As a product of
the home computing trend and the futuristic spirit that followed the space
race (which culminated in the moon landing in 1969), several technology-oriented
subcultures formed. Some were perfectly normal associations of science-fiction
enthusiasts and amateur radio hobbyists. Others were... peculiar.
It was these organizations that drew
a stigma on hacker culture, and are responsible for the fact that hackers
are frequently thought of as criminals. How many of you - raise your right
hand - have ever pondered what it would be like to have control of technology?
To have the power to decide what radio and television programs will be
broadcast? Imagine having these enormous electronic systems under your
control. Imagine being able to fill all TV screens with white noise when
that guy you hate shows up, or knock out all the telephones in the nation
when you know that your beloved is chatting sweetly with his/her ex-lover.
Imagine being the master
of the information systems
Some of the phreakers were university students. As the hackers had been mesmerized by computer technology, others had found it fascinating to try different number sequences on the school's telephones to see how far you could get connected. Some succeeded in connecting to the public telephone networks and call for free, since the school's local telephone network was a complimentary service.
A young man by the name of Mark Bernay (a. k. a. The Midnight Skulker ) had in-depth knowledge of the phone system. He went up and down the American West Coast and put up notices in phone booths with party-line numbers that he had established, and in this manner created a small network of technology-oriented youths. However, these youngsters did not turn phreaking into the considerable criminal operation it is today.
Instead, a man called Joe Engressia created (without knowing it) the underground movement of telephone manipulators at the end of the 60's. Even though the telephone company (then called Bell) had traced and prosecuted the first phreakers back in 1961, few of them had been members of an organized movement: most were businessmen, some were general laborers or students, and one was even a millionaire. The reason for this wave of phreaking was that Bell had made publicly available the information that anyone needed to build a blue box.
Joe Engressia was blind, but he had been compensated by the fascinating gift of perfect pitch. He could recall a note he had heard, and perfectly reproduce it by whistling. At age eight, he had already discovered that he could manipulate the system of telephone switches by whistling certain tones. These systems were called multi-frequency systems (MF), and it was information about these systems that Bell made the mistake of publishing in 1960. Joe was arrested after connecting free calls for some friends by simply whistling into the receiver. Thanks to the publicity surrounding the incident, Joe and other telephone enthusiasts formed a rapidly growing underground network mainly consisting of blind people. A few knew how to whistle the tones, while others employed early keyboards and synthesizers to produce the necessary sounds. Through Joe, phreaking grew into a major youth movement. He was arrested again in 1971, and was given a suspended sentence in exchange for promising never to manipulate telephones again. Later, he was hired by a small Tennessee company as a telephone repairman.
Allow me to make an observation at this point. Frequently, I hear of people that claim to know someone who can "whistle" their way through the telephone system and call for free. The person telling the story is never the one that knows how to do this, and upon closer inspection it turns out that it was really a friend of a friend... etc. Stories about "whistlers" should be treated as common myths, just like many other stories about phreakers and hackers. Please note that "whistling" requires perfect pitch, which is a talent that few people possess. It is also necessary to know (and have listened to) the tones that are required. Therefore, there is a diminishing number of people who would be able to do the trick - perhaps only a handful in any given country. Finally, this technique is useless against modern telephone systems such as the AXE-system ( translator's note : AXE is an acronym for Automatic Cross-Connection Equipment).
Joe and his buddies used keyboards to make calls. Other methods to produce the necessary tones were even more common. John T. Draper , a. k. a. Cap'n Crunch , used a toy whistle from boxes of the cereal brand with the same name. By covering one of the holes and blowing through the whistle, he produced a tone with the frequency of exactly 2600 Hz (which roughly corresponds to an E in the five-times-accented octave - not a very pleasant tone). This happened to be the exact note that AT&T and other long-distance companies used to indicate that long-distance lines were available. If either party to a call emitted this tone, the switch performing the call would be fooled into thinking that the call had ended (because that was how the switches signaled that the line was free), and therefore all billing for the call stopped. The whistle enabled people to call for free.
Draper was a very active phreaker. He initiated big party-line calls where he came into contact with many of the blind people, and disseminated his knowledge among other phreakers. He kept a list of contacts and directed the exchange of ideas between phreakers. Like some of them, he was an electronics fanatic, and himself built the tone generators that allowed total control of the entire telephone system. These generators were called MF-boxes (or, as mentioned earlier, Blue Boxes), and gave their owners complete access to national and international telephone traffic - totally free. It wasn't very difficult to construct these boxes, since all information concerning the MF-system had been made public. As it is not exactly cheap to replace an entire telephone system, there are still countries whose systems can be manipulated by blue boxes.
Many were (like Draper) completely
spellbound by the blue boxes' power to hook up calls across the world
through cables and satellites; they inspired a feeling of unlimited power
over the telephone system. One of Draper's more known tricks was to connect
back to himself around the globe through seven countries, simply for the
incredible satisfaction of hearing his own voice with a 20-second delay.
In 1971, the media caught wind of the phreaking phenomenon. One journalist, John Rosenbaum , wrote an article about the movement, and Draper was arrested and imprisoned shortly after its publication. He was approached by the Mafia (who wanted to exploit his skills), and severely beaten after he refused. Upon his release, an old friend (Steve Wozniak, who developed the Apple II computer) came to his aid and made him quit phreaking in favor of programming. After a few modem-related incidents on the Apple II (the modems in question were rather computerized blue boxes), he wrote the word processing program Easy Writer , which was sold by IBM with their PCs. He made more than a million dollars off the project.
In the same year (1971), the hippies discovered the possibility of making free calls. A militant faction of the hippie movement, known as yippies , started a magazine called Youth International Party Line (the name both referred to the political nature of the movement and to its obvious telephonic emphasis). The paper's mission was to teach methods of telephone fraud. Yippies are a kind of tough hippies that do not hesitate to use violence and terrorism to obliterate (as far as possible) American society. They also advocate the use of hallucinogens. Yippies consist of people that have become so sick of American society and its system that they only see one solution to the problem - total destruction. As opposed to classical anarchists, they were not opposed to technology; rather, they exploited all knowledge and resources available to them. One of the most frightening aspects of the yippie movement was that many of its members were quite intelligent . The yippies represented fundamentally different values and norms, which rocked the foundation of American culture. This political force would later sow the seeds of the ideology that is today known as cyberpunk , to which I will return in a separate chapter. Prominent yippie leaders include Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
In 1973, a faction of technology fanatics broke away from the yippie movement and formed an expressly anti-social and anarchistic organization around the paper (now known as TAP , or Technical Assistance Program ) . In this new version, the magazine provided instruction in subjects far beyond simple telephone scams: it contained formulas for explosives, blueprints for electronic sabotage, information on credit card fraud, etc. Much of this content was naturally "exciting" for teenagers and slightly immature young men, and the periodical was widely copied and transmitted across the globe. Within a short period of time, there was a global network of phreakers. The basic philosophy of the paper is still the same as that of the yippie party (Youth International Party).
In TAP, peculiar forms of writing were introduced, such as substituting "z" for "s", 0 (zero) for o, and spelling the word freak "phreak". These trends have remained. In the early 90's, a character named B1FF showed up on the Usenet computer network and took this abuse of the written word to the limits of the absurd, writing words the way they were pronounced rather than the way they were spelled. B1FF combined this practice with an artificial habit of typing 1 for I, 4 for A, + for T, 3 (a reversed E) for E, etc. B1FF's typographical antics drove some people totally nuts, but the hackers thought the practice was super-cool and started writing like B1FF, to annoy generally anal-retentive people and to put an anarchistic stamp on the otherwise disciplined Usenet. They have even gone so far as to randomly mix lower- and upercase letters, resulting in text that is almost painful to read.
In Sweden, a sister publication to TAP surfaced. It was called Rolig Teknik ("Fun With Technology"), and aroused some attention in the dailies. Rolig Teknik was started by Nils Johan Alsätra, a legendary figure in Swedish underground culture. He was inspired by TAP, and published several articles between 1984 and 1993, all based on the same social philosophy as that of its American counterpart. The publication described how to make fake hundred-crown notes to fool gas station machines ( translator's note : In Sweden, the crown is the official unit of currency, and most gas stations have automatic gasoline dispensers that are used outside the station's business hours), how to fool electric meters, and (naturally) different methods for making free calls. Nils started the magazine after being fined for building and selling Black Boxes (or, as he himself termed them, unit-eaters ), which enabled owners to make free calls after connecting the boxes to their telephone jacks. Before he started selling them, he gave the phone company the opportunity to purchase the device for three million crowns (about $450,000). The phone company never replied.
Rolig Teknik expired after a raid in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1993. The raid was precipitated by the event that Alsätra had begun to publish anonymous classifieds where the advertisers could offer goods, using the paper as a middle-man, without having to display their name and address. For every transaction where the payment was handled by the publication, Rolig Teknik received SEK 10 (SEK=Swedish crowns, SEK 10 = about $1.50). Since the content of many of these ads was rather questionable, this practice was considered equivalent to fencing and arms dealing. After the police obtained permission from the executive branch of the government (for the first time in Swedish history), they raided the editorial offices of the paper. Since then, not a peep has been heard about the paper or Alsätra himself. The possibility of using the "unit-eaters" that Alsätra invented disappeared with the modern AXE telephone system, but many of the other tricks remain effective to this day.
For the modern hacker, magazines such as Phrack or Phun are the hottest items. In Sweden, there is also a newfangled print magazine (in the spirit of Rolig Teknik) called Alias 1 . Phrack is probably the most popular, since it has received a great deal of publicity. It is free to individuals, while organizations and governmental institutions have to pay $100 per year for a subscription. In this way, the authorities actually help finance the publication of the magazine, since they have to keep up with underground trends and developments 2 . As the telephone companies have started to fix the glitches in their systems, phreakers have learned to use exceptionally sophisticated methods to make free calls. One technique involves actually reprogramming phone company switches. Another consists of using stolen or artificial credit card numbers to bill the call to some other (sometimes non-existent) person or company. Ideally, the bill should be sent to international conglomerates such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, or the phone companies themselves.
The point of using credit cards is that by calling through a specific 800 number, you should be able to bill the call to the card in question, no matter which private or public phone you are calling from. Since you can't show the card to an operator (human or computerized), you enter the card number and PIN ( Private Identification Number , a personal code associated with the card number) that are necessary for credit purchases over the phone.
Another free-call method is to use a PBX ( Private Branch eXchange) , which is usually a corporation's internal switchboard. Using a PBX frequently involves dialing an 800 number associated with an automated switchboard, entering a code, and then dialing the number of the desired target. The call will be billed to the company that owns (or employs) the switchboard. The procedure is a simplified and automated version of the debit/credit card payment system, which means that a human operator is not required to verify and record numbers and codes. In the beginning, PIN codes were not even used; it was simply a matter of calling the correct toll-free number and then dialing the desired phone number. It was believed that keeping the toll-free number secret would offer enough protection. Since phreakers are known to systematically dial extensive series of 800 numbers, they soon discovered that it was possible to dial other locations from some of these numbers, and before long the phone companies introduced PINs. For reasons which I will soon explain, PBX codes are constantly circulating outside the spheres of their proper owners.
The phreakers, then, more or less randomly dial toll-free numbers in their search for PBXs, computers, phone company switches, and other interesting telecommunications devices, a practice commonly referred to as war-dialling (from the movie War Games ) or simply scanning (this practice is by no means illegal; the point of having a telephone is to be able to call the numbers you want, and as many as you want). During these treks across the phone networks, phreakers often run into all kinds of intriguing things, such as the phone companies' private service lines and voice mail boxes (VMBs). Through voice mail boxes, you can send messages to each other if nothing else works (read: in case the phone company has blocked all other means of communicating for free). Voice mail is usually employed by large corporations with many employees on the go, such as consulting or sales and marketing companies, as a more efficient alternative to written communication. Voice mail boxes use private codes just like an ATM machine, and the codes are just as easy to crack (simple codes like 1234, 0001, or the same number as that of the box itself are common). Some voice mail boxes also allow for further connections, which means that it's possible to call long-distance from such a box.
Most phreakers learn of technical methods and stolen or faked codes from other phreakers. Information of this kind is often disseminated by private BBSs and confidential relationships. Most people involved with phreaking know nothing about actually getting these codes or what the technical instructions they receive actually mean. They simply follow the instructions and advice they receive from others, punch in a few numbers and Presto! - they're hooked up with the other side of the world!
However, there are also people like John Draper, who really know what they're doing. The most zealous ones are often youngsters less than 20 years old, who nevertheless possess enough knowledge to match a degree in electrical engineering, or beyond . Naturally, this is considered a very dangerous situation in a society where knowledge is power. Of course, the phone companies' systems are idiot-proof. Not even all the idiots in the world would be able to re-program a telephone switch to give them free calls. The problem is the smart criminals.
Bright, inquisitive youths, who want
to know how the phone networks function, usually begin by reading standard,
college-level telecommunications literature. Many of the more accomplished
ones could easily pass professional exams with a flourish. They master
the jargon of communications technicians, and are able to recite obvious
acronyms such as DCE, OSI, V.24, MUX, NCC, or PAD in their sleep. They
seem to have a sort of fetish for the telephone network.
Not all (but a great majority) of the technical information regarding the telephone systems is public. The missing details are usually discovered through a method called "trashing", which entails going to the dumpsters outside a major telecommunications company and digging through the trash for useful documentation (that should have been run through a paper shredder, since it is not at all appropriate literature for teenage technology geniuses). In this manner, phreakers find out about functions, system commands, and secret phone numbers that are meant for internal use. Sometimes it's worse - the hackers actually have access to a person on the inside, who intentionally reveal company secrets to them. Today, these security leaks have been virtually eradicated, despite the fact that the number of people that must have access to this information is great. Trashing is also performed to retrieve obsolete or discarded equipment, which is not really a criminal practice. It is also not very common, especially in Sweden.
The art of "social engineering"
is more widespread (and often more effective). The technique is based
on attacking the weakest link in the entire phone and banking system:
the human being. The expression comes from the telemarketing field, where
it is part of the telemarketer's job to dissimulate him- or herself and
focus on the customer's weaknesses, to build trust while still remaining
concise and effective. The
following is an example of social engineering by a phreaker, loosely based
on a case published in a highly improper hacker periodical (WARNING: use
this example to protect yourself and others from becoming victims of this
type of crime, not to commit the same type of crime yourself. If you abuse
this information, I will be sorely disappointed!).
Credit card numbers are also used by phreakers to purchase merchandise, such as computers and peripherals, synthesizers, stereo equipment, and other capital goods. The criminal orders the merchandise for general delivery or gives the address of an abandoned building, which makes it impossible to trace the perpetrator. This method is known as "carding" among phreakers and hackers. A fair number of Swedes have been arrested and sentenced for these crimes. A considerably greater number have (as usual) gotten away with it.
Phreakers are social people, who love to use their skills to talk for hours about basically nothing and everything. Naturally, conversation tends to focus on methods, codes, and other things that are essential to phreaking. Sometimes international party conferences lasting up to eight hours are created. Some talk, others simply listen, someone hangs up and someone else dials in. The conversation lasts as long as the moderator can maintain it, or until the phone company catches on and disconnects it. A very famous conference was the 2111-conference , which took place on the 2111 number in Vancouver (a test number for telex transmissions). Phreakers as well as sympathizing operators (!) used to call this number to chat away a few hours.
Clearly, these practices are illegal and terribly immoral, etc. However, I am sure that some readers would agree that it is rather amusing to see a few bright teenagers using the conferencing systems of multi-national corporations to set up global party lines, simply in order to shoot the bull for a while! The phreakers consider this gross exploitation to be harmless, at least in those cases where they just snatch bandwidth by using technical tricks. They are of the opinion that since the cables are already there, why not use them? Where's the harm in that? Does it damage the phone network? Hardly, unless you don't know what you're doing. Does it hurt any individuals? Not as long as you stay away from hospital and military lines. Do the phone companies lose money? Not at all, since none of the phreakers would have made these calls if they had to pay for them. Does it overload the phone network, forcing the companies to expand? No it doesn't, since international connections have a fairly high ceiling.
The real crime committed by phreakers is that of interfering with the social order. What if everyone started doing this? Everything would go straight to hell! International lines would break down, and chaos and anarchy would ensue. It's not a question of theft; more appropriately, it is a question of order . Stealing credit card numbers and using them, on the other hand, is fraud. These arguments are completely irrelevant to a true yippie, since he/she is only out to destroy society. In contrast, many phreakers are fairly average and law-abiding members of the middle and working classes. However, they have taken Nietzsche to heart and consider themselves a type of elite (or even superhuman) with the natural right to take advantage of the system. They would never suggest that everyone should exploit these systems in this manner, and claim that they also want to help the phone companies discover their security gaps by pointing out existing flaws. Therefore, they contend that actions can not be defined as good or evil solely on a legal basis, just like Zarathustra through Nietzsche had to reject the concepts of right and wrong . This has nothing to do with fascism; it's a theory of the improvement of systems through individual transcendence.
The phreaker magazine TAP has been followed by other publications such as 2600: The Hacker Quarterly (the name is derived from the 2600-Hz tone that was discussed earlier), Iron Feather Journal, and a cornucopia of electronic magazines that are too numerous to list.
Telia ( translator's note: Telia is the largest telephone company in Sweden, and is a governmentally supported corporation. Before deregulation a few years ago, it was a state agency that had a monopoly on telecommunications traffic in Sweden) is reluctant to acknowledge that phreakers exist, and it would be safe to assume that a number of phreaking cases are kept in the dark (most likely to avoid consumer complaints such as: "Why do they get to call for free when I have to pay?", "Why doesn't somebody do something about this?", " I'm by God an honest taxpayer, and I demand ...", etc. etc.).
In Sweden, phreakers have actually succeeded in manufacturing fake phone cards, re-programming mobile phones to bill to someone else's number, using Telia's own access codes, using blue boxes to fool Telia's switches, and (most frequently) using foreign credit card numbers to make international calls 3 . Additionally, the oldest form of phreaking (known as gray-boxing ) still plays a part. Gray boxes (predecessors to the blue ones) are the boxes found attached to telephone poles or beside the electric company's fuse boxes. By hooking into a gray box, you can physically connect yourself to someone else's phone line and make calls in their name.
There are no reports on the extent of these crimes, and Telia would rather have it that way. To put the spotlight on security breaches would be fatal in the current market, where Telia competes with private telephone companies and has to be concerned with its image. Therefore, incidents of fraud are frequently covered up.
The situation is even worse in the United States, where many phreakers have studied corporate public relations in depth in order to use social engineering to set up fake credit cards or telephone service. They exploit the corporations' strong emphasis on customer service to pit the telephone companies against each other. For example, if a phreaker encounters problems in setting up a fake 800 number, he or she will say something like "well, if that's the way it's going to be, I might as well call X or Y or Z (competitors)". This serves to discourage phone company sales reps from asking too many questions or asking for too many details.
These problems point to shortcomings
in a society where social interaction between businesses and people has
become neglected, due to the extreme size
of modern corporations. The social
aspect of a business has been separated from its sphere of productivity
in the struggle toward increased efficiency, which has created an anonymous
society. According to conversations I have had with phreakers, the large
companies are the easiest to deceive: they can't tell who's fake and who's
for real since they've never encountered either one in person. The only
available means of separating the wheat from the chaff is by observing
what the individual sounds
like and the quality of
his/her vocabulary and verbal communication. The phone companies have
turned into anonymous logotypes toward their customers, and as long as
the business world works this way, phreakers will find ways to call for
The first hackers to become publicly known were Ronald Mark Austin and the members of his hacking group 414-gang , based in Milwaukee. 414-gang started "hacking" remote computers as early as 1980, and it was the 1983 discovery (just after the opening of the movie War Games ) of these hackers that sparked the entire debate of hackers and computer security. The 414-gang had entered the computer system of a cancer hospital in New York. While the group was removing the traces of the intrusion (after an interview in the New York Times, which included a demonstration of possible entry methods), they accidentally erased the contents of a certain file in an incorrect manner, with resulting in the destruction of the entire file. The mere notion of the possibility of this file containing important research results, or a patient journal, was terrifying. Prior to 1983, few people knew what hackers were. Now, everyone talked about them. It was probably this early debate that imbued the word with its negative connotations.
Personally, I use the term network hacker (they are also known as crackers or netrunners ) to define this type of hacker. Most of the first-generation network hackers used Apple II computers, for which there were several phreaker magazines such as Bootlegger . These magazines would become the predecessors of the future multitude of hacking and phreaking publications. When network hackers came to Europe, they primarily used C64 computers, and had no papers or magazines since such a tradition hadn't emerged among European hackers. This lack of forums greatly limited European hackers' activities. As they didn't have access to American Apple II's, they couldn't read the American hacking publications to learn to hack better. Network hacking has never been as extensive on this (the European) side of the Atlantic.
A funny detail is that after the
414-gang became famous, most hacker groups developed a penchant for putting
equally incomprehensible numbers before or after their proper names. 414-gang
derived its number from the Milwaukee area code.
The most sophisticated methods bypass the entire security system by exploiting gaps in the system programs ( operating systems , drivers , or communications protocols ) running the computer in question. To be usable, a computer must have system software running on it. Since VAX/VMS systems are fairly rare, it is mostly UNIX systems that are attacked using this approach. It is especially common to use glitches in the commands and protocols that bear mysterious names such as FTP, finger, NIS, sendmail, TFTP, or UUCP.
Methods such as the above are becoming less and less viable, since the security gaps are usually closed as soon as they are discovered. The "filling" of the gaps is accomplished as the system administrator receives (or in a worst-case scenario, should have received ) disks containing updated system software, which is then installed on the system. The programs are usually called fixes, patches, or updates. However, many systems officers fail to completely update the system programs, with the result that many of the security gaps remain for quite some time. Others neglect parts of the security system because it creates a hassle for authorized users. For example, many system administrators remove the function which requires users to change their password frequently, or which prevents the usage of passwords that are too common. Some computers (in 1995) still have security holes that were cautioned against in 1987. Swedish computers are no exception.
When a hacker has gained entry to a system, he or she can (often) easily obtain more passwords and usernames through manipulating system software. Sometimes, they read through electronic mail stored on the computer, in search of passwords. Imagine one such message: "Bob, I won't be at work on Friday, but if you need access to my numbers, the password is 'platypus'."
Most of these hackers never caused (and still don't cause) any damage to computer systems. Mainly, the intruders are driven by curiosity and a desire to see "if they can do it". It's about the same type of thrill that comes from wandering subway tunnels, or crawling through underground sewers, i.e. an exciting form of "forbidden" exploration. In fact, hackers in general follow an unwritten rule which states that one should never steal and never destroy anything on purpose. Those who break this rule are called dark side hackers (from the movie Star Wars ). In Clifford Stoll's book The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage , one can follow the chase of such a hacker.
The hacker that Stoll had problems with obviously belonged to the dark side: he tried to systematically retrieve classified military information, and had ties to the KGB (the events took place during the height of the Cold War). He had the assistance of one of the most feared hacker groups: Chaos Computer Club , an organization with a political agenda, founded in 1984 by Hewart Holland-Moritz . They purported to fight for individual rights in the information society, and were known for killing the project for a German information system called Bildschirmtext , by exposing its lack of security and reliability at a press conference.
In 1989, the case of the spying hacker made worldwide headlines, and Stoll wrote his book shortly thereafter. The case has spurred its own mythology: one of the players, who called himself Hagbard , was found burned to death in a forest, and many speculated that the death was KGB's doing. This is probably not true; the hacker in question was named Karl Koch , and had severe psychological and drug problems even before he started hacking, and it was most likely (as the police suspected) a matter of suicide. Among other things, Koch believed that the world was ultimately controlled by the Illuminati , a fictional Islamic mafia that has supposedly infiltrated governments and organizations since the 13th century, an idea he had gotten from the books by the same name. He was also fond of psychedelic drugs, which didn't help much. Upon closer examination, it is easy to reach the conclusion that Koch was a raging paranoid, but the headline "Hacker Assassinated by the KGB?" obviously sells more papers than "Hacker Committed Suicide?".
Koch, together with Pengo (Hans Hübner) and Markus Hess , were members of the hacker group Leitstelle 511 , which had a clear political profile and a taste for long nights of hacking and drug orgies. They had obtained classified information and software through the Internet, with Markus as a UNIX expert and Pengo masterminding the intrusions. The project, which consisted of systematically exploring American defense installations, was code named Project Equalizer . The name was derived from the hackers' slightly naive idea that their espionage would even the odds between East and West in the Cold War. This was more properly an excuse to spy for their own gain than an expression of real political intentions. Markus and Pengo, as the two most talented hackers of the group, mostly hacked for their own pleasure, and did not receive any considerable financial gains. All of the involved, after being caught, were sentenced to between one and two years imprisonment, but the sentences were suspended. Pengo was not charged, since he had fully cooperated with the police.
This is one of the few known cases of network hackers making money off their "hobby". Generally, people engage in this type of hacking for the intellectual challenge, or for the social aspects of data communications. Kevin Mitnick is another hacker to become more or less legendary. Originally, he was a phreaker who developed a hitherto unsurpassed skill in manipulating people as well as computers and telephone switches. Mitnick is the archetypal dark side hacker: He stole the source code ( source code is the version of a computer program that can be read, written, and modified by humans. After a process known as compilation , the program is readable only to computers - and hackers) for Digital 's operating system VMS 5.0 by breaking into their software development division through phone and computer networks. He was very vindictive, and punished police and companies that crossed him by giving them outrageous telephone bills or spreading lies about them through phones and fax machines. When police tried to trace his calls, he was instantly alerted and could abort the call, since he had hacked into the phone company Pacific Bell 's surveillance systems. When he was arrested, he was just about to steal the source code for the not entirely unknown computer game Doom.
After his arrest in December 1988, he was sentenced to one year's imprisonment and six months of rehabilitation. He was treated together with alcoholics and drug addicts for his almost pathological obsession with hacking. Recently, he was again apprehended after being pursued by a security expert by the name of Tsutomu Shimomura , and a journalist named John Markoff (who had earlier written a book about Mitnick).
Much of the publicity surrounding Mitnick was hyped to the point of witch hunting. Many were of the opinion that he wasn't as dangerous as Markoff portrayed him to be. Nevertheless, Kevin has become a symbol for the "dangerous" hacker: cold, anti-social, vindictive, and extraordinarily proficient in manipulating people and phone switches. On the other hand, he was never a master of computer hacking - a field in which he has many superiors. It is worth noting that Kevin never sold the information he captured to any third parties. He only wanted the VMS operating system to be able to improve his hacking skills, and he never cooperated with organized criminals.
This type of illegal break-in has been glorified in films such as War Games, Sneakers (1992), and the TV series Whiz Kids , and as a result, many (completely erroneously) think that hackers in general primarily engage in this criminal form of hacking. Even in the Swedish film Drömmen om Rita ( Dreaming of Rita , 1992), a romanticized hacker has one of the cameo roles. He is a symbol for the young, the new, the wild; a modern Jack Kerouac who drifts through the streets with his computer. The hacker is portrayed as a modern-day beatnik. An interesting detail is that the hacker in this movie goes by the name Erik XIV , which is the same pseudonym used by a real hacker in a few interviews with Aktuellt (a Swedish news program) and Z-Magazine in 1989, where he explained how to trick credit card companies into paying for international calls and merchandise ordered from abroad (crimes for which he was later convicted and sentenced).
Actually, very few youths interested in computers take to criminal activities. Nevertheless, computer crime is frequent, but the real problem is that computer systems do not have adequate protection; no hacker would be able to force a sufficiently protected system, even if theoretically possible. No one can fool a computer that is smart enough. Most security breaches are probably kept in the dark for PR reasons. As far as I know, no bank has officially lost money because of dark side hackers; on the other hand, if I were a bank and some hacker transferred a few million dollars to his or her own account, would I want to prosecute the hacker so that all of my customers would realize how insecure my computer system was? Swedes may remember the publicity surrounding the software bug in Sparbanken's (a large Swedish bank) computer system in 1994...
Companies with poor security would
probably find it embarrassing if the public found out that teenage hackers
could read their secrets or transfer money from their accounts. In those
cases, it's PR-correct to put a lid on the incident, which is exactly
what has happened in many instances.
The distinction between network hackers and phreakers is blurred. It is customary to say that a phreaker explores computer systems for social reasons, primarily to be able to call their friends long-distance for free, while an intrusion-prone hacker explores the systems for their own sake and for the thrill of outwitting technology. The anarchistic yippie attitude and the urge to break down systems stem from the phreakers.
Many have rightfully questioned society's negative view of hacking, i.e. "hobby intrusions". Hackers have been compared to cave explorers, searching for new realms out of curiosity and a desire for challenge rather than greed. Since the networks are so complex that there is no comprehensive map, hackers are of the opinion that cyberspace is the uncharted territory where electronic discussions take place, a universe which they curiously explore. To compare hacking to burglary is insipid. During a burglary, there is physical damage to doors and locks, and real objects are stolen. A typical hacker never damages anything during an intrusion (very few hackers are vandals5 ), and to the extent that he/she "steals" information, it is only copied, not removed. Essentially, the only "theft" that takes place is a few cent's worth of electricity and some minimal wear on the machine being used, but considering the high rate of depreciation of computer equipment, this can hardly be considered a loss. Furthermore, any computer connected to the Internet allows outsiders to use it to search for and distribute information.
I suspect that the main reason that the establishment fears hackers is that hackers assume the role of someone else - that they present themselves as system operators or other authorized users, and enjoy the privileges associated with their assumed status. The worst part is that they seem to be able to do this with ease, thus publicly embarrassing the computer experts that the corporations pay dearly for. This tends to be aggravating, especially since the business world in general and (to an even higher degree) the corporate world depend on a system of fundamental status symbols, where every person is at the top of their own little hierarchy. To act like someone or something that you are not is considered a cardinal sin (remember Refaat El-Sayed's fake doctoral degree!) ( translator's note : In the 80's, Refaat El-Sayed was the CEO of Fermenta, a large Swedish pharmaceutical company, who was ousted following a scandal involving purchased credentials).
The condemnation of hackers is disproportionate to their criminal acts, and sentences are way too severe. This is grounded in an almost paranoid fear of what the hacker accomplishes, and the code of ethics that he or she subscribes to. The hacker is (like most people) definitely not evil by nature, nor a hardened criminal, but an individual that listens to his/her own heart. The hacker is not a psychopath, nor interested in hurting or stealing from other people in a traditional sense. Possibly, the hacker wants to steal secrets, which frightens many. Later, we will go deeper into hacker ethics and ideology.
Swedish network hackers appeared at a later stage than the ones in the U.S., partially because of Televerket's ( translator's note : Televerket was the government authority that later became Telia - the name literally translates into "The Telephone Service") monopoly on the modems that are needed to connect to a computer across the phone networks. The first case that I know of happened in 1980, when a student at Chalmers School of Technology (at Gothenburg University) was fined for manipulating the billing system at Gothenburg's computer center in order to use the system for free. The first case to attract media attention occurred when a journalist from Aftonbladet (a major Swedish daily), Lars Ohlson , hired a couple of 17-year-olds, a few modems, and a few computers, and tried to break into Stockholm's QZ computer center (after seeing the movie War Games) . The QZ operators noticed what they were doing, which led to Ohlson's arrest and subsequent fining, under loud protests from (among others) Dagens Nyheter (one of Sweden's largest, oldest, and most respected newspapers). The three never succeeded in breaking into QZ, and the original purpose had been to test its security, which turned out to be very good... in 1983.
In the first 1984 issue of the paper Allt om Hemdatorer ("All About Personal Computers"), there was a report of a considerably more successful intrusion attempt. With the help of an imported Apple II, two youths (17 and 19 years old, respectively) managed to get into DAFA-Spar , the government's individual address database. Even though the information contained in the database was far from classified, it is easy to imagine the consequences if, for example, a foreign power could retrieve information about every Swedish citizen. DAFA-Spar themselves were surprised and shocked by the incident. The youths, inspired by War Games , had also succeeded in entering Gothenburg's Computer Center, Medicin-Data and the computers at Livsmedelsverket (the Swedish equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) The hackers claimed to have performed the break-ins to point out security deficiencies.
Like their American counterparts, most Swedish network hackers seem to have worked alone, i.e., without forming groups. Reportedly, many of the first Swedish hackers were inspired by the BBS Tungelstamonitorn , which was run on an ABC806 computer by Jan-Inge Flücht in Haninge (a Stockholm suburb) in 1986-87. The BBS later changed its name to Jinges TCL and became known as one of the most outspoken and insolent Swedish boards through the amateur network Fidonet. In 1987, SHA (the Swedish Hackers Association ) was formed, which (curiously enough) is most famous for irritating freelance journalist and security consultant Mikael Winterkvist , after he attempted to chart the transmission of computer viruses in Sweden.
The SHA itself claimed to be Sweden's largest and most well-organized hackers group. Others see them as boastful people from Stockholm with a strong need for self-assertion, which is a rather empty sentiment considering that nearly all underground hackers have an enormous need to assert themselves ( translator's note: and people from Stockholm are often considered to be boastful and arrogant by other Swedes not from Stockholm). One of their most successful hacks involved an SHA member gaining access to Swedish Radio's computers, and becoming so familiar with the system that he could change the programming schedules at will. Just for fun, he changed Pontus Enhörning's (a famous Swedish radio personality) password and emailed him to tell him about it, which generated some publicity.
SHA succeeded, during its heydays, in entering several computer systems around Sweden: among others, SICS, KTH/NADA, ASEA, Dimension AB, S-E Banken, SMHI, OPIAB, DATEMA, and - last but not least - FOA ( translator's note: FOA stands for Försvarets Forskningsanstalt, or Sweden's Defense Research Facility). None of the victimized companies or authorities have shown any great desire to talk about the intrusions. Swedish security experts shrug and sigh when SHA is mentioned. The police, as well as many companies' own security teams, know exactly who the SHA is, but they can't prove anything. Mostly, the SHA is given free reins, since the authorities feel that they have the group "under control". They're not afraid of the SHA, and they have no reason to be, since the group consists of relatively benign hackers who are not out to destroy or corrupt anything. For the most part, all that they want is some system time and open telephone lines. If you shut them out, they respect it, but if you act in an arrogant and authoritarian manner toward the SHA, they tend to get pissed off and threaten with horrendous retaliation.
Sweden has also been subject to hacker
attacks from abroad. Perhaps the most well-known incident occurred when
a couple of UK hackers, Neil
Woods and Karl
Strickland (known under
pseudonyms as PAD
, collectively as 8LGM
, which stood for 8
Little Green Men or
the 8-Legged Groove Machine
), broke into the Swedish Datapak
and Decnet networks during Christmas of 1990. Using a computer program,
they searched through 22,000 subscribers looking for computers to access,
and established contact in 380 cases. The two 20-year-olds were sentenced
to six months imprisonment on the 4th of June, 1993, for computer violations
in fifteen countries (they were the first to be sentenced under the new
UK computer security regulations). Before one passes judgment on Pad and
Gandalf, one should know that they were the ones that hacked into one
of the EU's computers and helped expose Jacques
Delors ' (a French EU representative)
exorbitant expense accounts.
Computer viruses are small programs, and like all other programs, they are created by people. Hackers who engage in virus programming are made out to be the worst villains among hackers, and are thought to only be interested in screwing things up for other people. At the time of this writing, legislation is underway that would make the manufacture as well as distribution of computer viruses a criminal offense. The first modern viruses (such as the Michelangelo virus), the link and boot viruses , surfaced in the beginning of the 80's. Many of the first ones came from Bulgaria of all places, and it was in this country that the first BBS dedicated only to virus exchange and discussion appeared: the Virus Exchange . Supposedly, the reason for Bulgaria's central position in the virus industry was that the East Bloc, during some phase of the Cold War, decided to manufacture viruses for electronic warfare. Bulgaria is known for its high-class computer scientists, and so it was a natural choice for construction of these "weapons". Thus, many Bulgarian students came into contact with government-financed virus programming and later continued to develop viruses as a hobby. The most prominent of these students is Dark Avenger , who has attained cult status among today's virus hackers.
Individual link and boot viruses possess different attributes, but share the ability to propagate efficiently. Most are written by hackers, and not all viruses are destructive. Computer viruses have been classified as electronic life by researchers as prominent as Stephen B. Hawking . If so, then it is the first life form to be created by humans. Some virus hackers are just regular hobby hackers who have developed an interest in viruses, while others are network hackers. The electronic magazine 40hex (named after an MS-DOS function) is a forum for American virus builders, and primarily provides code for virus programs and explores virus techniques, but also reports on political and economic aspects of viruses. The magazine is published by the virus hacker groups Phalcon and SKISM (Smart Kids Into Sick Methods). (Notice the pun?).
It's a shame to say that virus builders are only concerned with destruction. Mostly, it is just another manifestation of the graffiti phenomenon , which is a desire to see one's name on as many screens as possible, and to read in the papers about the effects of the virus one wrote. It's a question of becoming someone. In addition, constructing a virus is an intellectual challenge that requires a relatively high degree of programming knowledge. The virus hackers are probably the most intellectual hackers next to the university hackers. In the case of destructive viruses, it is usually a manifestation of the phreakers' old yippie attitudes. The virus hacker is the fascinating person produced when you cross a yippie anarchist with a disciplined programmer. A related fact is that viruses are exclusively written in assembly language, which is the hardest and most complicated programming language to learn. No virus hacker that I've heard of has ever made money from making a virus.
The virus hackers have a sort of love-hate relationship to John McAfee and his company, which makes the virus-removing program VirusScan . Before he started working on computer viruses, he supported himself by selling membership cards for an association which simply guaranteed their members to be AIDS-free, so it is fair to say that he has had experience with viruses. It has been implied that his company supports virus production, since it is vital to its continued existence that new viruses or new versions of viruses are constantly appearing. The company's main source of income comes from program updates , i.e. selling new versions of the software that can neutralize and protect against the newest viruses. McAfee worked under a similar system selling AIDS-certificates. He was accused of bolstering the public fear of the Michelangelo virus in 1992.
Computer viruses can also be considered
an art form. A virus is a computer program just like any other, and according
to copyright laws, every creative computer program contains an artistic
element. It is obvious that the creation of a virus requires determination,
effort, and imagination. Imagine that while systems analysts and administrators
are breaking their backs to get their systems to work in an orderly and
coordinated fashion, there are little hoodlums out there trying to accomplish
the exact opposite
, i.e. chaos, disorder, and ruin.
It doesn't take a lot of inside knowledge to see the humor in the situation.
The virus builders are taunting the nearly pathological fixation on order
within corporations and governmental agencies. It can very well be viewed
as a protest against a nearly fascistic
desire for control, order, and structure.
Someone discovered an "antidote" to Tormentor's virus, and he modified it and distributed it again, only to have it trounced by another anti-virus technique. This process was repeated five times before Tormentor got sick of constantly updating and distributing the virus. Afterwards, Tormentor concluded that the virus contained several errors. To start with, he had only tested it against McAfee's VirusScan; additionally, it was afflicted by several programming errors, and - worst of all - it was not destructive! Those are the words of a true anarchist. Tormentor embodies the virus hacker in a nutshell, and he is probably an eternal Swedish legend in the field. He was in contact with the SHA from the beginning, and is still involved in a feud with Mikael Winterkvist at the company Computer Security Center/Virus Help Center.
Among other well-known viruses we also find the so-called Trojan Horse AIDS (Trojan horses are viruses that infiltrate remote computers or networks). AIDS was a program that was distributed free-of-charge to companies across the world, following an international AIDS conference in London, and it purports to contain information about AIDS. When the program is run, it locks up the computer's hard drive and the user is prompted to deposit a certain amount in a an account in Panama (talk about electronic extortion). However, this virus has nothing to do with hackers; it was created by a man named Joseph Papp , who was not considered mentally fit to stand trial.
Another famous virus is RTM , a.k.a. The Internet Worm . This was a worm virus , which copied itself across computer networks. The program was written by the student and hacker Robert Tappan Morris (hence the name 'RTM'), and his idea was to write a program that traversed the Internet on its own, finding out how many systems it could get into. It was then supposed to report back to its author with a list of its destinations. Unfortunately, Morris had made a programming error which caused an overload of the entire Internet. For this little trick, he was sentenced to fines and probation. The worm virus idea originated at the Xerox Research Center in Palo Alto, California, where they were used to maximize the use of machine resources (for example, by having some programs run only at night, when no one else was using the computers).
Cable and Satellite Hackers
If you flip to the last pages of an evening newspaper, right after the sports pages, where you find all the ads for porno movies and Rogaine, you will also find ads offering cable TV decoder kits. These kits are built by this type of hacker. The entire Swedish branch of this underground operation can be traced to the close-knit circle of Rolig Teknik (which was mentioned earlier) readers. It is hardly possible to find a decoder builder that has not read Rolig Teknik.
The absolutely most famous hack that has been performed by this kind of hacker was witnessed by HBO viewers on April 27, 1987. In the middle of the movie The Falcon And The Snowman , the broadcast was interrupted by a blank screen on which the following text appeared: "Good Evening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95 a month? No Way! (Showtime/Movie Channel, Beware!)".
The basis for this message was HBO's plans to encrypt their broadcasts so that whoever wanted to see their programs would have to purchase a decoder. Captain Midnight , whose real name turned out to be John MacDougall , had interrupted HBO's broadcast by reprogramming the satellite that transmitted on that channel.
The transmission was interesting because it showed how vulnerable the technological society is. What if Captain Midnight had instead decided to alter the satellite's trajectory, and thus sabotaged millions of dollars worth of equipment? Perhaps worst of all, the hacker penetrated every television viewers consciousness and distributed the unequivocal political message which stated that TV, as a form of information, shouldn't cost anything.
On this subject, I would also like to mention some other electronics hackers like the Uppsala-based Atari enthusiast by the name of Marvin (an assumed name), who together with some friends constructed their own telephone cards - "eternal" cards that never ran out.... After a lengthy process, these Uppsala hackers were given suspended sentences and fines, while Telia never received a cent in reimbursement (which was partially due to the fact that Telia itself had made orders for these cards, as they were mighty curious about the invention). Many engineering students across Sweden became so impressed by Marvin's cards that they made copies, and soon there was a considerably greater number of copies than originals. Marvin himself never manufactured very many cards. Mainly he wanted to prove that it was possible, since Telia had boasted of the superior security features of these cards.
A similar case involved the Amiga hacker Wolf , a resident of Helsingborg (located in southern Sweden), who managed to acquire a card reader of the type that was used for public transit (bus) cards. Wolf was an unusually crafty young man, who was familiar with all types of electronic equipment, and also very mechanically talented. He had a two-year gymnasium degree ( translator's note: in Sweden, like many other European countries, the gymnasium offers an intermediate level of schooling somewhere between High School and university, and in some cases offers degrees) in electronics and telecommunications, but he was more dedicated than most university engineers. He had already had a run-in with the justice system for moonshining. Without any major difficulty, he managed to hook up the card reader to his Amiga and write a program that could control it. Initially, he probably only wanted to test the system to see if he could program the cards himself, but as time passed it turned into an enterprise. Eventually, it became an operation in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cards were forged. Due to a solid and secure database system, the regional transit authority was able to trace and block the forged cards. During a search of Wolf's residence, authorities found (among other things) Marvin's extensive description of Telia's phone cards.
The need for proper legislation for these types of crimes is pressing. There are operations that border the illegal, but that cannot be outright criminalized. It is not illegal to own a card reader or to manufacture fake cards. Electronic "identity documents", such as phone cards or decoders, are not considered identity documents by virtue of the fact that they are electronic, and therefore it is not illegal to possess them. Swedish legislation has simply not yet been adapted to electronic documents. However, using fake documents is clearly illegal. Only commercial manufacture and sales of pirate decoders is illegal - not private possession or distribution. Presumably, legislation has been limited so as not to infringe upon the freedoms of radio amateurs, which means that mail-order kits or other tools for amateur use are permitted. It would be totally legal to put up ads for phone card kits, just as decoder kits are being sold.
The solution to this controversy
is, of course, not prohibition, but building systems that are so safe
that they cannot be penetrated even if the attacker knows everything
about their inner workings,
which is possible through crypto-technology. The question is whether this
solution is really that good. In a society that is based on electronic
currency, this would serve to prevent all
types of fraud and forgery. I will
return to this subject in a later section.
Anarchists distinguish themselves by distributing blueprints for weapons and bombs, drug recipes, and instructions on how to efficiently kill another person, etc., with inexhaustible interest. Some hackers become angry when they find their BBS's swamped with such material (which is often totally erroneous, dangerous, and useless); others let the anarchists carry on. The most controversial anarchist publication in Sweden is The Terrorist's Handbook 6 . Much of the information in the book has to do with basic pyrotechnics, and has nothing to do with terrorism (sometimes I wonder if one of my student neighbors has developed an obsession with this book, as he with inexhaustible energy detonates home-built fireworks every evening. Apparently, many chemistry students have learned a lot about pyrotechnics by studying this type of material).
Some people seem to collect similar blueprints and books in the same manner that others collect rocks or stamps. It is only recently that so-called ASCII-traders (ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, which is really a method of coding text) have surfaced; these people are information collectors who dial into different BBS's and look for exciting and somewhat suspicious information. Don't ask me why they do this. Collecting non-living objects is something that one engages in for no reason whatsoever. The digital information collector's obsession is obviously as strong as that of a collector of physical items.
1 Alias Publications is one of the publishers that have offered to print this book. The editor-in-chief, Mikael Borg, wanted me to write more about Alias in this book, which I can understand. Alias is an excellent magazine for those who are interested in this type of material, but who don't have access to BBS's and the Internet, or the energy to dig out the electronic documents that describe hacking techniques. Alias has a shortage of good contributing writers, but they do the best they can, and the paper is interesting to read. Wicked voices claim that Alias is just out to make a quick buck, but as far as I can tell, this claim is not true. Most of the material seems to be thoroughly edited, and the design is far above underground standards.
Update : At present, Alias Publications has ceased doing business, and Mikael Borg has gone underground by moving to Thailand.
2 After writing this, one of my articles was accepted by Phrack (see Phrack #48, article 17): a historical summary of Swedish hacking culture, based on the research I did for this book.
3 The current method is manufacturing your own home-made cards that the new public phones accept as real credit cards.
4 An experienced hacker will instantly note that I've chosen a totally boring system: the AS-400.
5 Security experts constantly emphasize that there are destructive hackers out there. Remember that this threatening image provides the reason for their existence.
6 Pay attention to our definition of "anarchist" (see the first paragraph). Do not confuse hacker-anarchists with political anarchists. The Terrorist's Handbook was published in Sweden by a company that also published quite a bit of Nazi propaganda.
Design and formatting by Daniel Arnrup/Voodoo Systems