real OUTLAW without ever leaving
your bedroom.

You still play other computer games, but now you have a new and bigger
game. This one will bring you a different kind of status than
destroying even eight zillion lousy space invaders.

Hacking is perceived by hackers as a "game." This is not an entirely
unreasonable or sociopathic perception. You can win or lose at
hacking, succeed or fail, but it never feels "real." It's not simply
that imaginative youngsters sometimes have a hard time telling
"make-believe" from "real life." Cyberspace is NOT REAL! "Real"
things are physical objects like trees and shoes and cars. Hacking
takes place on a screen. Words aren't physical, numbers (even
telephone numbers and credit card numbers) aren't physical. Sticks and
stones may break my bones, but data will never hurt me. Computers
SIMULATE reality, like computer games that simulate tank battles or
dogfights or spaceships. Simulations are just make-believe, and the
stuff in computers is NOT REAL.

Consider this: if "hacking" is supposed to be so serious and real-life
and dangerous, then how come NINE-YEAR-OLD KIDS have computers and
modems? You wouldn't give a nine year old his own car, or his own
rifle, or his own chainsaw--those things are "real."

People underground are perfectly aware that the "game" is frowned upon
by the powers that be. Word gets around about busts in the
underground. Publicizing busts is one of the primary functions of
pirate boards, but they also promulgate an attitude about them, and
their own idiosyncratic ideas of justice. The users of underground
boards won't complain if some guy is busted for crashing systems,
spreading viruses, or stealing money by wire-fraud. They may shake
their heads with a sneaky grin, but they won't openly defend these
practices. But when a kid is charged with some theoretical amount of
theft: $233,846.14, for instance, because he sneaked into a computer
and copied something, and kept it in his house on a floppy disk--this
is regarded as a sign of near-insanity from prosecutors, a sign that
they've drastically mistaken the immaterial game of computing for their
real and boring everyday world of fatcat corporate money.

It's as if big companies and their suck-up lawyers think that computing
belongs to them, and they can retail it with price stickers, as if it
were boxes of laundry soap! But pricing "information" is like trying
to price air or price dreams. Well, anybody on a pirate board knows
that computing can be, and ought to be, FREE. Pirate boards are little
independent worlds in cyberspace, and they don't belong to anybody but
the underground. Underground boards aren't "brought to you by Procter
& Gamble."

To log on to an underground board can mean to experience liberation, to
enter a world where, for once, money isn't everything and adults don't
have all the answers.

Let's sample another vivid hacker manifesto. Here are some excerpts
from "The Conscience of a Hacker," by "The Mentor," from Phrack Volume
One, Issue 7, Phile 3.

"I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is
cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it's because
I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't like me. ( ... ) "And then it
happened ... a door opened to a world ... rushing through the phone
line like heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent
out, a refuge from day-to-day incompetencies is sought ... a board is
found. 'This is it ... this is where I belong ... ' "I know everyone
here ... even if I've never met them, never talked to them, may never
hear from them again ... I know you all ... ( ... )

"This is our world now ... the world of the electron and the switch,
the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing
without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by
profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore ... and
you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge ... and you call us
criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without
religious bias ... and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs,
you wage wars, you murder, cheat and lie to us and try to make us
believe that it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.

"Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is
that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look
like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will
never forgive me for."


There have been underground boards almost as long as there have been
boards. One of the first was 8BBS, which became a stronghold of the
West Coast phone-phreak elite. After going on-line in March 1980, 8BBS
sponsored "Susan Thunder," and "Tuc," and, most notoriously, "the
Condor." "The Condor" bore the singular distinction of becoming the
most vilified American phreak and hacker ever. Angry underground
associates, fed up with Condor's peevish behavior, turned him in to
police, along with a heaping double-helping of outrageous hacker
legendry. As a result, Condor was kept in solitary confinement for
seven months, for fear that he might start World War Three by
triggering missile silos from the prison payphone. (Having served his
time, Condor is now walking around loose; WWIII has thus far
conspicuously failed to occur.)

The sysop of 8BBS was an ardent free-speech enthusiast who simply felt
that ANY attempt to restrict the expression of his users was
unconstitutional and immoral. Swarms of the technically curious
entered 8BBS and emerged as phreaks and hackers, until, in 1982, a
friendly 8BBS alumnus passed the sysop a new modem which had been
purchased by credit-card fraud. Police took this opportunity to seize
the entire board and remove what they considered an attractive nuisance.

Plovernet was a powerful East Coast pirate board that operated in both
New York and Florida. Owned and operated by teenage hacker "Quasi
Moto," Plovernet attracted five hundred eager users in 1983. "Emmanuel
Goldstein" was one-time co-sysop of Plovernet, along with "Lex Luthor,"
founder of the "Legion of Doom" group. Plovernet bore the signal
honor of being the original home of the "Legion of Doom," about which
the reader will be hearing a great deal, soon.

"Pirate-80," or "P-80," run by a sysop known as "Scan-Man," got into
the game very early in Charleston, and continued steadily for years.
P-80 flourished so flagrantly that even its most hardened users became
nervous, and some slanderously speculated that "Scan Man" must have
ties to corporate security, a charge he vigorously denied.

"414 Private" was the home board for the first GROUP to attract
conspicuous trouble, the teenage "414 Gang," whose intrusions into
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Los Alamos military computers were to
be a nine-days-wonder in 1982.

At about this time, the first software piracy boards began to open up,
trading cracked games for the Atari 800 and the Commodore C64.
Naturally these boards were heavily frequented by teenagers. And with
the 1983 release of the hacker-thriller movie War Games, the scene
exploded. It seemed that every kid in America had demanded and gotten
a modem for Christmas. Most of these dabbler wannabes put their modems
in the attic after a few weeks, and most of the remainder minded their
P's and Q's and stayed well out of hot water. But some stubborn and
talented diehards had this hacker kid in War Games figured for a
happening dude. They simply could not rest until they had contacted
the underground--or, failing that, created their own.

In the mid-80s, underground boards sprang up like digital fungi.
ShadowSpawn Elite. Sherwood Forest I, II, and III. Digital Logic Data
Service in Florida, sysoped by no less a man than "Digital Logic"
himself; Lex Luthor of the Legion of Doom was prominent on this board,
since it was in his area code. Lex's own board, "Legion of Doom,"
started in 1984. The Neon Knights ran a network of Apple-hacker
boards: Neon Knights North, South, East and West. Free World II was
run by "Major Havoc." Lunatic Labs is still in operation as of this
writing. Dr. Ripco in Chicago, an anything-goes anarchist board with
an extensive and raucous history, was seized by Secret Service agents
in 1990 on Sundevil day, but up again almost immediately, with new
machines and scarcely diminished vigor.

The St. Louis scene was not to rank with major centers of American
hacking such as New York and L.A. But St. Louis did rejoice in
possession of "Knight Lightning" and "Taran King," two of the foremost
JOURNALISTS native to the underground. Missouri boards like Metal
Shop, Metal Shop Private, Metal Shop Brewery, may not have been the
heaviest boards around in terms of illicit expertise. But they became
boards where hackers could exchange social gossip and try to figure out
what the heck was going on nationally--and internationally. Gossip
from Metal Shop was put into the form of news files, then assembled
into a general electronic publication, Phrack, a portmanteau title
coined from "phreak" and "hack." The Phrack editors were as obsessively
curious about other hackers as hackers were about machines.

Phrack, being free of charge and lively reading, began to circulate
throughout the underground. As Taran King and Knight Lightning left
high school for college, Phrack began to appear on mainframe machines
linked to BITNET, and, through BITNET to the "Internet," that loose but
extremely potent not-for-profit network where academic, governmental
and corporate machines trade data through the UNIX TCP/IP protocol.
(The "Internet Worm" of November 2-3,1988, created by Cornell grad
student Robert Morris, was to be the largest and best-publicized
computer-intrusion scandal to date. Morris claimed that his ingenious
"worm" program was meant to harmlessly explore the Internet, but due to
bad programming, the Worm replicated out of control and crashed some
six thousand Internet computers. Smaller-scale and less ambitious
Internet hacking was a standard for the underground elite.)

Most any underground board not hopelessly lame and out-of-it would
feature a complete run of Phrack--and, possibly, the lesser-known
standards of the underground: the Legion of Doom Technical Journal, the
obscene and raucous Cult of the Dead Cow files, P/HUN magazine,
Pirate, the Syndicate Reports, and perhaps the highly anarcho-political
Activist Times Incorporated.

Possession of Phrack on one's board was prima facie evidence of a bad
attitude. Phrack was seemingly everywhere, aiding, abetting, and
spreading the underground ethos. And this did not escape the attention
of corporate security or the police.

We now come to the touchy subject of police and boards. Police, do, in
fact, own boards. In 1989, there were police-sponsored boards in
California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri,
Texas, and Virginia: boards such as "Crime Bytes," "Crimestoppers,"
"All Points" and "Bullet-N-Board." Police officers, as private
computer enthusiasts, ran their own boards in Arizona, California,
Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Maryland, New Mexico, North
Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. Police boards have often proved
helpful in community relations. Sometimes crimes are reported on
police boards.

Sometimes crimes are COMMITTED on police boards. This has sometimes
happened by accident, as naive hackers blunder onto police boards and
blithely begin offering telephone codes. Far more often, however, it
occurs through the now almost-traditional use of "sting boards." The
first police sting-boards were established in 1985: "Underground
Tunnel" in Austin, Texas, whose sysop Sgt. Robert Ansley called himself
"Pluto"--"The Phone Company" in Phoenix, Arizona, run by Ken MacLeod of
the Maricopa County Sheriff's office--and Sgt. Dan Pasquale's board in
Fremont, California. Sysops posed as hackers, and swiftly garnered
coteries of ardent users, who posted codes and loaded pirate software
with abandon, and came to a sticky end.

Sting boards, like other boards, are cheap to operate, very cheap by
the standards of undercover police operations. Once accepted by the
local underground, sysops will likely be invited into other pirate
boards, where they can compile more dossiers. And when the sting is
announced and the worst offenders arrested, the publicity is generally
gratifying. The resultant paranoia in the underground--perhaps more
justly described as a "deterrence effect"--tends to quell local
lawbreaking for quite a while.

Obviously police do not have to beat the underbrush for hackers. On
the contrary, they can go trolling for them. Those caught can be
grilled. Some become useful informants. They can lead the way to
pirate boards all across the country.

And boards all across the country showed the sticky fingerprints of
Phrack, and of that loudest and most flagrant of all underground
groups, the "Legion of Doom."

The term "Legion of Doom" came from comic books. The Legion of Doom, a
conspiracy of costumed super-villains headed by the chrome-domed
criminal ultra-mastermind Lex Luthor, gave Superman a lot of four-color
graphic trouble for a number of decades. Of course, Superman, that
exemplar of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, always won in the
long run. This didn't matter to the hacker Doomsters--"Legion of Doom"
was not some thunderous and evil Satanic reference, it was not meant to
be taken seriously. "Legion of Doom" came from funny-books and was
supposed to be funny.

"Legion of Doom" did have a good mouthfilling ring to it, though. It
sounded really cool. Other groups, such as the "Farmers of Doom,"
closely allied to LoD, recognized this grandiloquent quality, and made
fun of it. There was even a hacker group called "Justice League of
America," named after Superman's club of true-blue crimefighting

But they didn't last; the Legion did.

The original Legion of Doom, hanging out on Quasi Moto's Plovernet
board, were phone phreaks. They weren't much into computers. "Lex
Luthor" himself (who was under eighteen when he formed the Legion) was
a COSMOS expert, COSMOS being the "Central System for Mainframe
Operations," a telco internal computer network. Lex would eventually
become quite a dab hand at breaking into IBM mainframes, but although
everyone liked Lex and admired his attitude, he was not considered a
truly accomplished computer intruder. Nor was he the "mastermind" of
the Legion of Doom--LoD were never big on formal leadership. As a
regular on Plovernet and sysop of his "Legion of Doom BBS," Lex was the
Legion's cheerleader and recruiting officer.

Legion of Doom began on the ruins of an earlier phreak group, The
Knights of Shadow. Later, LoD was to subsume the personnel of the
hacker group "Tribunal of Knowledge." People came and went constantly
in LoD; groups split up or formed offshoots.

Early on, the LoD phreaks befriended a few computer-intrusion
enthusiasts, who became the associated "Legion of Hackers." Then the
two groups conflated into the "Legion of Doom/Hackers," or LoD/H. When
the original "hacker" wing, Messrs. "Compu-Phreak" and "Phucked Agent
04," found other matters to occupy their time, the extra "/H" slowly
atrophied out of the name; but by this time the phreak wing, Messrs.
Lex Luthor, "Blue Archer," "Gary Seven," "Kerrang Khan," "Master of
Impact," "Silver Spy," "The Marauder," and "The Videosmith," had picked
up a plethora of intrusion expertise and had become a force to be
reckoned with.

LoD members seemed to have an instinctive understanding that the way to
real power in the underground lay through covert publicity. LoD were
flagrant. Not only was it one of the earliest groups, but the members
took pains to widely distribute their illicit knowledge. Some LoD
members, like "The Mentor," were close to evangelical about it. Legion
of Doom Technical Journal began to show up on boards throughout the

LoD Technical Journal was named in cruel parody of the ancient and
honored AT&T Technical Journal. The material in these two publications
was quite similar--much of it, adopted from public journals and
discussions in the telco community. And yet, the predatory attitude of
LoD made even its most innocuous data seem deeply sinister; an outrage;
a clear and present danger.

To see why this should be, let's consider the following (invented)
paragraphs, as a kind of thought experiment.

(A) "W. Fred Brown, AT&T Vice President for Advanced Technical
Development, testified May 8 at a Washington hearing of the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), regarding
Bellcore's GARDEN project. GARDEN (Generalized Automatic Remote
Distributed Electronic Network) is a telephone-switch programming tool
that makes it possible to develop new telecom services, including
hold-on-hold and customized message transfers, from any keypad
terminal, within seconds. The GARDEN prototype combines centrex lines
with a minicomputer using UNIX operating system software."

(B) "Crimson Flash 512 of the Centrex Mobsters reports: D00dz, you
wouldn't believe this GARDEN bullshit Bellcore's just come up with!
Now you don't even need a lousy Commodore to reprogram a switch--just
log on to GARDEN as a technician, and you can reprogram switches right
off the keypad in any public phone booth! You can give yourself
hold-on-hold and customized message transfers, and best of all, the
thing is run off (notoriously insecure) centrex lines using--get
this--standard UNIX software! Ha ha ha ha!"

Message (A), couched in typical techno-bureaucratese, appears tedious
and almost unreadable. (A) scarcely seems threatening or menacing.
Message (B), on the other hand, is a dreadful thing, prima facie
evidence of a dire conspiracy, definitely not the kind of thing you
want your teenager reading.

The INFORMATION, however, is identical. It is PUBLIC information,
presented before the federal government in an open hearing. It is not
"secret." It is not "proprietary." It is not even "confidential." On
the contrary, the development of advanced software systems is a matter
of great public pride to Bellcore.

However, when Bellcore publicly announces a project of this kind, it
expects a certain attitude from the public--something along the lines
IS--certainly not cruel mimickry, one-upmanship and outrageous
speculations about possible security holes.

Now put yourself in the place of a policeman confronted by an outraged
parent, or telco official, with a copy of Version (B). This
well-meaning citizen, to his horror, has discovered a local
bulletin-board carrying outrageous stuff like (B), which his son is
examining with a deep and unhealthy interest. If (B) were printed in a
book or magazine, you, as an American law enforcement officer, would
know that it would take a hell of a lot of trouble to do anything about
it; but it doesn't take technical genius to recognize that if there's a
computer in your area harboring stuff like (B), there's going to be

In fact, if you ask around, any computer-literate cop will tell you
straight out that boards with stuff like (B) are the SOURCE of trouble.
And the WORST source of trouble on boards are the ringleaders inventing
and spreading stuff like (B). If it weren't for these jokers, there
wouldn't BE any trouble.

And Legion of Doom were on boards like nobody else. Plovernet. The
Legion of Doom Board. The Farmers of Doom Board. Metal Shop. OSUNY.
Blottoland. Private Sector. Atlantis. Digital Logic. Hell Phrozen

LoD members also ran their own boards. "Silver Spy" started his own
board, "Catch-22," considered one of the heaviest around. So did
"Mentor," with his "Phoenix Project." When they didn't run boards
themselves, they showed up on other people's boards, to brag, boast,
and strut. And where they themselves didn't go, their philes went,
carrying evil knowledge and an even more evil attitude.

As early as 1986, the police were under the vague impression that
EVERYONE in the underground was Legion of Doom. LoD was never that
large--considerably smaller than either "Metal Communications" or "The
Administration," for instance--but LoD got tremendous press.
Especially in Phrack, which at times read like an LoD fan magazine; and
Phrack was everywhere, especially in the offices of telco security.
You couldn't GET busted as a phone phreak, a hacker, or even a lousy
codes kid or warez dood, without the cops asking if you were LoD.

This was a difficult charge to deny, as LoD never distributed
membership badges or laminated ID cards. If they had, they would
likely have died out quickly, for turnover in their membership was
considerable. LoD was less a high-tech street-gang than an ongoing
state-of-mind. LoD was the Gang That Refused to Die. By 1990, LoD had
RULED for ten years, and it seemed WEIRD to police that they were
continually busting people who were only sixteen years old. All these
teenage small-timers were pleading the tiresome hacker litany of "just
curious, no criminal intent." Somewhere at the center of this
conspiracy there had to be some serious adult masterminds, not this
seemingly endless supply of myopic suburban white kids with high SATs
and funny haircuts.

There was no question that most any American hacker arrested would
"know" LoD. They knew the handles of contributors to LoD Tech Journal,
and were likely to have learned their craft through LoD boards and LoD
activism. But they'd never met anyone from LoD. Even some of the
rotating cadre who were actually and formally "in LoD" knew one another
only by board-mail and pseudonyms. This was a highly unconventional
profile for a criminal conspiracy. Computer networking, and the rapid
evolution of the digital underground, made the situation very diffuse
and confusing.

Furthermore, a big reputation in the digital underground did not
coincide with one's willingness to commit "crimes." Instead, reputation
was based on cleverness and technical mastery. As a result, it often
seemed that the HEAVIER the hackers were, the LESS likely they were to
have committed any kind of common, easily prosecutable crime. There
were some hackers who could really steal. And there were hackers who
could really hack. But the two groups didn't seem to overlap much, if
at all. For instance, most people in the underground looked up to
"Emmanuel Goldstein" of 2600 as a hacker demigod. But Goldstein's
publishing activities were entirely legal--Goldstein just printed dodgy
stuff and talked about politics, he didn't even hack. When you came
right down to it, Goldstein spent half his time complaining that
computer security WASN'T STRONG ENOUGH and ought to be drastically
improved across the board!

Truly heavy-duty hackers, those with serious technical skills who had
earned the respect of the underground, never stole money or abused
credit cards. Sometimes they might abuse phone-codes--but often, they
seemed to get all the free phone-time they wanted without leaving a
trace of any kind.

The best hackers, the most powerful and technically accomplished, were
not professional fraudsters. They raided computers habitually, but
wouldn't alter anything, or damage anything. They didn't even steal
computer equipment--most had day-jobs messing with hardware, and could
get all the cheap secondhand equipment they wanted. The hottest
hackers, unlike the teenage wannabes, weren't snobs about fancy or
expensive hardware. Their machines tended to be raw second-hand
digital hot-rods full of custom add-ons that they'd cobbled together
out of chickenwire, memory chips and spit. Some were adults, computer
software writers and consultants by trade, and making quite good
livings at it. Some of them ACTUALLY WORKED FOR THE PHONE COMPANY--and
for those, the "hackers" actually found under the skirts of Ma Bell,
there would be little mercy in 1990.

It has long been an article of faith in the underground that the "best"
hackers never get caught. They're far too smart, supposedly. They
never get caught because they never boast, brag, or strut. These
demigods may read underground boards (with a condescending smile), but
they never say anything there. The "best" hackers, according to
legend, are adult computer professionals, such as mainframe system
administrators, who already know the ins and outs of their particular
brand of security. Even the "best" hacker can't break in to just any
computer at random: the knowledge of security holes is too specialized,
varying widely with different software and hardware. But if people are
employed to run, say, a UNIX mainframe or a VAX/VMS machine, then they
tend to learn security from the inside out. Armed with this knowledge,
they can look into most anybody else's UNIX or VMS without much trouble
or risk, if they want to. And, according to hacker legend, of course
they want to, so of course they do. They just don't make a big deal of
what they've done. So nobody ever finds out.

It is also an article of faith in the underground that professional
telco people "phreak" like crazed weasels. OF COURSE they spy on
Madonna's phone calls--I mean, WOULDN'T YOU? Of course they give
themselves free long-distance--why the hell should THEY pay, they're
running the whole shebang!

It has, as a third matter, long been an article of faith that any
hacker caught can escape serious punishment if he confesses HOW HE DID
IT. Hackers seem to believe that governmental agencies and large
corporations are blundering about in cyberspace like eyeless jellyfish
or cave salamanders. They feel that these large but pathetically
stupid organizations will proffer up genuine gratitude, and perhaps
even a security post and a big salary, to the hot-shot intruder who
will deign to reveal to them the supreme genius of his modus operandi.

In the case of longtime LoD member "Control-C," this actually happened,
more or less. Control-C had led Michigan Bell a merry chase, and when
captured in 1987, he turned out to be a bright and apparently
physically harmless young fanatic, fascinated by phones. There was no
chance in hell that Control-C would actually repay the enormous and
largely theoretical sums in long-distance service that he had
accumulated from Michigan Bell. He could always be indicted for fraud
or computer-intrusion, but there seemed little real point in this--he
hadn't physically damaged any computer. He'd just plead guilty, and
he'd likely get the usual slap-on-the-wrist, and in the meantime it
would be a big hassle for Michigan Bell just to bring up the case. But
if kept on the payroll, he might at least keep his fellow hackers at

There were uses for him. For instance, a contrite Control-C was
featured on Michigan Bell internal posters, sternly warning employees
to shred their trash. He'd always gotten most of his best inside info
from "trashing"--raiding telco dumpsters, for useful data indiscreetly
thrown away. He signed these posters, too. Control-C had become
something like a Michigan Bell mascot. And in fact, Control-C DID keep
other hackers at bay. Little hackers were quite scared of Control-C
and his heavy-duty Legion of Doom friends. And big hackers WERE his
friends and didn't want to screw up his cushy situation.

No matter what one might say of LoD, they did stick together. When
"Wasp," an apparently genuinely malicious New York hacker, began
crashing Bellcore machines, Control-C received swift volunteer help
from "the Mentor" and the Georgia LoD wing made up of "The Prophet,"
"Urvile," and "Leftist." Using Mentor's Phoenix Project board to
coordinate, the Doomsters helped telco security to trap Wasp, by luring
him into a machine with a tap and line-trace installed. Wasp lost.
LoD won! And my, did they brag.

Urvile, Prophet and Leftist were well-qualified for this activity,
probably more so even than the quite accomplished Control-C. The
Georgia boys knew all about phone switching-stations. Though relative
johnny-come-latelies in the Legion of Doom, they were considered some
of LoD's heaviest guys, into the hairiest systems around. They had the
good fortune to live in or near Atlanta, home of the sleepy and
apparently tolerant BellSouth RBOC.

As RBOC security went, BellSouth were "cake." US West (of Arizona, the
Rockies and the Pacific Northwest) were tough and aggressive, probably
the heaviest RBOC around. Pacific Bell, California's PacBell, were
sleek, high-tech, and longtime veterans of the LA phone-phreak wars.
NYNEX had the misfortune to run the New York City area, and were warily
prepared for most anything. Even Michigan Bell, a division of the
Ameritech RBOC, at least had the elementary sense to hire their own
hacker as a useful scarecrow. But BellSouth, even though their
corporate P.R. proclaimed them to have "Everything You Expect From a
Leader," were pathetic.

When rumor about LoD's mastery of Georgia's switching network got
around to BellSouth through Bellcore and telco security scuttlebutt,
they at first refused to believe it. If you paid serious attention to
every rumor out and about these hacker kids, you would hear all kinds
of wacko saucer-nut nonsense: that the National Security Agency
monitored all American phone calls, that the CIA and DEA tracked
traffic on bulletin-boards with word-analysis programs, that the Condor
could start World War III from a payphone.

If there were hackers into BellSouth switching-stations, then how come
nothing had happened? Nothing had been hurt. BellSouth's machines
weren't crashing. BellSouth wasn't suffering especially badly from
fraud. BellSouth's customers weren't complaining. BellSouth was
headquartered in Atlanta, ambitious metropolis of the new high-tech
Sunbelt; and BellSouth was upgrading its network by leaps and bounds,
digitizing the works left right and center. They could hardly be
considered sluggish or naive. BellSouth's technical expertise was
second to none, thank you kindly. But then came the Florida business.

On June 13, 1989, callers to the Palm Beach County Probation
Department, in Delray Beach, Florida, found themselves involved in a
remarkable discussion with a phone-sex worker named "Tina" in New York
State. Somehow, ANY call to this probation office near Miami was
instantly and magically transported across state lines, at no extra
charge to the user, to a pornographic phone-sex hotline hundreds of
miles away!

This practical joke may seem utterly hilarious at first hearing, and
indeed there was a good deal of chuckling about it in phone phreak
circles, including the Autumn 1989 issue of 2600. But for Southern
Bell (the division of the BellSouth RBOC supplying local service for
Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina), this was a
smoking gun. For the first time ever, a computer intruder had broken
into a BellSouth central office switching station and re-programmed it!

Or so BellSouth thought in June 1989. Actually, LoD members had been
frolicking harmlessly in BellSouth switches since September 1987. The
stunt of June 13--call-forwarding a number through manipulation of a
switching station--was child's play for hackers as accomplished as the
Georgia wing of LoD. Switching calls interstate sounded like a big
deal, but it took only four lines of code to accomplish this. An easy,
yet more discreet, stunt, would be to call-forward another number to
your own house. If you were careful and considerate, and changed the
software back later, then not a soul would know. Except you. And
whoever you had bragged to about it.

As for BellSouth, what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

Except now somebody had blown the whole thing wide open, and BellSouth

A now alerted and considerably paranoid BellSouth began searching
switches right and left for signs of impropriety, in that hot summer of
1989. No fewer than forty-two BellSouth employees were put on 12-hour
shifts, twenty-four hours a day, for two solid months, poring over
records and monitoring computers for any sign of phony access. These
forty-two overworked experts were known as BellSouth's "Intrusion Task

What the investigators found astounded them. Proprietary telco
databases had been manipulated: phone numbers had been created out of
thin air, with no users' names and no addresses. And perhaps worst of
all, no charges and no records of use. The new digital ReMOB (Remote
Observation) diagnostic feature had been extensively tampered
with--hackers had learned to reprogram ReMOB software, so that they
could listen in on any switch-routed call at their leisure! They were
using telco property to SPY!

The electrifying news went out throughout law enforcement in 1989. It
had never really occurred to anyone at BellSouth that their prized and
brand-new digital switching-stations could be RE-PROGRAMMED. People
seemed utterly amazed that anyone could have the nerve. Of course
these switching stations were "computers," and everybody knew hackers
liked to "break into computers:" but telephone people's computers were
DIFFERENT from normal people's computers.

The exact reason WHY these computers were "different" was rather
ill-defined. It certainly wasn't the extent of their security. The
security on these BellSouth computers was lousy; the AIMSX computers,
for instance, didn't even have passwords. But there was no question
that BellSouth strongly FELT that their computers were very different
indeed. And if there were some criminals out there who had not gotten
that message, BellSouth was determined to see that message taught.

After all, a 5ESS switching station was no mere bookkeeping system for
some local chain of florists. Public service depended on these
stations. Public SAFETY depended on these stations.

And hackers, lurking in there call-forwarding or ReMobbing, could spy
on anybody in the local area! They could spy on telco officials! They
could spy on police stations! They could spy on local offices of the
Secret Service....

In 1989, electronic cops and hacker-trackers began using
scrambler-phones and secured lines. It only made sense. There was no
telling who was into those systems. Whoever they were, they sounded
scary. This was some new level of antisocial daring. Could be West
German hackers, in the pay of the KGB. That too had seemed a weird and
farfetched notion, until Clifford Stoll had poked and prodded a
sluggish Washington law-enforcement bureaucracy into investigating a
computer intrusion that turned out to be exactly that--HACKERS, IN THE
PAY OF THE KGB! Stoll, the systems manager for an Internet lab in
Berkeley California, had ended up on the front page of the New Nork
Times, proclaimed a national hero in the first true story of
international computer espionage. Stoll's counterspy efforts, which he
related in a bestselling book, The Cuckoo's Egg, in 1989, had
established the credibility of 'hacking' as a possible threat to
national security. The United States Secret Service doesn't mess
around when it suspects a possible action by a foreign intelligence

The Secret Service scrambler-phones and secured lines put a tremendous
kink in law enforcement's ability to operate freely; to get the word
out, cooperate, prevent misunderstandings. Nevertheless, 1989 scarcely
seemed the time for half-measures. If the police and Secret Service
themselves were not operationally secure, then how could they
reasonably demand measures of security from private enterprise? At
least, the inconvenience made people aware of the seriousness of the

If there was a final spur needed to get the police off the dime, it
came in the realization that the emergency 911 system was vulnerable.
The 911 system has its own specialized software, but it is run on the
same digital switching systems as the rest of the telephone network.
911 is not physically different from normal telephony. But it is
certainly culturally different, because this is the area of telephonic
cyberspace reserved for the police and emergency services.

Your average policeman may not know much about hackers or
phone-phreaks. Computer people are weird; even computer COPS are
rather weird; the stuff they do is hard to figure out. But a threat to
the 911 system is anything but an abstract threat. If the 911 system
goes, people can die.

Imagine being in a car-wreck, staggering to a phone-booth, punching 911
and hearing "Tina" pick up the phone-sex line somewhere in New York!
The situation's no longer comical, somehow.

And was it possible? No question. Hackers had attacked 911 systems
before. Phreaks can max-out 911 systems just by siccing a bunch of
computer-modems on them in tandem, dialling them over and over until
they clog. That's very crude and low-tech, but it's still a serious

The time had come for action. It was time to take stern measures with
the underground. It was time to start picking up the dropped threads,
the loose edges, the bits of braggadocio here and there; it was time to
get on the stick and start putting serious casework together. Hackers
weren't "invisible." They THOUGHT they were invisible; but the truth
was, they had just been tolerated too long.

Under sustained police attention in the summer of '89, the digital
underground began to unravel as never before.

The first big break in the case came very early on: July 1989, the
following month. The perpetrator of the "Tina" switch was caught, and
confessed. His name was "Fry Guy," a 16-year-old in Indiana. Fry Guy
had been a very wicked young man.

Fry Guy had earned his handle from a stunt involving French fries. Fry
Guy had filched the log-in of a local MacDonald's manager and had
logged-on to the MacDonald's mainframe on the Sprint Telenet system.
Posing as the manager, Fry Guy had altered MacDonald's records, and
given some teenage hamburger-flipping friends of his, generous raises.
He had not been caught.

Emboldened by success, Fry Guy moved on to credit-card abuse. Fry Guy
was quite an accomplished talker; with a gift for "social engineering."
If you can do "social engineering"--fast-talk, fake-outs,
impersonation, conning, scamming--then card abuse comes easy. (Getting
away with it in the long run is another question).

Fry Guy had run across "Urvile" of the Legion of Doom on the ALTOS Chat
board in Bonn, Germany. ALTOS Chat was a sophisticated board,
accessible through globe-spanning computer networks like BITnet,
Tymnet, and Telenet. ALTOS was much frequented by members of Germany's
Chaos Computer Club. Two Chaos hackers who hung out on ALTOS, "Jaeger"
and "Pengo," had been the central villains of Clifford Stoll's Cuckoo's
Egg case: consorting in East Berlin with a spymaster from the KGB, and
breaking into American computers for hire, through the Internet.

When LoD members learned the story of Jaeger's depredations from
Stoll's book, they were rather less than impressed, technically
speaking. On LoD's own favorite board of the moment, "Black Ice," LoD
members bragged that they themselves could have done all the Chaos
break-ins in a week flat! Nevertheless, LoD were grudgingly impressed
by the Chaos rep, the sheer hairy-eyed daring of hash-smoking anarchist
hackers who had rubbed shoulders with the fearsome big-boys of
international Communist espionage. LoD members sometimes traded bits
of knowledge with friendly German hackers on ALTOS--phone numbers for
vulnerable VAX/VMS computers in Georgia, for instance. Dutch and
British phone phreaks, and the Australian clique of "Phoenix," "Nom,"
and "Electron," were ALTOS regulars, too. In underground circles, to
hang out on ALTOS was considered the sign of an elite dude, a
sophisticated hacker of the international digital jet-set.

Fry Guy quickly learned how to raid information from credit-card
consumer-reporting agencies. He had over a hundred stolen credit-card
numbers in his notebooks, and upwards of a thousand swiped
long-distance access codes. He knew how to get onto Altos, and how to
talk the talk of the underground convincingly. He now wheedled
knowledge of switching-station tricks from Urvile on the ALTOS system.

Combining these two forms of knowledge enabled Fry Guy to bootstrap his
way up to a new form of wire-fraud. First, he'd snitched credit card
numbers from credit-company computers. The data he copied included
names, addresses and phone numbers of the random card-holders.

Then Fry Guy, impersonating a card-holder, called up Western Union and
asked for a cash advance on "his" credit card. Western Union, as a
security guarantee, would call the customer back, at home, to verify
the transaction.

But, just as he had switched the Florida probation office to "Tina" in
New York, Fry Guy switched the card-holder's number to a local
pay-phone. There he would lurk in wait, muddying his trail by routing
and re-routing the call, through switches as far away as Canada. When
the call came through, he would boldly "social-engineer," or con, the
Western Union people, pretending to be the legitimate card-holder.
Since he'd answered the proper phone number, the deception was not very
hard. Western Union's money was then shipped to a confederate of Fry
Guy's in his home town in Indiana.

Fry Guy and his cohort, using LoD techniques, stole six thousand
dollars from Western Union between December 1988 and July 1989. They
also dabbled in ordering delivery of stolen goods through card-fraud.
Fry Guy was intoxicated with success. The sixteen-year-old fantasized
wildly to hacker rivals, boasting that he'd used rip-off money to hire
himself a big limousine, and had driven out-of-state with a groupie
from his favorite heavy-metal band, Motley Crue.

Armed with knowledge, power, and a gratifying stream of free money, Fry
Guy now took it upon himself to call local representatives of Indiana
Bell security, to brag, boast, strut, and utter tormenting warnings
that his powerful friends in the notorious Legion of Doom could crash
the national telephone network. Fry Guy even named a date for the
scheme: the Fourth of July, a national holiday.

This egregious example of the begging-for-arrest syndrome was shortly
followed by Fry Guy's arrest. After the Indiana telephone company
figured out who he was, the Secret Service had DNRs--Dialed Number
Recorders--installed on his home phone lines. These devices are not
taps, and can't record the substance of phone calls, but they do record
the phone numbers of all calls going in and out. Tracing these numbers
showed Fry Guy's long-distance code fraud, his extensive ties to pirate
bulletin boards, and numerous personal calls to his LoD friends in
Atlanta. By July 11, 1989, Prophet, Urvile and Leftist also had Secret
Service DNR "pen registers" installed on their own lines.

The Secret Service showed up in force at Fry Guy's house on July 22,
1989, to the horror of his unsuspecting parents. The raiders were led
by a special agent from the Secret Service's Indianapolis office.
However, the raiders were accompanied and advised by Timothy M. Foley
of the Secret Service's Chicago office (a gentleman about whom we will
soon be hearing a great deal).

Following federal computer-crime techniques that had been standard
since the early 1980s, the Secret Service searched the house
thoroughly, and seized all of Fry Guy's electronic equipment and
notebooks. All Fry Guy's equipment went out the door in the custody of
the Secret Service, which put a swift end to his depredations.

The USSS interrogated Fry Guy at length. His case was put in the
charge of Deborah Daniels, the federal US Attorney for the Southern
District of Indiana. Fry Guy was charged with eleven counts of
computer fraud, unauthorized computer access, and wire fraud. The
evidence was thorough and irrefutable. For his part, Fry Guy blamed
his corruption on the Legion of Doom and offered to testify against

Fry Guy insisted that the Legion intended to crash the phone system on
a national holiday. And when AT&T crashed on Martin Luther King Day,
1990, this lent a credence to his claim that genuinely alarmed telco
security and the Secret Service.

Fry Guy eventually pled guilty on May 31, 1990. On September 14, he
was sentenced to forty-four months' probation and four hundred hours'
community service. He could have had it much worse; but it made sense
to prosecutors to take it easy on this teenage minor, while zeroing in
on the notorious kingpins of the Legion of Doom.

But the case against LoD had nagging flaws. Despite the best effort of
investigators, it was impossible to prove that the Legion had crashed
the phone system on January 15, because they, in fact, hadn't done so.
The investigations of 1989 did show that certain members of the Legion
of Doom had achieved unprecedented power over the telco switching
stations, and that they were in active conspiracy to obtain more power
yet. Investigators were privately convinced that the Legion of Doom
intended to do awful things with this knowledge, but mere evil intent
was not enough to put them in jail.

And although the Atlanta Three--Prophet, Leftist, and especially
Urvile--had taught Fry Guy plenty, they were not themselves credit-card
fraudsters. The only thing they'd "stolen" was long-distance
service--and since they'd done much of that through phone-switch
manipulation, there was no easy way to judge how much they'd "stolen,"
or whether this practice was even "theft" of any easily recognizable

Fry Guy's theft of long-distance codes had cost the phone companies
plenty. The theft of long-distance service may be a fairly theoretical
"loss," but it costs genuine money and genuine time to delete all those
stolen codes, and to re-issue new codes to the innocent owners of those
corrupted codes. The owners of the codes themselves are victimized,
and lose time and money and peace of mind in the hassle. And then
there were the credit-card victims to deal with, too, and Western
Union. When it came to rip-off, Fry Guy was far more of a thief than
LoD. It was only when it came to actual computer expertise that Fry
Guy was small potatoes.

The Atlanta Legion thought most "rules" of cyberspace were for rodents
and losers, but they DID have rules. THEY NEVER CRASHED ANYTHING, AND
THEY NEVER TOOK MONEY. These were rough rules-of-thumb, and rather
dubious principles when it comes to the ethical subtleties of
cyberspace, but they enabled the Atlanta Three to operate with a
relatively clear conscience (though never with peace of mind).

If you didn't hack for money, if you weren't robbing people of actual
funds--money in the bank, that is--then nobody REALLY got hurt, in
LoD's opinion. "Theft of service" was a bogus issue, and "intellectual
property" was a bad joke. But LoD had only elitist contempt for
rip-off artists, "leechers," thieves. They considered themselves
clean. In their opinion, if you didn't smash-up or crash any systems
--(well, not on purpose, anyhow--accidents can happen, just ask Robert
Morris) then it was very unfair to call you a "vandal" or a "cracker."
When you were hanging out on-line with your "pals" in telco security,
you could face them down from the higher plane of hacker morality. And
you could mock the police from the supercilious heights of your
hacker's quest for pure knowledge.

But from the point of view of law enforcement and telco security,
however, Fry Guy was not really dangerous. The Atlanta Three WERE
dangerous. It wasn't the crimes they were committing, but the DANGER,
the potential hazard, the sheer TECHNICAL POWER LoD had accumulated,
that had made the situation untenable. Fry Guy was not LoD. He'd
never laid eyes on anyone in LoD; his only contacts with them had been
electronic. Core members of the Legion of Doom tended to meet
physically for conventions every year or so, to get drunk, give each
other the hacker high-sign, send out for pizza and ravage hotel suites.
Fry Guy had never done any of this. Deborah Daniels assessed Fry Guy
accurately as "an LoD wannabe."

Nevertheless Fry Guy's crimes would be directly attributed to LoD in
much future police propaganda. LoD would be described as "a closely
knit group" involved in "numerous illegal activities" including
"stealing and modifying individual credit histories," and "fraudulently
obtaining money and property." Fry Guy did this, but the Atlanta Three
didn't; they simply weren't into theft, but rather intrusion. This
caused a strange kink in the prosecution's strategy. LoD were accused
of "disseminating information about attacking computers to other
computer hackers in an effort to shift the focus of law enforcement to
those other hackers and away from the Legion of Doom."

This last accusation (taken directly from a press release by the
Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force) sounds particularly
far-fetched. One might conclude at this point that investigators would
have been well-advised to go ahead and "shift their focus" from the
"Legion of Doom." Maybe they SHOULD concentrate on "those other
hackers"--the ones who were actually stealing money and physical

But the Hacker Crackdown of 1990 was not a simple policing action. It
wasn't meant just to walk the beat in cyberspace--it was a CRACKDOWN, a
deliberate attempt to nail the core of the operation, to send a dire
and potent message that would settle the hash of the digital
underground for good.

By this reasoning, Fry Guy wasn't much more than the electronic
equivalent of a cheap streetcorner dope dealer. As long as the
masterminds of LoD were still flagrantly operating, pushing their
mountains of illicit knowledge right and left, and whipping up
enthusiasm for blatant lawbreaking, then there would be an INFINITE
SUPPLY of Fry Guys.

Because LoD were flagrant, they had left trails everywhere, to be
picked up by law enforcement in New York, Indiana, Florida, Texas,
Arizona, Missouri, even Australia. But 1990's war on the Legion of
Doom was led out of Illinois, by the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse
Task Force.


The Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force, led by federal prosecutor
William J. Cook, had started in 1987 and had swiftly become one of the
most aggressive local "dedicated computer-crime units." Chicago was a
natural home for such a group. The world's first computer
bulletin-board system had been invented in Illinois. The state of
Illinois had some of the nation's first and sternest computer crime
laws. Illinois State Police were markedly alert to the possibilities
of white-collar crime and electronic fraud.

And William J. Cook in particular was a rising star in electronic
crime-busting. He and his fellow federal prosecutors at the U.S.
Attorney's office in Chicago had a tight relation with the Secret
Service, especially go-getting Chicago-based agent Timothy Foley.
While Cook and his Department of Justice colleagues plotted strategy,
Foley was their man on the street.

Throughout the 1980s, the federal government had given prosecutors an
armory of new, untried legal tools against computer crime. Cook and
his colleagues were pioneers in the use of these new statutes in the
real-life cut-and-thrust of the federal courtroom.

On October 2, 1986, the US Senate had passed the "Computer Fraud and
Abuse Act" unanimously, but there were pitifully few convictions under
this statute. Cook's group took their name from this statute, since
they were determined to transform this powerful but rather theoretical
Act of Congress into a real-life engine of legal destruction against
computer fraudsters and scofflaws.

It was not a question of merely discovering crimes, investigating them,
and then trying and punishing their perpetrators. The Chicago unit,
like most everyone else in the business, already KNEW who the bad guys
were: the Legion of Doom and the writers and editors of Phrack. The
task at hand was to find some legal means of putting these characters

This approach might seem a bit dubious, to someone not acquainted with
the gritty realities of prosecutorial work. But prosecutors don't put
people in jail for crimes they have committed; they put people in jail
for crimes they have committed THAT CAN BE PROVED IN COURT. Chicago
federal police put Al Capone in prison for income-tax fraud. Chicago
is a big town, with a rough-and-ready bare-knuckle tradition on both
sides of the law.

Fry Guy had broken the case wide open and alerted telco security to the
scope of the problem. But Fry Guy's crimes would not put the Atlanta
Three behind bars--much less the wacko underground journalists of
Phrack. So on July 22, 1989, the same day that Fry Guy was raided in
Indiana, the Secret Service descended upon the Atlanta Three.

This was likely inevitable. By the summer of 1989, law enforcement
were closing in on the Atlanta Three from at least six directions at
once. First, there were the leads from Fry Guy, which had led to the
DNR registers being installed on the lines of the Atlanta Three. The
DNR evidence alone would have finished them off, sooner or later.

But second, the Atlanta lads were already well-known to Control-C and
his telco security sponsors. LoD's contacts with telco security had
made them overconfident and even more boastful than usual; they felt
that they had powerful friends in high places, and that they were being
openly tolerated by telco security. But BellSouth's Intrusion Task
Force were hot on the trail of LoD and sparing no effort or expense.

The Atlanta Three had also been identified by name and listed on the
extensive anti-hacker files maintained, and retailed for pay, by
private security operative John Maxfield of Detroit. Maxfield, who had
extensive ties to telco security and many informants in the
underground, was a bete noire of the Phrack crowd, and the dislike was

The Atlanta Three themselves had written articles for Phrack. This
boastful act could not possibly escape telco and law enforcement

"Knightmare," a high-school age hacker from Arizona, was a close friend
and disciple of Atlanta LoD, but he had been nabbed by the formidable
Arizona Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit. Knightmare was on some
of LoD's favorite boards--"Black Ice" in particular--and was privy to
their secrets. And to have Gail Thackeray, the Assistant Attorney
General of Arizona, on one's trail was a dreadful peril for any hacker.

And perhaps worst of all, Prophet had committed a major blunder by
passing an illicitly copied BellSouth computer-file to Knight
Lightning, who had published it in Phrack. This, as we will see, was
an act of dire consequence for almost everyone concerned.

On July 22, 1989, the Secret Service showed up at the Leftist's house,
where he lived with his parents. A massive squad of some twenty
officers surrounded the building: Secret Service, federal marshals,
local police, possibly BellSouth telco security; it was hard to tell in
the crush. Leftist's dad, at work in his basement office, first
noticed a muscular stranger in plain clothes crashing through the back
yard with a drawn pistol. As more strangers poured into the house,
Leftist's dad naturally assumed there was an armed robbery in progress.

Like most hacker parents, Leftist's mom and dad had only the vaguest
notions of what their son had been up to all this time. Leftist had a
day-job repairing computer hardware. His obsession with computers
seemed a bit odd, but harmless enough, and likely to produce a
well-paying career. The sudden, overwhelming raid left Leftist's
parents traumatized.

The Leftist himself had been out after work with his co-workers,
surrounding a couple of pitchers of margaritas. As he came trucking on
tequila-numbed feet up the pavement, toting a bag full of floppy-disks,
he noticed a large number of unmarked cars parked in his driveway. All
the cars sported tiny microwave antennas.

The Secret Service had knocked the front door off its hinges, almost
flattening his mom.

Inside, Leftist was greeted by Special Agent James Cool of the US
Secret Service, Atlanta office. Leftist was flabbergasted. He'd never
met a Secret Service agent before. He could not imagine that he'd ever
done anything worthy of federal attention. He'd always figured that if
his activities became intolerable, one of his contacts in telco
security would give him a private phone-call and tell him to knock it

But now Leftist was pat-searched for weapons by grim professionals, and
his bag of floppies was quickly seized. He and his parents were all
shepherded into separate rooms and grilled at length as a score of
officers scoured their home for anything electronic.

Leftist was horrified as his treasured IBM AT personal computer with
its forty-meg hard disk, and his recently purchased 80386 IBM-clone
with a whopping hundred-meg hard disk, both went swiftly out the door
in Secret Service custody. They also seized all his disks, all his
notebooks, and a tremendous booty in dogeared telco documents that
Leftist had snitched out of trash dumpsters.

Leftist figured the whole thing for a big misunderstanding. He'd never
been into MILITARY computers. He wasn't a SPY or a COMMUNIST. He was
just a good ol' Georgia hacker, and now he just wanted all these people
out of the house. But it seemed they wouldn't go until he made some
kind of statement.

And so, he levelled with them.

And that, Leftist said later from his federal prison camp in Talladega,
Alabama, was a big mistake. The Atlanta area was unique, in that it
had three members of the Legion of Doom who actually occupied more or
less the same physical locality. Unlike the rest of LoD, who tended to
associate by phone and computer, Atlanta LoD actually WERE "tightly
knit." It was no real surprise that the Secret Service agents
apprehending Urvile at the computer-labs at Georgia Tech, would
discover Prophet with him as well.

Urvile, a 21-year-old Georgia Tech student in polymer chemistry, posed
quite a puzzling case for law enforcement. Urvile--also known as
"Necron 99," as well as other handles, for he tended to change his
cover-alias about once a month--was both an accomplished hacker and a
fanatic simulation-gamer.

Simulation games are an unusual hobby; but then hackers are unusual
people, and their favorite pastimes tend to be somewhat out of the
ordinary. The best-known American simulation game is probably
"Dungeons & Dragons," a multi-player parlor entertainment played with
paper, maps, pencils, statistical tables and a variety of oddly-shaped
dice. Players pretend to be heroic characters exploring a
wholly-invented fantasy world. The fantasy worlds of simulation gaming
are commonly pseudo-medieval, involving swords and
sorcery--spell-casting wizards, knights in armor, unicorns and dragons,
demons and goblins.

Urvile and his fellow gamers preferred their fantasies highly
technological. They made use of a game known as "G.U.R.P.S.," the
"Generic Universal Role Playing System," published by a company called
Steve Jackson Games (SJG).

"G.U.R.P.S." served as a framework for creating a wide variety of
artificial fantasy worlds. Steve Jackson Games published a
smorgasboard of books, full of detailed information and gaming hints,
which were used to flesh-out many different fantastic backgrounds for
the basic GURPS framework. Urvile made extensive use of two SJG books
called GURPS High-Tech and GURPS Special Ops.

In the artificial fantasy-world of GURPS Special Ops, players entered a
modern fantasy of intrigue and international espionage. On beginning
the game, players started small and powerless, perhaps as minor-league
CIA agents or penny-ante arms dealers. But as players persisted
through a series of game sessions (game sessions generally lasted for
hours, over long, elaborate campaigns that might be pursued for months
on end) then they would achieve new skills, new knowledge, new power.
They would acquire and hone new abilities, such as marksmanship,
karate, wiretapping, or Watergate burglary. They could also win
various kinds of imaginary booty, like Berettas, or martini shakers, or
fast cars with ejection seats and machine-guns under the headlights.

As might be imagined from the complexity of these games, Urvile's
gaming notes were very detailed and extensive. Urvile was a
"dungeon-master," inventing scenarios for his fellow gamers, giant
simulated adventure-puzzles for his friends to unravel. Urvile's game
notes covered dozens of pages with all sorts of exotic lunacy, all
about ninja raids on Libya and break-ins on encrypted Red Chinese
supercomputers. His notes were written on scrap-paper and kept in
loose-leaf binders.

The handiest scrap paper around Urvile's college digs were the many
pounds of BellSouth printouts and documents that he had snitched out of
telco dumpsters. His notes were written on the back of misappropriated
telco property. Worse yet, the gaming notes were chaotically
interspersed with Urvile's hand-scrawled records involving ACTUAL
COMPUTER INTRUSIONS that he had committed.

Not only was it next to impossible to tell Urvile's fantasy game-notes
from cyberspace "reality," but Urvile himself barely made this
distinction. It's no exaggeration to say that to Urvile it was ALL a
game. Urvile was very bright, highly imaginative, and quite careless
of other people's notions of propriety. His connection to "reality"
was not something to which he paid a great deal of attention.

Hacking was a game for Urvile. It was an amusement he was carrying
out, it was something he was doing for fun. And Urvile was an
obsessive young man. He could no more stop hacking than he could stop
in the middle of a jigsaw puzzle, or stop in the middle of reading a
Stephen Donaldson fantasy trilogy. (The name "Urvile" came from a
best-selling Donaldson novel.)

Urvile's airy, bulletproof attitude seriously annoyed his
interrogators. First of all, he didn't consider that he'd done
anything wrong. There was scarcely a shred of honest remorse in him.
On the contrary, he seemed privately convinced that his police
interrogators were operating in a demented fantasy-world all their own.
Urvile was too polite and well-behaved to say this straight-out, but
his reactions were askew and disquieting.

For instance, there was the business about LoD's ability to monitor
phone-calls to the police and Secret Service. Urvile agreed that this
was quite possible, and posed no big problem for LoD. In fact, he and
his friends had kicked the idea around on the "Black Ice" board, much
as they had discussed many other nifty notions, such as building
personal flame-throwers and jury-rigging fistfulls of blasting-caps.
They had hundreds of dial-up numbers for government agencies that
they'd gotten through scanning Atlanta phones, or had pulled from
raided VAX/VMS mainframe computers.

Basically, they'd never gotten around to listening in on the cops
because the idea wasn't interesting enough to bother with. Besides, if
they'd been monitoring Secret Service phone calls, obviously they'd
never have been caught in the first place. Right?

The Secret Service was less than satisfied with this rapier-like hacker

Then there was the issue of crashing the phone system. No problem,
Urvile admitted sunnily. Atlanta LoD could have shut down phone
service all over Atlanta any time they liked. EVEN THE 911 SERVICE?
Nothing special about that, Urvile explained patiently. Bring the
switch to its knees, with say the UNIX "makedir" bug, and 911 goes down
too as a matter of course. The 911 system wasn't very interesting,
frankly. It might be tremendously interesting to cops (for odd reasons
of their own), but as technical challenges went, the 911 service was

So of course the Atlanta Three could crash service. They probably
could have crashed service all over BellSouth territory, if they'd
worked at it for a while. But Atlanta LoD weren't crashers. Only
losers and rodents were crashers. LoD were ELITE.

Urvile was privately convinced that sheer technical expertise could win
him free of any kind of problem. As far as he was concerned, elite
status in the digital underground had placed him permanently beyond the
intellectual grasp of cops and straights. Urvile had a lot to learn.

Of the three LoD stalwarts, Prophet was in the most direct trouble.
Prophet was a UNIX programming expert who burrowed in and out of the
Internet as a matter of course. He'd started his hacking career at
around age 14, meddling with a UNIX mainframe system at the University
of North Carolina.

Prophet himself had written the handy Legion of Doom file "UNIX Use and
Security From the Ground Up." UNIX (pronounced "you-nicks") is a
powerful, flexible computer operating-system, for multi-user,
multi-tasking computers. In 1969, when UNIX was created in Bell Labs,
such computers were exclusive to large corporations and universities,
but today UNIX is run on thousands of powerful home machines. UNIX was
particularly well-suited to telecommunications programming, and had
become a standard in the field. Naturally, UNIX also became a standard
for the elite hacker and phone phreak. Lately, Prophet had not been so
active as Leftist and Urvile, but Prophet was a recidivist. In 1986,
when he was eighteen, Prophet had been convicted of "unauthorized
access to a computer network" in North Carolina. He'd been discovered
breaking into the Southern Bell Data Network, a UNIX-based internal
telco network supposedly closed to the public. He'd gotten a typical
hacker sentence: six months suspended, 120 hours community service,
and three years' probation.

After that humiliating bust, Prophet had gotten rid of most of his
tonnage of illicit phreak and hacker data, and had tried to go
straight. He was, after all, still on probation. But by the autumn
of 1988, the temptations of cyberspace had proved too much for young
Prophet, and he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Urvile and Leftist into
some of the hairiest systems around.

In early September 1988, he'd broken into BellSouth's centralized
automation system, AIMSX or "Advanced Information Management System."
AIMSX was an internal business network for BellSouth, where telco
employees stored electronic mail, databases, memos, and calendars, and
did text processing. Since AIMSX did not have public dial-ups, it was
considered utterly invisible to the public, and was not well-secured--it
didn't even require passwords. Prophet abused an account known as
"waa1," the personal account of an unsuspecting telco employee.
Disguised as the owner of waa1, Prophet made about ten visits to AIMSX.

Prophet did not damage or delete anything in the system. His presence
in AIMSX was harmless and almost invisible. But he could not rest
content with that.

One particular piece of processed text on AIMSX was a telco document
known as "Bell South Standard Practice 660-225-104SV Control Office
Administration of Enhanced 911 Services for Special Services and Major
Account Centers dated March 1988."

Prophet had not been looking for this document. It was merely one
among hundreds of similar documents with impenetrable titles. However,
having blundered over it in the course of his illicit wanderings
through AIMSX, he decided to take it with him as a trophy. It might
prove very useful in some future boasting, bragging, and strutting
session. So, some time in September 1988, Prophet ordered the AIMSX
mainframe computer to copy this document (henceforth called simply
called "the E911 Document") and to transfer this copy to his home

No one noticed that Prophet had done this. He had "stolen" the E911
Document in some sense, but notions of property in cyberspace can be
tricky. BellSouth noticed nothing wrong, because BellSouth still had
their original copy. They had not been "robbed" of the document
itself. Many people were supposed to copy this document--specifically,
people who worked for the nineteen BellSouth "special services and
major account centers," scattered throughout the Southeastern United
States. That was what it was for, why it was present on a computer
network in the first place: so that it could be copied and read--by
telco employees. But now the data had been copied by someone who
wasn't supposed to look at it.

Prophet now had his trophy. But he further decided to store yet
another copy of the E911 Document on another person's computer. This
unwitting person was a computer enthusiast named Richard Andrews who
lived near Joliet, Illinois. Richard Andrews was a UNIX programmer by
trade, and ran a powerful UNIX board called "Jolnet," in the basement
of his house.

Prophet, using the handle "Robert Johnson," had obtained an account on
Richard Andrews' computer. And there he stashed the E911 Document, by
storing it in his own private section of Andrews' computer.

Why did Prophet do this? If Prophet had eliminated the E911 Document
from his own computer, and kept it hundreds of miles away, on another
machine, under an alias, then he might have been fairly safe from
discovery and prosecution--although his sneaky action had certainly put
the unsuspecting Richard Andrews at risk.

But, like most hackers, Prophet was a pack-rat for illicit data. When
it came to the crunch, he could not bear to part from his trophy. When
Prophet's place in Decatur, Georgia was raided in July 1989, there was
the E911 Document, a smoking gun. And there was Prophet in the hands
of the Secret Service, doing his best to "explain."

Our story now takes us away from the Atlanta Three and their raids of
the Summer of 1989. We must leave Atlanta Three "cooperating fully"
with their numerous investigators. And all three of them did
cooperate, as their Sentencing Memorandum from the US District Court of
the Northern Division of Georgia explained--just before all three of
them were sentenced to various federal prisons in November 1990.

We must now catch up on the other aspects of the war on the Legion of
Doom. The war on the Legion was a war on a network--in fact, a network
of three networks, which intertwined and interrelated in a complex
fashion. The Legion itself, with Atlanta LoD, and their hanger-on Fry
Guy, were the first network. The second network was Phrack magazine,
with its editors and contributors.

The third network involved the electronic circle around a hacker known
as "Terminus."

The war against these hacker networks was carried out by a law
enforcement network. Atlanta LoD and Fry Guy were pursued by USSS
agents and federal prosecutors in Atlanta, Indiana, and Chicago.
"Terminus" found himself pursued by USSS and federal prosecutors from
Baltimore and Chicago. And the war against Phrack was almost entirely
a Chicago operation.

The investigation of Terminus involved a great deal of energy, mostly
from the Chicago Task Force, but it was to be the least-known and
least-publicized of the Crackdown operations. Terminus, who lived in
Maryland, was a UNIX programmer and consultant, fairly well-known
(under his given name) in the UNIX community, as an acknowledged expert
on AT&T minicomputers. Terminus idolized AT&T, especially Bellcore,
and longed for public recognition as a UNIX expert; his highest
ambition was to work for Bell Labs.

But Terminus had odd friends and a spotted history. Terminus had once
been the subject of an admiring interview in Phrack (Volume II, Issue
14, Phile 2--dated May 1987). In this article, Phrack co-editor Taran
King described "Terminus" as an electronics engineer, 5'9",
brown-haired, born in 1959--at 28 years old, quite mature for a hacker.

Terminus had once been sysop of a phreak/hack underground board called
"MetroNet," which ran on an Apple II. Later he'd replaced "MetroNet"
with an underground board called "MegaNet," specializing in IBMs. In
his younger days, Terminus had written one of the very first and most
elegant code-scanning programs for the IBM-PC. This program had been
widely distributed in the underground. Uncounted legions of PC-owning
phreaks and hackers had used Terminus's scanner program to rip-off
telco codes. This feat had not escaped the attention of telco
security; it hardly could, since Terminus's earlier handle, "Terminal
Technician," was proudly written right on the program.

When he became a full-time computer professional (specializing in
telecommunications programming), he adopted the handle Terminus, meant
to indicate that he had "reached the final point of being a proficient
hacker." He'd moved up to the UNIX-based "Netsys" board on an AT&T
computer, with four phone lines and an impressive 240 megs of storage.
"Netsys" carried complete issues of Phrack, and Terminus was quite
friendly with its publishers, Taran King and Knight Lightning.

In the early 1980s, Terminus had been a regular on Plovernet,
Pirate-80, Sherwood Forest and Shadowland, all well-known pirate
boards, all heavily frequented by the Legion of Doom. As it happened,
Terminus was never officially "in LoD," because he'd never been given
the official LoD high-sign and back-slap by Legion maven Lex Luthor.
Terminus had never physically met anyone from LoD. But that scarcely
mattered much--the Atlanta Three themselves had never been officially
vetted by Lex, either.

As far as law enforcement was concerned, the issues were clear.
Terminus was a full-time, adult computer professional with particular
skills at AT&T software and hardware--but Terminus reeked of the
Legion of Doom and the underground.

On February 1, 1990--half a month after the Martin Luther King Day
Crash--USSS agents Tim Foley from Chicago, and Jack Lewis from the
Baltimore office, accompanied by AT&T security officer Jerry Dalton,
travelled to Middle Town, Maryland. There they grilled Terminus in his
home (to the stark terror of his wife and small children), and, in
their customary fashion, hauled his computers out the door.

The Netsys machine proved to contain a plethora of arcane UNIX
software--proprietary source code formally owned by AT&T. Software
such as: UNIX System Five Release 3.2; UNIX SV Release 3.1; UUCP
communications software; KORN SHELL; RFS; IWB; WWB; DWB; the C++
programming language; PMON; TOOL CHEST; QUEST; DACT, and S FIND.

In the long-established piratical tradition of the underground,
Terminus had been trading this illicitly-copied software with a small
circle of fellow UNIX programmers. Very unwisely, he had stored seven
years of his electronic mail on his Netsys machine, which documented
all the friendly arrangements he had made with his various colleagues.

Terminus had not crashed the AT&T phone system on January 15. He was,
however, blithely running a not-for-profit AT&T software-piracy ring.
This was not an activity AT&T found amusing. AT&T security officer
Jerry Dalton valued this "stolen" property at over three hundred
thousand dollars.

AT&T's entry into the tussle of free enterprise had been complicated by
the new, vague groundrules of the information economy. Until the
break-up of Ma Bell, AT&T was forbidden to sell computer hardware or
software. Ma Bell was the phone company; Ma Bell was not allowed to
use the enormous revenue from telephone utilities, in order to finance
any entry into the computer market.

AT&T nevertheless invented the UNIX operating system. And somehow AT&T
managed to make UNIX a minor source of income. Weirdly, UNIX was not
sold as computer software, but actually retailed under an obscure
regulatory exemption allowing sales of surplus equipment and scrap.
Any bolder attempt to promote or retail UNIX would have aroused angry
legal opposition from computer companies. Instead, UNIX was licensed
to universities, at modest rates, where the acids of academic freedom
ate away steadily at AT&T's proprietary rights.

Come the breakup, AT&T recognized that UNIX was a potential gold-mine.
By now, large chunks of UNIX code had been created that were not
AT&T's, and were being sold by others. An entire rival UNIX-based
operating system had arisen in Berkeley, California (one of the
world's great founts of ideological hackerdom). Today, "hackers"
commonly consider "Berkeley UNIX" to be technically superior to AT&T's
"System V UNIX," but AT&T has not allowed mere technical elegance to
intrude on the real-world business of marketing proprietary software.
AT&T has made its own code deliberately incompatible with other folks'
UNIX, and has written code that it can prove is copyrightable, even if
that code happens to be somewhat awkward--"kludgey." AT&T UNIX user
licenses are serious business agreements, replete with very clear
copyright statements and non-disclosure clauses.

AT&T has not exactly kept the UNIX cat in the bag, but it kept a grip
on its scruff with some success. By the rampant, explosive standards
of software piracy, AT&T UNIX source code is heavily copyrighted,
well-guarded, well-licensed. UNIX was traditionally run only on
mainframe machines, owned by large groups of suit-and-tie
professionals, rather than on bedroom machines where people can get up
to easy mischief.

And AT&T UNIX source code is serious high-level programming. The
number of skilled UNIX programmers with any actual motive to swipe UNIX
source code is small. It's tiny, compared to the tens of thousands
prepared to rip-off, say, entertaining PC games like "Leisure Suit

But by 1989, the warez-d00d underground, in the persons of Terminus and
his friends, was gnawing at AT&T UNIX. And the property in question
was not sold for twenty bucks over the counter at the local branch of
Babbage's or Egghead's; this was massive, sophisticated, multi-line,
multi-author corporate code worth tens of thousands of dollars.

It must be recognized at this point that Terminus's purported ring of
UNIX software pirates had not actually made any money from their
suspected crimes. The $300,000 dollar figure bandied about for the
contents of Terminus's computer did not mean that Terminus was in
actual illicit possession of three hundred thousand of AT&T's dollars.
Terminus was shipping software back and forth, privately, person to
person, for free. He was not making a commercial business of piracy.
He hadn't asked for money; he didn't take money. He lived quite

AT&T employees--as well as freelance UNIX consultants, like
Terminus--commonly worked with "proprietary" AT&T software, both in the
office and at home on their private machines. AT&T rarely sent
security officers out to comb the hard disks of its consultants. Cheap
freelance UNIX contractors were quite useful to AT&T; they didn't have
health insurance or retirement programs, much less union membership in
the Communication Workers of America. They were humble digital
drudges, wandering with mop and bucket through the Great Technological
Temple of AT&T; but when the Secret Service arrived at their homes, it
seemed they were eating with company silverware and sleeping on company
sheets! Outrageously, they behaved as if the things they worked with
every day belonged to them!

And these were no mere hacker teenagers with their hands full of
trash-paper and their noses pressed to the corporate windowpane. These
guys were UNIX wizards, not only carrying AT&T data in their machines
and their heads, but eagerly networking about it, over machines that
were far more powerful than anything previously imagined in private
hands. How do you keep people disposable, yet assure their awestruck
respect for your property? It was a dilemma.

Much UNIX code was public-domain, available for free. Much
"proprietary" UNIX code had been extensively re-written, perhaps
altered so much that it became an entirely new product--or perhaps not.
Intellectual property rights for software developers were, and are,
extraordinarily complex and confused. And software "piracy," like the
private copying of videos, is one of the most widely practiced "crimes"
in the world today.

The USSS were not experts in UNIX or familiar with the customs of its
use. The United States Secret Service, considered as a body, did not
have one single person in it who could program in a UNIX
environment--no, not even one. The Secret Service WERE making
extensive use of expert help, but the "experts" they had chosen were
AT&T and Bellcore security officials, the very victims of the purported
crimes under investigation, the very people whose interest in AT&T's
"proprietary" software was most pronounced.

On February 6, 1990, Terminus was arrested by Agent Lewis. Eventually,
Terminus would be sent to prison for his illicit use of a piece of AT&T

The issue of pirated AT&T software would bubble along in the background
during the war on the Legion of Doom. Some half-dozen of Terminus's
on-line acquaintances, including people in Illinois, Texas and
California, were grilled by the Secret Service in connection with the
illicit copying of software. Except for Terminus, however, none were
charged with a crime. None of them shared his peculiar prominence in
the hacker underground.

But that did not mean that these people would, or could, stay out of
trouble. The transferral of illicit data in cyberspace is hazy and
ill-defined business, with paradoxical dangers for everyone concerned:
hackers, signal carriers, board owners, cops, prosecutors, even random
passers-by. Sometimes, well-meant attempts to avert trouble or punish
wrongdoing bring more trouble than would simple ignorance, indifference
or impropriety.

Terminus's "Netsys" board was not a common-or-garden bulletin board
system, though it had most of the usual functions of a board. Netsys
was not a stand-alone machine, but part of the globe-spanning "UUCP"
cooperative network. The UUCP network uses a set of Unix software
programs called "Unix-to-Unix Copy," which allows Unix systems to throw
data to one another at high speed through the public telephone network.
UUCP is a radically decentralized, not-for-profit network of UNIX
computers. There are tens of thousands of these UNIX machines. Some
are small, but many are powerful and also link to other networks. UUCP
has certain arcane links to major networks such as JANET, EasyNet,
BITNET, JUNET, VNET, DASnet, PeaceNet and FidoNet, as well as the
gigantic Internet. (The so-called "Internet" is not actually a network
itself, but rather an "internetwork" connections standard that allows
several globe-spanning computer networks to communicate with one
another. Readers fascinated by the weird and intricate tangles of
modern computer networks may enjoy John S. Quarterman's authoritative
719-page explication, The Matrix, Digital Press, 1990.)

A skilled user of Terminus' UNIX machine could send and receive
electronic mail from almost any major computer network in the world.
Netsys was not called a "board" per se, but rather a "node." "Nodes"
were larger, faster, and more sophisticated than mere "boards," and for
hackers, to hang out on internationally-connected "nodes" was quite the
step up from merely hanging out on local "boards."

Terminus's Netsys node in Maryland had a number of direct links to
other, similar UUCP nodes, run by people who shared his interests and
at least something of his free-wheeling attitude. One of these nodes
was Jolnet, owned by Richard Andrews, who, like Terminus, was an
independent UNIX consultant. Jolnet also ran UNIX, and could be
contacted at high speed by mainframe machines from all over the world.
Jolnet was quite a sophisticated piece of work, technically speaking,
but it was still run by an individual, as a private, not-for-profit
hobby. Jolnet was mostly used by other UNIX programmers--for mail,
storage, and access to networks. Jolnet supplied access network access
to about two hundred people, as well as a local junior college.

Among its various features and services, Jolnet also carried Phrack

For reasons of his own, Richard Andrews had become suspicious of a new
user called "Robert Johnson." Richard Andrews took it upon himself to
have a look at what "Robert Johnson" was storing in Jolnet. And
Andrews found the E911 Document.

"Robert Johnson" was the Prophet from the Legion of Doom, and the E911
Document was illicitly copied data from Prophet's raid on the BellSouth

The E911 Document, a particularly illicit piece of digital property,
was about to resume its long, complex, and disastrous career.

It struck Andrews as fishy that someone not a telephone employee should
have a document referring to the "Enhanced 911 System." Besides, the
document itself bore an obvious warning.


These standard nondisclosure tags are often appended to all sorts of
corporate material. Telcos as a species are particularly notorious for
stamping most everything in sight as "not for use or disclosure."
Still, this particular piece of data was about the 911 System. That
sounded bad to Rich Andrews.

Andrews was not prepared to ignore this sort of trouble. He thought it
would be wise to pass the document along to a friend and acquaintance
on the UNIX network, for consultation. So, around September 1988,
Andrews sent yet another copy of the E911 Document electronically to an
AT&T employee, one Charles Boykin, who ran a UNIX-based node called
"attctc" in Dallas, Texas.

"Attctc" was the property of AT&T, and was run from AT&T's Customer
Technology Center in Dallas, hence the name "attctc." "Attctc" was
better-known as "Killer," the name of the machine that the system was
running on. "Killer" was a hefty, powerful, AT&T 3B2 500 model, a
multi-user, multi-tasking UNIX platform with 32 meg of memory and a
mind-boggling 3.2 Gigabytes of storage. When Killer had first arrived
in Texas, in 1985, the 3B2 had been one of AT&T's great white hopes for
going head-to-head with IBM for the corporate computer-hardware market.
"Killer" had been shipped to the Customer Technology Center in the
Dallas Infomart, essentially a high-technology mall, and there it sat,
a demonstration model.

Charles Boykin, a veteran AT&T hardware and digital communications
expert, was a local technical backup man for the AT&T 3B2 system. As a
display model in the Infomart mall, "Killer" had little to do, and it
seemed a shame to waste the system's capacity. So Boykin ingeniously
wrote some UNIX bulletin-board software for "Killer," and plugged the
machine in to the local phone network. "Killer's" debut in late 1985
made it the first publicly available UNIX site in the state of Texas.
Anyone who wanted to play was welcome.

The machine immediately attracted an electronic community. It joined
the UUCP network, and offered network links to over eighty other
computer sites, all of which became dependent on Killer for their links
to the greater world of cyberspace. And it wasn't just for the big
guys; personal computer users also stored freeware programs for the
Amiga, the Apple, the IBM and the Macintosh on Killer's vast 3,200 meg
archives. At one time, Killer had the largest library of public-domain
Macintosh software in Texas.

Eventually, Killer attracted about 1,500 users, all busily
communicating, uploading and downloading, getting mail, gossipping, and
linking to arcane and distant networks.

Boykin received no pay for running Killer. He considered it good
publicity for the AT&T 3B2 system (whose sales were somewhat less than
stellar), but he also simply enjoyed the vibrant community his skill
had created. He gave away the bulletin-board UNIX software he had
written, free of charge.

In the UNIX programming community, Charlie Boykin had the reputation of
a warm, open-hearted, level-headed kind of guy. In 1989, a group of
Texan UNIX professionals voted Boykin "System Administrator of the
Year." He was considered a fellow you could trust for good advice.

In September 1988, without warning, the E911 Document came plunging
into Boykin's life, forwarded by Richard Andrews. Boykin immediately
recognized that the Document was hot property. He was not a
voice-communications man, and knew little about the ins and outs of the
Baby Bells, but he certainly knew what the 911 System was, and he was
angry to see confidential data about it in the hands of a nogoodnik.
This was clearly a matter for telco security. So, on September 21,
1988, Boykin made yet ANOTHER copy of the E911 Document and passed this
one along to a professional acquaintance of his, one Jerome Dalton,
from AT&T Corporate Information Security. Jerry Dalton was the very
fellow who would later raid Terminus's house.

From AT&T's security division, the E911 Document went to Bellcore.

Bellcore (or BELL COmmunications REsearch) had once been the central
laboratory of the Bell System. Bell Labs employees had invented the
UNIX operating system. Now Bellcore was a quasi-independent, jointly
owned company that acted as the research arm for all seven of the Baby
Bell RBOCs. Bellcore was in a good position to co-ordinate security
technology and consultation for the RBOCs, and the gentleman in charge
of this effort was Henry M. Kluepfel, a veteran of the Bell System who
had worked there for twenty-four years.

On October 13, 1988, Dalton passed the E911 Document to Henry
Kluepfel. Kluepfel, a veteran expert witness in telecommunications
fraud and computer-fraud cases, had certainly seen worse trouble than
this. He recognized the document for what it was: a trophy from a
hacker break-in.

However, whatever harm had been done in the intrusion was presumably
old news. At this point there seemed little to be done. Kluepfel made
a careful note of the circumstances and shelved the problem for the
time being.

Whole months passed.

February 1989 arrived. The Atlanta Three were living it up in Bell
South's switches, and had not yet met their comeuppance. The Legion
was thriving. So was Phrack magazine. A good six months had passed
since Prophet's AIMSX break-in. Prophet, as hackers will, grew weary
of sitting on his laurels. "Knight Lightning" and "Taran King," the
editors of Phrack, were always begging Prophet for material they could
publish. Prophet decided that the heat must be off by this time, and
that he could safely brag, boast, and strut.

So he sent a copy of the E911 Document--yet another one--from Rich
Andrews' Jolnet machine to Knight Lightning's BITnet account at the
University of Missouri. Let's review the fate of the document so far.

0. The original E911 Document. This in the AIMSX system on a
mainframe computer in Atlanta, available to hundreds of people, but
all of them, presumably, BellSouth employees. An unknown number of
them may have their own copies of this document, but they are all
professionals and all trusted by the phone company.

1. Prophet's illicit copy, at home on his own computer in Decatur,

2. Prophet's back-up copy, stored on Rich Andrew's Jolnet machine
in the basement of Rich Andrews' house near Joliet Illinois.

3. Charles Boykin's copy on "Killer" in Dallas, Texas,
sent by Rich Andrews from Joliet.

4. Jerry Dalton's copy at AT&T Corporate Information Security in New
Jersey, sent from Charles Boykin in Dallas.

5. Henry Kluepfel's copy at Bellcore security headquarters in New
Jersey, sent by Dalton.

6. Knight Lightning's copy, sent by Prophet from Rich Andrews' machine,
and now in Columbia, Missouri.

We can see that the "security" situation of this proprietary document,
once dug out of AIMSX, swiftly became bizarre. Without any money
changing hands, without any particular special effort, this data had
been reproduced at least six times and had spread itself all over the
continent. By far the worst, however, was yet to come.

In February 1989, Prophet and Knight Lightning bargained electronically
over the fate of this trophy. Prophet wanted to boast, but, at the
same time, scarcely wanted to be caught.

For his part, Knight Lightning was eager to publish as much of the
document as he could manage. Knight Lightning was a fledgling
political-science major with a particular interest in
freedom-of-information issues. He would gladly publish most anything
that would reflect glory on the prowess of the underground and
embarrass the telcos. However, Knight Lightning himself had contacts
in telco security, and sometimes consulted them on material he'd
received that might be too dicey for publication.

Prophet and Knight Lightning decided to edit the E911 Document so as
to delete most of its identifying traits. First of all, its large "NOT
FOR USE OR DISCLOSURE" warning had to go. Then there were other
matters. For instance, it listed the office telephone numbers of
several BellSouth 911 specialists in Florida. If these phone numbers
were published in Phrack, the BellSouth employees involved would very
likely be hassled by phone phreaks, which would anger BellSouth no end,
and pose a definite operational hazard for both Prophet and Phrack.

So Knight Lightning cut the Document almost in half, removing the phone
numbers and some of the touchier and more specific information. He
passed it back electronically to Prophet; Prophet was still nervous,
so Knight Lightning cut a bit more. They finally agreed that it was
ready to go, and that it would be published in Phrack under the
pseudonym, "The Eavesdropper."

And this was done on February 25, 1989.

The twenty-fourth issue of Phrack featured a chatty interview with
co-ed phone-phreak "Chanda Leir," three articles on BITNET and its
links to other computer networks, an article on 800 and 900 numbers by
"Unknown User," "VaxCat's" article on telco basics (slyly entitled
"Lifting Ma Bell's Veil of Secrecy,)" and the usual "Phrack World News."

The News section, with painful irony, featured an extended account of
the sentencing of "Shadowhawk," an eighteen-year-old Chicago hacker who
had just been put in federal prison by William J. Cook himself.

And then there were the two articles by "The Eavesdropper." The first
was the edited E911 Document, now titled "Control Office Administration
Of Enhanced 911 Services for Special Services and Major Account
Centers." Eavesdropper's second article was a glossary of terms
explaining the blizzard of telco acronyms and buzzwords in the E911

The hapless document was now distributed, in the usual Phrack routine,
to a good one hundred and fifty sites. Not a hundred and fifty PEOPLE,
mind you--a hundred and fifty SITES, some of these sites linked to UNIX
nodes or bulletin board systems, which themselves had readerships of
tens, dozens, even hundreds of people.

This was February 1989. Nothing happened immediately. Summer came,
and the Atlanta crew were raided by the Secret Service. Fry Guy was
apprehended. Still nothing whatever happened to Phrack. Six more
issues of Phrack came out, 30 in all, more or less on a monthly
schedule. Knight Lightning and co-editor Taran King went untouched.

Phrack tended to duck and cover whenever the heat came down. During
the summer busts of 1987--(hacker busts tended to cluster in summer,
perhaps because hackers were easier to find at home than in
college)--Phrack had ceased publication for several months, and laid
low. Several LoD hangers-on had been arrested, but nothing had
happened to the Phrack crew, the premiere gossips of the underground.
In 1988, Phrack had been taken over by a new editor, "Crimson Death," a
raucous youngster with a taste for anarchy files. 1989, however,
looked like a bounty year for the underground. Knight Lightning and
his co-editor Taran King took up the reins again, and Phrack flourished
throughout 1989. Atlanta LoD went down hard in the summer of 1989, but
Phrack rolled merrily on. Prophet's E911 Document seemed unlikely to
cause Phrack any trouble. By January 1990, it had been available in
Phrack for almost a year. Kluepfel and Dalton, officers of Bellcore
and AT&T security, had possessed the document for sixteen months--in
fact, they'd had it even before Knight Lightning himself, and had done
nothing in particular to stop its distribution. They hadn't even told
Rich Andrews or Charles Boykin to erase the copies from their UNIX
nodes, Jolnet and Killer.

But then came the monster Martin Luther King Day Crash of January 15,

A flat three days later, on January 18, four agents showed up at Knight
Lightning's fraternity house. One was Timothy Foley, the second
Barbara Golden, both of them Secret Service agents from the Chicago
office. Also along was a University of Missouri security officer, and
Reed Newlin, a security man from Southwestern Bell, the RBOC having
jurisdiction over Missouri.

Foley accused Knight Lightning of causing the nationwide crash of the
phone system.

Knight Lightning was aghast at this allegation. On the face of it, the
suspicion was not entirely implausible--though Knight Lightning knew
that he himself hadn't done it. Plenty of hot-dog hackers had bragged
that they could crash the phone system, however. "Shadowhawk," for
instance, the Chicago hacker whom William Cook had recently put in
jail, had several times boasted on boards that he could "shut down
AT&T's public switched network."

And now this event, or something that looked just like it, had actually
taken place. The Crash had lit a fire under the Chicago Task Force.
And the former fence-sitters at Bellcore and AT&T were now ready to
roll. The consensus among telco security--already horrified by the
skill of the BellSouth intruders --was that the digital underground was
out of hand. LoD and Phrack must go. And in publishing Prophet's E911
Document, Phrack had provided law enforcement with what appeared to be
a powerful legal weapon.

Foley confronted Knight Lightning about the E911 Document.

Knight Lightning was cowed. He immediately began "cooperating fully"
in the usual tradition of the digital underground.

He gave Foley a complete run of Phrack, printed out in a set of
three-ring binders. He handed over his electronic mailing list of
Phrack subscribers. Knight Lightning was grilled for four hours by
Foley and his cohorts. Knight Lightning admitted that Prophet had
passed him the E911 Document, and he admitted that he had known it was
stolen booty from a hacker raid on a telephone company. Knight
Lightning signed a statement to this effect, and agreed, in writing, to
cooperate with investigators.

Next day--January 19, 1990, a Friday --the Secret Service returned with
a search warrant, and thoroughly searched Knight Lightning's upstairs
room in the fraternity house. They took all his floppy disks, though,
interestingly, they left Knight Lightning in possession of both his
computer and his modem. (The computer had no hard disk, and in Foley's
judgement was not a store of evidence.) But this was a very minor
bright spot among Knight Lightning's rapidly multiplying troubles. By
this time, Knight Lightning was in plenty of hot water, not only with
federal police, prosecutors, telco investigators, and university
security, but with the elders of his own campus fraternity, who were
outraged to think that they had been unwittingly harboring a federal

On Monday, Knight Lightning was summoned to Chicago, where he was
further grilled by Foley and USSS veteran agent Barbara Golden, this
time with an attorney present. And on Tuesday, he was formally
indicted by a federal grand jury.

The trial of Knight Lightning, which occurred on July 24-27, 1990, was
the crucial show-trial of the Hacker Crackdown. We will examine the
trial at some length in Part Four of this book.

In the meantime, we must continue our dogged pursuit of the E911

It must have been clear by January 1990 that the E911 Document, in the
form Phrack had published it back in February 1989, had gone off at the
speed of light in at least a hundred and fifty different directions.
To attempt to put this electronic genie back in the bottle was flatly

And yet, the E911 Document was STILL stolen property, formally and
legally speaking. Any electronic transference of this document, by
anyone unauthorized to have it, could be interpreted as an act of wire
fraud. Interstate transfer of stolen property, including electronic
property, was a federal crime.

The Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force had been assured that
the E911 Document was worth a hefty sum of money. In fact, they had a
precise estimate of its worth from BellSouth security personnel:
$79,449. A sum of this scale seemed to warrant vigorous prosecution.
Even if the damage could not be undone, at least this large sum offered
a good legal pretext for stern punishment of the thieves. It seemed
likely to impress judges and juries. And it could be used in court to
mop up the Legion of Doom.

The Atlanta crowd was already in the bag, by the time the Chicago Task
Force had gotten around to Phrack. But the Legion was a hydra-headed
thing. In late 89, a brand-new Legion of Doom board, "Phoenix
Project," had gone up in Austin, Texas. Phoenix Project was sysoped by
no less a man than the Mentor himself, ably assisted by University of
Texas student and hardened Doomster "Erik Bloodaxe."

As we have seen from his Phrack manifesto, the Mentor was a hacker
zealot who regarded computer intrusion as something close to a moral
duty. Phoenix Project was an ambitious effort, intended to revive the
digital underground to what Mentor considered the full flower of the
early 80s. The Phoenix board would also boldly bring elite hackers
face-to-face with the telco "opposition." On "Phoenix," America's
cleverest hackers would supposedly shame the telco squareheads out of
their stick-in-the-mud attitudes, and perhaps convince them that the
Legion of Doom elite were really an all-right crew. The premiere of
"Phoenix Project" was heavily trumpeted by Phrack,and "Phoenix Project"
carried a complete run of Phrack issues, including the E911 Document as
Phrack had published it.

Phoenix Project was only one of many--possibly hundreds--of nodes and
boards all over America that were in guilty possession of the E911
Document. But Phoenix was an outright, unashamed Legion of Doom board.
Under Mentor's guidance, it was flaunting itself in the face of telco
security personnel. Worse yet, it was actively trying to WIN THEM OVER
as sympathizers for the digital underground elite. "Phoenix" had no
cards or codes on it. Its hacker elite considered Phoenix at least
technically legal. But Phoenix was a corrupting influence, where
hacker anarchy was eating away like digital acid at the underbelly of
corporate propriety.

The Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force now prepared to descend
upon Austin, Texas.

Oddly, not one but TWO trails of the Task Force's investigation led
toward Austin. The city of Austin, like Atlanta, had made itself a
bulwark of the Sunbelt's Information Age, with a strong university
research presence, and a number of cutting-edge electronics companies,
including Motorola, Dell, CompuAdd, IBM, Sematech and MCC.

Where computing machinery went, hackers generally followed. Austin
boasted not only "Phoenix Project," currently LoD's most flagrant
underground board, but a number of UNIX nodes.

One of these nodes was "Elephant," run by a UNIX consultant named
Robert Izenberg. Izenberg, in search of a relaxed Southern lifestyle
and a lowered cost-of-living, had recently migrated to Austin from New
Jersey. In New Jersey, Izenberg had worked for an independent
contracting company, programming UNIX code for AT&T itself. "Terminus"
had been a frequent user on Izenberg's privately owned Elephant node.

Having interviewed Terminus and examined the records on Netsys, the
Chicago Task Force were now convinced that they had discovered an
underground gang of UNIX software pirates, who were demonstrably guilty
of interstate trafficking in illicitly copied AT&T source code.
Izenberg was swept into the dragnet around Terminus, the
self-proclaimed ultimate UNIX hacker.

Izenberg, in Austin, had settled down into a UNIX job with a Texan
branch of IBM. Izenberg was no longer working as a contractor for
AT&T, but he had friends in New Jersey, and he still logged on to AT&T
UNIX computers back in New Jersey, more or less whenever it pleased
him. Izenberg's activities appeared highly suspicious to the Task
Force. Izenberg might well be breaking into AT&T computers, swiping
AT&T software, and passing it to Terminus and other possible
confederates, through the UNIX node network. And this data was worth,
not merely $79,499, but hundreds of thousands of dollars!

On February 21, 1990, Robert Izenberg arrived home from work at IBM to
find that all the computers had mysteriously vanished from his Austin
apartment. Naturally he assumed that he had been robbed. His
"Elephant" node, his other machines, his notebooks, his disks, his
tapes, all gone! However, nothing much else seemed disturbed--the
place had not been ransacked. The puzzle becaming much stranger some
five minutes later. Austin U. S. Secret Service Agent Al Soliz,
accompanied by University of Texas campus-security officer Larry
Coutorie and the ubiquitous Tim Foley, made their appearance at
Izenberg's door. They were in plain clothes: slacks, polo shirts.
They came in, and Tim Foley accused Izenberg of belonging to the Legion
of Doom.

Izenberg told them that he had never heard of the "Legion of Doom." And
what about a certain stolen E911 Document, that posed a direct threat
to the police emergency lines? Izenberg claimed that he'd never heard
of that, either.

His interrogators found this difficult to believe. Didn't he know


They gave him Terminus's real name. Oh yes, said Izenberg. He knew
THAT guy all right--he was leading discussions on the Internet about
AT&T computers, especially the AT&T 3B2.

AT&T had thrust this machine into the marketplace, but, like many of
AT&T's ambitious attempts to enter the computing arena, the 3B2 project
had something less than a glittering success. Izenberg himself had
been a contractor for the division of AT&T that supported the 3B2. The
entire division had been shut down.

Nowadays, the cheapest and quickest way to get help with this fractious
piece of machinery was to join one of Terminus's discussion groups on
the Internet, where friendly and knowledgeable hackers would help you
for free. Naturally the remarks within this group were less than
flattering about the Death Star ... was THAT the problem?

Foley told Izenberg that Terminus had been acquiring hot software
through his, Izenberg's, machine.

Izenberg shrugged this off. A good eight megabytes of data flowed
through his UUCP site every day. UUCP nodes spewed data like fire
hoses. Elephant had been directly linked to Netsys--not surprising,
since Terminus was a 3B2 expert and Izenberg had been a 3B2 contractor.
Izenberg was also linked to "attctc" and the University of Texas.
Terminus was a well-known UNIX expert, and might have been up to all
manner of hijinks on Elephant. Nothing Izenberg could do about that.
That was physically impossible. Needle in a haystack.

In a four-hour grilling, Foley urged Izenberg to come clean and admit
that he was in conspiracy with Terminus, and a member of the Legion of

Izenberg denied this. He was no weirdo teenage hacker--he was
thirty-two years old, and didn't even have a "handle." Izenberg was a
former TV technician and electronics specialist who had drifted into
UNIX consulting as a full-grown adult. Izenberg had never met
Terminus, physically. He'd once bought a cheap high-speed modem from
him, though.

Foley told him that this modem (a Telenet T2500 which ran at 19.2
kilobaud, and which had just gone out Izenberg's door in Secret Service
custody) was likely hot property. Izenberg was taken aback to hear
this; but then again, most of Izenberg's equipment, like that of most
freelance professionals in the industry, was discounted, passed
hand-to-hand through various kinds of barter and gray-market. There
was no proof that the modem was stolen, and even if it were, Izenberg
hardly saw how that gave them the right to take every electronic item
in his house.

Still, if the United States Secret Service figured they needed his
computer for national security reasons--or whatever--then Izenberg
would not kick. He figured he would somehow make the sacrifice of his
twenty thousand dollars' worth of professional equipment, in the spirit
of full cooperation and good citizenship.

Robert Izenberg was not arrested. Izenberg was not charged with any
crime. His UUCP node--full of some 140 megabytes of the files, mail,
and data of himself and his dozen or so entirely innocent users--went
out the door as "evidence." Along with the disks and tapes, Izenberg
had lost about 800 megabytes of data.

Six months would pass before Izenberg decided to phone the Secret
Service and ask how the case was going. That was the first time that
Robert Izenberg would ever hear the name of William Cook. As of
January 1992, a full two years after the seizure, Izenberg, still not
charged with any crime, would be struggling through the morass of the
courts, in hope of recovering his thousands of dollars' worth of seized

In the meantime, the Izenberg case received absolutely no press
coverage. The Secret Service had walked into an Austin home, removed a
UNIX bulletin-board system, and met with no operational difficulties

Except that word of a crackdown had percolated through the Legion of
Doom. "The Mentor" voluntarily shut down "The Phoenix Project." It
seemed a pity, especially as telco security employees had, in fact,
shown up on Phoenix, just as he had hoped--along with the usual motley
crowd of LoD heavies, hangers-on, phreaks, hackers and wannabes. There
was "Sandy" Sandquist from US SPRINT security, and some guy named Henry
Kluepfel, from Bellcore itself! Kluepfel had been trading friendly
banter with hackers on Phoenix since January 30th (two weeks after the
Martin Luther King Day Crash). The presence of such a stellar telco
official seemed quite the coup for Phoenix Project.

Still, Mentor could judge the climate. Atlanta in ruins, Phrack in
deep trouble, something weird going on with UNIX nodes--discretion was
advisable. Phoenix Project went off-line.

Kluepfel, of course, had been monitoring this LoD bulletin board for
his own purposes--and those of the Chicago unit. As far back as June
1987, Kluepfel had logged on to a Texas underground board called
"Phreak Klass 2600." There he'd discovered an Chicago youngster named
"Shadowhawk," strutting and boasting about rifling AT&T computer files,
and bragging of his ambitions to riddle AT&T's Bellcore computers with
trojan horse programs. Kluepfel had passed the news to Cook in
Chicago, Shadowhawk's computers had gone out the door in Secret Service
custody, and Shadowhawk himself had gone to jail.

Now it was Phoenix Project's turn. Phoenix Project postured about
"legality" and "merely intellectual interest," but it reeked of the
underground. It had Phrack on it. It had the E911 Document. It had a
lot of dicey talk about breaking into systems, including some bold and
reckless stuff about a supposed "decryption service" that Mentor and
friends were planning to run, to help crack encrypted passwords off of
hacked systems.

Mentor was an adult. There was a bulletin board at his place of work,
as well. Kleupfel logged onto this board, too, and discovered it to be
called "Illuminati." It was run by some company called Steve Jackson

On March 1, 1990, the Austin crackdown went into high gear.

On the morning of March 1--a Thursday--21-year-old University of Texas
student "Erik Bloodaxe," co-sysop of Phoenix Project and an avowed
member of the Legion of Doom, was wakened by a police revolver levelled
at his head.

Bloodaxe watched, jittery, as Secret Service agents appropriated his
300 baud terminal and, rifling his files, discovered his treasured
source-code for Robert Morris's notorious Internet Worm. But Bloodaxe,
a wily operator, had suspected that something of the like might be
coming. All his best equipment had been hidden away elsewhere. The
raiders took everything electronic, however, including his telephone.
They were stymied by his hefty arcade-style Pac-Man game, and left it
in place, as it was simply too heavy to move.

Bloodaxe was not arrested. He was not charged with any crime. A good
two years later, the police still had what they had taken from him,

The Mentor was less wary. The dawn raid rousted him and his wife from
bed in their underwear, and six Secret Service agents, accompanied by
an Austin policeman and Henry Kluepfel himself, made a rich haul. Off
went the works, into the agents' white Chevrolet minivan: an IBM PC-AT
clone with 4 meg of RAM and a 120-meg hard disk; a Hewlett-Packard
LaserJet II printer; a completely legitimate and highly expensive
SCO-Xenix 286 operating system; Pagemaker disks and documentation; and
the Microsoft Word word-processing program. Mentor's wife had her
incomplete academic thesis stored on the hard-disk; that went, too, and
so did the couple's telephone. As of two years later, all this
property remained in police custody.

Mentor remained under guard in his apartment as agents prepared to raid
Steve Jackson Games. The fact that this was a business headquarters
and not a private residence did not deter the agents. It was still
very early; no one was at work yet. The agents prepared to break down
the door, but Mentor, eavesdropping on the Secret Service walkie-talkie
traffic, begged them not to do it, and offered his key to the building.

The exact details of the next events are unclear. The agents would not
let anyone else into the building. Their search warrant, when
produced, was unsigned. Apparently they breakfasted from the local
"Whataburger," as the litter from hamburgers was later found inside.
They also extensively sampled a bag of jellybeans kept by an SJG
employee. Someone tore a "Dukakis for President" sticker from the wall.

SJG employees, diligently showing up for the day's work, were met at
the door and briefly questioned by U.S. Secret Service agents. The
employees watched in astonishment as agents wielding crowbars and
screwdrivers emerged with captive machines. They attacked outdoor
storage units with boltcutters. The agents wore blue nylon
windbreakers with "SECRET SERVICE" stencilled across the back, with
running-shoes and jeans.

Jackson's company lost three computers, several hard-disks, hundred of
floppy disks, two monitors, three modems, a laser printer, various
powercords, cables, and adapters (and, oddly, a small bag of screws,
bolts and nuts). The seizure of Illuminati BBS deprived SJG of all the
programs, text files, and private e-mail on the board. The loss of two
other SJG computers was a severe blow as well, since it caused the loss
of electronically stored contracts, financial projections, address
directories, mailing lists, personnel files, business correspondence,
and, not least, the drafts of forthcoming games and gaming books.

No one at Steve Jackson Games was arrested. No one was accused of any
crime. No charges were filed. Everything appropriated was officially
kept as "evidence" of crimes never specified.

After the Phrack show-trial, the Steve Jackson Games scandal was the
most bizarre and aggravating incident of the Hacker Crackdown of 1990.
This raid by the Chicago Task Force on a science-fiction gaming
publisher was to rouse a swarming host of civil liberties issues, and
gave rise to an enduring controversy that was still re-complicating
itself, and growing in the scope of its implications, a full two years

The pursuit of the E911 Document stopped with the Steve Jackson Games
raid. As we have seen, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of
computer users in America with the E911 Document in their possession.
Theoretically, Chicago had a perfect legal right to raid any of these
people, and could have legally seized the machines of anybody who
subscribed to Phrack. However, there was no copy of the E911 Document
on Jackson's Illuminati board. And there the Chicago raiders stopped
dead; they have not raided anyone since.

It might be assumed that Rich Andrews and Charlie Boykin, who had
brought the E911 Document to the attention of telco security, might be
spared any official suspicion. But as we have seen, the willingness to
"cooperate fully" offers little, if any, assurance against federal
anti-hacker prosecution.

Richard Andrews found himself in deep trouble, thanks to the E911
Document. Andrews lived in Illinois, the native stomping grounds of
the Chicago Task Force. On February 3 and 6, both his home and his
place of work were raided by USSS. His machines went out the door,
too, and he was grilled at length (though not arrested). Andrews
proved to be in purportedly guilty possession of: UNIX SVR 3.2; UNIX
QUEST, among other items. Andrews had received this proprietary
code--which AT&T officially valued at well over $250,000--through the
UNIX network, much of it supplied to him as a personal favor by
Terminus. Perhaps worse yet, Andrews admitted to returning the favor,
by passing Terminus a copy of AT&T proprietary STARLAN source code.

Even Charles Boykin, himself an AT&T employee, entered some very hot
water. By 1990, he'd almost forgotten about the E911 problem he'd
reported in September 88; in fact, since that date, he'd passed two
more security alerts to Jerry Dalton, concerning matters that Boykin
considered far worse than the E911 Document.

But by 1990, year of the crackdown, AT&T Corporate Information Security
was fed up with "Killer." This machine offered no direct income to
AT&T, and was providing aid and comfort to a cloud of suspicious yokels
from outside the company, some of them actively malicious toward AT&T,
its property, and its corporate interests. Whatever goodwill and
publicity had been won among Killer's 1,500 devoted users was
considered no longer worth the security risk. On February 20, 1990,
Jerry Dalton arrived in Dallas and simply unplugged the phone jacks, to
the puzzled alarm of Killer's many Texan users. Killer went
permanently off-line, with the loss of vast archives of programs and
huge quantities of electronic mail; it was never restored to service.
AT&T showed no particular regard for the "property" of these 1,500
people. Whatever "property" the users had been storing on AT&T's
computer simply vanished completely.

Boykin, who had himself reported the E911 problem, now found himself
under a cloud of suspicion. In a weird private-security replay of the
Secret Service seizures, Boykin's own home was visited by AT&T Security
and his own machines were carried out the door.

However, there were marked special features in the Boykin case.
Boykin's disks and his personal computers were swiftly examined by his
corporate employers and returned politely in just two days--(unlike
Secret Service seizures, which commonly take months or years). Boykin
was not charged with any crime or wrongdoing, and he kept his job with
AT&T (though he did retire from AT&T in September 1991, at the age of

It's interesting to note that the US Secret Service somehow failed to
seize Boykin's "Killer" node and carry AT&T's own computer out the
door. Nor did they raid Boykin's home. They seemed perfectly willing
to take the word of AT&T Security that AT&T's employee, and AT&T's
"Killer" node, were free of hacker contraband and on the up-and-up.

It's digital water-under-the-bridge at this point, as Killer's 3,200
megabytes of Texan electronic community were erased in 1990, and
"Killer" itself was shipped out of the state.

But the experiences of Andrews and Boykin, and the users of their
systems, remained side issues. They did not begin to assume the
social, political, and legal importance that gathered, slowly but
inexorably, around the issue of the raid on Steve Jackson Games.


We must now turn our attention to Steve Jackson Games itself, and
explain what SJG was, what it really did, and how it had managed to
attract this particularly odd and virulent kind of trouble. The reader
may recall that this is not the first but the second time that the
company has appeared in this narrative; a Steve Jackson game called
GURPS was a favorite pastime of Atlanta hacker Urvile, and Urvile's
science-fictional gaming notes had been mixed up promiscuously with
notes about his actual computer intrusions.

First, Steve Jackson Games, Inc., was NOT a publisher of "computer
games." SJG published "simulation games," parlor games that were played
on paper, with pencils, and dice, and printed guidebooks full of rules
and statistics tables. There were no computers involved in the games
themselves. When you bought a Steve Jackson Game, you did not receive
any software disks. What you got was a plastic bag with some cardboard
game tokens, maybe a few maps or a deck of cards. Most of their
products were books.

However, computers WERE deeply involved in the Steve Jackson Games
business. Like almost all modern publishers, Steve Jackson and his
fifteen employees used computers to write text, to keep accounts, and
to run the business generally. They also used a computer to run their
official bulletin board system for Steve Jackson Games, a board called
Illuminati. On Illuminati, simulation gamers who happened to own
computers and modems could associate, trade mail, debate the theory and
practice of gaming, and keep up with the company's news and its product

Illuminati was a modestly popular board, run on a small computer with
limited storage, only one phone-line, and no ties to large-scale
computer networks. It did, however, have hundreds of users, many of
them dedicated gamers willing to call from out-of-state.

Illuminati was NOT an "underground" board. It did not feature hints on
computer intrusion, or "anarchy files," or illicitly posted credit card
numbers, or long-distance access codes. Some of Illuminati's users,
however, were members of the Legion of Doom. And so was one of Steve
Jackson's senior employees--the Mentor. The Mentor wrote for Phrack,
and also ran an underground board, Phoenix Project--but the Mentor was
not a computer professional. The Mentor was the managing editor of
Steve Jackson Games and a professional game designer by trade. These
LoD members did not use Illuminati to help their HACKING activities.
They used it to help their GAME-PLAYING activities--and they were even
more dedicated to simulation gaming than they were to hacking.

"Illuminati" got its name from a card-game that Steve Jackson himself,
the company's founder and sole owner, had invented. This multi-player
card-game was one of Mr Jackson's best-known, most successful, most
technically innovative products. "Illuminati" was a game of paranoiac
conspiracy in which various antisocial cults warred covertly to
dominate the world. "Illuminati" was hilarious, and great fun to play,
involving flying saucers, the CIA, the KGB, the phone companies, the Ku
Klux Klan, the South American Nazis, the cocaine cartels, the Boy
Scouts, and dozens of other splinter groups from the twisted depths of
Mr. Jackson's professionally fervid imagination. For the uninitiated,
any public discussion of the "Illuminati" card-game sounded, by turns,
utterly menacing or completely insane.

And then there was SJG's "Car Wars," in which souped-up armored
hot-rods with rocket-launchers and heavy machine-guns did battle on the
American highways of the future. The lively Car Wars discussion on the
Illuminati board featured many meticulous, painstaking discussions of
the effects of grenades, land-mines, flamethrowers and napalm. It
sounded like hacker anarchy files run amuck.

Mr Jackson and his co-workers earned their daily bread by supplying
people with make-believe adventures and weird ideas. The more far-out,
the better.

Simulation gaming is an unusual pastime, but gamers have not generally
had to beg the permission of the Secret Service to exist. Wargames and
role-playing adventures are an old and honored pastime, much favored by
professional military strategists. Once little-known, these games are
now played by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts throughout North
America, Europe and Japan. Gaming-books, once restricted to hobby
outlets, now commonly appear in chain-stores like B. Dalton's and
Waldenbooks, and sell vigorously.

Steve Jackson Games, Inc., of Austin, Texas, was a games company of the
middle rank. In 1989, SJG grossed about a million dollars. Jackson
himself had a good reputation in his industry as a talented and
innovative designer of rather unconventional games, but his company was
something less than a titan of the field--certainly not like the
multimillion-dollar TSR Inc., or Britain's gigantic "Games Workshop."
SJG's Austin headquarters was a modest two-story brick office-suite,
cluttered with phones, photocopiers, fax machines and computers. It
bustled with semi-organized activity and was littered with glossy
promotional brochures and dog-eared science-fiction novels. Attached
to the offices was a large tin-roofed warehouse piled twenty feet high
with cardboard boxes of games and books. Despite the weird imaginings
that went on within it, the SJG headquarters was quite a quotidian,
everyday sort of place. It looked like what it was: a publishers'

Both "Car Wars" and "Illuminati" were well-known, popular games. But
the mainstay of the Jackson organization was their Generic Universal
Role-Playing System, "G.U.R.P.S." The GURPS system was considered
solid and well-designed, an asset for players. But perhaps the most
popular feature of the GURPS system was that it allowed gaming-masters
to design scenarios that closely resembled well-known books, movies,
and other works of fantasy. Jackson had licensed and adapted works
from many science fiction and fantasy authors. There was GURPS Conan,
GURPS Riverworld, GURPS Horseclans, GURPS Witch World, names eminently
familiar to science-fiction readers. And there was GURPS Special Ops,
from the world of espionage fantasy and unconventional warfare.

And then there was GURPS Cyberpunk.

"Cyberpunk" was a term given to certain science fiction writers who had
entered the genre in the 1980s. "Cyberpunk," as the label implies, had
two general distinguishing features. First, its writers had a
compelling interest in information technology, an interest closely akin
to science fiction's earlier fascination with space travel. And
second, these writers were "punks," with all the distinguishing
features that that implies: Bohemian artiness, youth run wild, an air
of deliberate rebellion, funny clothes and hair, odd politics, a
fondness for abrasive rock and roll; in a word, trouble.

The "cyberpunk" SF writers were a small group of mostly
college-educated white middle-class litterateurs, scattered through the
US and Canada. Only one, Rudy Rucker, a professor of computer science
in Silicon Valley, could rank with even the humblest computer hacker.
But, except for Professor Rucker, the "cyberpunk" authors were not
programmers or hardware experts; they considered themselves artists
(as, indeed, did Professor Rucker). However, these writers all owned
computers, and took an intense and public interest in the social
ramifications of the information industry.

The cyberpunks had a strong following among the global generation that
had grown up in a world of computers, multinational networks, and cable
television. Their outlook was considered somewhat morbid, cynical, and
dark, but then again, so was the outlook of their generational peers.
As that generation matured and increased in strength and influence, so
did the cyberpunks. As science-fiction writers went, they were doing
fairly well for themselves. By the late 1980s, their work had
attracted attention from gaming companies, including Steve Jackson
Games, which was planning a cyberpunk simulation for the flourishing
GURPS gaming-system.

The time seemed ripe for such a product, which had already been proven
in the marketplace. The first games-company out of the gate, with a
product boldly called "Cyberpunk" in defiance of possible
infringement-of-copyright suits, had been an upstart group called R.
Talsorian. Talsorian's Cyberpunk was a fairly decent game, but the
mechanics of the simulation system left a lot to be desired.
Commercially, however, the game did very well.

The next cyberpunk game had been the even more successful Shadowrun by
FASA Corporation. The mechanics of this game were fine, but the
scenario was rendered moronic by sappy fantasy elements like elves,
trolls, wizards, and dragons--all highly ideologically-incorrect,
according to the hard-edged, high-tech standards of cyberpunk science

Other game designers were champing at the bit. Prominent among them
was the Mentor, a gentleman who, like most of his friends in the Legion
of Doom, was quite the cyberpunk devotee. Mentor reasoned that the
time had come for a REAL cyberpunk gaming-book--one that the princes of
computer-mischief in the Legion of Doom could play without laughing
themselves sick. This book, GURPS Cyberpunk, would reek of culturally
on-line authenticity.

Mentor was particularly well-qualified for this task. Naturally, he
knew far more about computer-intrusion and digital skullduggery than
any previously published cyberpunk author. Not only that, but he was
good at his work. A vivid imagination, combined with an instinctive
feeling for the working of systems and, especially, the loopholes
within them, are excellent qualities for a professional game designer.

By March 1st, GURPS Cyberpunk was almost complete, ready to print and
ship. Steve Jackson expected vigorous sales for this item, which, he
hoped, would keep the company financially afloat for several months.
GURPS Cyberpunk, like the other GURPS "modules," was not a "game" like
a Monopoly set, but a BOOK: a bound paperback book the size of a
glossy magazine, with a slick color cover, and pages full of text,
illustrations, tables and footnotes. It was advertised as a game, and
was used as an aid to game-playing, but it was a book, with an ISBN
number, published in Texas, copyrighted, and sold in bookstores.

And now, that book, stored on a computer, had gone out the door in the
custody of the Secret Service.

The day after the raid, Steve Jackson visited the local Secret Service
headquarters with a lawyer in tow. There he confronted Tim Foley
(still in Austin at that time) and demanded his book back. But there
was trouble. GURPS Cyberpunk, alleged a Secret Service agent to
astonished businessman Steve Jackson, was "a manual for computer crime."

"It's science fiction," Jackson said.

"No, this is real."

This statement was repeated several times, by several agents.
Jackson's ominously accurate game had passed from pure, obscure,
small-scale fantasy into the impure, highly publicized, large-scale
fantasy of the Hacker Crackdown.

No mention was made of the real reason for the search. According to
their search warrant, the raiders had expected to find the E911
Document stored on Jackson's bulletin board system. But that warrant
was sealed; a procedure that most law enforcement agencies will use
only when lives are demonstrably in danger. The raiders' true motives
were not discovered until the Jackson search-warrant was unsealed by
his lawyers, many months later. The Secret Service, and the Chicago
Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force, said absolutely nothing to Steve
Jackson about any threat to the police 911 System. They said nothing
about the Atlanta Three, nothing about Phrack or Knight Lightning,
nothing about Terminus.

Jackson was left to believe that his computers had been seized because
he intended to publish a science fiction book that law enforcement
considered too dangerous to see print.

This misconception was repeated again and again, for months, to an
ever-widening public audience. It was not the truth of the case; but
as months passed, and this misconception was publicly printed again and
again, it became one of the few publicly known "facts" about the
mysterious Hacker Crackdown. The Secret Service had seized a computer
to stop the publication of a cyberpunk science fiction book.

The second section of this book, "The Digital Underground," is almost
finished now. We have become acquainted with all the major figures of
this case who actually belong to the underground milieu of computer
intrusion. We have some idea of their history, their motives, their
general modus operandi. We now know, I hope, who they are, where they
came from, and more or less what they want. In the next section of
this book, "Law and Order," we will leave this milieu and directly
enter the world of America's computer-crime police.

At this point, however, I have another figure to introduce: myself.

My name is Bruce Sterling. I live in Austin, Texas, where I am a
science fiction writer by trade: specifically, a CYBERPUNK science
fiction writer.

Like my "cyberpunk" colleagues in the U.S. and Canada, I've never been
entirely happy with this literary label--especially after it became a
synonym for computer criminal. But I did once edit a book of stories
by my colleagues, called Mirrorshades: the Cyberpunk Anthology, and
I've long been a writer of literary-critical cyberpunk manifestos. I
am not a "hacker" of any description, though I do have readers in the
digital underground.

When the Steve Jackson Games seizure occurred, I naturally took an
intense interest. If "cyberpunk" books were being banned by federal
police in my own home town, I reasonably wondered whether I myself
might be next. Would my computer be seized by the Secret Service? At
the time, I was in possession of an aging Apple IIe without so much as
a hard disk. If I were to be raided as an author of computer-crime
manuals, the loss of my feeble word-processor would likely provoke more
snickers than sympathy.

I'd known Steve Jackson for many years. We knew one another as
colleagues, for we frequented the same local science-fiction
conventions. I'd played Jackson games, and recognized his cleverness;
but he certainly had never struck me as a potential mastermind of
computer crime.

I also knew a little about computer bulletin-board systems. In the
mid-1980s I had taken an active role in an Austin board called
"SMOF-BBS," one of the first boards dedicated to science fiction. I
had a modem, and on occasion I'd logged on to Illuminati, which always
looked entertainly wacky, but certainly harmless enough.

At the time of the Jackson seizure, I had no experience whatsoever with
underground boards. But I knew that no one on Illuminati talked about
breaking into systems illegally, or about robbing phone companies.
Illuminati didn't even offer pirated computer games. Steve Jackson,
like many creative artists, was markedly touchy about theft of
intellectual property.

It seemed to me that Jackson was either seriously suspected of some
crime--in which case, he would be charged soon, and would have his day
in court--or else he was innocent, in which case the Secret Service
would quickly return his equipment, and everyone would have a good
laugh. I rather expected the good laugh. The situation was not
without its comic side. The raid, known as the "Cyberpunk Bust" in the
science fiction community, was winning a great deal of free national
publicity both for Jackson himself and the "cyberpunk" science fiction
writers generally.

Besides, science fiction people are used to being misinterpreted.
Science fiction is a colorful, disreputable, slipshod occupation, full
of unlikely oddballs, which, of course, is why we like it. Weirdness
can be an occupational hazard in our field. People who wear Halloween
costumes are sometimes mistaken for monsters.

Once upon a time--back in 1939, in New York City--science fiction and
the U.S. Secret Service collided in a comic case of mistaken identity.
This weird incident involved a literary group quite famous in science
fiction, known as "the Futurians," whose membership included such
future genre greats as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, and Damon Knight.
The Futurians were every bit as offbeat and wacky as any of their
spiritual descendants, including the cyberpunks, and were given to
communal living, spontaneous group renditions of light opera, and
midnight fencing exhibitions on the lawn. The Futurians didn't have
bulletin board systems, but they did have the technological equivalent
in 1939--mimeographs and a private printing press. These were in
steady use, producing a stream of science-fiction fan magazines,
literary manifestos, and weird articles, which were picked up in
ink-sticky bundles by a succession of strange, gangly, spotty young men
in fedoras and overcoats.

The neighbors grew alarmed at the antics of the Futurians and reported
them to the Secret Service as suspected counterfeiters. In the winter
of 1939, a squad of USSS agents with drawn guns burst into "Futurian
House," prepared to confiscate the forged currency and illicit printing
presses. There they discovered a slumbering science fiction fan named
George Hahn, a guest of the Futurian commune who had just arrived in
New York. George Hahn managed to explain himself and his group, and
the Secret Service agents left the Futurians in peace henceforth.
(Alas, Hahn died in 1991, just before I had discovered this astonishing
historical parallel, and just before I could interview him for this

But the Jackson case did not come to a swift and comic end. No quick
answers came his way, or mine; no swift reassurances that all was right
in the digital world, that matters were well in hand after all. Quite
the opposite. In my alternate role as a sometime pop-science
journalist, I interviewed Jackson and his staff for an article in a
British magazine. The strange details of the raid left me more
concerned than ever. Without its computers, the company had been
financially and operationally crippled. Half the SJG workforce, a
group of entirely innocent people, had been sorrowfully fired, deprived
of their livelihoods by the seizure. It began to dawn on me that
authors--American writers--might well have their computers seized,
under sealed warrants, without any criminal charge; and that, as Steve
Jackson had discovered, there was no immediate recourse for this. This
was no joke; this wasn't science fiction; this was real.

I determined to put science fiction aside until I had discovered what
had happened and where this trouble had come from. It was time to
enter the purportedly real world of electronic free expression and
computer crime. Hence, this book. Hence, the world of the telcos; and
the world of the digital underground; and next, the world of the police.


Of the various anti-hacker activities of 1990, "Operation Sundevil" had
by far the highest public profile. The sweeping, nationwide computer
seizures of May 8, 1990 were unprecedented in scope and highly, if
rather selectively, publicized.

Unlike the efforts of the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force,
"Operation Sundevil" was not intended to combat "hacking" in the sense
of computer intrusion or sophisticated raids on telco switching
stations. Nor did it have anything to do with hacker misdeeds with
AT&T's software, or with Southern Bell's proprietary documents.

Instead, "Operation Sundevil" was a crackdown on those traditional
scourges of the digital underground: credit-card theft and telephone
code abuse. The ambitious activities out of Chicago, and the somewhat
lesser-known but vigorous anti-hacker actions of the New York State
Police in 1990, were never a part of "Operation Sundevil" per se, which
was based in Arizona.

Nevertheless, after the spectacular May 8 raids, the public, misled by
police secrecy, hacker panic, and a puzzled national press-corps,
conflated all aspects of the nationwide crackdown in 1990 under the
blanket term "Operation Sundevil." "Sundevil" is still the best-known
synonym for the crackdown of 1990. But the Arizona organizers of
"Sundevil" did not really deserve this reputation--any more, for
instance, than all hackers deserve a reputation as "hackers."

There was some justice in this confused perception, though. For one
thing, the confusion was abetted by the Washington office of the Secret
Service, who responded to Freedom of Information Act requests on
"Operation Sundevil" by referring investigators to the publicly known
cases of Knight Lightning and the Atlanta Three. And "Sundevil" was
certainly the largest aspect of the Crackdown, the most deliberate and
the best-organized. As a crackdown on electronic fraud, "Sundevil"
lacked the frantic pace of the war on the Legion of Doom; on the
contrary, Sundevil's targets were picked out with cool deliberation
over an elaborate investigation lasting two full years.

And once again the targets were bulletin board systems.

Boards can be powerful aids to organized fraud. Underground boards
carry lively, extensive, detailed, and often quite flagrant
"discussions" of lawbreaking techniques and lawbreaking activities.
"Discussing" crime in the abstract, or "discussing" the particulars of
criminal cases, is not illegal--but there are stern state and federal
laws against coldbloodedly conspiring in groups in order to commit

In the eyes of police, people who actively conspire to break the law
are not regarded as "clubs," "debating salons," "users' groups," or
"free speech advocates." Rather, such people tend to find themselves
formally indicted by prosecutors as "gangs," "racketeers," "corrupt
organizations" and "organized crime figures."

What's more, the illicit data contained on outlaw boards goes well
beyond mere acts of speech and/or possible criminal conspiracy. As we
have seen, it was common practice in the digital underground to post
purloined telephone codes on boards, for any phreak or hacker who cared
to abuse them. Is posting digital booty of this sort supposed to be
protected by the First Amendment? Hardly--though the issue, like most
issues in cyberspace, is not entirely resolved. Some theorists argue
that to merely RECITE a number publicly is not illegal--only its USE is
illegal. But anti-hacker police point out that magazines and
newspapers (more traditional forms of free expression) never publish
stolen telephone codes (even though this might well raise their

Stolen credit card numbers, being riskier and more valuable, were less
often publicly posted on boards--but there is no question that some
underground boards carried "carding" traffic, generally exchanged
through private mail.

Underground boards also carried handy programs for "scanning" telephone
codes and raiding credit card companies, as well as the usual obnoxious
galaxy of pirated software, cracked passwords, blue-box schematics,
intrusion manuals, anarchy files, porn files, and so forth.

But besides their nuisance potential for the spread of illicit
knowledge, bulletin boards have another vitally interesting aspect for
the professional investigator. Bulletin boards are cram-full of
EVIDENCE. All that busy trading of electronic mail, all those hacker
boasts, brags and struts, even the stolen codes and cards, can be neat,
electronic, real-time recordings of criminal activity. As an
investigator, when you seize a pirate board, you have scored a coup as
effective as tapping phones or intercepting mail. However, you have
not actually tapped a phone or intercepted a letter. The rules of
evidence regarding phone-taps and mail interceptions are old, stern and
well-understood by police, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.
The rules of evidence regarding boards are new, waffling, and
understood by nobody at all.

Sundevil was the largest crackdown on boards in world history. On May
7, 8, and 9, 1990, about forty-two computer systems were seized. Of
those forty-two computers, about twenty-five actually were running
boards. (The vagueness of this estimate is attributable to the
vagueness of (a) what a "computer system" is, and (b) what it actually
means to "run a board" with one--or with two computers, or with three.)

About twenty-five boards vanished into police custody in May 1990. As
we have seen, there are an estimated 30,000 boards in America today.
If we assume that one board in a hundred is up to no good with codes
and cards (which rather flatters the honesty of the board-using
community), then that would leave 2,975 outlaw boards untouched by
Sundevil. Sundevil seized about one tenth of one percent of all
computer bulletin boards in America. Seen objectively, this is
something less than a comprehensive assault. In 1990, Sundevil's
organizers--the team at the Phoenix Secret Service office, and the
Arizona Attorney General's office--had a list of at least THREE HUNDRED
boards that they considered fully deserving of search and seizure
warrants. The twenty-five boards actually seized were merely among the
most obvious and egregious of this much larger list of candidates. All
these boards had been examined beforehand--either by informants, who
had passed printouts to the Secret Service, or by Secret Service agents
themselves, who not only come equipped with modems but know how to use

There were a number of motives for Sundevil. First, it offered a
chance to get ahead of the curve on wire-fraud crimes. Tracking back
credit-card ripoffs to their perpetrators can be appallingly difficult.
If these miscreants have any kind of electronic sophistication, they
can snarl their tracks through the phone network into a mind-boggling,
untraceable mess, while still managing to "reach out and rob someone."
Boards, however, full of brags and boasts, codes and cards, offer
evidence in the handy congealed form.

Seizures themselves--the mere physical removal of machines--tends to
take the pressure off. During Sundevil, a large number of code kids,
warez d00dz, and credit card thieves would be deprived of those
boards--their means of community and conspiracy--in one swift blow.
As for the sysops themselves (commonly among the boldest offenders)
they would be directly stripped of their computer equipment, and
rendered digitally mute and blind.

And this aspect of Sundevil was carried out with great success.
Sundevil seems to have been a complete tactical surprise--unlike the
fragmentary and continuing seizures of the war on the Legion of Doom,
Sundevil was precisely timed and utterly overwhelming. At least forty
"computers" were seized during May 7, 8 and 9, 1990, in Cincinnati,
Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Phoenix, Tucson, Richmond, San
Diego, San Jose, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Some cities saw
multiple raids, such as the five separate raids in the New York City
environs. Plano, Texas (essentially a suburb of the Dallas/Fort Worth
metroplex, and a hub of the telecommunications industry) saw four
computer seizures. Chicago, ever in the forefront, saw its own local
Sundevil raid, briskly carried out by Secret Service agents Timothy
Foley and Barbara Golden.

Many of these raids occurred, not in the cities proper, but in
associated white-middle class suburbs--places like Mount Lebanon,
Pennsylvania and Clark Lake, Michigan. There were a few raids on
offices; most took place in people's homes, the classic hacker
basements and bedrooms.

The Sundevil raids were searches and seizures, not a group of mass
arrests. There were only four arrests during Sundevil. "Tony the
Trashman," a longtime teenage bete noire of the Arizona Racketeering
unit, was arrested in Tucson on May 9. "Dr. Ripco," sysop of an outlaw
board with the misfortune to exist in Chicago itself, was also
arrested--on illegal weapons charges. Local units also arrested a
19-year-old female phone phreak named "Electra" in Pennsylvania, and a
male juvenile in California. Federal agents however were not seeking
arrests, but computers.

Hackers are generally not indicted (if at all) until the evidence in
their seized computers is evaluated--a process that can take weeks,
months--even years. When hackers are arrested on the spot, it's
generally an arrest for other reasons. Drugs and/or illegal weapons
show up in a good third of anti-hacker computer seizures (though not
during Sundevil).

That scofflaw teenage hackers (or their parents) should have marijuana
in their homes is probably not a shocking revelation, but the
surprisingly common presence of illegal firearms in hacker dens is a
bit disquieting. A Personal Computer can be a great equalizer for the
techno-cowboy--much like that more traditional American "Great
Equalizer," the Personal Sixgun. Maybe it's not all that surprising
that some guy obsessed with power through illicit technology would also
have a few illicit high-velocity-impact devices around. An element of
the digital underground particularly dotes on those "anarchy philes,"
and this element tends to shade into the crackpot milieu of
survivalists, gun-nuts, anarcho-leftists and the ultra-libertarian

This is not to say that hacker raids to date have uncovered any major
crack-dens or illegal arsenals; but Secret Service agents do not regard
"hackers" as "just kids." They regard hackers as unpredictable people,
bright and slippery. It doesn't help matters that the hacker himself
has been "hiding behind his keyboard" all this time. Commonly, police
have no idea what he looks like. This makes him an unknown quantity,
someone best treated with proper caution.

To date, no hacker has come out shooting, though they do sometimes brag
on boards that they will do just that. Threats of this sort are taken
seriously. Secret Service hacker raids tend to be swift,
comprehensive, well-manned (even over-manned); and agents generally
burst through every door in the home at once, sometimes with drawn
guns. Any potential resistance is swiftly quelled. Hacker raids are
usually raids on people's homes. It can be a very dangerous business
to raid an American home; people can panic when strangers invade their
sanctum. Statistically speaking, the most dangerous thing a policeman
can do is to enter someone's home. (The second most dangerous thing is
to stop a car in traffic.) People have guns in their homes. More cops
are hurt in homes than are ever hurt in biker bars or massage parlors.

But in any case, no one was hurt during Sundevil, or indeed during any
part of the Hacker Crackdown.

Nor were there any allegations of any physical mistreatment of a
suspect. Guns were pointed, interrogations were sharp and prolonged;
but no one in 1990 claimed any act of brutality by any crackdown raider.

In addition to the forty or so computers, Sundevil reaped floppy disks
in particularly great abundance--an estimated 23,000 of them, which
naturally included every manner of illegitimate data: pirated games,
stolen codes, hot credit card numbers, the complete text and software
of entire pirate bulletin-boards. These floppy disks, which remain in
police custody today, offer a gigantic, almost embarrassingly rich
source of possible criminal indictments. These 23,000 floppy disks
also include a thus-far unknown quantity of legitimate computer games,
legitimate software, purportedly "private" mail from boards, business
records, and personal correspondence of all kinds.

Standard computer-crime search warrants lay great emphasis on seizing
written documents as well as computers--specifically including
photocopies, computer printouts, telephone bills, address books, logs,
notes, memoranda and correspondence. In practice, this has meant that
diaries, gaming magazines, software documentation, nonfiction books on
hacking and computer security, sometimes even science fiction novels,
have all vanished out the door in police custody. A wide variety of
electronic items have been known to vanish as well, including
telephones, televisions, answering machines, Sony Walkmans, desktop
printers, compact disks, and audiotapes.

No fewer than 150 members of the Secret Service were sent into the
field during Sundevil. They were commonly accompanied by squads of
local and/or state police. Most of these officers--especially the
locals--had never been on an anti-hacker raid before. (This was one
good reason, in fact, why so many of them were invited along in the
first place.) Also, the presence of a uniformed police officer assures
the raidees that the people entering their homes are, in fact, police.
Secret Service agents wear plain clothes. So do the telco security
experts who commonly accompany the Secret Service on raids (and who
make no particular effort to identify themselves as mere employees of
telephone companies).

A typical hacker raid goes something like this. First, police storm in
rapidly, through every entrance, with overwhelming force, in the
assumption that this tactic will keep casualties to a minimum. Second,
possible suspects are immediately removed from the vicinity of any and
all computer systems, so that they will have no chance to purge or
destroy computer evidence. Suspects are herded into a room without
computers, commonly the living room, and kept under guard--not ARMED
guard, for the guns are swiftly holstered, but under guard
nevertheless. They are presented with the search warrant and warned
that anything they say may be held against them. Commonly they have a
great deal to say, especially if they are unsuspecting parents.

Somewhere in the house is the "hot spot"--a computer tied to a phone
line (possibly several computers and several phones). Commonly it's a
teenager's bedroom, but it can be anywhere in the house; there may be
several such rooms. This "hot spot" is put in charge of a two-agent
team, the "finder" and the "recorder." The "finder" is
computer-trained, commonly the case agent who has actually obtained the
search warrant from a judge. He or she understands what is being
sought, and actually carries out the seizures: unplugs machines, opens
drawers, desks, files, floppy-disk containers, etc. The "recorder"
photographs all the equipment, just as it stands--especially the tangle
of wired connections in the back, which can otherwise be a real
nightmare to restore. The recorder will also commonly photograph every
room in the house, lest some wily criminal claim that the police had
robbed him during the search. Some recorders carry videocams or tape
recorders; however, it's more common for the recorder to simply take
written notes. Objects are described and numbered as the finder seizes
them, generally on standard preprinted police inventory forms.

Even Secret Service agents were not, and are not, expert computer
users. They have not made, and do not make, judgements on the fly
about potential threats posed by various forms of equipment. They may
exercise discretion; they may leave Dad his computer, for instance, but
they don't HAVE to. Standard computer-crime search warrants, which
date back to the early 80s, use a sweeping language that targets
computers, most anything attached to a computer, most anything used to
operate a computer--most anything that remotely resembles a
computer--plus most any and all written documents surrounding it.
Computer-crime investigators have strongly urged agents to seize the

In this sense, Operation Sundevil appears to have been a complete
success. Boards went down all over America, and were shipped en masse
to the computer investigation lab of the Secret Service, in Washington
DC, along with the 23,000 floppy disks and unknown quantities of
printed material.

But the seizure of twenty-five boards, and the multi-megabyte mountains
of possibly useful evidence contained in these boards (and in their
owners' other computers, also out the door), were far from the only
motives for Operation Sundevil. An unprecedented action of great
ambition and size, Sundevil's motives can only be described as
political. It was a public-relations effort, meant to pass certain
messages, meant to make certain situations clear: both in the mind of
the general public, and in the minds of various constituencies of the
electronic community.

First--and this motivation was vital--a "message" would be sent from
law enforcement to the digital underground. This very message was
recited in so many words by Garry M. Jenkins, the Assistant Director of
the US Secret Service, at the Sundevil press conference in Phoenix on
May 9, 1990, immediately after the raids. In brief, hackers were
mistaken in their foolish belief that they could hide behind the
"relative anonymity of their computer terminals." On the contrary,
they should fully understand that state and federal cops were actively
patrolling the beat in cyberspace--that they were on the watch
everywhere, even in those sleazy and secretive dens of cybernetic vice,
the underground boards.

This is not an unusual message for police to publicly convey to crooks.
The message is a standard message; only the context is new.

In this respect, the Sundevil raids were the digital equivalent of the
standard vice-squad crackdown on massage parlors, porno bookstores,
head-shops, or floating crap-games. There may be few or no arrests in
a raid of this sort; no convictions, no trials, no interrogations. In
cases of this sort, police may well walk out the door with many pounds
of sleazy magazines, X-rated videotapes, sex toys, gambling equipment,
baggies of marijuana....

Of course, if something truly horrendous is discovered by the raiders,
there will be arrests and prosecutions. Far more likely, however,
there will simply be a brief but sharp disruption of the closed and
secretive world of the nogoodniks. There will be "street hassle."
"Heat." "Deterrence." And, of course, the immediate loss of the
seized goods. It is very unlikely that any of this seized material
will ever be returned. Whether charged or not, whether convicted or
not, the perpetrators will almost surely lack the nerve ever to ask for
this stuff to be given back.

Arrests and trials--putting people in jail--may involve all kinds of
formal legalities; but dealing with the justice system is far from the
only task of police. Police do not simply arrest people. They don't
simply put people in jail. That is not how the police perceive their
jobs. Police "protect and serve." Police "keep the peace," they "keep
public order." Like other forms of public relations, keeping public
order is not an exact science. Keeping public order is something of an

If a group of tough-looking teenage hoodlums was loitering on a
street-corner, no one would be surprised to see a street-cop arrive and
sternly order them to "break it up." On the contrary, the surprise
would come if one of these ne'er-do-wells stepped briskly into a
phone-booth, called a civil rights lawyer, and instituted a civil suit
in defense of his Constitutional rights of free speech and free
assembly. But something much along this line was one of the many
anomolous outcomes of the Hacker Crackdown.

Sundevil also carried useful "messages" for other constituents of the
electronic community. These messages may not have been read aloud from
the Phoenix podium in front of the press corps, but there was little
mistaking their meaning. There was a message of reassurance for the
primary victims of coding and carding: the telcos, and the credit
companies. Sundevil was greeted with joy by the security officers of
the electronic business community. After years of high-tech harassment
and spiralling revenue losses, their complaints of rampant outlawry
were being taken seriously by law enforcement. No more head-scratching
or dismissive shrugs; no more feeble excuses about "lack of
computer-trained officers" or the low priority of "victimless"
white-collar telecommunication crimes.

Computer-crime experts have long believed that computer-related
offenses are drastically under-reported. They regard this as a major
open scandal of their field. Some victims are reluctant to come forth,
because they believe that police and prosecutors are not
computer-literate, and can and will do nothing. Others are embarrassed
by their vulnerabilities, and will take strong measures to avoid any
publicity; this is especially true of banks, who fear a loss of
investor confidence should an embezzlement-case or wire-fraud surface.
And some victims are so helplessly confused by their own high
technology that they never even realize that a crime has occurred--even
when they have been fleeced to the bone.

The results of this situation can be dire. Criminals escape
apprehension and punishment. The computer-crime units that do exist,
can't get work. The true scope of computer-crime: its size, its real
nature, the scope of its threats, and the legal remedies for it--all
remain obscured.

Another problem is very little publicized, but it is a cause of genuine
concern. Where there is persistent crime, but no effective police
protection, then vigilantism can result. Telcos, banks, credit
companies, the major corporations who maintain extensive computer
networks vulnerable to hacking --these organizations are powerful,
wealthy, and politically influential. They are disinclined to be
pushed around by crooks (or by most anyone else, for that matter).
They often maintain well-organized private security forces, commonly
run by experienced veterans of military and police units, who have left
public service for the greener pastures of the private sector. For
police, the corporate security manager can be a powerful ally; but if
this gentleman finds no allies in the police, and the pressure is on
from his board-of-directors, he may quietly take certain matters into
his own hands.

Nor is there any lack of disposable hired-help in the corporate
security business. Private security agencies--the 'security business'
generally--grew explosively in the 1980s. Today there are spooky
gumshoed armies of "security consultants," "rent-a-cops," "private
eyes," "outside experts"--every manner of shady operator who retails in
"results" and discretion. Or course, many of these gentlemen and
ladies may be paragons of professional and moral rectitude. But as
anyone who has read a hard-boiled detective novel knows, police tend to
be less than fond of this sort of private-sector competition.

Companies in search of computer-security have even been known to hire
hackers. Police shudder at this prospect.

Police treasure good relations with the business community. Rarely
will you see a policeman so indiscreet as to allege publicly that some
major employer in his state or city has succumbed to paranoia and gone
off the rails. Nevertheless, police --and computer police in
particular--are aware of this possibility. Computer-crime police can
and do spend up to half of their business hours just doing public
relations: seminars, "dog and pony shows," sometimes with parents'
groups or computer users, but generally with their core audience: the
likely victims of hacking crimes. These, of course, are telcos, credit
card companies and large computer-equipped corporations. The police
strongly urge these people, as good citizens, to report offenses and
press criminal charges; they pass the message that there is someone in
authority who cares, understands, and, best of all, will take useful
action should a computer-crime occur.

But reassuring talk is cheap. Sundevil offered action.

The final message of Sundevil was intended for internal consumption by
law enforcement. Sundevil was offered as proof that the community of
American computer-crime police had come of age. Sundevil was proof
that enormous things like Sundevil itself could now be accomplished.
Sundevil was proof that the Secret Service and its local
law-enforcement allies could act like a well-oiled machine--(despite
the hampering use of those scrambled phones). It was also proof that
the Arizona Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit--the sparkplug of
Sundevil--ranked with the best in the world in ambition, organization,
and sheer conceptual daring.

And, as a final fillip, Sundevil was a message from the Secret Service
to their longtime rivals in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By
Congressional fiat, both USSS and FBI formally share jurisdiction over
federal computer-crimebusting activities. Neither of these groups has
ever been remotely happy with this muddled situation. It seems to
suggest that Congress cannot make up its mind as to which of these
groups is better qualified. And there is scarcely a G-man or a Special
Agent anywhere without a very firm opinion on that topic.


For the neophyte, one of the most puzzling aspects of the crackdown on
hackers is why the United States Secret Service has anything at all to
do with this matter.

The Secret Service is best known for its primary public role: its
agents protect the President of the United States. They also guard the
President's family, the Vice President and his family, former
Presidents, and Presidential candidates. They sometimes guard foreign
dignitaries who are visiting the United States, especially foreign
heads of state, and have been known to accompany American officials on
diplomatic missions overseas.

Special Agents of the Secret Service don't wear uniforms, but the
Secret Service also has two uniformed police agencies. There's the
former White House Police (now known as the Secret Service Uniformed
Division, since they currently guard foreign embassies in Washington,
as well as the White House itself). And there's the uniformed Treasury
Police Force.

The Secret Service has been charged by Congress with a number of
little-known duties. They guard the precious metals in Treasury vaults.
They guard the most valuable historical documents of the United States:
originals of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence,
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, an American-owned copy of the Magna
Carta, and so forth. Once they were assigned to guard the Mona Lisa,
on her American tour in the 1960s.

The entire Secret Service is a division of the Treasury Department.
Secret Service Special Agents (there are about 1,900 of them) are
bodyguards for the President et al, but they all work for the Treasury.
And the Treasury (through its divisions of the U.S. Mint and the Bureau
of Engraving and Printing) prints the nation's money.

As Treasury police, the Secret Service guards the nation's currency; it
is the only federal law enforcement agency with direct jurisdiction
over counterfeiting and forgery. It analyzes documents for
authenticity, and its fight against fake cash is still quite lively
(especially since the skilled counterfeiters of Medellin, Columbia have
gotten into the act). Government checks, bonds, and other obligations,
which exist in untold millions and are worth untold billions, are
common targets for forgery, which the Secret Service also battles. It
even handles forgery of postage stamps.

But cash is fading in importance today as money has become electronic.
As necessity beckoned, the Secret Service moved from fighting the
counterfeiting of paper currency and the forging of checks, to the
protection of funds transferred by wire.

From wire-fraud, it was a simple skip-and-jump to what is formally
known as "access device fraud." Congress granted the Secret Service
the authority to investigate "access device fraud" under Title 18 of
the United States Code (U.S.C. Section 1029).

The term "access device" seems intuitively simple. It's some kind of
high-tech gizmo you use to get money with. It makes good sense to put
this sort of thing in the charge of counterfeiting and wire-fraud

However, in Section 1029, the term "access device" is very generously
defined. An access device is: "any card, plate, code, account number,
or other means of account access that can be used, alone or in
conjunction with another access device, to obtain money, goods,
services, or any other thing of value, or that can be used to initiate
a transfer of funds."

"Access device" can therefore be construed to include credit cards
themselves (a popular forgery item nowadays). It also includes credit
card account NUMBERS, those standards of the digital underground. The
same goes for telephone charge cards (an increasingly popular item with
telcos, who are tired of being robbed of pocket change by phone-booth
thieves). And also telephone access CODES, those OTHER standards of
the digital underground. (Stolen telephone codes may not "obtain
money," but they certainly do obtain valuable "services," which is
specifically forbidden by Section 1029.)

We can now see that Section 1029 already pits the United States Secret
Service directly against the digital underground, without any mention
at all of the word "computer."

Standard phreaking devices, like "blue boxes," used to steal phone
service from old-fashioned mechanical switches, are unquestionably
"counterfeit access devices." Thanks to Sec.1029, it is not only
illegal to USE counterfeit access devices, but it is even illegal to
BUILD them. "Producing," "designing" "duplicating" or "assembling"
blue boxes are all federal crimes today, and if you do this, the Secret
Service has been charged by Congress to come after you.

Automatic Teller Machines, which replicated all over America during the
1980s, are definitely "access devices," too, and an attempt to tamper
with their punch-in codes and plastic bank cards falls directly under
Sec. 1029.

Section 1029 is remarkably elastic. Suppose you find a computer
password in somebody's trash. That password might be a "code"--it's
certainly a "means of account access." Now suppose you log on to a
computer and copy some software for yourself. You've certainly
obtained "service" (computer service) and a "thing of value" (the
software). Suppose you tell a dozen friends about your swiped
password, and let them use it, too. Now you're "trafficking in
unauthorized access devices." And when the Prophet, a member of the
Legion of Doom, passed a stolen telephone company document to Knight
Lightning at Phrack magazine, they were both charged under Sec. 1029!

There are two limitations on Section 1029. First, the offense must
"affect interstate or foreign commerce" in order to become a matter of
federal jurisdiction. The term "affecting commerce" is not well
defined; but you may take it as a given that the Secret Service can
take an interest if you've done most anything that happens to cross a
state line. State and local police can be touchy about their
jurisdictions, and can sometimes be mulish when the feds show up. But
when it comes to computer-crime, the local police are pathetically
grateful for federal help--in fact they complain that they can't get
enough of it. If you're stealing long-distance service, you're almost
certainly crossing state lines, and you're definitely "affecting the
interstate commerce" of the telcos. And if you're abusing credit cards
by ordering stuff out of glossy catalogs from, say, Vermont, you're in
for it.

The second limitation is money. As a rule, the feds don't pursue
penny-ante offenders. Federal judges will dismiss cases that appear to
waste their time. Federal crimes must be serious; Section 1029
specifies a minimum loss of a thousand dollars.

We now come to the very next section of Title 18, which is Section
1030, "Fraud and related activity in connection with computers." This
statute gives the Secret Service direct jurisdiction over acts of
computer intrusion. On the face of it, the Secret Service would now
seem to command the field. Section 1030, however, is nowhere near so
ductile as Section 1029.

The first annoyance is Section 1030(d), which reads:

"(d) The United States Secret Service shall, IN ADDITION TO ANY OTHER
AGENCY HAVING SUCH AUTHORITY, have the authority to investigate
offenses under this section. Such authority of the United States
Secret Service shall be exercised in accordance with an agreement which
shall be entered into by the Secretary of the Treasury AND THE
ATTORNEY GENERAL." (Author's italics.) [Represented by capitals.]

The Secretary of the Treasury is the titular head of the Secret
Service, while the Attorney General is in charge of the FBI. In
Section (d), Congress shrugged off responsibility for the
computer-crime turf-battle between the Service and the Bureau, and made
them fight it out all by themselves. The result was a rather dire one
for the Secret Service, for the FBI ended up with exclusive
jurisdiction over computer break-ins having to do with national
security, foreign espionage, federally insured banks, and U.S. military
bases, while retaining joint jurisdiction over all the other computer
intrusions. Essentially, when it comes to Section 1030, the FBI not
only gets the real glamor stuff for itself, but can peer over the
shoulder of the Secret Service and barge in to meddle whenever it suits

The second problem has to do with the dicey term "Federal interest
computer." Section 1030(a)(2) makes it illegal to "access a computer
without authorization" if that computer belongs to a financial
institution or an issuer of credit cards (fraud cases, in other words).
Congress was quite willing to give the Secret Service jurisdiction over
money-transferring computers, but Congress balked at letting them
investigate any and all computer intrusions. Instead, the USSS had to
settle for the money machines and the "Federal interest computers." A
"Federal interest computer" is a computer which the government itself
owns, or is using. Large networks of interstate computers, linked over
state lines, are also considered to be of "Federal interest." (This
notion of "Federal interest" is legally rather foggy and has never been
clearly defined in the courts. The Secret Service has never yet had
its hand slapped for investigating computer break-ins that were NOT of
"Federal interest," but conceivably someday this might happen.)

So the Secret Service's authority over "unauthorized access" to
computers covers a lot of territory, but by no means the whole ball of
cyberspatial wax. If you are, for instance, a LOCAL computer retailer,
or the owner of a LOCAL bulletin board system, then a malicious LOCAL
intruder can break in, crash your system, trash your files and scatter
viruses, and the U.S. Secret Service cannot do a single thing about it.

At least, it can't do anything DIRECTLY. But the Secret Service will
do plenty to help the local people who can.

The FBI may have dealt itself an ace off the bottom of the deck when it
comes to Section 1030; but that's not the whole story; that's not the
street. What's Congress thinks is one thing, and Congress has been
known to change its mind. The REAL turf-struggle is out there in the
streets where it's happening. If you're a local street-cop with a
computer problem, the Secret Service wants you to know where you can
find the real expertise. While the Bureau crowd are off having their
favorite shoes polished--(wing-tips)--and making derisive fun of the
Service's favorite shoes--("pansy-ass tassels")--the tassel-toting
Secret Service has a crew of ready-and-able hacker-trackers installed
in the capital of every state in the Union. Need advice? They'll give
you advice, or at least point you in the right direction. Need
training? They can see to that, too.

If you're a local cop and you call in the FBI, the FBI (as is widely
and slanderously rumored) will order you around like a coolie, take all
the credit for your busts, and mop up every possible scrap of reflected
glory. The Secret Service, on the other hand, doesn't brag a lot.
They're the quiet types. VERY quiet. Very cool. Efficient.
High-tech. Mirrorshades, icy stares, radio ear-plugs, an Uzi
machine-pistol tucked somewhere in that well-cut jacket. American
samurai, sworn to give their lives to protect our President. "The
granite agents." Trained in martial arts, absolutely fearless. Every
single one of 'em has a top-secret security clearance. Something goes
a little wrong, you're not gonna hear any whining and moaning and
political buck-passing out of these guys.

The facade of the granite agent is not, of course, the reality. Secret
Service agents are human beings. And the real glory in Service work is
not in battling computer crime--not yet, anyway--but in protecting the
President. The real glamour of Secret Service work is in the White
House Detail. If you're at the President's side, then the kids and the
wife see you on television; you rub shoulders with the most powerful
people in the world. That's the real heart of Service work, the number
one priority. More than one computer investigation has stopped dead in
the water when Service agents vanished at the President's need.

There's romance in the work of the Service. The intimate access to
circles of great power; the esprit-de-corps of a highly trained and
disciplined elite; the high responsibility of defending the Chief
Executive; the fulfillment of a patriotic duty. And as police work
goes, the pay's not bad. But there's squalor in Service work, too.
You may get spat upon by protesters howling abuse--and if they get
violent, if they get too close, sometimes you have to knock one of them

The real squalor in Service work is drudgery such as "the quarterlies,"
traipsing out four times a year, year in, year out, to interview the
various pathetic wretches, many of them in prisons and asylums, who
have seen fit to threaten the President's life. And then there's the
grinding stress of searching all those faces in the endless bustling
crowds, looking for hatred, looking for psychosis, looking for the
tight, nervous face of an Arthur Bremer, a Squeaky Fromme, a Lee Harvey
Oswald. It's watching all those grasping, waving hands for sudden
movements, while your ears strain at your radio headphone for the
long-rehearsed cry of "Gun!"

It's poring, in grinding detail, over the biographies of every rotten
loser who ever shot at a President. It's the unsung work of the
Protective Research Section, who study scrawled, anonymous death
threats with all the meticulous tools of anti-forgery techniques.

And it's maintaining the hefty computerized files on anyone who ever
threatened the President's life. Civil libertarians have become
increasingly concerned at the Government's use of computer files to
track American citizens--but the Secret Service file of potential
Presidential assassins, which has upward of twenty thousand names,
rarely causes a peep of protest. If you EVER state that you intend to
kill the President, the Secret Service will want to know and record who
you are, where you are, what you are, and what you're up to. If you're
a serious threat--if you're officially considered "of protective
interest"--then the Secret Service may well keep tabs on you for the
rest of your natural life.

Protecting the President has first call on all the Service's resources.
But there's a lot more to the Service's traditions and history than
standing guard outside the Oval Office.

The Secret Service is the nation's oldest general federal
law-enforcement agency. Compared to the Secret Service, the FBI are
new-hires and the CIA are temps. The Secret Service was founded 'way
back in 1865, at the suggestion of Hugh McCulloch, Abraham Lincoln's
Secretary of the Treasury. McCulloch wanted a specialized Treasury
police to combat counterfeiting. Abraham Lincoln agreed that this
seemed a good idea, and, with a terrible irony, Abraham Lincoln was
shot that very night by John Wilkes Booth.

The Secret Service originally had nothing to do with protecting
Presidents. They didn't take this on as a regular assignment until
after the Garfield assassination in 1881. And they didn't get any
Congressional money for it until President McKinley was shot in 1901.
The Service was originally designed for one purpose: destroying


There are interesting parallels between the Service's
nineteenth-century entry into counterfeiting, and America's
twentieth-century entry into computer-crime.

In 1865, America's paper currency was a terrible muddle. Security was
drastically bad. Currency was printed on the spot by local banks in
literally hundreds of different designs. No one really knew what the
heck a dollar bill was supposed to look like. Bogus bills passed
easily. If some joker told you that a one-dollar bill from the
Railroad Bank of Lowell, Massachusetts had a woman leaning on a shield,
with a locomotive, a cornucopia, a compass, various agricultural
implements, a railroad bridge, and some factories, then you pretty much
had to take his word for it. (And in fact he was telling the truth!)

SIXTEEN HUNDRED local American banks designed and printed their own
paper currency, and there were no general standards for security. Like
a badly guarded node in a computer network, badly designed bills were
easy to fake, and posed a security hazard for the entire monetary

No one knew the exact extent of the threat to the currency. There were
panicked estimates that as much as a third of the entire national
currency was faked. Counterfeiters--known as "boodlers" in the
underground slang of the time--were mostly technically skilled
printers who had gone to the bad. Many had once worked printing
legitimate currency. Boodlers operated in rings and gangs. Technical
experts engraved the bogus plates--commonly in basements in New York
City. Smooth confidence men passed large wads of high-quality,
high-denomination fakes, including the really sophisticated
stuff--government bonds, stock certificates, and railway shares.
Cheaper, botched fakes were sold or sharewared to low-level gangs of
boodler wannabes. (The really cheesy lowlife boodlers merely upgraded
real bills by altering face values, changing ones to fives, tens to
hundreds, and so on.)

The techniques of boodling were little-known and regarded with a
certain awe by the mid-nineteenth-century public. The ability to
manipulate the system for rip-off seemed diabolically clever. As the
skill and daring of the boodlers increased, the situation became
intolerable. The federal government stepped in, and began offering its
own federal currency, which was printed in fancy green ink, but only on
the back--the original "greenbacks." And at first, the improved
security of the well-designed, well-printed federal greenbacks seemed
to solve the problem; but then the counterfeiters caught on. Within a
few years things were worse than ever: a CENTRALIZED system where ALL
security was bad!

The local police were helpless. The Government tried offering blood
money to potential informants, but this met with little success.
Banks, plagued by boodling, gave up hope of police help and hired
private security men instead. Merchants and bankers queued up by the
thousands to buy privately-printed manuals on currency security, slim
DETECTOR. The back of the book offered Laban Heath's patent microscope
for five bucks.

Then the Secret Service entered the picture. The first agents were a
rough and ready crew. Their chief was one William P. Wood, a former
guerilla in the Mexican War who'd won a reputation busting contractor
fraudsters for the War Department during the Civil War. Wood, who was
also Keeper of the Capital Prison, had a sideline as a counterfeiting
expert, bagging boodlers for the federal bounty money.

Wood was named Chief of the new Secret Service in July 1865. There
were only ten Secret Service agents in all: Wood himself, a handful
who'd worked for him in the War Department, and a few former private
investigators--counterfeiting experts--whom Wood had won over to public
service. (The Secret Service of 1865 was much the size of the Chicago
Computer Fraud Task Force or the Arizona Racketeering Unit of 1990.)
These ten "Operatives" had an additional twenty or so "Assistant
Operatives" and "Informants." Besides salary and per diem, each Secret
Service employee received a whopping twenty-five dollars for each
boodler he captured.

Wood himself publicly estimated that at least HALF of America's
currency was counterfeit, a perhaps pardonable perception. Within a
year the Secret Service had arrested over 200 counterfeiters. They
busted about two hundred boodlers a year for four years straight.

Wood attributed his success to travelling fast and light, hitting the
bad-guys hard, and avoiding bureaucratic baggage. "Because my raids
were made without military escort and I did not ask the assistance of
state officers, I surprised the professional counterfeiter."

Wood's social message to the once-impudent boodlers bore an eerie ring
of Sundevil: "It was also my purpose to convince such characters that
it would no longer be healthy for them to ply their vocation without
being handled roughly, a fact they soon discovered."

William P. Wood, the Secret Service's guerilla pioneer, did not end
well. He succumbed to the lure of aiming for the really big score.
The notorious Brockway Gang of New York City, headed by William E.
Brockway, the "King of the Counterfeiters," had forged a number of
government bonds. They'd passed these brilliant fakes on the
prestigious Wall Street investment firm of Jay Cooke and Company. The
Cooke firm were frantic and offered a huge reward for the forgers'

Laboring diligently, Wood confiscated the plates (though not Mr.
Brockway) and claimed the reward. But the Cooke company treacherously
reneged. Wood got involved in a down-and-dirty lawsuit with the Cooke
capitalists. Wood's boss, Secretary of the Treasury McCulloch, felt
that Wood's demands for money and glory were unseemly, and even when
the reward money finally came through, McCulloch refused to pay Wood
anything. Wood found himself mired in a seemingly endless round of
federal suits and Congressional lobbying.

Wood never got his money. And he lost his job to boot. He resigned in

Wood's agents suffered, too. On May 12, 1869, the second Chief of the
Secret Service took over, and almost immediately fired most of Wood's
pioneer Secret Service agents: Operatives, Assistants and Informants
alike. The practice of receiving $25 per crook was abolished. And the
Secret Service began the long, uncertain process of thorough

Wood ended badly. He must have felt stabbed in the back. In fact his
entire organization was mangled.

On the other hand, William P. Wood WAS the first head of the Secret
Service. William Wood was the pioneer. People still honor his name.
Who remembers the name of the SECOND head of the Secret Service?

As for William Brockway (also known as "Colonel Spencer"), he was
finally arrested by the Secret Service in 1880. He did five years in
prison, got out, and was still boodling at the age of seventy-four.


Anyone with an interest in Operation Sundevil--or in American
computer-crime generally--could scarcely miss the presence of Gail
Thackeray, Assistant Attorney General of the State of Arizona.
Computer-crime training manuals often cited Thackeray's group and her
work; she was the highest-ranking state official to specialize in
computer-related offenses. Her name had been on the Sundevil press
release (though modestly ranked well after the local federal
prosecuting attorney and the head of the Phoenix Secret Service office).

As public commentary, and controversy, began to mount about the Hacker
Crackdown, this Arizonan state official began to take a higher and
higher public profile. Though uttering almost nothing specific about
the Sundevil operation itself, she coined some of the most striking
soundbites of the growing propaganda war: "Agents are operating in good
faith, and I don't think you can say that for the hacker community,"
was one. Another was the memorable "I am not a mad dog prosecutor"
(Houston Chronicle, Sept 2, 1990.) In the meantime, the Secret Service
maintained its usual extreme discretion; the Chicago Unit, smarting
from the backlash of the Steve Jackson scandal, had gone completely to

As I collated my growing pile of newspaper clippings, Gail Thackeray
ranked as a comparative fount of public knowledge on police operations.

I decided that I had to get to know Gail Thackeray. I wrote to her at
the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Not only did she kindly reply
to me, but, to my astonishment, she knew very well what "cyberpunk"
science fiction was.

Shortly after this, Gail Thackeray lost her job. And I temporarily
misplaced my own career as a science-fiction writer, to become a
full-time computer-crime journalist. In early March, 1991, I flew to
Phoenix, Arizona, to interview Gail Thackeray for my book on the hacker


"Credit cards didn't used to cost anything to get," says Gail
Thackeray. "Now they cost forty bucks--and that's all just to cover
the costs from RIP-OFF ARTISTS."

Electronic nuisance criminals are parasites. One by one they're not
much harm, no big deal. But they never come just one by one. They
come in swarms, heaps, legions, sometimes whole subcultures. And they
bite. Every time we buy a credit card today, we lose a little
financial vitality to a particular species of bloodsucker.

What, in her expert opinion, are the worst forms of electronic crime, I
ask, consulting my notes. Is it--credit card fraud? Breaking into ATM
bank machines? Phone-phreaking? Computer intrusions? Software
viruses? Access-code theft? Records tampering? Software piracy?
Pornographic bulletin boards? Satellite TV piracy? Theft of cable
service? It's a long list. By the time I reach the end of it I feel
rather depressed.

"Oh no," says Gail Thackeray, leaning forward over the table, her whole
body gone stiff with energetic indignation, "the biggest damage is
telephone fraud. Fake sweepstakes, fake charities. Boiler-room con
operations. You could pay off the national debt with what these guys
steal.... They target old people, they get hold of credit ratings and
demographics, they rip off the old and the weak." The words come
tumbling out of her.

It's low-tech stuff, your everyday boiler-room fraud. Grifters,
conning people out of money over the phone, have been around for
decades. This is where the word "phony" came from!

It's just that it's so much EASIER now, horribly facilitated by
advances in technology and the byzantine structure of the modern phone
system. The same professional fraudsters do it over and over,
Thackeray tells me, they hide behind dense onion-shells of fake
companies ... fake holding corporations nine or ten layers deep,
registered all over the map. They get a phone installed under a false
name in an empty safe-house. And then they call-forward everything out
of that phone to yet another phone, a phone that may even be in another
STATE. And they don't even pay the charges on their phones; after a
month or so, they just split; set up somewhere else in another
Podunkville with the same seedy crew of veteran phone-crooks. They buy
or steal commercial credit card reports, slap them on the PC, have a
program pick out people over sixty-five who pay a lot to charities. A
whole subculture living off this, merciless folks on the con.

"The 'light-bulbs for the blind' people," Thackeray muses, with a
special loathing. "There's just no end to them."

We're sitting in a downtown diner in Phoenix, Arizona. It's a tough
town, Phoenix. A state capital seeing some hard times. Even to a
Texan like myself, Arizona state politics seem rather baroque. There
was, and remains, endless trouble over the Martin Luther King holiday,
the sort of stiff-necked, foot-shooting incident for which Arizona
politics seem famous. There was Evan Mecham, the eccentric Republican
millionaire governor who was impeached, after reducing state government
to a ludicrous shambles. Then there was the national Keating scandal,
involving Arizona savings and loans, in which both of Arizona's U.S.
senators, DeConcini and McCain, played sadly prominent roles.

And the very latest is the bizarre AzScam case, in which state
legislators were videotaped, eagerly taking cash from an informant of
the Phoenix city police department, who was posing as a Vegas mobster.

"Oh," says Thackeray cheerfully. "These people are amateurs here, they
thought they were finally getting to play with the big boys. They
don't have the least idea how to take a bribe! It's not institutional
corruption. It's not like back in Philly."

Gail Thackeray was a former prosecutor in Philadelphia. Now she's a
former assistant attorney general of the State of Arizona. Since
moving to Arizona in 1986, she had worked under the aegis of Steve
Twist, her boss in the Attorney General's office. Steve Twist wrote
Arizona's pioneering computer crime laws and naturally took an interest
in seeing them enforced. It was a snug niche, and Thackeray's
Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit won a national reputation for
ambition and technical knowledgeability.... Until the latest election
in Arizona. Thackeray's boss ran for the top job, and lost. The
victor, the new Attorney General, apparently went to some pains to
eliminate the bureaucratic traces of his rival, including his pet
group--Thackeray's group. Twelve people got their walking papers.

Now Thackeray's painstakingly assembled computer lab sits gathering
dust somewhere in the glass-and-concrete Attorney General's HQ on 1275
Washington Street. Her computer-crime books, her painstakingly
garnered back issues of phreak and hacker zines, all bought at her own
expense--are piled in boxes somewhere. The State of Arizona is simply
not particularly interested in electronic racketeering at the moment.

At the moment of our interview, Gail Thackeray, officially unemployed,
is working out of the county sheriff's office, living on her savings,
and prosecuting several cases--working 60-hour weeks, just as
always--for no pay at all. "I'm trying to train people," she mutters.

Half her life seems to be spent training people--merely pointing out,
to the naive and incredulous (such as myself) that this stuff is
ACTUALLY GOING ON OUT THERE. It's a small world, computer crime. A
young world. Gail Thackeray, a trim blonde Baby-Boomer who favors
Grand Canyon white-water rafting to kill some slow time, is one of the
world's most senior, most veteran "hacker-trackers." Her mentor was
Donn Parker, the California think-tank theorist who got it all started
'way back in the mid-70s, the "grandfather of the field," "the great
bald eagle of computer crime."

And what she has learned, Gail Thackeray teaches. Endlessly.
Tirelessly. To anybody. To Secret Service agents and state police, at
the Glynco, Georgia federal training center. To local police, on
"roadshows" with her slide projector and notebook. To corporate
security personnel. To journalists. To parents.

Even CROOKS look to Gail Thackeray for advice. Phone-phreaks call her
at the office. They know very well who she is. They pump her for
information on what the cops are up to, how much they know. Sometimes
whole CROWDS of phone phreaks, hanging out on illegal conference calls,
will call Gail Thackeray up. They taunt her. And, as always, they
boast. Phone-phreaks, real stone phone-phreaks, simply CANNOT SHUT UP.
They natter on for hours.

Left to themselves, they mostly talk about the intricacies of
ripping-off phones; it's about as interesting as listening to
hot-rodders talk about suspension and distributor-caps. They also
gossip cruelly about each other. And when talking to Gail Thackeray,
they incriminate themselves. "I have tapes," Thackeray says coolly.

Phone phreaks just talk like crazy. "Dial-Tone" out in Alabama has
been known to spend half-an-hour simply reading stolen phone-codes
aloud into voice-mail answering machines. Hundreds, thousands of
numbers, recited in a monotone, without a break--an eerie phenomenon.
When arrested, it's a rare phone phreak who doesn't inform at endless
length on everybody he knows.

Hackers are no better. What other group of criminals, she asks
rhetorically, publishes newsletters and holds conventions? She seems
deeply nettled by the sheer brazenness of this behavior, though to an
outsider, this activity might make one wonder whether hackers should be
considered "criminals" at all. Skateboarders have magazines, and they
trespass a lot. Hot rod people have magazines and they break speed
limits and sometimes kill people....

I ask her whether it would be any loss to society if phone phreaking
and computer hacking, as hobbies, simply dried up and blew away, so
that nobody ever did it again.

She seems surprised. "No," she says swiftly. "Maybe a little ... in
the old days ... the MIT stuff.... But there's a lot of wonderful,
legal stuff you can do with computers now, you don't have to break into
somebody else's just to learn. You don't have that excuse. You can
learn all you like."

Did you ever hack into a system? I ask.

The trainees do it at Glynco. Just to demonstrate system
vulnerabilities. She's cool to the notion. Genuinely indifferent.

"What kind of computer do you have?"

"A Compaq 286LE," she mutters.

"What kind do you WISH you had?"

At this question, the unmistakable light of true hackerdom flares in
Gail Thackeray's eyes. She becomes tense, animated, the words pour
out: "An Amiga 2000 with an IBM card and Mac emulation! The most
common hacker machines are Amigas and Commodores. And Apples." If she
had the Amiga, she enthuses, she could run a whole galaxy of seized
computer-evidence disks on one convenient multifunctional machine. A
cheap one, too. Not like the old Attorney General lab, where they had
an ancient CP/M machine, assorted Amiga flavors and Apple flavors, a
couple IBMS, all the utility software ... but no Commodores. The
workstations down at the Attorney General's are Wang dedicated
word-processors. Lame machines tied in to an office net--though at
least they get on-line to the Lexis and Westlaw legal data services.

I don't say anything. I recognize the syndrome, though. This
computer-fever has been running through segments of our society for
years now. It's a strange kind of lust: K-hunger, Meg-hunger; but it's
a shared disease; it can kill parties dead, as conversation spirals
into the deepest and most deviant recesses of software releases and
expensive peripherals.... The mark of the hacker beast. I have it
too. The whole "electronic community," whatever the hell that is, has
it. Gail Thackeray has it. Gail Thackeray is a hacker cop. My
immediate reaction is a strong rush of indignant pity: WHY DOESN'T
SOMEBODY BUY THIS WOMAN HER AMIGA?! It's not like she's asking for a
Cray X-MP supercomputer mainframe; an Amiga's a sweet little cookie-box
thing. We're losing zillions in organized fraud; prosecuting and
defending a single hacker case in court can cost a hundred grand easy.
How come nobody can come up with four lousy grand so this woman can do
her job? For a hundred grand we could buy every computer cop in
America an Amiga. There aren't that many of 'em.

Computers. The lust, the hunger, for computers. The loyalty they
inspire, the intense sense of possessiveness. The culture they have
bred. I myself am sitting in downtown Phoenix, Arizona because it
suddenly occurred to me that the police might--just MIGHT--come and
take away my computer. The prospect of this, the mere IMPLIED THREAT,
was unbearable. It literally changed my life. It was changing the
lives of many others. Eventually it would change everybody's life.

Gail Thackeray was one of the top computer-crime people in America.
And I was just some novelist, and yet I had a better computer than
hers. PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY I KNEW had a better computer than Gail
Thackeray and her feeble laptop 286. It was like sending the sheriff
in to clean up Dodge City and arming her with a slingshot cut from an
old rubber tire.

But then again, you don't need a howitzer to enforce the law. You can
do a lot just with a badge. With a badge alone, you can basically
wreak havoc, take a terrible vengeance on wrongdoers. Ninety percent
of "computer crime investigation" is just "crime investigation:" names,
places, dossiers, modus operandi, search warrants, victims,
complainants, informants....

What will computer crime look like in ten years? Will it get better?
Did "Sundevil" send 'em reeling back in confusion?

It'll be like it is now, only worse, she tells me with perfect
conviction. Still there in the background, ticking along, changing
with the times: the criminal underworld. It'll be like drugs are.
Like our problems with alcohol. All the cops and laws in the world
never solved our problems with alcohol. If there's something people
want, a certain percentage of them are just going to take it. Fifteen
percent of the populace will never steal. Fifteen percent will steal
most anything not nailed down. The battle is for the hearts and minds
of the remaining seventy percent.

And criminals catch on fast. If there's not "too steep a learning
curve"--if it doesn't require a baffling amount of expertise and
practice--then criminals are often some of the first through the gate
of a new technology. Especially if it helps them to hide. They have
tons of cash, criminals. The new communications tech--like pagers,
cellular phones, faxes, Federal Express--were pioneered by rich
corporate people, and by criminals. In the early years of pagers and
beepers, dope dealers were so enthralled this technology that owing a
beeper was practically prima facie evidence of cocaine dealing. CB
radio exploded when the speed limit hit 55 and breaking the highway law
became a national pastime. Dope dealers send cash by Federal Express,
despite, or perhaps BECAUSE OF, the warnings in FedEx offices that tell
you never to try this. Fed Ex uses X-rays and dogs on their mail, to
stop drug shipments. That doesn't work very well.

Drug dealers went wild over cellular phones. There are simple methods
of faking ID on cellular phones, making the location of the call
mobile, free of charge, and effectively untraceable. Now victimized
cellular companies routinely bring in vast toll-lists of calls to
Colombia and Pakistan.

Judge Greene's fragmentation of the phone company is driving law
enforcement nuts. Four thousand telecommunications companies. Fraud
skyrocketing. Every temptation in the world available with a phone and
a credit card number. Criminals untraceable. A galaxy of "new neat
rotten things to do."

If there were one thing Thackeray would like to have, it would be an
effective legal end-run through this new fragmentation minefield.

It would be a new form of electronic search warrant, an "electronic
letter of marque" to be issued by a judge. It would create a new
category of "electronic emergency." Like a wiretap, its use would be
rare, but it would cut across state lines and force swift cooperation
from all concerned. Cellular, phone, laser, computer network, PBXes,
AT&T, Baby Bells, long-distance entrepreneurs, packet radio. Some
document, some mighty court-order, that could slice through four
thousand separate forms of corporate red-tape, and get her at once to
the source of calls, the source of email threats and viruses, the
sources of bomb threats, kidnapping threats. "From now on," she says,
"the Lindbergh baby will always die."

Something that would make the Net sit still, if only for a moment.
Something that would get her up to speed. Seven league boots. That's
what she really needs. "Those guys move in nanoseconds and I'm on the
Pony Express."

And then, too, there's the coming international angle. Electronic
crime has never been easy to localize, to tie to a physical
jurisdiction. And phone-phreaks and hackers loathe boundaries, they
jump them whenever they can. The English. The Dutch. And the
Germans, especially the ubiquitous Chaos Computer Club. The
Australians. They've all learned phone-phreaking from America. It's a
growth mischief industry. The multinational networks are global, but
governments and the police simply aren't. Neither are the laws. Or
the legal frameworks for citizen protection.

One language is global, though--English. Phone phreaks speak English;
it's their native tongue even if they're Germans. English may have
started in England but now it's the Net language; it might as well be
called "CNNese."

Asians just aren't much into phone phreaking. They're the world
masters at organized software piracy. The French aren't into
phone-phreaking either. The French are into computerized industrial

In the old days of the MIT righteous hackerdom, crashing systems didn't
hurt anybody. Not all that much, anyway. Not permanently. Now the
players are more venal. Now the consequences are worse. Hacking will
begin killing people soon. Already there are methods of stacking calls
onto 911 systems, annoying the police, and possibly causing the death
of some poor soul calling in with a genuine emergency. Hackers in
Amtrak computers, or air-traffic control computers, will kill somebody
someday. Maybe a lot of people. Gail Thackeray expects it.

And the viruses are getting nastier. The "Scud" virus is the latest
one out. It wipes hard-disks.

According to Thackeray, the idea that phone-phreaks are Robin Hoods is
a fraud. They don't deserve this repute. Basically, they pick on the
weak. AT&T now protects itself with the fearsome ANI (Automatic Number
Identification) trace capability. When AT&T wised up and tightened
security generally, the phreaks drifted into the Baby Bells. The Baby
Bells lashed out in 1989 and 1990, so the phreaks switched to smaller
long-distance entrepreneurs. Today, they are moving into locally owned
PBXes and voice-mail systems, which are full of security holes,
dreadfully easy to hack. These victims aren't the moneybags Sheriff of
Nottingham or Bad King John, but small groups of innocent people who
find it hard to protect themselves, and who really suffer from these
depredations. Phone phreaks pick on the weak. They do it for power.
If it were legal, they wouldn't do it. They don't want service, or
knowledge, they want the thrill of power-tripping. There's plenty of
knowledge or service around if you're willing to pay. Phone phreaks
don't pay, they steal. It's because it is illegal that it feels like
power, that it gratifies their vanity.

I leave Gail Thackeray with a handshake at the door of her office
building--a vast International-Style office building downtown. The
Sheriff's office is renting part of it. I get the vague impression
that quite a lot of the building is empty--real estate crash.

In a Phoenix sports apparel store, in a downtown mall, I meet the "Sun
Devil" himself. He is the cartoon mascot of Arizona State University,
whose football stadium, "Sundevil," is near the local Secret Service
HQ--hence the name Operation Sundevil. The Sun Devil himself is named
"Sparky." Sparky the Sun Devil is maroon and bright yellow, the school
colors. Sparky brandishes a three-tined yellow pitchfork. He has a
small mustache, pointed ears, a barbed tail, and is dashing forward
jabbing the air with the pitchfork, with an expression of devilish glee.

Phoenix was the home of Operation Sundevil. The Legion of Doom ran a
hacker bulletin board called "The Phoenix Project." An Australian
hacker named "Phoenix" once burrowed through the Internet to attack
Cliff Stoll, then bragged and boasted about it to The New York Times.
This net of coincidence is both odd and meaningless.

The headquarters of the Arizona Attorney General, Gail Thackeray's
former workplace, is on 1275 Washington Avenue. Many of the downtown
streets in Phoenix are named after prominent American presidents:
Washington, Jefferson, Madison....

After dark, all the employees go home to their suburbs. Washington,
Jefferson and Madison--what would be the Phoenix inner city, if there
were an inner city in this sprawling automobile-bred town--become the
haunts of transients and derelicts. The homeless. The sidewalks along
Washington are lined with orange trees. Ripe fallen fruit lies
scattered like croquet balls on the sidewalks and gutters. No one
seems to be eating them. I try a fresh one. It tastes unbearably

The Attorney General's office, built in 1981 during the Babbitt
administration, is a long low two-story building of white cement and
wall-sized sheets of curtain-glass. Behind each glass wall is a
lawyer's office, quite open and visible to anyone strolling by. Across
the street is a dour government building labelled simply ECONOMIC
SECURITY, something that has not been in great supply in the American
Southwest lately.

The offices are about twelve feet square. They feature tall wooden
cases full of red-spined lawbooks; Wang computer monitors; telephones;
Post-it notes galore. Also framed law diplomas and a general excess of
bad Western landscape art. Ansel Adams photos are a big favorite,
perhaps to compensate for the dismal specter of the parking lot, two
acres of striped black asphalt, which features gravel landscaping and
some sickly-looking barrel cacti.

It has grown dark. Gail Thackeray has told me that the people who work
late here, are afraid of muggings in the parking lot. It seems cruelly
ironic that a woman tracing electronic racketeers across the interstate
labyrinth of Cyberspace should fear an assault by a homeless derelict
in the parking lot of her own workplace.

Perhaps this is less than coincidence. Perhaps these two seemingly
disparate worlds are somehow generating one another. The poor and
disenfranchised take to the streets, while the rich and
computer-equipped, safe in their bedrooms, chatter over their modems.
Quite often the derelicts kick the glass out and break in to the
lawyers' offices, if they see something they need or want badly enough.

I cross the parking lot to the street behind the Attorney General's
office. A pair of young tramps are bedding down on flattened sheets of
cardboard, under an alcove stretching over the sidewalk. One tramp
wears a glitter-covered T-shirt reading "CALIFORNIA" in Coca-Cola
cursive. His nose and cheeks look chafed and swollen; they glisten
with what seems to be Vaseline. The other tramp has a ragged
long-sleeved shirt and lank brown hair parted in the middle. They both
wear blue jeans coated in grime. They are both drunk.

"You guys crash here a lot?" I ask them.

They look at me warily. I am wearing black jeans, a black pinstriped
suit jacket and a black silk tie. I have odd shoes and a funny haircut.

"It's our first time here," says the red-nosed tramp unconvincingly.
There is a lot of cardboard stacked here. More than any two people
could use.

"We usually stay at the Vinnie's down the street," says the
brown-haired tramp, puffing a Marlboro with a meditative air, as he
sprawls with his head on a blue nylon backpack. "The Saint Vincent's."

"You know who works in that building over there?" I ask, pointing.

The brown-haired tramp shrugs. "Some kind of attorneys, it says."

We urge one another to take it easy. I give them five bucks.

A block down the street I meet a vigorous workman who is wheeling along
some kind of industrial trolley; it has what appears to be a tank of
propane on it.

We make eye contact. We nod politely. I walk past him. "Hey! Excuse
me sir!" he says.

"Yes?" I say, stopping and turning.

"Have you seen," the guy says rapidly, "a black guy, about 6'7", scars
on both his cheeks like this--" he gestures--"wears a black baseball
cap on backwards, wandering around here anyplace?"

"Sounds like I don't much WANT to meet him," I say.

"He took my wallet," says my new acquaintance. "Took it this morning.
Y'know, some people would be SCARED of a guy like that. But I'm not
scared. I'm from Chicago. I'm gonna hunt him down. We do things like
that in Chicago."


"I went to the cops and now he's got an APB out on his ass," he says
with satisfaction. "You run into him, you let me know."

"Okay," I say. "What is your name, sir?"


"And how can I reach you?"

"Oh," Stanley says, in the same rapid voice, "you don't have to reach,
uh, me. You can just call the cops. Go straight to the cops." He
reaches into a pocket and pulls out a greasy piece of pasteboard.
"See, here's my report on him."

I look. The "report," the size of an index card, is labelled PRO-ACT:
Phoenix Residents Opposing Active Crime Threat.... or is it Organized
Against Crime Threat? In the darkening street it's hard to read. Some
kind of vigilante group? Neighborhood watch? I feel very pu