From The Hacker Crackdown
, by Bruce Sterling
See: The Hacker Crackdown: Preface to the electronic release
for copying info
Hackers are generally teenagers and college kids not engaged in earning a living. They often come from fairly well-to-do middle-class backgrounds, and are markedly anti-materialistic (except, that is, when it comes to computer equipment). Anyone motivated by greed for mere money (as opposed to the greed for power, knowledge and status) is swiftly written-off as a narrow-minded breadhead whose interests can only be corrupt and contemptible. Having grown up in the 1970s and 1980s, the young Bohemians of the digital underground regard straight society as awash in plutocratic corruption, where everyone from the President down is for sale and whoever has the gold makes the rules.
Interestingly, there's a funhouse-mirror image of this attitude on the other side of the conflict. The police are also one of the most markedly anti-materialistic groups in American society, motivated not by mere money but by ideals of service, justice, esprit-de-corps, and, of course, their own brand of specialized knowledge and power. Remarkably, the propaganda war between cops and hackers has always involved angry allegations that the other side is trying to make a sleazy buck. Hackers consistently sneer that anti-phreak prosecutors are angling for cushy jobs as telco lawyers and that computer-crime police are aiming to cash in later as well-paid computer-security consultants in the private sector. For their part, police publicly conflate all hacking crimes with robbing payphones with crowbars. Allegations of "monetary losses" from computer intrusion are notoriously inflated. The act of illicitly copying a document from a computer is morally equated with directly robbing a company of, say, half a million dollars. The teenage computer intruder in possession of this "proprietary" document has certainly not sold it for such a sum, would likely have little idea how to sell it at all, and quite probably doesn't even understand what he has. He has not made a cent in profit from his felony but is still morally equated with a thief who has robbed the church poorbox and lit out for Brazil. Police want to believe that all hackers are thieves. It is a tortuous and almost unbearable act for the American justice system to put people in jail because they want to learn things which are forbidden for them to know. In an American context, almost any pretext for punishment is better than jailing people to protect certain restricted kinds of information. Nevertheless, *policing information* is part and parcel of the struggle against hackers.
This dilemma is well exemplified by the remarkable activities of "Emmanuel Goldstein," editor and publisher of a print magazine known as *2600: The Hacker Quarterly.* Goldstein was an English major at Long Island's State University of New York in the '70s, when he became involved with the local college radio station. His growing interest in electronics caused him to drift into Yippie *TAP* circles and thus into the digital underground, where he became a self-described techno-rat. His magazine publishes techniques of computer intrusion and telephone "exploration" as well as gloating exposes of telco misdeeds and governmental failings.
Goldstein lives quietly and very privately in a large, crumbling Victorian mansion in Setauket, New York. The seaside house is decorated with telco decals, chunks of driftwood, and the basic bric-a-brac of a hippie crash-pad. He is unmarried, mildly unkempt, and survives mostly on TV dinners and turkey-stuffing eaten straight out of the bag. Goldstein is a man of considerable charm and fluency, with a brief, disarming smile and the kind of pitiless, stubborn, thoroughly recidivist integrity that America's electronic police find genuinely alarming. Goldstein took his nom-de-plume, or "handle," from a character in Orwell's *1984,* which may be taken, correctly, as a symptom of the gravity of his sociopolitical worldview. He is not himself a practicing computer intruder, though he vigorously abets these actions, especially when they are pursued against large corporations or governmental agencies. Nor is he a thief, for he loudly scorns mere theft of phone service, in favor of 'exploring and manipulating the system.' He is probably best described and understood as a *dissident.*
Weirdly, Goldstein is living in modern America under conditions very similar to those of former East European intellectual dissidents. In other words, he flagrantly espouses a value-system that is deeply and irrevocably opposed to the system of those in power and the police. The values in *2600* are generally expressed in terms that are ironic, sarcastic, paradoxical, or just downright confused. But there's no mistaking their radically anti-authoritarian tenor. *2600* holds that technical power and specialized knowledge, of any kind obtainable, belong by right in the hands of those individuals brave and bold enough to discover them -- by whatever means necessary. Devices, laws, or systems that forbid access, and the free spread of knowledge, are provocations that any free and self-respecting hacker should relentlessly attack. The "privacy" of governments, corporations and other soulless technocratic organizations should never be protected at the expense of the liberty and free initiative of the individual techno-rat.
However, in our contemporary workaday world, both governments and corporations are very anxious indeed to police information which is secret, proprietary, restricted, confidential, copyrighted, patented, hazardous, illegal, unethical, embarrassing, or otherwise sensitive. This makes Goldstein persona non grata, and his philosophy a threat. Very little about the conditions of Goldstein's daily life would astonish, say, Vaclav Havel. (We may note in passing that President Havel once had his word-processor confiscated by the Czechoslovak police.) Goldstein lives by *samizdat,* acting semi-openly as a data-center for the underground, while challenging the powers-that-be to abide by their own stated rules: freedom of speech and the First Amendment. Goldstein thoroughly looks and acts the part of techno-rat, with shoulder-length ringlets and a piratical black fisherman's-cap set at a rakish angle. He often shows up like Banquo's ghost at meetings of computer professionals, where he listens quietly, half-smiling and taking thorough notes.
Computer professionals generally meet publicly, and find it very difficult to rid themselves of Goldstein and his ilk without extralegal and unconstitutional actions. Sympathizers, many of them quite respectable people with responsible jobs, admire Goldstein's attitude and surreptitiously pass him information. An unknown but presumably large proportion of Goldstein's 2,000-plus readership are telco security personnel and police, who are forced to subscribe to *2600* to stay abreast of new developments in hacking. They thus find themselves *paying this guy's rent* while grinding their teeth in anguish, a situation that would have delighted Abbie Hoffman (one of Goldstein's few idols). Goldstein is probably the best-known public representative of the hacker underground today, and certainly the best-hated. Police regard him as a Fagin, a corrupter of youth, and speak of him with untempered loathing. He is quite an accomplished gadfly. After the Martin Luther King Day Crash of 1990, Goldstein, for instance, adeptly rubbed salt into the wound in the pages of *2600.* "Yeah, it was fun for the phone phreaks as we watched the network crumble," he admitted cheerfully. "But it was also an ominous sign of what's to come... Some AT&T people, aided by well-meaning but ignorant media, were spreading the notion that many companies had the same software and therefore could face the same problem someday. Wrong. This was entirely an AT&T software deficiency. Of course, other companies could face entirely *different* software problems. But then, so too could AT&T."
After a technical discussion of the system's failings, the Long Island techno-rat went on to offer thoughtful criticism to the gigantic multinational's hundreds of professionally qualified engineers. "What we don't know is how a major force in communications like AT&T could be so sloppy. What happened to backups? Sure, computer systems go down all the time, but people making phone calls are not the same as people logging on to computers. We must make that distinction. It's not acceptable for the phone system or any other essential service to 'go down.' If we continue to trust technology without understanding it, we can look forward to many variations on this theme. "AT&T owes it to its customers to be prepared to *instantly* switch to another network if something strange and unpredictable starts occurring. The news here isn't so much the failure of a computer program, but the failure of AT&T's entire structure."
The very idea of this.... this *person*.... offering "advice" about "AT&T's entire structure" is more than some people can easily bear. How dare this near-criminal dictate what is or isn't "acceptable" behavior from AT&T? Especially when he's publishing, in the very same issue, detailed schematic diagrams for creating various switching-network signalling tones unavailable to the public.
"See what happens when you drop a 'silver box' tone or two down your local exchange or through different long distance service carriers," advises *2600* contributor "Mr. Upsetter" in "How To Build a Signal Box." "If you experiment systematically and keep good records, you will surely discover something interesting." This is, of course, the scientific method, generally regarded as a praiseworthy activity and one of the flowers of modern civilization. One can indeed learn a great deal with this sort of structured intellectual activity. Telco employees regard this mode of "exploration" as akin to flinging sticks of dynamite into their pond to see what lives on the bottom.
*2600* has been published consistently since 1984. It has also run a bulletin board computer system, printed *2600* T-shirts, taken fax calls... The Spring 1991 issue has an interesting announcement on page 45: "We just discovered an extra set of wires attached to our fax line and heading up the pole. (They've since been clipped.) Your faxes to us and to anyone else could be monitored." In the worldview of *2600,* the tiny band of techno-rat brothers (rarely, sisters) are a beseiged vanguard of the truly free and honest. The rest of the world is a maelstrom of corporate crime and high-level governmental corruption, occasionally tempered with well-meaning ignorance. To read a few issues in a row is to enter a nightmare akin to Solzhenitsyn's, somewhat tempered by the fact that *2600* is often extremely funny.
Goldstein did not become a target of the Hacker Crackdown, though he protested loudly, eloquently, and publicly about it, and it added considerably to his fame. It was not that he is not regarded as dangerous, because he is so regarded. Goldstein has had brushes with the law in the past: in 1985, a *2600* bulletin board computer was seized by the FBI, and some software on it was formally declared "a burglary tool in the form of a computer program." But Goldstein escaped direct repression in 1990, because his magazine is printed on paper, and recognized as subject to Constitutional freedom of the press protection. As was seen in the *Ramparts* case, this is far from an absolute guarantee. Still, as a practical matter, shutting down *2600* by court-order would create so much legal hassle that it is simply unfeasible, at least for the present. Throughout 1990, both Goldstein and his magazine were peevishly thriving.
Instead, the Crackdown of 1990 would concern itself with the computerized version of forbidden data. The crackdown itself, first and foremost, was about *bulletin board systems.* Bulletin Board Systems, most often known by the ugly and un-pluralizable acronym "BBS," are the life-blood of the digital underground. Boards were also central to law enforcement's tactics and strategy in the Hacker Crackdown.
A "bulletin board system" can be formally defined as a computer which serves as an information and message-passing center for users dialing-up over the phone-lines through the use of modems. A "modem," or modulator-demodulator, is a device which translates the digital impulses of computers into audible analog telephone signals, and vice versa. Modems connect computers to phones and thus to each other.
Large-scale mainframe computers have been connected since the 1960s, but *personal* computers, run by individuals out of their homes, were first networked in the late 1970s. The "board" created by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess in February 1978, in Chicago, Illinois, is generally regarded as the first personal-computer bulletin board system worthy of the name.
Boards run on many different machines, employing many different kinds of software. Early boards were crude and buggy, and their managers, known as "system operators" or "sysops," were hard-working technical experts who wrote their own software. But like most everything else in the world of electronics, boards became faster, cheaper, better-designed, and generally far more sophisticated throughout the 1980s. They also moved swiftly out of the hands of pioneers and into those of the general public. By 1985 there were something in the neighborhood of 4,000 boards in America. By 1990 it was calculated, vaguely, that there were about 30,000 boards in the US, with uncounted thousands overseas. Computer bulletin boards are unregulated enterprises. Running a board is a rough-and-ready, catch-as-catch-can proposition. Basically, anybody with a computer, modem, software and a phone-line can start a board. With second-hand equipment and public-domain free software, the price of a board might be quite small -- less than it would take to publish a magazine or even a decent pamphlet. Entrepreneurs eagerly sell bulletin-board software, and will coach nontechnical amateur sysops in its use. Boards are not "presses." They are not magazines, or libraries, or phones, or CB radios, or traditional cork bulletin boards down at the local laundry, though they have some passing resemblance to those earlier media. Boards are a new medium -- they may even be a *large number* of new media.
Consider these unique characteristics: boards are cheap, yet they can have a national, even global reach. Boards can be contacted from anywhere in the global telephone network, at *no cost* to the person running the board -- the caller pays the phone bill, and if the caller is local, the call is free. Boards do not involve an editorial elite addressing a mass audience. The "sysop" of a board is not an exclusive publisher or writer -- he is managing an electronic salon, where individuals can address the general public, play the part of the general public, and also exchange private mail with other individuals. And the "conversation" on boards, though fluid, rapid, and highly interactive, is not spoken, but written. It is also relatively anonymous, sometimes completely so. And because boards are cheap and ubiquitous, regulations and licensing requirements would likely be practically unenforceable. It would almost be easier to "regulate" "inspect" and "license" the content of private mail -- probably more so, since the mail system is operated by the federal government. Boards are run by individuals, independently, entirely at their own whim.
For the sysop, the cost of operation is not the primary limiting factor. Once the investment in a computer and modem has been made, the only steady cost is the charge for maintaining a phone line (or several phone lines). The primary limits for sysops are time and energy. Boards require upkeep. New users are generally "validated" -- they must be issued individual passwords, and called at home by voice-phone, so that their identity can be verified. Obnoxious users, who exist in plenty, must be chided or purged. Proliferating messages must be deleted when they grow old, so that the capacity of the system is not overwhelmed. And software programs (if such things are kept on the board) must be examined for possible computer viruses. If there is a financial charge to use the board (increasingly common, especially in larger and fancier systems) then accounts must be kept, and users must be billed. And if the board crashes -- a very common occurrence -- then repairs must be made.
Boards can be distinguished by the amount of effort spent in regulating them. First, we have the completely open board, whose sysop is off chugging brews and watching re-runs while his users generally degenerate over time into peevish anarchy and eventual silence. Second comes the supervised board, where the sysop breaks in every once in a while to tidy up, calm brawls, issue announcements, and rid the community of dolts and troublemakers. Third is the heavily supervised board, which sternly urges adult and responsible behavior and swiftly edits any message considered offensive, impertinent, illegal or irrelevant. And last comes the completely edited "electronic publication," which is presented to a silent audience which is not allowed to respond directly in any way.
Boards can also be grouped by their degree of anonymity. There is the completely anonymous board, where everyone uses pseudonyms -- "handles" -- and even the sysop is unaware of the user's true identity. The sysop himself is likely pseudonymous on a board of this type. Second, and rather more common, is the board where the sysop knows (or thinks he knows) the true names and addresses of all users, but the users don't know one another's names and may not know his. Third is the board where everyone has to use real names, and roleplaying and pseudonymous posturing are forbidden.
Boards can be grouped by their immediacy. "Chat-lines" are boards linking several users together over several different phone-lines simultaneously, so that people exchange messages at the very moment that they type. (Many large boards feature "chat" capabilities along with other services.) Less immediate boards, perhaps with a single phoneline, store messages serially, one at a time. And some boards are only open for business in daylight hours or on weekends, which greatly slows response. A *network* of boards, such as "FidoNet," can carry electronic mail from board to board, continent to continent, across huge distances -- but at a relative snail's pace, so that a message can take several days to reach its target audience and elicit a reply.
Boards can be grouped by their degree of community. Some boards emphasize the exchange of private, person-to-person electronic mail. Others emphasize public postings and may even purge people who "lurk," merely reading posts but refusing to openly participate. Some boards are intimate and neighborly. Others are frosty and highly technical. Some are little more than storage dumps for software, where users "download" and "upload" programs, but interact among themselves little if at all.
Boards can be grouped by their ease of access. Some boards are entirely public. Others are private and restricted only to personal friends of the sysop. Some boards divide users by status. On these boards, some users, especially beginners, strangers or children, will be restricted to general topics, and perhaps forbidden to post. Favored users, though, are granted the ability to post as they please, and to stay "on-line" as long as they like, even to the disadvantage of other people trying to call in. High-status users can be given access to hidden areas in the board, such as off-color topics, private discussions, and/or valuable software. Favored users may even become "remote sysops" with the power to take remote control of the board through their own home computers. Quite often "remote sysops" end up doing all the work and taking formal control of the enterprise, despite the fact that it's physically located in someone else's house. Sometimes several "co-sysops" share power.
And boards can also be grouped by size. Massive, nationwide commercial networks, such as CompuServe, Delphi, GEnie and Prodigy, are run on mainframe computers and are generally not considered "boards," though they share many of their characteristics, such as electronic mail, discussion topics, libraries of software, and persistent and growing problems with civil-liberties issues. Some private boards have as many as thirty phone-lines and quite sophisticated hardware. And then there are tiny boards.
Boards vary in popularity. Some boards are huge and crowded, where users must claw their way in against a constant busy-signal. Others are huge and empty -- there are few things sadder than a formerly flourishing board where no one posts any longer, and the dead conversations of vanished users lie about gathering digital dust. Some boards are tiny and intimate, their telephone numbers intentionally kept confidential so that only a small number can log on.
And some boards are *underground.*
Boards can be mysterious entities. The activities of their users can be hard to differentiate from conspiracy. Sometimes they *are* conspiracies. Boards have harbored, or have been accused of harboring, all manner of fringe groups, and have abetted, or been accused of abetting, every manner of frowned-upon, sleazy, radical, and criminal activity. There are Satanist boards. Nazi boards. Pornographic boards. Pedophile boards. Drug-dealing boards. Anarchist boards. Communist boards. Gay and Lesbian boards (these exist in great profusion, many of them quite lively with well-established histories). Religious cult boards. Evangelical boards. Witchcraft boards, hippie boards, punk boards, skateboarder boards. Boards for UFO believers. There may well be boards for serial killers, airline terrorists and professional assassins. There is simply no way to tell. Boards spring up, flourish, and disappear in large numbers, in most every corner of the developed world. Even apparently innocuous public boards can, and sometimes do, harbor secret areas known only to a few. And even on the vast, public, commercial services, private mail is very private -- and quite possibly criminal.
Boards cover most every topic imaginable and some that are hard to imagine. They cover a vast spectrum of social activity. However, all board users do have something in common: their possession of computers and phones. Naturally, computers and phones are primary topics of conversation on almost every board. And hackers and phone phreaks, those utter devotees of computers and phones, live by boards. They swarm by boards. They are bred by boards. By the late 1980s, phone-phreak groups and hacker groups, united by boards, had proliferated fantastically.
As evidence, here is a list of hacker groups compiled by the editors of *Phrack* on August 8, 1988.
The Administration. Advanced Telecommunications, Inc. ALIAS. American Tone Travelers. Anarchy Inc. Apple Mafia. The Association. Atlantic Pirates Guild.
Bad Ass Mother Fuckers. Bellcore. Bell Shock Force. Black Bag.
Camorra. C&M Productions. Catholics Anonymous. Chaos Computer Club. Chief Executive Officers. Circle Of Death. Circle Of Deneb. Club X. Coalition of Hi-Tech Pirates. Coast-To-Coast. Corrupt Computing. Cult Of The Dead Cow. Custom Retaliations.
Damage Inc. D&B Communications. The Dange Gang. Dec Hunters. Digital Gang. DPAK.
Eastern Alliance. The Elite Hackers Guild. Elite Phreakers and Hackers Club. The Elite Society Of America. EPG. Executives Of Crime. Extasyy Elite.
Fargo 4A. Farmers Of Doom. The Federation. Feds R Us. First Class. Five O. Five Star. Force Hackers. The 414s.
Hack-A-Trip. Hackers Of America. High Mountain Hackers. High Society. The Hitchhikers. IBM Syndicate. The Ice Pirates. Imperial Warlords. Inner Circle. Inner Circle II. Insanity Inc. International Computer Underground Bandits.
Justice League of America.
Kaos Inc. Knights Of Shadow. Knights Of The Round Table.
League Of Adepts. Legion Of Doom. Legion Of Hackers. Lords Of Chaos. Lunatic Labs, Unlimited.
Master Hackers. MAD! The Marauders. MD/PhD. Metal Communications, Inc. MetalliBashers, Inc. MBI. Metro Communications. Midwest Pirates Guild.
NASA Elite. The NATO Association. Neon Knights. Nihilist Order. Order Of The Rose. OSS. Pacific Pirates Guild. Phantom Access Associates. PHido PHreaks. The Phirm. Phlash. PhoneLine Phantoms. Phone Phreakers Of America. Phortune 500. Phreak Hack Delinquents. Phreak Hack Destroyers. Phreakers, Hackers, And Laundromat Employees Gang (PHALSE Gang). Phreaks Against Geeks. Phreaks Against Phreaks Against Geeks. Phreaks and Hackers of America. Phreaks Anonymous World Wide. Project Genesis. The Punk Mafia. The Racketeers. Red Dawn Text Files. Roscoe Gang.
SABRE. Secret Circle of Pirates. Secret Service. 707 Club. Shadow Brotherhood. Sharp Inc. 65C02 Elite. Spectral Force. Star League. Stowaways. Strata-Crackers. Team Hackers '86. Team Hackers '87. TeleComputist Newsletter Staff. Tribunal Of Knowledge. Triple Entente. Turn Over And Die Syndrome (TOADS). 300 Club. 1200 Club. 2300 Club. 2600 Club. 2601 Club. 2AF.
The United Soft WareZ Force. United Technical Underground. Ware Brigade. The Warelords. WASP.
Contemplating this list is an impressive, almost humbling business. As a cultural artifact, the thing approaches poetry. Underground groups -- subcultures -- can be distinguished from independent cultures by their habit of referring constantly to the parent society. Undergrounds by their nature constantly must maintain a membrane of differentiation. Funny/distinctive clothes and hair, specialized jargon, specialized ghettoized areas in cities, different hours of rising, working, sleeping.... The digital underground, which specializes in information, relies very heavily on language to distinguish itself. As can be seen from this list, they make heavy use of parody and mockery. It's revealing to see who they choose to mock.
First, large corporations. We have the Phortune 500, The Chief Executive Officers, Bellcore, IBM Syndicate, SABRE (a computerized reservation service maintained by airlines). The common use of "Inc." is telling -- none of these groups are actual corporations, but take clear delight in mimicking them.
Second, governments and police. NASA Elite, NATO Association. "Feds R Us" and "Secret Service" are fine bits of fleering boldness. OSS -- the Office of Strategic Services was the forerunner of the CIA.
Third, criminals. Using stigmatizing pejoratives as a perverse badge of honor is a time-honored tactic for subcultures: punks, gangs, delinquents, mafias, pirates, bandits, racketeers.
Specialized orthography, especially the use of "ph" for "f" and "z" for the plural "s," are instant recognition symbols. So is the use of the numeral "0" for the letter "O" -- computer-software orthography generally features a slash through the zero, making the distinction obvious.
Some terms are poetically descriptive of computer intrusion: the Stowaways, the Hitchhikers, the PhoneLine Phantoms, Coast-to-Coast. Others are simple bravado and vainglorious puffery. (Note the insistent use of the terms "elite" and "master.") Some terms are blasphemous, some obscene, others merely cryptic -- anything to puzzle, offend, confuse, and keep the straights at bay. Many hacker groups further re-encrypt their names by the use of acronyms: United Technical Underground becomes UTU, Farmers of Doom become FoD, the United SoftWareZ Force becomes, at its own insistence, "TuSwF," and woe to the ignorant rodent who capitalizes the wrong letters.
It should be further recognized that the members of these groups are themselves pseudonymous. If you did, in fact, run across the "PhoneLine Phantoms," you would find them to consist of "Carrier Culprit," "The Executioner," "Black Majik," "Egyptian Lover," "Solid State," and "Mr Icom." "Carrier Culprit" will likely be referred to by his friends as "CC," as in, "I got these dialups from CC of PLP."
It's quite possible that this entire list refers to as few as a thousand people. It is not a complete list of underground groups -- there has never been such a list, and there never will be. Groups rise, flourish, decline, share membership, maintain a cloud of wannabes and casual hangers-on. People pass in and out, are ostracized, get bored, are busted by police, or are cornered by telco security and presented with huge bills. Many "underground groups" are software pirates, "warez d00dz," who might break copy protection and pirate programs, but likely wouldn't dare to intrude on a computer-system. It is hard to estimate the true population of the digital underground. There is constant turnover. Most hackers start young, come and go, then drop out at age 22 -- the age of college graduation. And a large majority of "hackers" access pirate boards, adopt a handle, swipe software and perhaps abuse a phone-code or two, while never actually joining the elite. Some professional informants, who make it their business to retail knowledge of the underground to paymasters in private corporate security, have estimated the hacker population at as high as fifty thousand. This is likely highly inflated, unless one counts every single teenage software pirate and petty phone-booth thief. My best guess is about 5,000 people. Of these, I would guess that as few as a hundred are truly "elite" -- active computer intruders, skilled enough to penetrate sophisticated systems and truly to worry corporate security and law enforcement.
Another interesting speculation is whether this group is growing or not. Young teenage hackers are often convinced that hackers exist in vast swarms and will soon dominate the cybernetic universe. Older and wiser veterans, perhaps as wizened as 24 or 25 years old, are convinced that the glory days are long gone, that the cops have the underground's number now, and that kids these days are dirt-stupid and just want to play Nintendo. My own assessment is that computer intrusion, as a non-profit act of intellectual exploration and mastery, is in slow decline, at least in the United States; but that electronic fraud, especially telecommunication crime, is growing by leaps and bounds.
One might find a useful parallel to the digital underground in the drug underground. There was a time, now much-obscured by historical revisionism, when Bohemians freely shared joints at concerts, and hip, small-scale marijuana dealers might turn people on just for the sake of enjoying a long stoned conversation about the Doors and Allen Ginsberg. Now drugs are increasingly verboten, except in a high-stakes, highly-criminal world of highly addictive drugs. Over years of disenchantment and police harassment, a vaguely ideological, free-wheeling drug underground has relinquished the business of drug-dealing to a far more savage criminal hard-core. This is not a pleasant prospect to contemplate, but the analogy is fairly compelling.
What does an underground board look like? What distinguishes it from a standard board? It isn't necessarily the conversation -- hackers often talk about common board topics, such as hardware, software, sex, science fiction, current events, politics, movies, personal gossip. Underground boards can best be distinguished by their files, or "philes," pre-composed texts which teach the techniques and ethos of the underground. These are prized reservoirs of forbidden knowledge. Some are anonymous, but most proudly bear the handle of the "hacker" who has created them, and his group affiliation, if he has one.
Here is a partial table-of-contents of philes from an underground board, somewhere in the heart of middle America, circa 1991. The descriptions are mostly self-explanatory.
BANKAMER.ZIP 5406 06-11-91 Hacking Bank AmericaCHHACK.ZIP 4481 06-11-91 Chilton HackingCITIBANK.ZIP 4118 06-11-91 Hacking CitibankCREDIMTC.ZIP 3241 06-11-91 Hacking Mtc Credit CompanyDIGEST.ZIP 5159 06-11-91 Hackers DigestHACK.ZIP 14031 06-11-91 How To HackHACKBAS.ZIP 5073 06-11-91 Basics Of HackingHACKDICT.ZIP 42774 06-11-91 Hackers DictionaryHACKER.ZIP 57938 06-11-91 Hacker InfoHACKERME.ZIP 3148 06-11-91 Hackers ManualHACKHAND.ZIP 4814 06-11-91 Hackers HandbookHACKTHES.ZIP 48290 06-11-91 Hackers ThesisHACKVMS.ZIP 4696 06-11-91 Hacking Vms SystemsMCDON.ZIP 3830 06-11-91 Hacking Macdonalds (Home Of The Archs)P500UNIX.ZIP 15525 06-11-91 Phortune 500 Guide To UnixRADHACK.ZIP 8411 06-11-91 Radio HackingTAOTRASH.DOC 4096 12-25-89 Suggestions For TrashingTECHHACK.ZIP 5063 06-11-91 Technical Hacking
The files above are do-it-yourself manuals about computer intrusion. The above is only a small section of a much larger library of hacking and phreaking techniques and history. We now move into a different and perhaps surprising area.
+============+ |Anarchy| +============+
ANARC.ZIP 3641 06-11-91 Anarchy FilesANARCHST.ZIP 63703 06-11-91 Anarchist BookANARCHY.ZIP 2076 06-11-91 Anarchy At HomeANARCHY3.ZIP 6982 06-11-91 Anarchy No 3ANARCTOY.ZIP 2361 06-11-91 Anarchy ToysANTIMODM.ZIP 2877 06-11-91 Anti-modem WeaponsATOM.ZIP 4494 06-11-91 How To Make An Atom BombBARBITUA.ZIP 3982 06-11-91 Barbiturate FormulaBLCKPWDR.ZIP 2810 06-11-91 Black Powder FormulasBOMB.ZIP 3765 06-11-91 How To Make BombsBOOM.ZIP 2036 06-11-91 Things That Go BoomCHLORINE.ZIP 1926 06-11-91 Chlorine Bomb COOKBOOK.ZIP 1500 06-11-91 Anarchy Cook BookDESTROY.ZIP 3947 06-11-91 Destroy StuffDUSTBOMB.ZIP 2576 06-11-91 Dust BombELECTERR.ZIP 3230 06-11-91 Electronic TerrorEXPLOS1.ZIP 2598 06-11-91 Explosives 1EXPLOSIV.ZIP 18051 06-11-91 More ExplosivesEZSTEAL.ZIP 4521 06-11-91 Ez-stealingFLAME.ZIP 2240 06-11-91 Flame ThrowerFLASHLT.ZIP 2533 06-11-91 Flashlight BombFMBUG.ZIP 2906 06-11-91 How To Make An Fm BugOMEEXPL.ZIP 2139 06-11-91 Home ExplosivesHOW2BRK.ZIP 3332 06-11-91 How To Break InLETTER.ZIP 2990 06-11-91 Letter BombLOCK.ZIP 2199 06-11-91 How To Pick LocksMRSHIN.ZIP 3991 06-11-91 Briefcase LocksNAPALM.ZIP 3563 06-11-91 Napalm At HomeNITRO.ZIP 3158 06-11-91 Fun With NitroPARAMIL.ZIP 2962 06-11-91 Paramilitary InfoPICKING.ZIP 3398 06-11-91 Picking LocksPIPEBOMB.ZIP 2137 06-11-91 Pipe BombPOTASS.ZIP 3987 06-11-91 Formulas With PotassiumPRANK.TXT 11074 08-03-90 More Pranks To Pull On Idiots!REVENGE.ZIP 4447 06-11-91 Revenge TacticsROCKET.ZIP 2590 06-11-91 Rockets For FunSMUGGLE.ZIP 3385 06-11-91 How To Smuggle
*Holy Cow!* The damned thing is full of stuff about bombs!
What are we to make of this?
First, it should be acknowledged that spreading knowledge about demolitions to teenagers is a highly and deliberately antisocial act. It is not, however, illegal. Second, it should be recognized that most of these philes were in fact *written* by teenagers. Most adult American males who can remember their teenage years will recognize that the notion of building a flamethrower in your garage is an incredibly neat-o idea. *Actually* building a flamethrower in your garage, however, is fraught with discouraging difficulty. Stuffing gunpowder into a booby-trapped flashlight, so as to blow the arm off your high-school vice-principal, can be a thing of dark beauty to contemplate. Actually committing assault by explosives will earn you the sustained attention of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Some people, however, will actually try these plans. A determinedly murderous American teenager can probably buy or steal a handgun far more easily than he can brew fake "napalm" in the kitchen sink. Nevertheless, if temptation is spread before people a certain number will succumb, and a small minority will actually attempt these stunts. A large minority of that small minority will either fail or, quite likely, maim themselves, since these "philes" have not been checked for accuracy, are not the product of professional experience, and are often highly fanciful. But the gloating menace of these philes is not to be entirely dismissed.
Hackers may not be "serious" about bombing; if they were, we would hear far more about exploding flashlights, homemade bazookas, and gym teachers poisoned by chlorine and potassium. However, hackers are *very* serious about forbidden knowledge. They are possessed not merely by curiosity, but by a positive *lust to know.* The desire to know what others don't is scarcely new. But the *intensity* of this desire, as manifested by these young technophilic denizens of the Information Age, may in fact *be* new, and may represent some basic shift in social values -- a harbinger of what the world may come to, as society lays more and more value on the possession, assimilation and retailing of *information* as a basic commodity of daily life.
There have always been young men with obsessive interests in these topics. Never before, however, have they been able to network so extensively and easily, and to propagandize their interests with impunity to random passers-by. High-school teachers will recognize that there's always one in a crowd, but when the one in a crowd escapes control by jumping into the phone-lines, and becomes a hundred such kids all together on a board, then trouble is brewing visibly. The urge of authority to *do something,* even something drastic, is hard to resist. And in 1990, authority did something. In fact authority did a great deal.