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 York 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 apparat. 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 threat.
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 phonebooth, 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 business.
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 breakins 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 wirefraud. 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 cardholder'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 heavymetal 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 them.
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 kind.
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 objects.
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.
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 away.
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 roughand-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 mutual.
The Atlanta Three themselves had written articles for Phrack. This boastful act could not possibly escape telco and law enforcement attention.
"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 wellpaying 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 off.
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 - spellcasting 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 straightout, 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 logic.
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 yawnsville. 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 wellsuited 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 computer.
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 nondisclosure 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 Larry."
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 modestly.
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 software.
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 meant 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 magazine.
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 computers.
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.
"WARNING: NOT FOR USE OR DISCLOSURE OUTSIDE BELLSOUTH OR ANY OF ITS SUBSIDIARIES EXCEPT UNDER WRITTEN AGREEMENT."
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, levelheaded 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.
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 Document.
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, 1990.
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 fencesitters 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 computer-criminal.
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 Document.
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 impossible.
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 Terminus?
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 Doom. 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 highspeed 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 was, 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 equipment.
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 whatsoever.
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 Games. 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, however.
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 later.
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 SVR 3.1; UUCP; PMON; WWB; IWB; DWB; NROFF; KORN SHELL '88; C++; and 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 52).
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.
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 announcements.
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' digs. 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 fiction.
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 online 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, smallscale fantasy into the impure, highly publicized, largescale 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 searchwarrant 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 literarycritical 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 book.)
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.