THE NIGHT OH HACKERS
The Night of the Hackers
As you are surveying the dark and misty swamp you come across what
appears to be a small cave. You light a torch and enter. You
have walked several hundred feet when you stumble into a bright
blue portal. . . With a sudden burst of light and a loud
explosion you are swept into . . . DRAGONFIRE . . . Press Any Key
if You Dare."
You have programmed your personal computer to dial into
Dragonfire, a computer bulletin board in Gainesville, Texas. But
before you get any information, Dragonfire demands your name, home
city and phone number. So, for tonight's tour of the electronic
wilderness you become Montana Wildhack of San Francisco.
Dragonfire, Sherwood Forest (sic), Forbidden Zone,
Blottoland, Plovernet, The Vault, Shadowland, PHBI and scores of
other computer bulletin boards are hangouts of a new generation of
vandals. These precocious teenagers use their electronic skills to
play hide-and-seek with computer and telephone security forces.
Many computer bulletin boards are perfectly legitimate: they
resemble electronic versions of the familiar cork boards in
supermarkets and school corridors, listing services and providing
information someone out there is bound to find useful. But this
is a walk on the wild side, a trip into the world of underground
bulletin boards dedicated to encouraging -- and making --
The phone number for these boards are as closely guarded as a
psychiatrist's home telephone number. Some numbers are posted on
underground boards; others are exchanged over the telephone. A
friendly hacker provided Dragonfire's number. Hook up and you see
a broad choice of topics offered. For Phone Phreaks -- who delight
in stealing service from AT&T and other phone networks .
Phreakenstein's Lair is a potpourri of phone numbers, access codes
and technical information. For computer hackers -- who dial into
other people's computers -- Ranger's Lodge is chock-full of phone
numbers and passwords for government, university and corporate
computers. Moving through Dragonfire's offerings, you can only
marvel at how conversant these teen-agers are with the technical
esoterica of today's electronic age. Obviously they have spent a
great deal of time studying computers, though their grammar and
spelling indicate they haven't been diligent in other subjects.
You are constantly reminded of how young they are.
"Well it's that time of year again. School is back in session
so let's get those high school computer phone numbers rolling in.
Time to get straight A's, have perfect attendance (except when
you've been up all night hacking school passwords), and messing up
you worst teacher's paycheck."
Forbidden Zone, in Detroit, is offering ammunition for hacker
civil war -- tips on crashing the most popular bulletin-board
software. There also are plans for building black, red and blue
boxes to mimic operator tones and get free phone service. And he
re are the details for "the safest and best way to make and use
nitroglycerine," compliments of Doctor Hex, who says he got it
"from my chemistry teacher."
Flip through the "pages." You have to wonder if this
information is accurate. Can this really be the phone number and
password for Taco Bell's computer? Do these kids really have the
dial-up numbers for dozens of university computers? The temptation
is too much. You sign off and have your computer dial the number
for the Yale computer. Bingo -- the words Yale University appear
on your screen. You enter the password. A menu appears. You hang
up in a sweat. You are now a hacker.
Punch in another number and your modem zips off the touch
tones. Here comes the tedious side of all of this. Bulletin boards
are popular. No vacancy in Bates Motel (named for Anthony Perkin's
creepy motel in the movie "Psycho"); the line is busy. So are 221
B. Baker Street, PHBI, Shadowland and The Vault, Caesar's Palace
rings and connects. This is different breed of board. Caesar's
Palace is a combination Phreak board and computer store in Miami.
This is the place to learn ways to mess up a department store's
anti-shoplifting system, or make free calls on telephones with
locks on the dial. Pure capitalism accompanies such anarchy,
Caesar's Palace is offering good deals on disc drives, software,
computers and all sorts of hardware. Orders are placed through
electronic mail messages.
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'Tele-Trial': Bored by Caesar's Palace, you enter the number
for Blottoland, the board operated by one of the nation's most
notorious computer phreaks -- King Blotto. This one has been busy
all night, but it's now pretty late in Cleveland. The phone rings
and you connect. To get past the blank screen, type the secondary
password "S-L-I-M-E." King Blotto obliges, listing his rules: he
must have your real name, phone number, address, occupation and
interests. He will call and disclose the primary password, "if you
belong on this board." If admitted, do not reveal the phone number
or the secondary password, lest you face "tele-trial," the King
warns as he dismisses you by hanging up. You expected heavy
security, but this teenager's security is, as they say, awesome.
Computers at the Defense Department and hundreds of businesses let
you know when you've reached them. Here you need a password just
to find out what system answered the phone. Then King Blotto asks
questions -- and hangs up. Professional computer-security experts
could learn something from this kid. He knows that ever since the
414 computer hackers were arrested in August 1982, law-enforcement
officers have been searching for leads on computer bulletin
"Do you have any ties to or connections with any law
enforcement agency or any agency which would inform such a law
enforcement agency of this bulletin board?"
Such is the welcoming message from Plovernet, a Florida board
known for its great hacker/phreak files. There amid a string of
valid VISA and MasterCard numbers are dozens of computer phone
numbers and passwords. Here you also learn what Blotto means by
tele-trial. "As some of you may or may not know, a session of the
conference court was held and the Wizard was found guilty of some
miscellaneous charges, and sentenced to four months without
bulletin boards." If Wizard calls, system operators like King
Blotto disconnect him. Paging through bulletin boards is a test of
your patience. Each board has different commands. Few are easy to
follow, leaving you to hunt and peck your way around. So far you
haven't had the nerve to type "C," which summons the system
operator for a live, computer-to-computer conversation. The time,
however, however has come for you to ask a few questions of the
"sysop." You dial a computer in Boston. It answers and you begin
working your way throughout the menus. You scan a handful of dial-
up numbers, including one for Arpanet, the Defense Department's
research computer. Bravely tap C and in seconds the screen blanks
and your cursor dances across the screen.
Hello . . . What kind of computer do you have?
Contact. The sysop is here. You exchange amenities and get
"talking." How much hacking does he do? Not much, too busy. Is he
afraid of being busted, having his computer confiscated like the
Los Angeles man facing criminal changes because his computer
bulletin board contained a stolen telephone-credit-card number?
"Hmmmm . . . No," he replies. Finally, he asks the dreaded
question: "How old are you?" "How old are YOU," you reply,
stalling. "15," he types. Once you confess and he knows you're
old enough to be his father, the conversation gets very serious.
You fear each new question; he probably thinks you're a cop. But
all he wants to know is your choice for president. The chat
continues, until he asks, "What time is it there?" Just past
midnight, you reply. Expletive. "it's 3:08 here," Sysop types. "I
must be going to sleep. I've got school tomorrow." The cursor
dances "*********** Thank you for Calling." The screen goes blank.
A few weeks after this reporter submitted this article to
Newsweek, he found that his credit had been altered, his drivers'
licence revoked, and EVEN HIS Social Security records changed!
Just in case you all might like to construe this as a 'Victimless'
crime. The next time a computer fouls up your billing on some
matter, and COSTS YOU, think about it!
This the follow-up to the previous article concerning the
Newsweek reporter. It spells out SOME of the REAL dangers to ALL
of us, due to this type of activity!
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The REVENGE of the Hackers
In the mischievous fraternity of computer hackers, few things
are prized more than the veil of secrecy. As NEWSWEEK San
Francisco correspondent Richard Sandza found out after writing a
story on the electronic underground's (DISPATCHES, Nov. 12, 198\
ability to exact revenge can be unnerving. Also severe....
"Conference!" someone yelled as I put the phone to my ear.
Then came a mind-piercing "beep," and suddenly my kitchen seemed
full of hyperactive 15-year-olds. "You the guy who wrote the
article in NEWSWEEK?" someone shouted from the depths of static,
and giggles. "We're going disconnect your phone," one shrieked.
"We're going to blow up your house," called another. I hung up.
Some irate readers write letters to the editor. A few call
their lawyers. Hackers, however, use the computer and the
telephone, and for more than simple comment. Within days, computer
"bulletin boards" around the country were lit up with attacks on
NEWSWEEK's "Montana Wildhack" (a name I took from a Kurt Vonnegut
character), questioning everything from my manhood to my prose
style. "Until we get real good revenge," said one message from
Unknown Warrior, "I would like to suggest that everyone with an
auto-l modem call Montana Butthack then hang up when he answers."
Since then the hackers of America have called my home at least
2000 times. My harshest critics communicate on Dragonfire, a
Gainesville, Texas, bulletin board where I am on teletrial, a
video-lynching in which a computer user with grievance dials the
board and presses charges against the offending party. Other
hackers -- including the defendant --post concurrences or
rebuttals. Despite the mealtime interruptions, all this was at
most a minor nuisance; some was amusing, even fun.
FRAUD: The fun stopped with a call from a man who identified
himself only as Joe. "I'm calling to warn you," he said. When I
barked back, he said, "Wait, I'm on your side. Someone has broken
into TRW and obtained a list of all your credit-card numbers, your
home address, social-security number and wife's name and is
posting it on bulletin boards around the country." He named the
charge cards in my wallet.
Credit-card numbers are a very hot commodity among some
hackers. To get one from a computer system and post it is the
hacker equivalent of making the team. After hearing from Joe I
visited the local office of the TRW credit bureau and got a copy
of my credit record. Sure enough, it showed a Nov. 13 inquiry by
the Lenox (Mass.) Savings Bank, an institution with no reason
whatever to ask about me. Clearly some hacker had used Lenox's
password to the TRW computers to get to my files (the bank has
since changed the password).
It wasn't long before I found out what was being done with my
credit-card numbers, thanks to another friendly hacker who tipped
me to Pirate 80, a bulletin board in Charleston, W.Va., where I
found this: "I'm sure you guys have heard about Richard Stza or
Montana Wildhack. He's the guy who wrote the obscene story about
phreaking in NewsWeek Well, my friend did a credit card check on
TRW . . . try this number, it' a VISA . . . Please nail this guy
bad . . . Captain Quieg.
Captain Quieg may himself be nailed. He has violated the
Credit Card Fraud Act of 1984 signed by President Reagan on Oct.
12. The law provides a $10,000 fine and up to a 15-year prison
term for "trafficking" in illegally obtained credit-card account
numbers. He "friend" has committed a felony violation of the
California computer-crime law. TRW spokeswoman Delia Fernandex
said that TRW would "be more than happy to prosecute" both of
TRW has good reason for concern. Its computers contain the
credit histories of 120 million people. Last year TRW sold 50
million credit reports on their customers. But these highly
confidential personal records are so poorly guarded that
computerized teenagers can ransack the files and depart
undetected. TRW passwords -- unlike many others -- often print out
when entered by TRW's customers. Hackers then look for discarded
printouts. A good source: the trash of banks and automobile
dealerships, which routinely do credit checks. "Everybody hacks
TRW," says Cleveland hacker King Blotto, whose bulletin board has
security system the Pentagon would envy. "It's the easiest." For
her her part, Fernandez insists that TRW "does everything it can
to keep the system secure
In my case, however, that was not enough. My credit limits
would hardly support big-time fraud, but victimization takes many
forms. Another hacker said it was likely that merchandise would be
ordered in my name and shipped to me -- just to harass me. I used
to use credit-card numbers against someone I didn't like," the
hacker said. "I'd call Sears and have a dozen toilets shipped to
Meanwhile, back on Dragonfire, my teletrial was going strong.
The charges, as pressed my Unknown Warrior, include "endangering
all phreaks and hacks." The judge in this case is a hacker with
the apt name of Ax Murderer. Possible sentences range from exile
from the entire planet" to "kill the dude." King Blotto has taken
up my defense, using hacker power to make his first pleading: he
dialed up Dragonfire, broke into its operating system and
"crashed" the bulletin board, destroying all of its messages
naming me. The board is back up now, with a retrial in full swing.
But then, exile from the electronic underground looks better all
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