8lgm was a legendary group of hackers, originally set up by the two young Brits, Pad and Gandalf. The name comes from a band, The Eight-Legged Groove Machine, although their infiltration techniques were so well disguised that some wretched sysadmins speculated that they had been attacked by "Eight Little Green Men".

Since the first electronic communication networks were constructed, there has always been people trying to explore, misuse and extend these massively complicated systems. From the phreakers of the 70s and 80s through to the media-friendly cyberpunks of today, the challenge of manipulating machines and people has been ever-present,

In the late 80s and early 90s, the development of the underground hacker culture owed a lot to Altos Chat, a real-time chat system similar to IRC, run by Altos Computer Systems in Hamburg. It could be accessed from anywhere on the emerging X.25 network, and computer addicts frequently met up on the system and swapped new ideas, techniques and exploits. It was here that the beginnings of 8lgm were sown by to English teenagers, who called themselves Pad and Gandalf.

Unlike many of the hacker crews of the time, such as MOD, 8lgm prided themselves on causing minimal damage to systems they infiltrated. The hackers' quest was for knowledge, not for money or kudos, and their thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. The two hackers navigated through British Telecom's Packet Switched Stream network with ease, had complete control over many machines all over the world and had successfully obtained the source code for many worms, including WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers) and Father Christmas. Instead of trashing these compromised machines, however, Pad and Gandalf just left behind notes to let the administrators know they had been there, and could be back.

Despite the pair's love of hacking, the UK's Computer Misuse Act of 1990 made Pad for one re-evaluate his actions. Now, the things he was doing were explicitly illegal, potentially with hefty custodial sentences as punishment. However, the lure of the underground drew him back, and 8lgm continued unabated, even adopting a new member, Wandii.

The early 90s were the golden years for 8lgm. They had compromised machines running the FTSE (the UK's stock exchange), machines in the Ministry of Defence, NASA, Oracle and the Foreign Office. The hackers' knowledge of vulnerabilities and expoits was so extensive that they started to release the famous 8lgm advisories, which informed sysadmins how they could patch up their insecure systems.

However, either through their cheeky advisory releases or prolific hacking, 8lgm had been noticed by the authorities, and the government was coming under pressure to crack down on these dangerous individuals. After calling in experts from BT, Pad was tracked down and arrested on the 27th June, 1991. The arrests of Gandalf and Wandii quickly followed. Their computers contained lots of incriminating evidence, if the penetrated systems' logs weren't enough, and the three were quickly brought to trial.

It was at the trial that the ignorance of the police and prosecution was first brought to light. Wild six-figure sums were bandied about as the price of repairing 8lgm's damage, although these claims were subsequestly reduced to a still unreasonable £15,000 estimated damage. Quite apart from these costs, the lengthy investigation and high profile court case had cost an estimated £500,000, so this was a case the prosecution service could not afford to lose.
However, Wandii's defence shocked and surprised the team of lawyers. The seventeen year old claimed that he was addicted to computers, and could not help his hacking activities. Oddly, this defence was accepted by the jury, and Wandii walked free, to the disgust of the media. High profile articles ran for weeks prophesying unregulated, anarchic computer networks. This media frenzy was bad news for Pad and Gandalf, both of whom had pleaded guilty to the charges. However, the judge was surprisingly lenient, handing out six month custodial sentences each.<\p>

Luckily, this time was served in a low-security facility and the two youngsters emerged unscathed, although discouraged. After their brush with the law, 8lgm became more famous as White Hat hackers, releasing regular security advisories for several years, on novel problems such as race conditions.

One thing that sets 8lgm apart from the destructive, anarchistic hacker charicatures we are fed by the media is their genuine thirst for knowledge, and their efforts to minimise the disruption they caused. In fact, if they had not been some of the first people tried under the Computer Misuse Act, they would probably have never been famous apart from for their advisories.

It is unclear what Gandalf, Pad and Wandii are up to nowadays. the site http://www.ukhp.info/ could be by Gandalf, who claims to be a Linux sysadmin for an ISP, although no reference to 8lgm is made on the site.


Sources:
http://www.underground-book.com/

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