From The Hacker Crackdown
, by Bruce Sterling
See: The Hacker Crackdown: Preface to the electronic release
for copying info
The process by which boards create hackers goes something like this. A youngster becomes interested in computers -- usually, computer games. He hears from friends that "bulletin boards" exist where games can be obtained for free. (Many computer games are "freeware," not copyrighted -- invented simply for the love of it and given away to the public; some of these games are quite good.) He bugs his parents for a modem, or quite often, uses his parents' modem.
The world of boards suddenly opens up. Computer games can be quite expensive, real budget-breakers for a kid, but pirated games, stripped of copy protection, are cheap or free. They are also illegal, but it is very rare, almost unheard of, for a small-scale software pirate to be prosecuted. Once "cracked" of its copy protection, the program, being digital data, becomes infinitely reproducible. Even the instructions to the game, any manuals that accompany it, can be reproduced as text files, or photocopied from legitimate sets. Other users on boards can give many useful hints in game-playing tactics. And a youngster with an infinite supply of free computer games can certainly cut quite a swath among his modem-less friends.
And boards are pseudonymous. No one need know that you're fourteen years old -- with a little practice at subterfuge, you can talk to adults about adult things, and be accepted and taken seriously! You can even pretend to be a girl, or an old man, or anybody you can imagine. If you find this kind of deception gratifying, there is ample opportunity to hone your ability on boards. But local boards can grow stale. And almost every board maintains a list of phone-numbers to other boards, some in distant, tempting, exotic locales. Who knows what they're up to, in Oregon or Alaska or Florida or California? It's very easy to find out -- just order the modem to call through its software -- nothing to this, just typing on a keyboard, the same thing you would do for most any computer game. The machine reacts swiftly and in a few seconds you are talking to a bunch of interesting people on another seaboard.
And yet the *bills* for this trivial action can be staggering! Just by going tippety-tap with your fingers, you may have saddled your parents with four hundred bucks in long-distance charges, and gotten chewed out but good. That hardly seems fair.
How horrifying to have made friends in another state and to be deprived of their company -- and their software -- just because telephone companies demand absurd amounts of money! How painful, to be restricted to boards in one's own *area code* -- what the heck is an "area code" anyway, and what makes it so special? A few grumbles, complaints, and innocent questions of this sort will often elicit a sympathetic reply from another board user -- someone with some stolen codes to hand. You dither a while, knowing this isn't quite right, then you make up your mind to try them anyhow -- *and they work!* Suddenly you're doing something even your parents can't do. Six months ago you were just some kid -- now, you're the Crimson Flash of Area Code 512! You're bad -- you're nationwide! Maybe you'll stop at a few abused codes. Maybe you'll decide that boards aren't all that interesting after all, that it's wrong, not worth the risk -- but maybe you won't. The next step is to pick up your own repeat-dialling program -- to learn to generate your own stolen codes. (This was dead easy five years ago, much harder to get away with nowadays, but not yet impossible.) And these dialling programs are not complex or intimidating -- some are as small as twenty lines of software. Now, you too can share codes. You can trade codes to learn other techniques. If you're smart enough to catch on, and obsessive enough to want to bother, and ruthless enough to start seriously bending rules, then you'll get better, fast. You start to develop a rep. You move up to a heavier class of board -- a board with a bad attitude, the kind of board that naive dopes like your classmates and your former self have never even heard of! You pick up the jargon of phreaking and hacking from the board. You read a few of those anarchy philes -- and man, you never realized you could be a real *outlaw* without ever leaving your bedroom.
You still play other computer games, but now you have a new and bigger game. This one will bring you a different kind of status than destroying even eight zillion lousy space invaders.
Hacking is perceived by hackers as a "game." This is not an entirely unreasonable or sociopathic perception. You can win or lose at hacking, succeed or fail, but it never feels "real." It's not simply that imaginative youngsters sometimes have a hard time telling "make-believe" from "real life." Cyberspace is *not real!* "Real" things are physical objects like trees and shoes and cars. Hacking takes place on a screen. Words aren't physical, numbers (even telephone numbers and credit card numbers) aren't physical. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but data will never hurt me. Computers *simulate* reality, like computer games that simulate tank battles or dogfights or spaceships. Simulations are just make-believe, and the stuff in computers is *not real.*
Consider this: if "hacking" is supposed to be so serious and real-life and dangerous, then how come *nine-year-old kids* have computers and modems? You wouldn't give a nine year old his own car, or his own rifle, or his own chainsaw -- those things are "real."
People underground are perfectly aware that the "game" is frowned upon by the powers that be. Word gets around about busts in the underground. Publicizing busts is one of the primary functions of pirate boards, but they also promulgate an attitude about them, and their own idiosyncratic ideas of justice. The users of underground boards won't complain if some guy is busted for crashing systems, spreading viruses, or stealing money by wire-fraud. They may shake their heads with a sneaky grin, but they won't openly defend these practices. But when a kid is charged with some theoretical amount of theft: $233,846.14, for instance, because he sneaked into a computer and copied something, and kept it in his house on a floppy disk -- this is regarded as a sign of near-insanity from prosecutors, a sign that they've drastically mistaken the immaterial game of computing for their real and boring everyday world of fatcat corporate money. It's as if big companies and their suck-up lawyers think that computing belongs to them, and they can retail it with price stickers, as if it were boxes of laundry soap! But pricing "information" is like trying to price air or price dreams. Well, anybody on a pirate board knows that computing can be, and ought to be, *free.* Pirate boards are little independent worlds in cyberspace, and they don't belong to anybody but the underground. Underground boards aren't "brought to you by Procter & Gamble."
To log on to an underground board can mean to experience liberation, to enter a world where, for once, money isn't everything and adults don't have all the answers. Let's sample another vivid hacker manifesto. Here are some excerpts from "The Conscience of a Hacker," by "The Mentor," from *Phrack* Volume One, Issue 7, Phile 3.
"I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it's because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't like me.(...) "And then it happened... a door opened to a world... rushing through the phone line like heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from day-to-day incompetencies is sought... a board is found. 'This is it... this is where I belong...' "I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again... I know you all...(...) "This is our world now.... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat and lie to us and try to make us believe that it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals. "Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for."