NuPrometheus + FBI = Grateful Dead / Whole Earth + Computer Revolution = WELL / Phiber Runs Underground and Acid Spikes the Well / The Trial of Knight Lightning / Shadowhawk Plummets to Earth / Kyrie in the Confessional / $79,499 / A Scholar Investigates / Computers, Freedom, and Privacy
The story of the Hacker Crackdown, as we have followed it thus far, has been technological, subcultural, criminal and legal. The story of the Civil Libertarians, though it partakes of all those other aspects, is profoundly and thoroughly political.
In 1990, the obscure, long-simmering struggle over the ownership and nature of cyberspace became loudly and irretrievably public. People from some of the oddest corners of American society suddenly found themselves public figures. Some of these people found this situation much more than they had ever bargained for. They backpedalled, and tried to retreat back to the mandarin obscurity of their cozy subcultural niches. This was generally to prove a mistake.
But the civil libertarians seized the day in 1990. They found themselves organizing, propagandizing, podium-pounding, persuading, touring, negotiating, posing for publicity photos, submitting to interviews, squinting in the limelight as they tried a tentative, but growingly sophisticated, buck-and-wing upon the public stage.
It's not hard to see why the civil libertarians should have this competitive advantage.
The hackers of the digital underground are an hermetic elite. They find it hard to make any remotely convincing case for their actions in front of the general public. Actually, hackers roundly despise the "ignorant" public, and have never trusted the judgement of "the system." Hackers do propagandize, but only among themselves, mostly in giddy, badly spelled manifestos of class warfare, youth rebellion or naive techie utopianism. Hackers must strut and boast in order to establish and preserve their underground reputations. But if they speak out too loudly and publicly, they will break the fragile surface-tension of the underground, and they will be harrassed or arrested. Over the longer term, most hackers stumble, get busted, get betrayed, or simply give up. As a political force, the digital underground is hamstrung.
The telcos, for their part, are an ivory tower under protracted seige. They have plenty of money with which to push their calculated public image, but they waste much energy and goodwill attacking one another with slanderous and demeaning ad campaigns. The telcos have suffered at the hands of politicians, and, like hackers, they don't trust the public's judgement. And this distrust may be well-founded. Should the general public of the high-tech 1990s come to understand its own best interests in telecommunications, that might well pose a grave threat to the specialized technical power and authority that the telcos have relished for over a century. The telcos do have strong advantages: loyal employees, specialized expertise, influence in the halls of power, tactical allies in law enforcement, and unbelievably vast amounts of money. But politically speaking, they lack genuine grassroots support; they simply don't seem to have many friends.
Cops know a lot of things other people don't know. But cops willingly reveal only those aspects of their knowledge that they feel will meet their institutional purposes and further public order. Cops have respect, they have responsibilities, they have power in the streets and even power in the home, but cops don't do particularly well in limelight. When pressed, they will step out in the public gaze to threaten bad guys, or to cajole prominent citizens, or perhaps to sternly lecture the naive and misguided. But then they go back within their time-honored fortress of the station-house, the courtroom and the rule-book.
The electronic civil libertarians, however, have proven to be born political animals. They seemed to grasp very early on the postmodern truism that communication is power. Publicity is power. Soundbites are power. The ability to shove one's issue onto the public agenda -- and keep it there -- is power. Fame is power. Simple personal fluency and eloquence can be power, if you can somehow catch the public's eye and ear.
The civil libertarians had no monopoly on "technical power" -- though they all owned computers, most were not particularly advanced computer experts. They had a good deal of money, but nowhere near the earthshaking wealth and the galaxy of resources possessed by telcos or federal agencies. They had no ability to arrest people. They carried out no phreak and hacker covert dirty-tricks.
But they really knew how to network.
Unlike the other groups in this book, the civil libertarians have operated very much in the open, more or less right in the public hurly-burly. They have lectured audiences galore and talked to countless journalists, and have learned to refine their spiels. They've kept the cameras clicking, kept those faxes humming, swapped that email, run those photocopiers on overtime, licked envelopes and spent small fortunes on airfare and long-distance. In an information society, this open, overt, obvious activity has proven to be a profound advantage.
In 1990, the civil libertarians of cyberspace assembled out of nowhere in particular, at warp speed. This "group" (actually, a networking gaggle of interested parties which scarcely deserves even that loose term) has almost nothing in the way of formal organization. Those formal civil libertarian organizations which did take an interest in cyberspace issues, mainly the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and the American Civil Liberties Union, were carried along by events in 1990, and acted mostly as adjuncts, underwriters or launching-pads.
The civil libertarians nevertheless enjoyed the greatest success of any of the groups in the Crackdown of 1990. At this writing, their future looks rosy and the political initiative is firmly in their hands. This should be kept in mind as we study the highly unlikely lives and lifestyles of the people who actually made this happen.
In June 1989, Apple Computer, Inc., of Cupertino, California, had a problem. Someone had illicitly copied a small piece of Apple's proprietary software, software which controlled an internal chip driving the Macintosh screen display. This Color QuickDraw source code was a closely guarded piece of Apple's intellectual property. Only trusted Apple insiders were supposed to possess it.
But the "NuPrometheus League" wanted things otherwise. This person (or persons) made several illicit copies of this source code, perhaps as many as two dozen. He (or she, or they) then put those illicit floppy disks into envelopes and mailed them to people all over America: people in the computer industry who were associated with, but not directly employed by, Apple Computer.
The NuPrometheus caper was a complex, highly ideological, and very hacker-like crime. Prometheus, it will be recalled, stole the fire of the Gods and gave this potent gift to the general ranks of downtrodden mankind. A similar god-in-the-manger attitude was implied for the corporate elite of Apple Computer, while the "Nu" Prometheus had himself cast in the role of rebel demigod. The illicitly copied data was given away for free.
The new Prometheus, whoever he was, escaped the fate of the ancient Greek Prometheus, who was chained to a rock for centuries by the vengeful gods while an eagle tore and ate his liver. On the other hand, NuPrometheus chickened out somewhat by comparison with his role model. The small chunk of Color QuickDraw code he had filched and replicated was more or less useless to Apple's industrial rivals (or, in fact, to anyone else). Instead of giving fire to mankind, it was more as if NuPrometheus had photocopied the schematics for part of a Bic lighter. The act was not a genuine work of industrial espionage. It was best interpreted as a symbolic, deliberate slap in the face for the Apple corporate hierarchy.
Apple's internal struggles were well-known in the industry. Apple's founders, Jobs and Wozniak, had both taken their leave long since. Their raucous core of senior employees had been a barnstorming crew of 1960s Californians, many of them markedly less than happy with the new button-down multimillion dollar regime at Apple. Many of the programmers and developers who had invented the Macintosh model in the early 1980s had also taken their leave of the company. It was they, not the current masters of Apple's corporate fate, who had invented the stolen Color QuickDraw code. The NuPrometheus stunt was well-calculated to wound company morale.
Apple called the FBI. The Bureau takes an interest in high-profile intellectual-property theft cases, industrial espionage and theft of trade secrets. These were likely the right people to call, and rumor has it that the entities responsible were in fact discovered by the FBI, and then quietly squelched by Apple management. NuPrometheus was never publicly charged with a crime, or prosecuted, or jailed. But there were no further illicit releases of Macintosh internal software. Eventually the painful issue of NuPrometheus was allowed to fade.
In the meantime, however, a large number of puzzled bystanders found themselves entertaining surprise guests from the FBI.
One of these people was John Perry Barlow. Barlow is a most unusual man, difficult to describe in conventional terms. He is perhaps best known as a songwriter for the Grateful Dead, for he composed lyrics for "Hell in a Bucket," "Picasso Moon," "Mexicali Blues," "I Need a Miracle," and many more; he has been writing for the band since 1970.
Before we tackle the vexing question as to why a rock lyricist should be interviewed by the FBI in a computer crime case, it might be well to say a word or two about the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead are perhaps the most successful and long-lasting of the numerous cultural emanations from the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, in the glory days of Movement politics and lysergic transcendance. The Grateful Dead are a nexus, a veritable whirlwind, of applique decals, psychedelic vans, tie-dyed T-shirts, earth-color denim, frenzied dancing and open and unashamed drug use. The symbols, and the realities, of Californian freak power surround the Grateful Dead like knotted macrame.
The Grateful Dead and their thousands of Deadhead devotees are radical Bohemians. This much is widely understood. Exactly what this implies in the 1990s is rather more problematic.
The Grateful Dead are among the world's most popular and wealthy entertainers: number 20, according to Forbes magazine, right between M.C. Hammer and Sean Connery. In 1990, this jeans-clad group of purported raffish outcasts earned seventeen million dollars. They have been earning sums much along this line for quite some time now.
And while the Dead are not investment bankers or three-piece-suit tax specialists -- they are, in point of fact, hippie musicians -- this money has not been squandered in senseless Bohemian excess. The Dead have been quietly active for many years, funding various worthy activities in their extensive and widespread cultural community.
The Grateful Dead are not conventional players in the American power establishment. They nevertheless are something of a force to be reckoned with. They have a lot of money and a lot of friends in many places, both likely and unlikely.
The Dead may be known for back-to-the-earth environmentalist rhetoric, but this hardly makes them anti-technological Luddites. On the contrary, like most rock musicians, the Grateful Dead have spent their entire adult lives in the company of complex electronic equipment. They have funds to burn on any sophisticated tool and toy that might happen to catch their fancy. And their fancy is quite extensive.
The Deadhead community boasts any number of recording engineers, lighting experts, rock video mavens, electronic technicians of all descriptions. And the drift goes both ways. Steve Wozniak, Apple's co-founder, used to throw rock festivals. Silicon Valley rocks out.
These are the 1990s, not the 1960s. Today, for a surprising number of people all over America, the supposed dividing line between Bohemian and technician simply no longer exists. People of this sort may have a set of windchimes and a dog with a knotted kerchief 'round its neck, but they're also quite likely to own a multimegabyte Macintosh running MIDI synthesizer software and trippy fractal simulations. These days, even Timothy Leary himself, prophet of LSD, does virtual-reality computer-graphics demos in his lecture tours.
John Perry Barlow is not a member of the Grateful Dead. He is, however, a ranking Deadhead.
Barlow describes himself as a "techno-crank." A vague term like "social activist" might not be far from the mark, either. But Barlow might be better described as a "poet" -- if one keeps in mind Percy Shelley's archaic definition of poets as "unacknowledged legislators of the world."
Barlow once made a stab at acknowledged legislator status. In 1987, he narrowly missed the Republican nomination for a seat in the Wyoming State Senate. Barlow is a Wyoming native, the third-generation scion of a well-to-do cattle-ranching family. He is in his early forties, married and the father of three daughters.
Barlow is not much troubled by other people's narrow notions of consistency. In the late 1980s, this Republican rock lyricist cattle rancher sold his ranch and became a computer telecommunications devotee.
The free-spirited Barlow made this transition with ease. He genuinely enjoyed computers. With a beep of his modem, he leapt from small-town Pinedale, Wyoming, into electronic contact with a large and lively crowd of bright, inventive, technological sophisticates from all over the world. Barlow found the social milieu of computing attractive: its fast-lane pace, its blue-sky rhetoric, its open-endedness. Barlow began dabbling in computer journalism, with marked success, as he was a quick study, and both shrewd and eloquent. He frequently travelled to San Francisco to network with Deadhead friends. There Barlow made extensive contacts throughout the Californian computer community, including friendships among the wilder spirits at Apple.
In May 1990, Barlow received a visit from a local Wyoming agent of the FBI. The NuPrometheus case had reached Wyoming.
Barlow was troubled to find himself under investigation in an area of his interests once quite free of federal attention. He had to struggle to explain the very nature of computer crime to a headscratching local FBI man who specialized in cattle-rustling. Barlow, chatting helpfully and demonstrating the wonders of his modem to the puzzled fed, was alarmed to find all "hackers" generally under FBI suspicion as an evil influence in the electronic community. The FBI, in pursuit of a hacker called "NuPrometheus," were tracing attendees of a suspect group called the Hackers Conference.
The Hackers Conference, which had been started in 1984, was a yearly Californian meeting of digital pioneers and enthusiasts. The hackers of the Hackers Conference had little if anything to do with the hackers of the digital underground. On the contrary, the hackers of this conference were mostly well-to-do Californian high-tech CEOs, consultants, journalists and entrepreneurs. (This group of hackers were the exact sort of "hackers" most likely to react with militant fury at any criminal degradation of the term "hacker.")
Barlow, though he was not arrested or accused of a crime, and though his computer had certainly not gone out the door, was very troubled by this anomaly. He carried the word to the Well.
Like the Hackers Conference, "the Well" was an emanation of the Point Foundation. Point Foundation, the inspiration of a wealthy Californian 60s radical named Stewart Brand, was to be a major launch-pad of the civil libertarian effort.
Point Foundation's cultural efforts, like those of their fellow Bay Area Californians the Grateful Dead, were multifaceted and multitudinous. Rigid ideological consistency had never been a strong suit of the Whole Earth Catalog. This Point publication had enjoyed a strong vogue during the late 60s and early 70s, when it offered hundreds of practical (and not so practical) tips on communitarian living, environmentalism, and getting back-to-the-land. The Whole Earth Catalog, and its sequels, sold two and half million copies and won a National Book Award.
With the slow collapse of American radical dissent, the Whole Earth Catalog had slipped to a more modest corner of the cultural radar; but in its magazine incarnation, CoEvolution Quarterly, the Point Foundation continued to offer a magpie potpourri of "access to tools and ideas."
CoEvolution Quarterly, which started in 1974, was never a widely popular magazine. Despite periodic outbreaks of millenarian fervor, CoEvolution Quarterly failed to revolutionize Western civilization and replace leaden centuries of history with bright new Californian paradigms. Instead, this propaganda arm of Point Foundation cakewalked a fine line between impressive brilliance and New Age flakiness. CoEvolution Quarterly carried no advertising, cost a lot, and came out on cheap newsprint with modest black-and-white graphics. It was poorly distributed, and spread mostly by subscription and word of mouth.
It could not seem to grow beyond 30,000 subscribers. And yet -- it never seemed to shrink much, either. Year in, year out, decade in, decade out, some strange demographic minority accreted to support the magazine. The enthusiastic readership did not seem to have much in the way of coherent politics or ideals. It was sometimes hard to understand what held them together (if the often bitter debate in the letter-columns could be described as "togetherness").
But if the magazine did not flourish, it was resilient; it got by. Then, in 1984, the birth-year of the Macintosh computer, CoEvolution Quarterly suddenly hit the rapids. Point Foundation had discovered the computer revolution. Out came the Whole Earth Software Catalog of 1984, arousing headscratching doubts among the tie-dyed faithful, and rabid enthusiasm among the nascent "cyberpunk" milieu, present company included. Point Foundation started its yearly Hackers Conference, and began to take an extensive interest in the strange new possibilities of digital counterculture. CoEvolution Quarterly folded its teepee, replaced by Whole Earth Software Review and eventually by Whole Earth Review (the magazine's present incarnation, currently under the editorship of virtual-reality maven Howard Rheingold).
1985 saw the birth of the "WELL" -- the "Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link." The Well was Point Foundation's bulletin board system.
As boards went, the Well was an anomaly from the beginning, and remained one. It was local to San Francisco. It was huge, with multiple phonelines and enormous files of commentary. Its complex UNIX-based software might be most charitably described as "user-opaque." It was run on a mainframe out of the rambling offices of a non-profit cultural foundation in Sausalito. And it was crammed with fans of the Grateful Dead.
Though the Well was peopled by chattering hipsters of the Bay Area counterculture, it was by no means a "digital underground" board. Teenagers were fairly scarce; most Well users (known as "Wellbeings") were thirty- and forty-something Baby Boomers. They tended to work in the information industry: hardware, software, telecommunications, media, entertainment. Librarians, academics, and journalists were especially common on the Well, attracted by Point Foundation's open-handed distribution of "tools and ideas."
There were no anarchy files on the Well, scarcely a dropped hint about access codes or credit card theft. No one used handles. Vicious "flame-wars" were held to a comparatively civilized rumble. Debates were sometimes sharp, but no Wellbeing ever claimed that a rival had disconnected his phone, trashed his house, or posted his credit card numbers.
The Well grew slowly as the 1980s advanced. It charged a modest sum for access and storage, and lost money for years -- but not enough to hamper the Point Foundation, which was nonprofit anyway. By 1990, the Well had about five thousand users. These users wandered about a gigantic cyberspace smorgasbord of "Conferences", each conference itself consisting of a welter of "topics," each topic containing dozens, sometimes hundreds of comments, in a tumbling, multiperson debate that could last for months or years on end.
CONFERENCES ON THE WELL WELL "Screenzine" Digest (g zine) Best of the WELL - vintage material - (g best) Index listing of new topics in all conferences - (g newtops) Business - Education ---------------------- Apple Library Users Group(g alug) Agriculture (g agri) Brainstorming (g brain) Classifieds (g cla) Computer Journalism (g cj) Consultants (g consult) Consumers (g cons) Design (g design) Desktop Publishing (g desk) Disability (g disability) Education (g ed) Energy (g energy91) Entrepreneurs (g entre) Homeowners (g home) Indexing (g indexing) Investments (g invest) Kids91 (g kids) Legal (g legal) One Person Business (g one) Periodical/newsletter (g per) Telecomm Law (g tcl) The Future (g fut) Translators (g trans) Travel (g tra) Work (g work) Electronic Frontier Foundation (g eff) Computers, Freedom & Privacy (g cfp) Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (g cpsr) Social - Political - Humanities --------------------------------- Aging (g gray) AIDS (g aids) Amnesty International (g amnesty) Archives (g arc) Berkeley (g berk) Buddhist (g wonderland) Christian (g cross) Couples (g couples) Current Events (g curr) Dreams (g dream) Drugs (g dru) East Coast (g east) Emotional Health**** (g private) Erotica (g eros) Environment (g env) Firearms (g firearms) First Amendment (g first) Fringes of Reason (g fringes) Gay (g gay) Gay (Private)# (g gaypriv) Geography (g geo) German (g german) Gulf War (g gulf) Hawaii (g aloha) Health (g heal) History (g hist) Holistic (g holi) Interview (g inter) Italian (g ital) Jewish (g jew) Liberty (g liberty) Mind (g mind) Miscellaneous (g misc) Men on the WELL** (g mow) Network Integration (g origin) Nonprofits (g non) North Bay (g north) Northwest (g nw) Pacific Rim (g pacrim) Parenting (g par) Peace (g pea) Peninsula (g pen) Poetry (g poetry) Philosophy (g phi) Politics (g pol) Psychology (g psy) Psychotherapy (g therapy) Recovery## (g recovery) San Francisco (g sanfran) Scams (g scam) Sexuality (g sex) Singles (g singles) Southern (g south) Spanish (g spanish) Spirituality (g spirit) Tibet (g tibet) Transportation (g transport) True Confessions (g tru) Unclear (g unclear) WELL Writer's Workshop***(g www) Whole Earth (g we) Women on the WELL*(g wow) Words (g words) Writers (g wri) **** Private Conference - mail wooly for entry *** Private conference - mail sonia for entry ** Private conference - mail flash for entry * Private conference - mail reva for entry # Private Conference - mail hudu for entry ## Private Conference - mail dhawk for entry Arts - Recreation - Entertainment ----------------------------------- ArtCom Electronic Net (g acen) Audio-Videophilia (g aud) Bicycles (g bike) Bay Area Tonight**(g bat) Boating (g wet) Books (g books) CD's (g cd) Comics (g comics) Cooking (g cook) Flying (g flying) Fun (g fun) Games (g games) Gardening (g gard) Kids (g kids) Nightowls* (g owl) Jokes (g jokes) MIDI (g midi) Movies (g movies) Motorcycling (g ride) Motoring (g car) Music (g mus) On Stage (g onstage) Pets (g pets) Radio (g rad) Restaurant (g rest) Science Fiction (g sf) Sports (g spo) Star Trek (g trek) Television (g tv) Theater (g theater) Weird (g weird) Zines/Factsheet Five(g f5) * Open from midnight to 6am ** Updated daily Grateful Dead --------------- Grateful Dead (g gd) Deadplan* (g dp) Deadlit (g deadlit) Feedback (g feedback) GD Hour (g gdh) Tapes (g tapes) Tickets (g tix) Tours (g tours) * Private conference - mail tnf for entry Computers ----------- AI/Forth/Realtime (g realtime) Amiga (g amiga) Apple (g app) Computer Books (g cbook) Art & Graphics (g gra) Hacking (g hack) HyperCard (g hype) IBM PC (g ibm) LANs (g lan) Laptop (g lap) Macintosh (g mac) Mactech (g mactech) Microtimes (g microx) Muchomedia (g mucho) NeXt (g next) OS/2 (g os2) Printers (g print) Programmer's Net (g net) Siggraph (g siggraph) Software Design (g sdc) Software/Programming (g software) Software Support (g ssc) Unix (g unix) Windows (g windows) Word Processing (g word) Technical - Communications ---------------------------- Bioinfo (g bioinfo) Info (g boing) Media (g media) NAPLPS (g naplps) Netweaver (g netweaver) Networld (g networld) Packet Radio (g packet) Photography (g pho) Radio (g rad) Science (g science) Technical Writers (g tec) Telecommunications(g tele) Usenet (g usenet) Video (g vid) Virtual Reality (g vr) The WELL Itself --------------- Deeper (g deeper) Entry (g ent) General (g gentech) Help (g help) Hosts (g hosts) Policy (g policy) System News (g news) Test (g test)
The list itself is dazzling, bringing to the untutored eye a dizzying impression of a bizarre milieu of mountain-climbing Hawaiian holistic photographers trading true-life confessions with bisexual word-processing Tibetans.
But this confusion is more apparent than real. Each of these conferences was a little cyberspace world in itself, comprising dozens and perhaps hundreds of sub-topics. Each conference was commonly frequented by a fairly small, fairly like-minded community of perhaps a few dozen people. It was humanly impossible to encompass the entire Well (especially since access to the Well's mainframe computer was billed by the hour). Most long-time users contented themselves with a few favorite topical neighborhoods, with the occasional foray elsewhere for a taste of exotica. But especially important news items, and hot topical debates, could catch the attention of the entire Well community.
Like any community, the Well had its celebrities, and John Perry Barlow, the silver-tongued and silver-modemed lyricist of the Grateful Dead, ranked prominently among them. It was here on the Well that Barlow posted his true-life tale of computer crime encounter with the FBI.
The story, as might be expected, created a great stir. The Well was already primed for hacker controversy. In December 1989, Harper's magazine had hosted a debate on the Well about the ethics of illicit computer intrusion. While over forty various computer-mavens took part, Barlow proved a star in the debate. So did "Acid Phreak" and "Phiber Optik," a pair of young New York hacker-phreaks whose skills at telco switching-station intrusion were matched only by their apparently limitless hunger for fame. The advent of these two boldly swaggering outlaws in the precincts of the Well created a sensation akin to that of Black Panthers at a cocktail party for the radically chic.
Phiber Optik in particular was to seize the day in 1990. A devotee of the 2600 circle and stalwart of the New York hackers' group "Masters of Deception," Phiber Optik was a splendid exemplar of the computer intruder as committed dissident. The eighteen-year-old Optik, a high-school dropout and part-time computer repairman, was young, smart, and ruthlessly obsessive, a sharp-dressing, sharp-talking digital dude who was utterly and airily contemptuous of anyone's rules but his own. By late 1991, Phiber Optik had appeared in Harper's, Esquire, The New York Times, in countless public debates and conventions, even on a television show hosted by Geraldo Rivera.
Treated with gingerly respect by Barlow and other Well mavens, Phiber Optik swiftly became a Well celebrity. Strangely, despite his thorny attitude and utter single-mindedness, Phiber Optik seemed to arouse strong protective instincts in most of the people who met him. He was great copy for journalists, always fearlessly ready to swagger, and, better yet, to actually demonstrate some off-the-wall digital stunt. He was a born media darling.
Even cops seemed to recognize that there was something peculiarly unworldly and uncriminal about this particular troublemaker. He was so bold, so flagrant, so young, and so obviously doomed, that even those who strongly disapproved of his actions grew anxious for his welfare, and began to flutter about him as if he were an endangered seal pup.
In January 24, 1990 (nine days after the Martin Luther King Day Crash), Phiber Optik, Acid Phreak, and a third NYC scofflaw named Scorpion were raided by the Secret Service. Their computers went out the door, along with the usual blizzard of papers, notebooks, compact disks, answering machines, Sony Walkmans, etc. Both Acid Phreak and Phiber Optik were accused of having caused the Crash.
The mills of justice ground slowly. The case eventually fell into the hands of the New York State Police. Phiber had lost his machinery in the raid, but there were no charges filed against him for over a year. His predicament was extensively publicized on the Well, where it caused much resentment for police tactics. It's one thing to merely hear about a hacker raided or busted; it's another to see the police attacking someone you've come to know personally, and who has explained his motives at length. Through the Harper's debate on the Well, it had become clear to the Wellbeings that Phiber Optik was not in fact going to "hurt anything." In their own salad days, many Wellbeings had tasted tear-gas in pitched street-battles with police. They were inclined to indulgence for acts of civil disobedience.
Wellbeings were also startled to learn of the draconian thoroughness of a typical hacker search-and-seizure. It took no great stretch of imagination for them to envision themselves suffering much the same treatment.
As early as January 1990, sentiment on the Well had already begun to sour, and people had begun to grumble that "hackers" were getting a raw deal from the ham-handed powers-that-be. The resultant issue of Harper's magazine posed the question as to whether computer-intrusion was a "crime" at all. As Barlow put it later: "I've begun to wonder if we wouldn't also regard spelunkers as desperate criminals if AT&T owned all the caves."
In February 1991, more than a year after the raid on his home, Phiber Optik was finally arrested, and was charged with first-degree Computer Tampering and Computer Trespass, New York state offenses. He was also charged with a theft-of-service misdemeanor, involving a complex free-call scam to a 900 number. Phiber Optik pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and was sentenced to 35 hours of community service.
This passing harassment from the unfathomable world of straight people seemed to bother Optik himself little if at all. Deprived of his computer by the January search-and-seizure, he simply bought himself a portable computer so the cops could no longer monitor the phone where he lived with his Mom, and he went right on with his depredations, sometimes on live radio or in front of television cameras.
The crackdown raid may have done little to dissuade Phiber Optik, but its galling affect on the Wellbeings was profound. As 1990 rolled on, the slings and arrows mounted: the Knight Lightning raid, the Steve Jackson raid, the nation-spanning Operation Sundevil. The rhetoric of law enforcement made it clear that there was, in fact, a concerted crackdown on hackers in progress.
The hackers of the Hackers Conference, the Wellbeings, and their ilk, did not really mind the occasional public misapprehension of "hacking"; if anything, this membrane of differentiation from straight society made the "computer community" feel different, smarter, better. They had never before been confronted, however, by a concerted vilification campaign.
Barlow's central role in the counter-struggle was one of the major anomalies of 1990. Journalists investigating the controversy often stumbled over the truth about Barlow, but they commonly dusted themselves off and hurried on as if nothing had happened. It was as if it were too much to believe that a 1960s freak from the Grateful Dead had taken on a federal law enforcement operation head-to-head and actually seemed to be winning!
Barlow had no easily detectable power-base for a political struggle of this kind. He had no formal legal or technical credentials. Barlow was, however, a computer networker of truly stellar brilliance. He had a poet's gift of concise, colorful phrasing. He also had a journalist's shrewdness, an off-the-wall, self-deprecating wit, and a phenomenal wealth of simple personal charm.
The kind of influence Barlow possessed is fairly common currency in literary, artistic, or musical circles. A gifted critic can wield great artistic influence simply through defining the temper of the times, by coining the catch-phrases and the terms of debate that become the common currency of the period. (And as it happened, Barlow was a part-time art critic, with a special fondness for the Western art of Frederic Remington.)
Barlow was the first commentator to adopt William Gibson's striking science-fictional term "cyberspace" as a synonym for the present-day nexus of computer and telecommunications networks. Barlow was insistent that cyberspace should be regarded as a qualitatively new world, a "frontier." According to Barlow, the world of electronic communications, now made visible through the computer screen, could no longer be usefully regarded as just a tangle of high-tech wiring. Instead, it had become a place, cyberspace, which demanded a new set of metaphors, a new set of rules and behaviors. The term, as Barlow employed it, struck a useful chord, and this concept of cyberspace was picked up by Time, Scientific American, computer police, hackers, and even Constitutional scholars. "Cyberspace" now seems likely to become a permanent fixture of the language.
Barlow was very striking in person: a tall, craggy-faced, bearded, deep-voiced Wyomingan in a dashing Western ensemble of jeans, jacket, cowboy boots, a knotted throat-kerchief and an ever-present Grateful Dead cloisonne lapel pin.
Armed with a modem, however, Barlow was truly in his element. Formal hierarchies were not Barlow's strong suit; he rarely missed a chance to belittle the "large organizations and their drones," with their uptight, institutional mindset. Barlow was very much of the free-spirit persuasion, deeply unimpressed by brass-hats and jacks-in-office. But when it came to the digital grapevine, Barlow was a cyberspace ad-hocrat par excellence.
There was not a mighty army of Barlows. There was only one Barlow, and he was a fairly anomolous individual. However, the situation only seemed to require a single Barlow. In fact, after 1990, many people must have concluded that a single Barlow was far more than they'd ever bargained for.
Barlow's querulous mini-essay about his encounter with the FBI struck a strong chord on the Well. A number of other free spirits on the fringes of Apple Computing had come under suspicion, and they liked it not one whit better than he did.
One of these was Mitchell Kapor, the co-inventor of the spreadsheet program "Lotus 1-2-3" and the founder of Lotus Development Corporation. Kapor had written-off the passing indignity of being fingerprinted down at his own local Boston FBI headquarters, but Barlow's post made the full national scope of the FBI's dragnet clear to Kapor. The issue now had Kapor's full attention. As the Secret Service swung into anti-hacker operation nationwide in 1990, Kapor watched every move with deep skepticism and growing alarm.
As it happened, Kapor had already met Barlow, who had interviewed Kapor for a California computer journal. Like most people who met Barlow, Kapor had been very taken with him. Now Kapor took it upon himself to drop in on Barlow for a heart-to-heart talk about the situation.
Kapor was a regular on the Well. Kapor had been a devotee of the Whole Earth Catalog since the beginning, and treasured a complete run of the magazine. And Kapor not only had a modem, but a private jet. In pursuit of the scattered high-tech investments of Kapor Enterprises Inc., his personal, multi-million dollar holding company, Kapor commonly crossed state lines with about as much thought as one might give to faxing a letter.
The Kapor-Barlow council of June 1990, in Pinedale, Wyoming, was the start of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Barlow swiftly wrote a manifesto, "Crime and Puzzlement," which announced his, and Kapor's, intention to form a political organization to "raise and disburse funds for education, lobbying, and litigation in the areas relating to digital speech and the extension of the Constitution into Cyberspace."
Furthermore, proclaimed the manifesto, the foundation would "fund, conduct, and support legal efforts to demonstrate that the Secret Service has exercised prior restraint on publications, limited free speech, conducted improper seizure of equipment and data, used undue force, and generally conducted itself in a fashion which is arbitrary, oppressive, and unconstitutional."
"Crime and Puzzlement" was distributed far and wide through computer networking channels, and also printed in the Whole Earth Review. The sudden declaration of a coherent, politicized counter-strike from the ranks of hackerdom electrified the community. Steve Wozniak (perhaps a bit stung by the NuPrometheus scandal) swiftly offered to match any funds Kapor offered the Foundation.
John Gilmore, one of the pioneers of Sun Microsystems, immediately offered his own extensive financial and personal support. Gilmore, an ardent libertarian, was to prove an eloquent advocate of electronic privacy issues, especially freedom from governmental and corporate computer-assisted surveillance of private citizens.
A second meeting in San Francisco rounded up further allies: Stewart Brand of the Point Foundation, virtual-reality pioneers Jaron Lanier and Chuck Blanchard, network entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nat Goldhaber. At this dinner meeting, the activists settled on a formal title: the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Incorporated. Kapor became its president. A new EFF Conference was opened on the Point Foundation's Well, and the Well was declared "the home of the Electronic Frontier Foundation."
Press coverage was immediate and intense. Like their nineteenth-century spiritual ancestors, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson, the high-tech computer entrepreneurs of the 1970s and 1980s -- people such as Wozniak, Jobs, Kapor, Gates, and H. Ross Perot, who had raised themselves by their bootstraps to dominate a glittering new industry -- had always made very good copy.
But while the Wellbeings rejoiced, the press in general seemed nonplussed by the self-declared "civilizers of cyberspace." EFF's insistence that the war against "hackers" involved grave Constitutional civil liberties issues seemed somewhat farfetched, especially since none of EFF's organizers were lawyers or established politicians. The business press in particular found it easier to seize on the apparent core of the story -- that high-tech entrepreneur Mitchell Kapor had established a "defense fund for hackers." Was EFF a genuinely important political development -- or merely a clique of wealthy eccentrics, dabbling in matters better left to the proper authorities? The jury was still out.
But the stage was now set for open confrontation. And the first and the most critical battle was the hacker show-trial of "Knight Lightning."
It has been my practice throughout this book to refer to hackers only by their "handles." There is little to gain by giving the real names of these people, many of whom are juveniles, many of whom have never been convicted of any crime, and many of whom had unsuspecting parents who have already suffered enough.
But the trial of Knight Lightning on July 24-27, 1990, made this particular "hacker" a nationally known public figure. It can do no particular harm to himself or his family if I repeat the long-established fact that his name is Craig Neidorf (pronounced NYE-dorf).
Neidorf's jury trial took place in the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, with the Honorable Nicholas J. Bua presiding. The United States of America was the plaintiff, the defendant Mr. Neidorf. The defendant's attorney was Sheldon T. Zenner of the Chicago firm of Katten, Muchin and Zavis.
The prosecution was led by the stalwarts of the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force: William J. Cook, Colleen D. Coughlin, and David A. Glockner, all Assistant United States Attorneys. The Secret Service Case Agent was Timothy M. Foley.
It will be recalled that Neidorf was the co-editor of an underground hacker "magazine" called Phrack. Phrack was an entirely electronic publication, distributed through bulletin boards and over electronic networks. It was amateur publication given away for free. Neidorf had never made any money for his work in Phrack. Neither had his unindicted co-editor "Taran King" or any of the numerous Phrack contributors.
The Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force, however, had decided to prosecute Neidorf as a fraudster. To formally admit that Phrack was a "magazine" and Neidorf a "publisher" was to open a prosecutorial Pandora's Box of First Amendment issues. To do this was to play into the hands of Zenner and his EFF advisers, which now included a phalanx of prominent New York civil rights lawyers as well as the formidable legal staff of Katten, Muchin and Zavis. Instead, the prosecution relied heavily on the issue of access device fraud: Section 1029 of Title 18, the section from which the Secret Service drew its most direct jurisdiction over computer crime.
Neidorf's alleged crimes centered around the E911 Document. He was accused of having entered into a fraudulent scheme with the Prophet, who, it will be recalled, was the Atlanta LoD member who had illicitly copied the E911 Document from the BellSouth AIMSX system.
The Prophet himself was also a co-defendant in the Neidorf case, part-and-parcel of the alleged "fraud scheme" to "steal" BellSouth's E911 Document (and to pass the Document across state lines, which helped establish the Neidorf trial as a federal case). The Prophet, in the spirit of full co-operation, had agreed to testify against Neidorf.
In fact, all three of the Atlanta crew stood ready to testify against Neidorf. Their own federal prosecutors in Atlanta had charged the Atlanta Three with: (a) conspiracy, (b) computer fraud, (c) wire fraud, (d) access device fraud, and (e) interstate transportation of stolen property (Title 18, Sections 371, 1030, 1343, 1029, and 2314).
Faced with this blizzard of trouble, Prophet and Leftist had ducked any public trial and had pled guilty to reduced charges -- one conspiracy count apiece. Urvile had pled guilty to that odd bit of Section 1029 which makes it illegal to possess "fifteen or more" illegal access devices (in his case, computer passwords). And their sentences were scheduled for September 14, 1990 -- well after the Neidorf trial. As witnesses, they could presumably be relied upon to behave.
Neidorf, however, was pleading innocent. Most everyone else caught up in the crackdown had "cooperated fully" and pled guilty in hope of reduced sentences. (Steve Jackson was a notable exception, of course, and had strongly protested his innocence from the very beginning. But Steve Jackson could not get a day in court -- Steve Jackson had never been charged with any crime in the first place.)
Neidorf had been urged to plead guilty. But Neidorf was a political science major and was disinclined to go to jail for "fraud" when he had not made any money, had not broken into any computer, and had been publishing a magazine that he considered protected under the First Amendment.
Neidorf's trial was the only legal action of the entire Crackdown that actually involved bringing the issues at hand out for a public test in front of a jury of American citizens.
Neidorf, too, had cooperated with investigators. He had voluntarily handed over much of the evidence that had led to his own indictment. He had already admitted in writing that he knew that the E911 Document had been stolen before he had "published" it in Phrack -- or, from the prosecution's point of view, illegally transported stolen property by wire in something purporting to be a "publication."
But even if the "publication" of the E911 Document was not held to be a crime, that wouldn't let Neidorf off the hook. Neidorf had still received the E911 Document when Prophet had transferred it to him from Rich Andrews' Jolnet node. On that occasion, it certainly hadn't been "published" -- it was hacker booty, pure and simple, transported across state lines.
The Chicago Task Force led a Chicago grand jury to indict Neidorf on a set of charges that could have put him in jail for thirty years. When some of these charges were successfully challenged before Neidorf actually went to trial, the Chicago Task Force rearranged his indictment so that he faced a possible jail term of over sixty years! As a first offender, it was very unlikely that Neidorf would in fact receive a sentence so drastic; but the Chicago Task Force clearly intended to see Neidorf put in prison, and his conspiratorial "magazine" put permanently out of commission. This was a federal case, and Neidorf was charged with the fraudulent theft of property worth almost eighty thousand dollars.
William Cook was a strong believer in high-profile prosecutions with symbolic overtones. He often published articles on his work in the security trade press, arguing that "a clear message had to be sent to the public at large and the computer community in particular that unauthorized attacks on computers and the theft of computerized information would not be tolerated by the courts."
The issues were complex, the prosecution's tactics somewhat unorthodox, but the Chicago Task Force had proved sure-footed to date. "Shadowhawk" had been bagged on the wing in 1989 by the Task Force, and sentenced to nine months in prison, and a $10,000 fine. The Shadowhawk case involved charges under Section 1030, the "federal interest computer" section.
Shadowhawk had not in fact been a devotee of "federal interest" computers per se. On the contrary, Shadowhawk, who owned an AT&T home computer, seemed to cherish a special aggression toward AT&T. He had bragged on the underground boards "Phreak Klass 2600" and "Dr. Ripco" of his skills at raiding AT&T, and of his intention to crash AT&T's national phone system. Shadowhawk's brags were noticed by Henry Kluepfel of Bellcore Security, scourge of the outlaw boards, whose relations with the Chicago Task Force were long and intimate.
The Task Force successfully established that Section 1030 applied to the teenage Shadowhawk, despite the objections of his defense attorney. Shadowhawk had entered a computer "owned" by U.S. Missile Command and merely "managed" by AT&T. He had also entered an AT&T computer located at Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia. Attacking AT&T was of "federal interest" whether Shadowhawk had intended it or not.
The Task Force also convinced the court that a piece of AT&T software that Shadowhawk had illicitly copied from Bell Labs, the "Artificial Intelligence C5 Expert System," was worth a cool one million dollars. Shadowhawk's attorney had argued that Shadowhawk had not sold the program and had made no profit from the illicit copying. And in point of fact, the C5 Expert System was experimental software, and had no established market value because it had never been on the market in the first place. AT&T's own assessment of a "one million dollar" figure for its own intangible property was accepted without challenge by the court, however. And the court concurred with the government prosecutors that Shadowhawk showed clear "intent to defraud" whether he'd gotten any money or not. Shadowhawk went to jail.
The Task Force's other best-known triumph had been the conviction and jailing of "Kyrie." Kyrie, a true denizen of the digital criminal underground, was a 36-year-old Canadian woman, convicted and jailed for telecommunications fraud in Canada. After her release from prison, she had fled the wrath of Canada Bell and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and eventually settled, very unwisely, in Chicago.
"Kyrie," who also called herself "Long Distance Information," specialized in voice-mail abuse. She assembled large numbers of hot long-distance codes, then read them aloud into a series of corporate voice-mail systems. Kyrie and her friends were electronic squatters in corporate voice-mail systems, using them much as if they were pirate bulletin boards, then moving on when their vocal chatter clogged the system and the owners necessarily wised up. Kyrie's camp followers were a loose tribe of some hundred and fifty phone-phreaks, who followed her trail of piracy from machine to machine, ardently begging for her services and expertise.
Kyrie's disciples passed her stolen credit card numbers, in exchange for her stolen "long distance information." Some of Kyrie's clients paid her off in cash, by scamming credit card cash advances from Western Union.
Kyrie travelled incessantly, mostly through airline tickets and hotel rooms that she scammed through stolen credit cards. Tiring of this, she found refuge with a fellow female phone phreak in Chicago. Kyrie's hostess, like a surprising number of phone phreaks, was blind. She was also physically disabled. Kyrie allegedly made the best of her new situation by applying for, and receiving, state welfare funds under a false identity as a qualified caretaker for the handicapped.
Sadly, Kyrie's two children by a former marriage had also vanished underground with her; these pre-teen digital refugees had no legal American identity, and had never spent a day in school.
Kyrie was addicted to technical mastery and enthralled by her own cleverness and the ardent worship of her teenage followers. This foolishly led her to phone up Gail Thackeray in Arizona, to boast, brag, strut, and offer to play informant. Thackeray, however, had already learned far more than enough about Kyrie, whom she roundly despised as an adult criminal corrupting minors, a "female Fagin." Thackeray passed her tapes of Kyrie's boasts to the Secret Service.
Kyrie was raided and arrested in Chicago in May 1989. She confessed at great length and pled guilty.
In August 1990, Cook and his Task Force colleague Colleen Coughlin sent Kyrie to jail for 27 months, for computer and telecommunications fraud. This was a markedly severe sentence by the usual wrist-slapping standards of "hacker" busts. Seven of Kyrie's foremost teenage disciples were also indicted and convicted. The Kyrie "high-tech street gang," as Cook described it, had been crushed. Cook and his colleagues had been the first ever to put someone in prison for voice-mail abuse. Their pioneering efforts had won them attention and kudos.
In his article on Kyrie, Cook drove the message home to the readers of Security Management magazine, a trade journal for corporate security professionals. The case, Cook said, and Kyrie's stiff sentence, "reflect a new reality for hackers and computer crime victims in the '90s... Individuals and corporations who report computer and telecommunications crimes can now expect that their cooperation with federal law enforcement will result in meaningful punishment. Companies and the public at large must report computer-enhanced crimes if they want prosecutors and the course to protect their rights to the tangible and intangible property developed and stored on computers."
Cook had made it his business to construct this "new reality for hackers." He'd also made it his business to police corporate property rights to the intangible.
Had the Electronic Frontier Foundation been a "hacker defense fund" as that term was generally understood, they presumably would have stood up for Kyrie. Her 1990 sentence did indeed send a "message" that federal heat was coming down on "hackers." But Kyrie found no defenders at EFF, or anywhere else, for that matter. EFF was not a bail-out fund for electronic crooks.
The Neidorf case paralleled the Shadowhawk case in certain ways. The victim once again was allowed to set the value of the "stolen" property. Once again Kluepfel was both investigator and technical advisor. Once again no money had changed hands, but the "intent to defraud" was central.
The prosecution's case showed signs of weakness early on. The Task Force had originally hoped to prove Neidorf the center of a nationwide Legion of Doom criminal conspiracy. The Phrack editors threw physical get-togethers every summer, which attracted hackers from across the country; generally two dozen or so of the magazine's favorite contributors and readers. (Such conventions were common in the hacker community; 2600 Magazine, for instance, held public meetings of hackers in New York, every month.) LoD heavy-dudes were always a strong presence at these Phrack-sponsored "Summercons."
In July 1988, an Arizona hacker named "Dictator" attended Summercon in Neidorf's home town of St. Louis. Dictator was one of Gail Thackeray's underground informants; Dictator's underground board in Phoenix was a sting operation for the Secret Service. Dictator brought an undercover crew of Secret Service agents to Summercon. The agents bored spyholes through the wall of Dictator's hotel room in St Louis, and videotaped the frolicking hackers through a one-way mirror. As it happened, however, nothing illegal had occurred on videotape, other than the guzzling of beer by a couple of minors. Summercons were social events, not sinister cabals. The tapes showed fifteen hours of raucous laughter, pizza-gobbling, in-jokes and back-slapping.
Neidorf's lawyer, Sheldon Zenner, saw the Secret Service tapes before the trial. Zenner was shocked by the complete harmlessness of this meeting, which Cook had earlier characterized as a sinister interstate conspiracy to commit fraud. Zenner wanted to show the Summercon tapes to the jury. It took protracted maneuverings by the Task Force to keep the tapes from the jury as "irrelevant."
The E911 Document was also proving a weak reed. It had originally been valued at $79,449. Unlike Shadowhawk's arcane Artificial Intelligence booty, the E911 Document was not software -- it was written in English. Computer-knowledgeable people found this value -- for a twelve-page bureaucratic document -- frankly incredible. In his "Crime and Puzzlement" manifesto for EFF, Barlow commented: "We will probably never know how this figure was reached or by whom, though I like to imagine an appraisal team consisting of Franz Kafka, Joseph Heller, and Thomas Pynchon."
As it happened, Barlow was unduly pessimistic. The EFF did, in fact, eventually discover exactly how this figure was reached, and by whom -- but only in 1991, long after the Neidorf trial was over.
Kim Megahee, a Southern Bell security manager, had arrived at the document's value by simply adding up the "costs associated with the production" of the E911 Document. Those "costs" were as follows:
1. A technical writer had been hired to research and write the E911 Document. 200 hours of work, at $35 an hour, cost : $7,000. A Project Manager had overseen the technical writer. 200 hours, at $31 an hour, made: $6,200.
2. A week of typing had cost $721 dollars. A week of formatting had cost $721. A week of graphics formatting had cost $742.
3. Two days of editing cost $367.
4. A box of order labels cost five dollars.
5. Preparing a purchase order for the Document, including typing and the obtaining of an authorizing signature from within the BellSouth bureaucracy, cost $129.
6. Printing cost $313. Mailing the Document to fifty people took fifty hours by a clerk, and cost $858.
7. Placing the Document in an index took two clerks an hour each, totalling $43.
Bureaucratic overhead alone, therefore, was alleged to have cost a whopping $17,099. According to Mr. Megahee, the typing of a twelve-page document had taken a full week. Writing it had taken five weeks, including an overseer who apparently did nothing else but watch the author for five weeks. Editing twelve pages had taken two days. Printing and mailing an electronic document (which was already available on the Southern Bell Data Network to any telco employee who needed it), had cost over a thousand dollars.
But this was just the beginning. There were also the hardware expenses. Eight hundred fifty dollars for a VT220 computer monitor. Thirty-one thousand dollars for a sophisticated VAXstation II computer. Six thousand dollars for a computer printer. Twenty-two thousand dollars for a copy of "Interleaf" software. Two thousand five hundred dollars for VMS software. All this to create the twelve-page Document.
Plus ten percent of the cost of the software and the hardware, for maintenance. (Actually, the ten percent maintenance costs, though mentioned, had been left off the final $79,449 total, apparently through a merciful oversight).
Mr. Megahee's letter had been mailed directly to William Cook himself, at the office of the Chicago federal attorneys. The United States Government accepted these telco figures without question.
As incredulity mounted, the value of the E911 Document was officially revised downward. This time, Robert Kibler of BellSouth Security estimated the value of the twelve pages as a mere $24,639.05 -- based, purportedly, on "R&D costs." But this specific estimate, right down to the nickel, did not move the skeptics at all; in fact it provoked open scorn and a torrent of sarcasm.
The financial issues concerning theft of proprietary information have always been peculiar. It could be argued that BellSouth had not "lost" its E911 Document at all in the first place, and therefore had not suffered any monetary damage from this "theft." And Sheldon Zenner did in fact argue this at Neidorf's trial -- that Prophet's raid had not been "theft," but was better understood as illicit copying.
The money, however, was not central to anyone's true purposes in this trial. It was not Cook's strategy to convince the jury that the E911 Document was a major act of theft and should be punished for that reason alone. His strategy was to argue that the E911 Document was dangerous. It was his intention to establish that the E911 Document was "a road-map" to the Enhanced 911 System. Neidorf had deliberately and recklessly distributed a dangerous weapon. Neidorf and the Prophet did not care (or perhaps even gloated at the sinister idea) that the E911 Document could be used by hackers to disrupt 911 service, "a life line for every person certainly in the Southern Bell region of the United States, and indeed, in many communities throughout the United States," in Cook's own words. Neidorf had put people's lives in danger.
In pre-trial maneuverings, Cook had established that the E911 Document was too hot to appear in the public proceedings of the Neidorf trial. The jury itself would not be allowed to ever see this Document, lest it slip into the official court records, and thus into the hands of the general public, and, thus, somehow, to malicious hackers who might lethally abuse it.
Hiding the E911 Document from the jury may have been a clever legal maneuver, but it had a severe flaw. There were, in point of fact, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, already in possession of the E911 Document, just as Phrack had published it. Its true nature was already obvious to a wide section of the interested public (all of whom, by the way, were, at least theoretically, party to a gigantic wire-fraud conspiracy). Most everyone in the electronic community who had a modem and any interest in the Neidorf case already had a copy of the Document. It had already been available in Phrack for over a year.
People, even quite normal people without any particular prurient interest in forbidden knowledge, did not shut their eyes in terror at the thought of beholding a "dangerous" document from a telephone company. On the contrary, they tended to trust their own judgement and simply read the Document for themselves. And they were not impressed.
One such person was John Nagle. Nagle was a forty-one-year-old professional programmer with a masters' degree in computer science from Stanford. He had worked for Ford Aerospace, where he had invented a computer-networking technique known as the "Nagle Algorithm," and for the prominent Californian computer-graphics firm "Autodesk," where he was a major stockholder.
Nagle was also a prominent figure on the Well, much respected for his technical knowledgeability.
Nagle had followed the civil-liberties debate closely, for he was an ardent telecommunicator. He was no particular friend of computer intruders, but he believed electronic publishing had a great deal to offer society at large, and attempts to restrain its growth, or to censor free electronic expression, strongly roused his ire.
The Neidorf case, and the E911 Document, were both being discussed in detail on the Internet, in an electronic publication called Telecom Digest. Nagle, a longtime Internet maven, was a regular reader of Telecom Digest. Nagle had never seen a copy of Phrack, but the implications of the case disturbed him.
While in a Stanford bookstore hunting books on robotics, Nagle happened across a book called The Intelligent Network. Thumbing through it at random, Nagle came across an entire chapter meticulously detailing the workings of E911 police emergency systems. This extensive text was being sold openly, and yet in Illinois a young man was in danger of going to prison for publishing a thin six-page document about 911 service.
Nagle made an ironic comment to this effect in Telecom Digest. From there, Nagle was put in touch with Mitch Kapor, and then with Neidorf's lawyers.
Sheldon Zenner was delighted to find a computer telecommunications expert willing to speak up for Neidorf, one who was not a wacky teenage "hacker." Nagle was fluent, mature, and respectable; he'd once had a federal security clearance.
Nagle was asked to fly to Illinois to join the defense team.
Having joined the defense as an expert witness, Nagle read the entire E911 Document for himself. He made his own judgement about its potential for menace.
The time has now come for you yourself, the reader, to have a look at the E911 Document. This six-page piece of work was the pretext for a federal prosecution that could have sent an electronic publisher to prison for thirty, or even sixty, years. It was the pretext for the search and seizure of Steve Jackson Games, a legitimate publisher of printed books. It was also the formal pretext for the search and seizure of the Mentor's bulletin board, "Phoenix Project," and for the raid on the home of Erik Bloodaxe. It also had much to do with the seizure of Richard Andrews' Jolnet node and the shutdown of Charles Boykin's AT&T node. The E911 Document was the single most important piece of evidence in the Hacker Crackdown. There can be no real and legitimate substitute for the Document itself.
==Phrack Inc.== Volume Two, Issue 24, File 5 of 13 Control Office Administration Of Enhanced 911 Services For Special Services and Account Centers by the Eavesdropper March, 1988 Description of Service ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The control office for Emergency 911 service is assigned in accordance with the existing standard guidelines to one of the following centers: o Special Services Center (SSC) o Major Accounts Center (MAC) o Serving Test Center (STC) o Toll Control Center (TCC) The SSC/MAC designation is used in this document interchangeably for any of these four centers. The Special Services Centers (SSCs) or Major Account Centers (MACs) have been designated as the trouble reporting contact for all E911 customer (PSAP) reported troubles. Subscribers who have trouble on an E911 call will continue to contact local repair service (CRSAB) who will refer the trouble to the SSC/MAC, when appropriate. Due to the critical nature of E911 service, the control and timely repair of troubles is demanded. As the primary E911 customer contact, the SSC/MAC is in the unique position to monitor the status of the trouble and insure its resolution. System Overview ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The number 911 is intended as a nationwide universal telephone number which provides the public with direct access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). A PSAP is also referred to as an Emergency Service Bureau (ESB). A PSAP is an agency or facility which is authorized by a municipality to receive and respond to police, fire and/or ambulance services. One or more attendants are located at the PSAP facilities to receive and handle calls of an emergency nature in accordance with the local municipal requirements. An important advantage of E911 emergency service is improved (reduced) response times for emergency services. Also close coordination among agencies providing various emergency services is a valuable capability provided by E911 service. 1A ESS is used as the tandem office for the E911 network to route all 911 calls to the correct (primary) PSAP designated to serve the calling station. The E911 feature was developed primarily to provide routing to the correct PSAP for all 911 calls. Selective routing allows a 911 call originated from a particular station located in a particular district, zone, or town, to be routed to the primary PSAP designated to serve that customer station regardless of wire center boundaries. Thus, selective routing eliminates the problem of wire center boundaries not coinciding with district or other political boundaries. The services available with the E911 feature include: Forced Disconnect Default Routing Alternative Routing Night Service Selective Routing Automatic Number Identification (ANI) Selective Transfer Automatic Location Identification (ALI) Preservice/Installation Guidelines ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ When a contract for an E911 system has been signed, it is the responsibility of Network Marketing to establish an implementation/cutover committee which should include a representative from the SSC/MAC. Duties of the E911 Implementation Team include coordination of all phases of the E911 system deployment and the formation of an on-going E911 maintenance subcommittee. Marketing is responsible for providing the following customer specific information to the SSC/MAC prior to the start of call through testing: o All PSAP's (name, address, local contact) o All PSAP circuit ID's o 1004 911 service request including PSAP details on each PSAP (1004 Section K, L, M) o Network configuration o Any vendor information (name, telephone number, equipment) The SSC/MAC needs to know if the equipment and sets at the PSAP are maintained by the BOCs, an independent company, or an outside vendor, or any combination. This information is then entered on the PSAP profile sheets and reviewed quarterly for changes, additions and deletions. Marketing will secure the Major Account Number (MAN) and provide this number to Corporate Communications so that the initial issue of the service orders carry the MAN and can be tracked by the SSC/MAC via CORDNET. PSAP circuits are official services by definition. All service orders required for the installation of the E911 system should include the MAN assigned to the city/county which has purchased the system. In accordance with the basic SSC/MAC strategy for provisioning, the SSC/MAC will be Overall Control Office (OCO) for all Node to PSAP circuits (official services) and any other services for this customer. Training must be scheduled for all SSC/MAC involved personnel during the pre-service stage of the project. The E911 Implementation Team will form the on-going maintenance subcommittee prior to the initial implementation of the E911 system. This sub-committee will establish post implementation quality assurance procedures to ensure that the E911 system continues to provide quality service to the customer. Customer/Company training, trouble reporting interfaces for the customer, telephone company and any involved independent telephone companies needs to be addressed and implemented prior to E911 cutover. These functions can be best addressed by the formation of a sub-committee of the E911 Implementation Team to set up guidelines for and to secure service commitments of interfacing organizations. A SSC/MAC supervisor should chair this subcommittee and include the following organizations: 1) Switching Control Center - E911 translations - Trunking - End office and Tandem office hardware/software 2) Recent Change Memory Administration Center - Daily RC update activity for TN/ESN translations - Processes validity errors and rejects 3) Line and Number Administration - Verification of TN/ESN translations 4) Special Service Center/Major Account Center - Single point of contact for all PSAP and Node to host troubles - Logs, tracks & statusing of all trouble reports - Trouble referral, follow up, and escalation - Customer notification of status and restoration - Analyzation of "chronic" troubles - Testing, installation and maintenance of E911 circuits 5) Installation and Maintenance (SSIM/I&M) - Repair and maintenance of PSAP equipment and Telco owned sets 6) Minicomputer Maintenance Operations Center - E911 circuit maintenance (where applicable) 7) Area Maintenance Engineer - Technical assistance on voice (CO-PSAP) network related E911 troubles Maintenance Guidelines ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The CCNC will test the Node circuit from the 202T at the Host site to the 202T at the Node site. Since Host to Node (CCNC to MMOC) circuits are official company services, the CCNC will refer all Node circuit troubles to the SSC/MAC. The SSC/MAC is responsible for the testing and follow up to restoration of these circuit troubles. Although Node to PSAP circuit are official services, the MMOC will refer PSAP circuit troubles to the appropriate SSC/MAC. The SSC/MAC is responsible for testing and follow up to restoration of PSAP circuit troubles. The SSC/MAC will also receive reports from CRSAB/IMC(s) on subscriber 911 troubles when they are not line troubles. The SSC/MAC is responsible for testing and restoration of these troubles. Maintenance responsibilities are as follows: SCC* Voice Network (ANI to PSAP) *SCC responsible for tandem switch SSIM/I&M PSAP Equipment (Modems, CIU's, sets) Vendor PSAP Equipment (when CPE) SSC/MAC PSAP to Node circuits, and tandem to PSAP voice circuits (EMNT) MMOC Node site (Modems, cables, etc) Note: All above work groups are required to resolve troubles by interfacing with appropriate work groups for resolution. The Switching Control Center (SCC) is responsible for E911/1AESS translations in tandem central offices. These translations route E911 calls, selective transfer, default routing, speed calling, etc., for each PSAP. The SCC is also responsible for troubleshooting on the voice network (call originating to end office tandem equipment). For example, ANI failures in the originating offices would be a responsibility of the SCC. Recent Change Memory Administration Center (RCMAC) performs the daily tandem translation updates (recent change) for routing of individual telephone numbers. Recent changes are generated from service order activity (new service, address changes, etc.) and compiled into a daily file by the E911 Center (ALI/DMS E911 Computer). SSIM/I&M is responsible for the installation and repair of PSAP equipment. PSAP equipment includes ANI Controller, ALI Controller, data sets, cables, sets, and other peripheral equipment that is not vendor owned. SSIM/I&M is responsible for establishing maintenance test kits, complete with spare parts for PSAP maintenance. This includes test gear, data sets, and ANI/ALI Controller parts. Special Services Center (SSC) or Major Account Center (MAC) serves as the trouble reporting contact for all (PSAP) troubles reported by customer. The SSC/MAC refers troubles to proper organizations for handling and tracks status of troubles, escalating when necessary. The SSC/MAC will close out troubles with customer. The SSC/MAC will analyze all troubles and tracks "chronic" PSAP troubles. Corporate Communications Network Center (CCNC) will test and refer troubles on all node to host circuits. All E911 circuits are classified as official company property. The Minicomputer Maintenance Operations Center (MMOC) maintains the E911 (ALI/DMS) computer hardware at the Host site. This MMOC is also responsible for monitoring the system and reporting certain PSAP and system problems to the local MMOC's, SCC's or SSC/MAC's. The MMOC personnel also operate software programs that maintain the TN data base under the direction of the E911 Center. The maintenance of the NODE computer (the interface between the PSAP and the ALI/DMS computer) is a function of the MMOC at the NODE site. The MMOC's at the NODE sites may also be involved in the testing of NODE to Host circuits. The MMOC will also assist on Host to PSAP and data network related troubles not resolved through standard trouble clearing procedures. Installation And Maintenance Center (IMC) is responsible for referral of E911 subscriber troubles that are not subscriber line problems. E911 Center - Performs the role of System Administration and is responsible for overall operation of the E911 computer software. The E911 Center does A-Z trouble analysis and provides statistical information on the performance of the system. This analysis includes processing PSAP inquiries (trouble reports) and referral of network troubles. The E911 Center also performs daily processing of tandem recent change and provides information to the RCMAC for tandem input. The E911 Center is responsible for daily processing of the ALI/DMS computer data base and provides error files, etc. to the Customer Services department for investigation and correction. The E911 Center participates in all system implementations and on-going maintenance effort and assists in the development of procedures, training and education of information to all groups. Any group receiving a 911 trouble from the SSC/MAC should close out the trouble with the SSC/MAC or provide a status if the trouble has been referred to another group. This will allow the SSC/MAC to provide a status back to the customer or escalate as appropriate. Any group receiving a trouble from the Host site (MMOC or CCNC) should close the trouble back to that group. The MMOC should notify the appropriate SSC/MAC when the Host, Node, or all Node circuits are down so that the SSC/MAC can reply to customer reports that may be called in by the PSAPs. This will eliminate duplicate reporting of troubles. On complete outages the MMOC will follow escalation procedures for a Node after two (2) hours and for a PSAP after four (4) hours. Additionally the MMOC will notify the appropriate SSC/MAC when the Host, Node, or all Node circuits are down. The PSAP will call the SSC/MAC to report E911 troubles. The person reporting the E911 trouble may not have a circuit I.D. and will therefore report the PSAP name and address. Many PSAP troubles are not circuit specific. In those instances where the caller cannot provide a circuit I.D., the SSC/MAC will be required to determine the circuit I.D. using the PSAP profile. Under no circumstances will the SSC/MAC Center refuse to take the trouble. The E911 trouble should be handled as quickly as possible, with the SSC/MAC providing as much assistance as possible while taking the trouble report from the caller. The SSC/MAC will screen/test the trouble to determine the appropriate handoff organization based on the following criteria: PSAP equipment problem: SSIM/I&M Circuit problem: SSC/MAC Voice network problem: SCC (report trunk group number) Problem affecting multiple PSAPs (No ALI report from all PSAPs): Contact the MMOC to check for NODE or Host computer problems before further testing. The SSC/MAC will track the status of reported troubles and escalate as appropriate. The SSC/MAC will close out customer/company reports with the initiating contact. Groups with specific maintenance responsibilities, defined above, will investigate "chronic" troubles upon request from the SSC/MAC and the ongoing maintenance subcommittee. All "out of service" E911 troubles are priority one type reports. One link down to a PSAP is considered a priority one trouble and should be handled as if the PSAP was isolated. The PSAP will report troubles with the ANI controller, ALI controller or set equipment to the SSC/MAC. NO ANI: Where the PSAP reports NO ANI (digital display screen is blank) ask if this condition exists on all screens and on all calls. It is important to differentiate between blank screens and screens displaying 911-00XX, or all zeroes. When the PSAP reports all screens on all calls, ask if there is any voice contact with callers. If there is no voice contact the trouble should be referred to the SCC immediately since 911 calls are not getting through which may require alternate routing of calls to another PSAP. When the PSAP reports this condition on all screens but not all calls and has voice contact with callers, the report should be referred to SSIM/I&M for dispatch. The SSC/MAC should verify with the SCC that ANI is pulsing before dispatching SSIM. When the PSAP reports this condition on one screen for all calls (others work fine) the trouble should be referred to SSIM/I&M for dispatch, because the trouble is isolated to one piece of equipment at the customer premise. An ANI failure (i.e. all zeroes) indicates that the ANI has not been received by the PSAP from the tandem office or was lost by the PSAP ANI controller. The PSAP may receive "02" alarms which can be caused by the ANI controller logging more than three all zero failures on the same trunk. The PSAP has been instructed to report this condition to the SSC/MAC since it could indicate an equipment trouble at the PSAP which might be affecting all subscribers calling into the PSAP. When all zeroes are being received on all calls or "02" alarms continue, a tester should analyze the condition to determine the appropriate action to be taken. The tester must perform cooperative testing with the SCC when there appears to be a problem on the Tandem-PSAP trunks before requesting dispatch. When an occasional all zero condition is reported, the SSC/MAC should dispatch SSIM/I&M to routine equipment on a "chronic" troublesweep. The PSAPs are instructed to report incidental ANI failures to the BOC on a PSAP inquiry trouble ticket (paper) that is sent to the Customer Services E911 group and forwarded to E911 center when required. This usually involves only a particular telephone number and is not a condition that would require a report to the SSC/MAC. Multiple ANI failures which our from the same end office (XX denotes end office), indicate a hard trouble condition may exist in the end office or end office tandem trunks. The PSAP will report this type of condition to the SSC/MAC and the SSC/MAC should refer the report to the SCC responsible for the tandem office. NOTE: XX is the ESCO (Emergency Service Number) associated with the incoming 911 trunks into the tandem. It is important that the C/MAC tell the SCC what is displayed at the PSAP (i.e. 911-0011) which indicates to the SCC which end office is in trouble. Note: It is essential that the PSAP fill out inquiry form on every ANI failure. The PSAP will report a trouble any time an address is not received on an address display (screen blank) E911 call. (If a record is not in the 911 data base or an ANI failure is encountered, the screen will provide a display noticing such condition). The SSC/MAC should verify with the PSAP whether the NO ALI condition is on one screen or all screens. When the condition is on one screen (other screens receive ALI information) the SSC/MAC will request SSIM/I&M to dispatch. If no screens are receiving ALI information, there is usually a circuit trouble between the PSAP and the Host computer. The SSC/MAC should test the trouble and refer for restoral. Note: If the SSC/MAC receives calls from multiple PSAP's, all of which are receiving NO ALI, there is a problem with the Node or Node to Host circuits or the Host computer itself. Before referring the trouble the SSC/MAC should call the MMOC to inquire if the Node or Host is in trouble. Alarm conditions on the ANI controller digital display at the PSAP are to be reported by the PSAP's. These alarms can indicate various trouble conditions so the SSC/MAC should ask the PSAP if any portion of the E911 system is not functioning properly. The SSC/MAC should verify with the PSAP attendant that the equipment's primary function is answering E911 calls. If it is, the SSC/MAC should request a dispatch SSIM/I&M. If the equipment is not primarily used for E911, then the SSC/MAC should advise PSAP to contact their CPE vendor. Note: These troubles can be quite confusing when the PSAP has vendor equipment mixed in with equipment that the BOC maintains. The Marketing representative should provide the SSC/MAC information concerning any unusual or exception items where the PSAP should contact their vendor. This information should be included in the PSAP profile sheets. ANI or ALI controller down: When the host computer sees the PSAP equipment down and it does not come back up, the MMOC will report the trouble to the SSC/MAC; the equipment is down at the PSAP, a dispatch will be required. PSAP link (circuit) down: The MMOC will provide the SSC/MAC with the circuit ID that the Host computer indicates in trouble. Although each PSAP has two circuits, when either circuit is down the condition must be treated as an emergency since failure of the second circuit will cause the PSAP to be isolated. Any problems that the MMOC identifies from the Node location to the Host computer will be handled directly with the appropriate MMOC(s)/CCNC. Note: The customer will call only when a problem is apparent to the PSAP. When only one circuit is down to the PSAP, the customer may not be aware there is a trouble, even though there is one link down, notification should appear on the PSAP screen. Troubles called into the SSC/MAC from the MMOC or other company employee should not be closed out by calling the PSAP since it may result in the customer responding that they do not have a trouble. These reports can only be closed out by receiving information that the trouble was fixed and by checking with the company employee that reported the trouble. The MMOC personnel will be able to verify that the trouble has cleared by reviewing a printout from the host. When the CRSAB receives a subscriber complaint (i.e., cannot dial 911) the RSA should obtain as much information as possible while the customer is on the line. For example, what happened when the subscriber dialed 911? The report is automatically directed to the IMC for subscriber line testing. When no line trouble is found, the IMC will refer the trouble condition to the SSC/MAC. The SSC/MAC will contact Customer Services E911 Group and verify that the subscriber should be able to call 911 and obtain the ESN. The SSC/MAC will verify the ESN via 2SCCS. When both verifications match, the SSC/MAC will refer the report to the SCC responsible for the 911 tandem office for investigation and resolution. The MAC is responsible for tracking the trouble and informing the IMC when it is resolved. For more information, please refer to E911 Glossary of Terms. End of Phrack File
The reader is forgiven if he or she was entirely unable to read this document. John Perry Barlow had a great deal of fun at its expense, in "Crime and Puzzlement:" "Bureaucrat-ese of surpassing opacity... To read the whole thing straight through without entering coma requires either a machine or a human who has too much practice thinking like one. Anyone who can understand it fully and fluidly had altered his consciousness beyone the ability to ever again read Blake, Whitman, or Tolstoy... the document contains little of interest to anyone who is not a student of advanced organizational sclerosis."
With the Document itself to hand, however, exactly as it was published (in its six-page edited form) in Phrack, the reader may be able to verify a few statements of fact about its nature. First, there is no software, no computer code, in the Document. It is not computer-programming language like FORTRAN or C++, it is English; all the sentences have nouns and verbs and punctuation. It does not explain how to break into the E911 system. It does not suggest ways to destroy or damage the E911 system.
There are no access codes in the Document. There are no computer passwords. It does not explain how to steal long distance service. It does not explain how to break in to telco switching stations. There is nothing in it about using a personal computer or a modem for any purpose at all, good or bad.
Close study will reveal that this document is not about machinery. The E911 Document is about administration. It describes how one creates and administers certain units of telco bureaucracy: Special Service Centers and Major Account Centers (SSC/MAC). It describes how these centers should distribute responsibility for the E911 service, to other units of telco bureaucracy, in a chain of command, a formal hierarchy. It describes who answers customer complaints, who screens calls, who reports equipment failures, who answers those reports, who handles maintenance, who chairs subcommittees, who gives orders, who follows orders, who tells whom what to do. The Document is not a "roadmap" to computers. The Document is a roadmap to people.
As an aid to breaking into computer systems, the Document is useless. As an aid to harassing and deceiving telco people, however, the Document might prove handy (especially with its Glossary, which I have not included). An intense and protracted study of this Document and its Glossary, combined with many other such documents, might teach one to speak like a telco employee. And telco people live by speech -- they live by phone communication. If you can mimic their language over the phone, you can "social-engineer" them. If you can con telco people, you can wreak havoc among them. You can force them to no longer trust one another; you can break the telephonic ties that bind their community; you can make them paranoid. And people will fight harder to defend their community than they will fight to defend their individual selves.
This was the genuine, gut-level threat posed by Phrack magazine. The real struggle was over the control of telco language, the control of telco knowledge. It was a struggle to defend the social "membrane of differentiation" that forms the walls of the telco community's ivory tower -- the special jargon that allows telco professionals to recognize one another, and to exclude charlatans, thieves, and upstarts. And the prosecution brought out this fact. They repeatedly made reference to the threat posed to telco professionals by hackers using "social engineering."
However, Craig Neidorf was not on trial for learning to speak like a professional telecommunications expert. Craig Neidorf was on trial for access device fraud and transportation of stolen property. He was on trial for stealing a document that was purportedly highly sensitive and purportedly worth tens of thousands of dollars.
John Nagle read the E911 Document. He drew his own conclusions. And he presented Zenner and his defense team with an overflowing box of similar material, drawn mostly from Stanford University's engineering libraries. During the trial, the defense team -- Zenner, half-a-dozen other attorneys, Nagle, Neidorf, and computer-security expert Dorothy Denning, all pored over the E911 Document line-by-line.
On the afternoon of July 25, 1990, Zenner began to cross-examine a woman named Billie Williams, a service manager for Southern Bell in Atlanta. Ms. Williams had been responsible for the E911 Document. (She was not its author -- its original "author" was a Southern Bell staff manager named Richard Helms. However, Mr. Helms should not bear the entire blame; many telco staff people and maintenance personnel had amended the Document. It had not been so much "written" by a single author, as built by committee out of concrete-blocks of jargon.)
Ms. Williams had been called as a witness for the prosecution, and had gamely tried to explain the basic technical structure of the E911 system, aided by charts.
Now it was Zenner's turn. He first established that the "proprietary stamp" that BellSouth had used on the E911 Document was stamped on every single document that BellSouth wrote -- thousands of documents. "We do not publish anything other than for our own company," Ms. Williams explained. "Any company document of this nature is considered proprietary." Nobody was in charge of singling out special high-security publications for special high-security protection. They were all special, no matter how trivial, no matter what their subject matter -- the stamp was put on as soon as any document was written, and the stamp was never removed.
Zenner now asked whether the charts she had been using to explain the mechanics of E911 system were "proprietary," too. Were they public information, these charts, all about PSAPs, ALIs, nodes, local end switches? Could he take the charts out in the street and show them to anybody, "without violating some proprietary notion that BellSouth has?"
Ms Williams showed some confusion, but finally agreed that the charts were, in fact, public.
"But isn't this what you said was basically what appeared in Phrack?"
Ms. Williams denied this.
Zenner now pointed out that the E911 Document as published in Phrack was only half the size of the original E911 Document (as Prophet had purloined it). Half of it had been deleted -- edited by Neidorf.
Ms. Williams countered that "Most of the information that is in the text file is redundant."
Zenner continued to probe. Exactly what bits of knowledge in the Document were, in fact, unknown to the public? Locations of E911 computers? Phone numbers for telco personnel? Ongoing maintenance subcommittees? Hadn't Neidorf removed much of this?
Then he pounced. "Are you familiar with Bellcore Technical Reference Document TR-TSY-000350?" It was, Zenner explained, officially titled "E911 Public Safety Answering Point Interface Between 1-1AESS Switch and Customer Premises Equipment." It contained highly detailed and specific technical information about the E911 System. It was published by Bellcore and publicly available for about $20.
He showed the witness a Bellcore catalog which listed thousands of documents from Bellcore and from all the Baby Bells, BellSouth included. The catalog, Zenner pointed out, was free. Anyone with a credit card could call the Bellcore toll-free 800 number and simply order any of these documents, which would be shipped to any customer without question. Including, for instance, "BellSouth E911 Service Interfaces to Customer Premises Equipment at a Public Safety Answering Point."
Zenner gave the witness a copy of "BellSouth E911 Service Interfaces," which cost, as he pointed out, $13, straight from the catalog. "Look at it carefully," he urged Ms. Williams, "and tell me if it doesn't contain about twice as much detailed information about the E911 system of BellSouth than appeared anywhere in Phrack."
"You want me to..." Ms. Williams trailed off. "I don't understand."
"Take a careful look," Zenner persisted. "Take a look at that document, and tell me when you're done looking at it if, indeed, it doesn't contain much more detailed information about the E911 system than appeared in Phrack."
"Phrack wasn't taken from this," Ms. Williams said.
"Excuse me?" said Zenner.
"Phrack wasn't taken from this."
"I can't hear you," Zenner said.
"Phrack was not taken from this document. I don't understand your question to me."
"I guess you don't," Zenner said.
At this point, the prosecution's case had been gutshot. Ms. Williams was distressed. Her confusion was quite genuine. Phrack had not been taken from any publicly available Bellcore document. Phrack's E911 Document had been stolen from her own company's computers, from her own company's text files, that her own colleagues had written, and revised, with much labor.
But the "value" of the Document had been blown to smithereens. It wasn't worth eighty grand. According to Bellcore it was worth thirteen bucks. And the looming menace that it supposedly posed had been reduced in instants to a scarecrow. Bellcore itself was selling material far more detailed and "dangerous," to anybody with a credit card and a phone.
Actually, Bellcore was not giving this information to just anybody. They gave it to anybody who asked, but not many did ask. Not many people knew that Bellcore had a free catalog and an 800 number. John Nagle knew, but certainly the average teenage phreak didn't know. "Tuc," a friend of Neidorf's and sometime Phrack contributor, knew, and Tuc had been very helpful to the defense, behind the scenes. But the Legion of Doom didn't know -- otherwise, they would never have wasted so much time raiding dumpsters. Cook didn't know. Foley didn't know. Kluepfel didn't know. The right hand of Bellcore knew not what the left hand was doing. The right hand was battering hackers without mercy, while the left hand was distributing Bellcore's intellectual property to anybody who was interested in telephone technical trivia -- apparently, a pathetic few.
The digital underground was so amateurish and poorly organized that they had never discovered this heap of unguarded riches. The ivory tower of the telcos was so wrapped-up in the fog of its own technical obscurity that it had left all the windows open and flung open the doors. No one had even noticed.
Zenner sank another nail in the coffin. He produced a printed issue of Telephone Engineer & Management, a prominent industry journal that comes out twice a month and costs $27 a year. This particular issue of TE&M, called "Update on 911," featured a galaxy of technical details on 911 service and a glossary far more extensive than Phrack's.
The trial rumbled on, somehow, through its own momentum. Tim Foley testified about his interrogations of Neidorf. Neidorf's written admission that he had known the E911 Document was pilfered was officially read into the court record.
An interesting side issue came up: "Terminus" had once passed Neidorf a piece of UNIX AT&T software, a log-in sequence, that had been cunningly altered so that it could trap passwords. The UNIX software itself was illegally copied AT&T property, and the alterations "Terminus" had made to it, had transformed it into a device for facilitating computer break-ins. Terminus himself would eventually plead guilty to theft of this piece of software, and the Chicago group would send Terminus to prison for it. But it was of dubious relevance in the Neidorf case. Neidorf hadn't written the program. He wasn't accused of ever having used it. And Neidorf wasn't being charged with software theft or owning a password trapper.
On the next day, Zenner took the offensive. The civil libertarians now had their own arcane, untried legal weaponry to launch into action -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, 18 US Code, Section 2701 et seq. Section 2701 makes it a crime to intentionally access without authorization a facility in which an electronic communication service is provided -- it is, at heart, an anti-bugging and anti-tapping law, intended to carry the traditional protections of telephones into other electronic channels of communication. While providing penalties for amateur snoops, however, Section 2703 of the ECPA also lays some formal difficulties on the bugging and tapping activities of police.
The Secret Service, in the person of Tim Foley, had served Richard Andrews with a federal grand jury subpoena, in their pursuit of Prophet, the E911 Document, and the Terminus software ring. But according to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a "provider of remote computing service" was legally entitled to "prior notice" from the government if a subpoena was used. Richard Andrews and his basement UNIX node, Jolnet, had not received any "prior notice." Tim Foley had purportedly violated the ECPA and committed an electronic crime! Zenner now sought the judge's permission to cross-examine Foley on the topic of Foley's own electronic misdeeds.
Cook argued that Richard Andrews' Jolnet was a privately owned bulletin board, and not within the purview of ECPA. Judge Bua granted the motion of the government to prevent cross-examination on that point, and Zenner's offensive fizzled. This, however, was the first direct assault on the legality of the actions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force itself -- the first suggestion that they themselves had broken the law, and might, perhaps, be called to account.
Zenner, in any case, did not really need the ECPA. Instead, he grilled Foley on the glaring contradictions in the supposed value of the E911 Document. He also brought up the embarrassing fact that the supposedly red-hot E911 Document had been sitting around for months, in Jolnet, with Kluepfel's knowledge, while Kluepfel had done nothing about it.
In the afternoon, the Prophet was brought in to testify for the prosecution. (The Prophet, it will be recalled, had also been indicted in the case as partner in a fraud scheme with Neidorf.) In Atlanta, the Prophet had already pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy, one charge of wire fraud and one charge of interstate transportation of stolen property. The wire fraud charge, and the stolen property charge, were both directly based on the E911 Document.
The twenty-year-old Prophet proved a sorry customer, answering questions politely but in a barely audible mumble, his voice trailing off at the ends of sentences. He was constantly urged to speak up.
Cook, examining Prophet, forced him to admit that he had once had a "drug problem," abusing amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, and LSD. This may have established to the jury that "hackers" are, or can be, seedy lowlife characters, but it may have damaged Prophet's credibility somewhat. Zenner later suggested that drugs might have damaged Prophet's memory. The interesting fact also surfaced that Prophet had never physically met Craig Neidorf. He didn't even know Neidorf's last name -- at least, not until the trial.
Prophet confirmed the basic facts of his hacker career. He was a member of the Legion of Doom. He had abused codes, he had broken into switching stations and re-routed calls, he had hung out on pirate bulletin boards. He had raided the BellSouth AIMSX computer, copied the E911 Document, stored it on Jolnet, mailed it to Neidorf. He and Neidorf had edited it, and Neidorf had known where it came from.
Zenner, however, had Prophet confirm that Neidorf was not a member of the Legion of Doom, and had not urged Prophet to break into BellSouth computers. Neidorf had never urged Prophet to defraud anyone, or to steal anything. Prophet also admitted that he had never known Neidorf to break in to any computer. Prophet said that no one in the Legion of Doom considered Craig Neidorf a "hacker" at all. Neidorf was not a UNIX maven, and simply lacked the necessary skill and ability to break into computers. Neidorf just published a magazine.
On Friday, July 27, 1990, the case against Neidorf collapsed. Cook moved to dismiss the indictment, citing "information currently available to us that was not available to us at the inception of the trial." Judge Bua praised the prosecution for this action, which he described as "very responsible," then dismissed a juror and declared a mistrial.
Neidorf was a free man. His defense, however, had cost himself and his family dearly. Months of his life had been consumed in anguish; he had seen his closest friends shun him as a federal criminal. He owed his lawyers over a hundred thousand dollars, despite a generous payment to the defense by Mitch Kapor.
Neidorf was not found innocent. The trial was simply dropped. Nevertheless, on September 9, 1991, Judge Bua granted Neidorf's motion for the "expungement and sealing" of his indictment record. The United States Secret Service was ordered to delete and destroy all fingerprints, photographs, and other records of arrest or processing relating to Neidorf's indictment, including their paper documents and their computer records.
Neidorf went back to school, blazingly determined to become a lawyer. Having seen the justice system at work, Neidorf lost much of his enthusiasm for merely technical power. At this writing, Craig Neidorf is working in Washington as a salaried researcher for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The outcome of the Neidorf trial changed the EFF from voices-in-the-wilderness to the media darlings of the new frontier.
Legally speaking, the Neidorf case was not a sweeping triumph for anyone concerned. No constitutional principles had been established. The issues of "freedom of the press" for electronic publishers remained in legal limbo. There were public misconceptions about the case. Many people thought Neidorf had been found innocent and relieved of all his legal debts by Kapor. The truth was that the government had simply dropped the case, and Neidorf's family had gone deeply into hock to support him.
But the Neidorf case did provide a single, devastating, public sound-bite: The feds said it was worth eighty grand, and it was only worth thirteen bucks.
This is the Neidorf case's single most memorable element. No serious report of the case missed this particular element. Even cops could not read this without a wince and a shake of the head. It left the public credibility of the crackdown agents in tatters.
The crackdown, in fact, continued, however. Those two charges against Prophet, which had been based on the E911 Document, were quietly forgotten at his sentencing -- even though Prophet had already pled guilty to them. Georgia federal prosecutors strongly argued for jail time for the Atlanta Three, insisting on "the need to send a message to the community," "the message that hackers around the country need to hear."
There was a great deal in their sentencing memorandum about the awful things that various other hackers had done (though the Atlanta Three themselves had not, in fact, actually committed these crimes). There was also much speculation about the awful things that the Atlanta Three might have done and were capable of doing (even though they had not, in fact, actually done them). The prosecution's argument carried the day. The Atlanta Three were sent to prison: Urvile and Leftist both got 14 months each, while Prophet (a second offender) got 21 months.
The Atlanta Three were also assessed staggering fines as "restitution": $233,000 each. BellSouth claimed that the defendants had "stolen" "approximately $233,880 worth" of "proprietary computer access information" -- specifically, $233,880 worth of computer passwords and connect addresses. BellSouth's astonishing claim of the extreme value of its own computer passwords and addresses was accepted at face value by the Georgia court. Furthermore (as if to emphasize its theoretical nature) this enormous sum was not divvied up among the Atlanta Three, but each of them had to pay all of it.
A striking aspect of the sentence was that the Atlanta Three were specifically forbidden to use computers, except for work or under supervision. Depriving hackers of home computers and modems makes some sense if one considers hackers as "computer addicts," but EFF, filing an amicus brief in the case, protested that this punishment was unconstitutional -- it deprived the Atlanta Three of their rights of free association and free expression through electronic media.
Terminus, the "ultimate hacker," was finally sent to prison for a year through the dogged efforts of the Chicago Task Force. His crime, to which he pled guilty, was the transfer of the UNIX password trapper, which was officially valued by AT&T at $77,000, a figure which aroused intense skepticism among those familiar with UNIX "login.c" programs.
The jailing of Terminus and the Atlanta Legionnaires of Doom, however, did not cause the EFF any sense of embarrassment or defeat. On the contrary, the civil libertarians were rapidly gathering strength.
An early and potent supporter was Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, who had been a Senate sponsor of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Even before the Neidorf trial, Leahy had spoken out in defense of hacker-power and freedom of the keyboard: "We cannot unduly inhibit the inquisitive 13-year-old who, if left to experiment today, may tomorrow develop the telecommunications or computer technology to lead the United States into the 21st century. He represents our future and our best hope to remain a technologically competitive nation."
It was a handsome statement, rendered perhaps rather more effective by the fact that the crackdown raiders did not have any Senators speaking out for them. On the contrary, their highly secretive actions and tactics, all "sealed search warrants" here and "confidential ongoing investigations" there, might have won them a burst of glamorous publicity at first, but were crippling them in the on-going propaganda war. Gail Thackeray was reduced to unsupported bluster: "Some of these people who are loudest on the bandwagon may just slink into the background," she predicted in Newsweek -- when all the facts came out, and the cops were vindicated.
But all the facts did not come out. Those facts that did, were not very flattering. And the cops were not vindicated. And Gail Thackeray lost her job. By the end of 1991, William Cook had also left public employment.
1990 had belonged to the crackdown, but by '91 its agents were in severe disarray, and the libertarians were on a roll. People were flocking to the cause.
A particularly interesting ally had been Mike Godwin of Austin, Texas. Godwin was an individual almost as difficult to describe as Barlow; he had been editor of the student newspaper of the University of Texas, and a computer salesman, and a programmer, and in 1990 was back in law school, looking for a law degree.
Godwin was also a bulletin board maven. He was very well-known in the Austin board community under his handle "Johnny Mnemonic," which he adopted from a cyberpunk science fiction story by William Gibson. Godwin was an ardent cyberpunk science fiction fan. As a fellow Austinite of similar age and similar interests, I myself had known Godwin socially for many years. When William Gibson and myself had been writing our collaborative SF novel, The Difference Engine, Godwin had been our technical advisor in our effort to link our Apple word-processors from Austin to Vancouver. Gibson and I were so pleased by his generous expert help that we named a character in the novel "Michael Godwin" in his honor.
The handle "Mnemonic" suited Godwin very well. His erudition and his mastery of trivia were impressive to the point of stupor; his ardent curiosity seemed insatiable, and his desire to debate and argue seemed the central drive of his life. Godwin had even started his own Austin debating society, wryly known as the "Dull Men's Club." In person, Godwin could be overwhelming; a flypaper-brained polymath who could not seem to let any idea go. On bulletin boards, however, Godwin's closely reasoned, highly grammatical, erudite posts suited the medium well, and he became a local board celebrity.
Mike Godwin was the man most responsible for the public national exposure of the Steve Jackson case. The Izenberg seizure in Austin had received no press coverage at all. The March 1 raids on Mentor, Bloodaxe, and Steve Jackson Games had received a brief front-page splash in the front page of the Austin American-Statesman, but it was confused and ill-informed: the warrants were sealed, and the Secret Service wasn't talking. Steve Jackson seemed doomed to obscurity. Jackson had not been arrested; he was not charged with any crime; he was not on trial. He had lost some computers in an ongoing investigation -- so what? Jackson tried hard to attract attention to the true extent of his plight, but he was drawing a blank; no one in a position to help him seemed able to get a mental grip on the issues.
Godwin, however, was uniquely, almost magically, qualified to carry Jackson's case to the outside world. Godwin was a board enthusiast, a science fiction fan, a former journalist, a computer salesman, a lawyer-to-be, and an Austinite. Through a coincidence yet more amazing, in his last year of law school Godwin had specialized in federal prosecutions and criminal procedure. Acting entirely on his own, Godwin made up a press packet which summarized the issues and provided useful contacts for reporters. Godwin's behind-the-scenes effort (which he carried out mostly to prove a point in a local board debate) broke the story again in the Austin American-Statesman and then in Newsweek.
Life was never the same for Mike Godwin after that. As he joined the growing civil liberties debate on the Internet, it was obvious to all parties involved that here was one guy who, in the midst of complete murk and confusion, genuinely understood everything he was talking about. The disparate elements of Godwin's dilettantish existence suddenly fell together as neatly as the facets of a Rubik's cube.
When the time came to hire a full-time EFF staff attorney, Godwin was the obvious choice. He took the Texas bar exam, left Austin, moved to Cambridge, became a full-time, professional, computer civil libertarian, and was soon touring the nation on behalf of EFF, delivering well-received addresses on the issues to crowds as disparate as academics, industrialists, science fiction fans, and federal cops.
Michael Godwin is currently the chief legal counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Another early and influential participant in the controversy was Dorothy Denning. Dr. Denning was unique among investigators of the computer underground in that she did not enter the debate with any set of politicized motives. She was a professional cryptographer and computer security expert whose primary interest in hackers was scholarly. She had a B.A. and M.A. in mathematics, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Purdue. She had worked for SRI International, the California think-tank that was also the home of computer security maven Donn Parker, and had authored an influential text called Cryptography and Data Security. In 1990, Dr. Denning was working for Digital Equipment Corporation in their Systems Reseach Center. Her husband, Peter Denning, was also a computer security expert, working for NASA's Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science. He had edited the well-received Computers Under Attack: Intruders, Worms and Viruses.
Dr. Denning took it upon herself to contact the digital underground, more or less with an anthropological interest. There she discovered that these computer-intruding hackers, who had been characterized as unethical, irresponsible, and a serious danger to society, did in fact have their own subculture and their own rules. They were not particularly well-considered rules, but they were, in fact, rules. Basically, they didn't take money and they didn't break anything.
Her dispassionate reports on her researches did a great deal to influence serious-minded computer professionals -- the sort of people who merely rolled their eyes at the cyberspace rhapsodies of a John Perry Barlow.
For young hackers of the digital underground, meeting Dorothy Denning was a genuinely mind-boggling experience. Here was this neatly coiffed, conservatively dressed, dainty little personage, who reminded most hackers of their moms or their aunts. And yet she was an IBM systems programmer with profound expertise in computer architectures and high-security information flow, who had personal friends in the FBI and the National Security Agency.
Dorothy Denning was a shining example of the American mathematical intelligentsia, a genuinely brilliant person from the central ranks of the computer-science elite. And here she was, gently questioning twenty-year-old hairy-eyed phone-phreaks over the deeper ethical implications of their behavior.
Confronted by this genuinely nice lady, most hackers sat up very straight and did their best to keep the anarchy-file stuff down to a faint whiff of brimstone. Nevertheless, the hackers were in fact prepared to seriously discuss serious issues with Dorothy Denning. They were willing to speak the unspeakable and defend the indefensible, to blurt out their convictions that information cannot be owned, that the databases of governments and large corporations were a threat to the rights and privacy of individuals.
Denning's articles made it clear to many that "hacking" was not simple vandalism by some evil clique of psychotics. "Hacking" was not an aberrant menace that could be charmed away by ignoring it, or swept out of existence by jailing a few ringleaders. Instead, "hacking" was symptomatic of a growing, primal struggle over knowledge and power in the age of information.
Denning pointed out that the attitude of hackers were at least partially shared by forward-looking management theorists in the business community: people like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. Peter Drucker, in his book The New Realities, had stated that "control of information by the government is no longer possible. Indeed, information is now transnational. Like money, it has no `fatherland.' "
And management maven Tom Peters had chided large corporations for uptight, proprietary attitudes in his bestseller, Thriving on Chaos: "Information hoarding, especially by politically motivated, power-seeking staffs, had been commonplace throughout American industry, service and manufacturing alike. It will be an impossible millstone aroung the neck of tomorrow's organizations."
Dorothy Denning had shattered the social membrane of the digital underground. She attended the Neidorf trial, where she was prepared to testify for the defense as an expert witness. She was a behind-the-scenes organizer of two of the most important national meetings of the computer civil libertarians. Though not a zealot of any description, she brought disparate elements of the electronic community into a surprising and fruitful collusion.
Dorothy Denning is currently the Chair of the Computer Science Department at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
There were many stellar figures in the civil libertarian community. There's no question, however, that its single most influential figure was Mitchell D. Kapor. Other people might have formal titles, or governmental positions, have more experience with crime, or with the law, or with the arcanities of computer security or constitutional theory. But by 1991 Kapor had transcended any such narrow role. Kapor had become "Mitch."
Mitch had become the central civil-libertarian ad-hocrat. Mitch had stood up first, he had spoken out loudly, directly, vigorously and angrily, he had put his own reputation, and his very considerable personal fortune, on the line. By mid-'91 Kapor was the best-known advocate of his cause and was known personally by almost every single human being in America with any direct influence on the question of civil liberties in cyberspace. Mitch had built bridges, crossed voids, changed paradigms, forged metaphors, made phone-calls and swapped business cards to such spectacular effect that it had become impossible for anyone to take any action in the "hacker question" without wondering what Mitch might think -- and say -- and tell his friends.
The EFF had simply networked the situation into an entirely new status quo. And in fact this had been EFF's deliberate strategy from the beginning. Both Barlow and Kapor loathed bureaucracies and had deliberately chosen to work almost entirely through the electronic spiderweb of "valuable personal contacts."
After a year of EFF, both Barlow and Kapor had every reason to look back with satisfaction. EFF had established its own Internet node, "eff.org," with a well-stocked electronic archive of documents on electronic civil rights, privacy issues, and academic freedom. EFF was also publishing EFFector, a quarterly printed journal, as well as EFFector Online, an electronic newsletter with over 1,200 subscribers. And EFF was thriving on the Well.
EFF had a national headquarters in Cambridge and a full-time staff. It had become a membership organization and was attracting grass roots support. It had also attracted the support of some thirty civil-rights lawyers, ready and eager to do pro bono work in defense of the Constitution in Cyberspace.
EFF had lobbied successfully in Washington and in Massachusetts to change state and federal legislation on computer networking. Kapor in particular had become a veteran expert witness, and had joined the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Science and Engineering.
EFF had sponsored meetings such as "Computers, Freedom and Privacy" and the CPSR Roundtable. It had carried out a press offensive that, in the words of EFFector, "has affected the climate of opinion about computer networking and begun to reverse the slide into `hacker hysteria' that was beginning to grip the nation."
It had helped Craig Neidorf avoid prison.
And, last but certainly not least, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had filed a federal lawsuit in the name of Steve Jackson, Steve Jackson Games Inc., and three users of the Illuminati bulletin board system. The defendants were, and are, the United States Secret Service, William Cook, Tim Foley, Barbara Golden and Henry Kleupfel.
The case, which is in pre-trial procedures in an Austin federal court as of this writing, is a civil action for damages to redress alleged violations of the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 USC 2000aa et seq.), and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (18 USC 2510 et seq and 2701 et seq).
EFF had established that it had credibility. It had also established that it had teeth.
In the fall of 1991 I travelled to Massachusetts to speak personally with Mitch Kapor. It was my final interview for this book.
The city of Boston has always been one of the major intellectual centers of the American republic. It is a very old city by American standards, a place of skyscrapers overshadowing seventeenth-century graveyards, where the high-tech start-up companies of Route 128 co-exist with the hand-wrought pre-industrial grace of "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution.
The Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the first and bitterest armed clashes of the American Revolution, was fought in Boston's environs. Today there is a monumental spire on Bunker Hill, visible throughout much of the city. The willingness of the republican revolutionaries to take up arms and fire on their oppressors has left a cultural legacy that two full centuries have not effaced. Bunker Hill is still a potent center of American political symbolism, and the Spirit of '76 is still a potent image for those who seek to mold public opinion.
Of course, not everyone who wraps himself in the flag is necessarily a patriot. When I visited the spire in September 1991, it bore a huge, badly-erased, spray-can grafitto around its bottom reading "BRITS OUT -- IRA PROVOS." Inside this hallowed edifice was a glass-cased diorama of thousands of tiny toy soldiers, rebels and redcoats, fighting and dying over the green hill, the riverside marshes, the rebel trenchworks. Plaques indicated the movement of troops, the shiftings of strategy. The Bunker Hill Monument is occupied at its very center by the toy soldiers of a military war-game simulation.
The Boston metroplex is a place of great universities, prominent among the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the term "computer hacker" was first coined. The Hacker Crackdown of 1990 might be interpreted as a political struggle among American cities: traditional strongholds of longhair intellectual liberalism, such as Boston, San Francisco, and Austin, versus the bare-knuckle industrial pragmatism of Chicago and Phoenix (with Atlanta and New York wrapped in internal struggle).
The headquarters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is on 155 Second Street in Cambridge, a Bostonian suburb north of the River Charles. Second Street has weedy sidewalks of dented, sagging brick and elderly cracked asphalt; large street-signs warn "NO PARKING DURING DECLARED SNOW EMERGENCY." This is an old area of modest manufacturing industries; the EFF is catecorner from the Greene Rubber Company. EFF's building is two stories of red brick; its large wooden windows feature gracefully arched tops and stone sills.
The glass window beside the Second Street entrance bears three sheets of neatly laser-printed paper, taped against the glass. They read: ON Technology. EFF. KEI.
"ON Technology" is Kapor's software company, which currently specializes in "groupware" for the Apple Macintosh computer. "Groupware" is intended to promote efficient social interaction among office-workers linked by computers. ON Technology's most successful software products to date are "Meeting Maker" and "Instant Update."
"KEI" is Kapor Enterprises Inc., Kapor's personal holding company, the commercial entity that formally controls his extensive investments in other hardware and software corporations.
"EFF" is a political action group -- of a special sort.
Inside, someone's bike has been chained to the handrails of a modest flight of stairs. A wall of modish glass brick separates this anteroom from the offices. Beyond the brick, there's an alarm system mounted on the wall, a sleek, complex little number that resembles a cross between a thermostat and a CD player. Piled against the wall are box after box of a recent special issue of Scientific American, "How to Work, Play, and Thrive in Cyberspace," with extensive coverage of electronic networking techniques and political issues, including an article by Kapor himself. These boxes are addressed to Gerard Van der Leun, EFF's Director of Communications, who will shortly mail those magazines to every member of the EFF.
The joint headquarters of EFF, KEI, and ON Technology, which Kapor currently rents, is a modestly bustling place. It's very much the same physical size as Steve Jackson's gaming company. It's certainly a far cry from the gigantic gray steel-sided railway shipping barn, on the Monsignor O'Brien Highway, that is owned by Lotus Development Corporation.
Lotus is, of course, the software giant that Mitchell Kapor founded in the late 70s. The software program Kapor co-authored, "Lotus 1-2-3," is still that company's most profitable product. "Lotus 1-2-3" also bears a singular distinction in the digital underground: it's probably the most pirated piece of application software in world history.
Kapor greets me cordially in his own office, down a hall. Kapor, whose name is pronounced KAY-por, is in his early forties, married and the father of two. He has a round face, high forehead, straight nose, a slightly tousled mop of black hair peppered with gray. His large brown eyes are wideset, reflective, one might almost say soulful. He disdains ties, and commonly wears Hawaiian shirts and tropical prints, not so much garish as simply cheerful and just that little bit anomalous.
There is just the whiff of hacker brimstone about Mitch Kapor. He may not have the hard-riding, hell-for-leather, guitar-strumming charisma of his Wyoming colleague John Perry Barlow, but there's something about the guy that still stops one short. He has the air of the Eastern city dude in the bowler hat, the dreamy, Longfellow-quoting poker shark who only happens to know the exact mathematical odds against drawing to an inside straight. Even among his computer-community colleagues, who are hardly known for mental sluggishness, Kapor strikes one forcefully as a very intelligent man. He speaks rapidly, with vigorous gestures, his Boston accent sometimes slipping to the sharp nasal tang of his youth in Long Island.
Kapor, whose Kapor Family Foundation does much of his philanthropic work, is a strong supporter of Boston's Computer Museum. Kapor's interest in the history of his industry has brought him some remarkable curios, such as the "byte" just outside his office door. This "byte" -- eight digital bits -- has been salvaged from the wreck of an electronic computer of the pre-transistor age. It's a standing gunmetal rack about the size of a small toaster-oven: with eight slots of hand-soldered breadboarding featuring thumb-sized vacuum tubes. If it fell off a table it could easily break your foot, but it was state-of-the-art computation in the 1940s. (It would take exactly 157,184 of these primordial toasters to hold the first part of this book.)
There's also a coiling, multicolored, scaly dragon that some inspired techno-punk artist has cobbled up entirely out of transistors, capacitors, and brightly plastic-coated wiring.
Inside the office, Kapor excuses himself briefly to do a little mouse-whizzing housekeeping on his personal Macintosh IIfx. If its giant screen were an open window, an agile person could climb through it without much trouble at all. There's a coffee-cup at Kapor's elbow, a memento of his recent trip to Eastern Europe, which has a black-and-white stencilled photo and the legend CAPITALIST FOOLS TOUR. It's Kapor, Barlow, and two California venture-capitalist luminaries of their acquaintance, four windblown, grinning Baby Boomer dudes in leather jackets, boots, denim, travel bags, standing on airport tarmac somewhere behind the formerly Iron Curtain. They look as if they're having the absolute time of their lives.
Kapor is in a reminiscent mood. We talk a bit about his youth -- high school days as a "math nerd," Saturdays attending Columbia University's high-school science honors program, where he had his first experience programming computers. IBM 1620s, in 1965 and '66. "I was very interested," says Kapor, "and then I went off to college and got distracted by drugs, sex and rock and roll, like anybody with half a brain would have then!" After college he was a progressive-rock DJ in Hartford, Connecticut, for a couple of years.
I ask him if he ever misses his rock and roll days -- if he ever wished he could go back to radio work.
He shakes his head flatly. "I stopped thinking about going back to be a DJ the day after Altamont."
Kapor moved to Boston in 1974 and got a job programming mainframes in COBOL. He hated it. He quit and became a teacher of transcendental meditation. (It was Kapor's long flirtation with Eastern mysticism that gave the world "Lotus.")
In 1976 Kapor went to Switzerland, where the Transcendental Meditation movement had rented a gigantic Victorian hotel in St-Moritz. It was an all-male group -- a hundred and twenty of them -- determined upon Enlightenment or Bust. Kapor had given the transcendant his best shot. He was becoming disenchanted by "the nuttiness in the organization." "They were teaching people to levitate," he says, staring at the floor. His voice drops an octave, becomes flat. "They don't levitate."
Kapor chose Bust. He went back to the States and acquired a degree in counselling psychology. He worked a while in a hospital, couldn't stand that either. "My rep was," he says "a very bright kid with a lot of potential who hasn't found himself. Almost thirty. Sort of lost."
Kapor was unemployed when he bought his first personal computer -- an Apple II. He sold his stereo to raise cash and drove to New Hampshire to avoid the sales tax.
"The day after I purchased it," Kapor tells me, "I was hanging out in a computer store and I saw another guy, a man in his forties, well-dressed guy, and eavesdropped on his conversation with the salesman. He didn't know anything about computers. I'd had a year programming. And I could program in BASIC. I'd taught myself. So I went up to him, and I actually sold myself to him as a consultant." He pauses. "I don't know where I got the nerve to do this. It was uncharacteristic. I just said, `I think I can help you, I've been listening, this is what you need to do and I think I can do it for you.' And he took me on! He was my first client! I became a computer consultant the first day after I bought the Apple II."
Kapor had found his true vocation. He attracted more clients for his consultant service, and started an Apple users' group.
A friend of Kapor's, Eric Rosenfeld, a graduate student at MIT, had a problem. He was doing a thesis on an arcane form of financial statistics, but could not wedge himself into the crowded queue for time on MIT's mainframes. (One might note at this point that if Mr. Rosenfeld had dishonestly broken into the MIT mainframes, Kapor himself might have never invented Lotus 1-2-3 and the PC business might have been set back for years!) Eric Rosenfeld did have an Apple II, however, and he thought it might be possible to scale the problem down. Kapor, as favor, wrote a program for him in BASIC that did the job.
It then occurred to the two of them, out of the blue, that it might be possible to sell this program. They marketed it themselves, in plastic baggies, for about a hundred bucks a pop, mail order. "This was a total cottage industry by a marginal consultant," Kapor says proudly. "That's how I got started, honest to God."
Rosenfeld, who later became a very prominent figure on Wall Street, urged Kapor to go to MIT's business school for an MBA. Kapor did seven months there, but never got his MBA. He picked up some useful tools -- mainly a firm grasp of the principles of accounting -- and, in his own words, "learned to talk MBA." Then he dropped out and went to Silicon Valley.
The inventors of VisiCalc, the Apple computer's premier business program, had shown an interest in Mitch Kapor. Kapor worked diligently for them for six months, got tired of California, and went back to Boston where they had better bookstores. The VisiCalc group had made the critical error of bringing in "professional management." "That drove them into the ground," Kapor says.
"Yeah, you don't hear a lot about VisiCalc these days," I muse.
Kapor looks surprised. "Well, Lotus... we bought it."
"Oh. You bought it?"
"Sort of like the Bell System buying Western Union?"
Kapor grins. "Yep! Yep! Yeah, exactly!"
Mitch Kapor was not in full command of the destiny of himself or his industry. The hottest software commodities of the early 1980s were computer games -- the Atari seemed destined to enter every teenage home in America. Kapor got into business software simply because he didn't have any particular feeling for computer games. But he was supremely fast on his feet, open to new ideas and inclined to trust his instincts. And his instincts were good. He chose good people to deal with -- gifted programmer Jonathan Sachs (the co-author of Lotus 1-2-3). Financial wizard Eric Rosenfeld, canny Wall Street analyst and venture capitalist Ben Rosen. Kapor was the founder and CEO of Lotus, one of the most spectacularly successful business ventures of the later twentieth century.
He is now an extremely wealthy man. I ask him if he actually knows how much money he has.
"Yeah," he says. "Within a percent or two."
How much does he actually have, then?
He shakes his head. "A lot. A lot. Not something I talk about. Issues of money and class are things that cut pretty close to the bone."
I don't pry. It's beside the point. One might presume, impolitely, that Kapor has at least forty million -- that's what he got the year he left Lotus. People who ought to know claim Kapor has about a hundred and fifty million, give or take a market swing in his stock holdings. If Kapor had stuck with Lotus, as his colleague friend and rival Bill Gates has stuck with his own software start-up, Microsoft, then Kapor would likely have much the same fortune Gates has -- somewhere in the neighborhood of three billion, give or take a few hundred million. Mitch Kapor has all the money he wants. Money has lost whatever charm it ever held for him -- probably not much in the first place. When Lotus became too uptight, too bureaucratic, too far from the true sources of his own satisfaction, Kapor walked. He simply severed all connections with the company and went out the door. It stunned everyone -- except those who knew him best.
Kapor has not had to strain his resources to wreak a thorough transformation in cyberspace politics. In its first year, EFF's budget was about a quarter of a million dollars. Kapor is running EFF out of his pocket change.
Kapor takes pains to tell me that he does not consider himself a civil libertarian per se. He has spent quite some time with true-blue civil libertarians lately, and there's a political-correctness to them that bugs him. They seem to him to spend entirely too much time in legal nitpicking and not enough vigorously exercising civil rights in the everyday real world.
Kapor is an entrepreneur. Like all hackers, he prefers his involvements direct, personal, and hands-on. "The fact that EFF has a node on the Internet is a great thing. We're a publisher. We're a distributor of information." Among the items the eff.org Internet node carries is back issues of Phrack. They had an internal debate about that in EFF, and finally decided to take the plunge. They might carry other digital underground publications -- but if they do, he says, "we'll certainly carry Donn Parker, and anything Gail Thackeray wants to put up. We'll turn it into a public library, that has the whole spectrum of use. Evolve in the direction of people making up their own minds." He grins. "We'll try to label all the editorials."
Kapor is determined to tackle the technicalities of the Internet in the service of the public interest. "The problem with being a node on the Net today is that you've got to have a captive technical specialist. We have Chris Davis around, for the care and feeding of the balky beast! We couldn't do it ourselves!"
He pauses. "So one direction in which technology has to evolve is much more standardized units, that a non-technical person can feel comfortable with. It's the same shift as from minicomputers to PCs. I can see a future in which any person can have a Node on the Net. Any person can be a publisher. It's better than the media we now have. It's possible. We're working actively."
Kapor is in his element now, fluent, thoroughly in command in his material. "You go tell a hardware Internet hacker that everyone should have a node on the Net," he says, "and the first thing they're going to say is, `IP doesn't scale!"' ("IP" is the interface protocol for the Internet. As it currently exists, the IP software is simply not capable of indefinite expansion; it will run out of usable addresses, it will saturate.) "The answer," Kapor says, "is: evolve the protocol! Get the smart people together and figure out what to do. Do we add ID? Do we add new protocol? Don't just say, we can't do it."
Getting smart people together to figure out what to do is a skill at which Kapor clearly excels. I counter that people on the Internet rather enjoy their elite technical status, and don't seem particularly anxious to democratize the Net.
Kapor agrees, with a show of scorn. "I tell them that this is the snobbery of the people on the Mayflower looking down their noses at the people who came over on the second boat! Just because they got here a year, or five years, or ten years before everybody else, that doesn't give them ownership of cyberspace! By what right?"
I remark that the telcos are an electronic network, too, and they seem to guard their specialized knowledge pretty closely.
Kapor ripostes that the telcos and the Internet are entirely different animals. "The Internet is an open system, everything is published, everything gets argued about, basically by anybody who can get in. Mostly, it's exclusive and elitist just because it's so difficult. Let's make it easier to use."
On the other hand, he allows with a swift change of emphasis, the so-called elitists do have a point as well. "Before people start coming in, who are new, who want to make suggestions, and criticize the Net as `all screwed up'... They should at least take the time to understand the culture on its own terms. It has its own history -- show some respect for it. I'm a conservative, to that extent."
The Internet is Kapor's paradigm for the future of telecommunications. The Internet is decentralized, non-hierarchical, almost anarchic. There are no bosses, no chain of command, no secret data. If each node obeys the general interface standards, there's simply no need for any central network authority.
Wouldn't that spell the doom of AT&T as an institution? I ask.
That prospect doesn't faze Kapor for a moment. "Their big advantage, that they have now, is that they have all of the wiring. But two things are happening. Anyone with right-of-way is putting down fiber -- Southern Pacific Railroad, people like that -- there's enormous `dark fiber' laid in." ("Dark Fiber" is fiber-optic cable, whose enormous capacity so exceeds the demands of current usage that much of the fiber still has no light-signals on it -- it's still `dark,' awaiting future use.)
"The other thing that's happening is the local-loop stuff is going to go wireless. Everyone from Bellcore to the cable TV companies to AT&T wants to put in these things called `personal communication systems.' So you could have local competition -- you could have multiplicity of people, a bunch of neighborhoods, sticking stuff up on poles. And a bunch of other people laying in dark fiber. So what happens to the telephone companies? There's enormous pressure on them from both sides.
"The more I look at this, the more I believe that in a post-industrial, digital world, the idea of regulated monopolies is bad. People will look back on it and say that in the 19th and 20th centuries the idea of public utilities was an okay compromise. You needed one set of wires in the ground. It was too economically inefficient, otherwise. And that meant one entity running it. But now, with pieces being wireless -- the connections are going to be via high-level interfaces, not via wires. I mean, ultimately there are going to be wires -- but the wires are just a commodity. Fiber, wireless. You no longer need a utility."
Water utilities? Gas utilities?
Of course we still need those, he agrees. "But when what you're moving is information, instead of physical substances, then you can play by a different set of rules. We're evolving those rules now! Hopefully you can have a much more decentralized system, and one in which there's more competition in the marketplace.
"The role of government will be to make sure that nobody cheats. The proverbial `level playing field.' A policy that prevents monopolization. It should result in better service, lower prices, more choices, and local empowerment." He smiles. "I'm very big on local empowerment."
Kapor is a man with a vision. It's a very novel vision which he and his allies are working out in considerable detail and with great energy. Dark, cynical, morbid cyberpunk that I am, I cannot avoid considering some of the darker implications of "decentralized, nonhierarchical, locally empowered" networking.
I remark that some pundits have suggested that electronic networking -- faxes, phones, small-scale photocopiers -- played a strong role in dissolving the power of centralized communism and causing the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
Socialism is totally discredited, says Kapor, fresh back from the Eastern Bloc. The idea that faxes did it, all by themselves, is rather wishful thinking.
Has it occurred to him that electronic networking might corrode America's industrial and political infrastructure to the point where the whole thing becomes untenable, unworkable -- and the old order just collapses headlong, like in Eastern Europe?
"No," Kapor says flatly. "I think that's extraordinarily unlikely. In part, because ten or fifteen years ago, I had similar hopes about personal computers -- which utterly failed to materialize." He grins wryly, then his eyes narrow. "I'm very opposed to techno-utopias. Every time I see one, I either run away, or try to kill it."
It dawns on me then that Mitch Kapor is not trying to make the world safe for democracy. He certainly is not trying to make it safe for anarchists or utopians -- least of all for computer intruders or electronic rip-off artists. What he really hopes to do is make the world safe for future Mitch Kapors. This world of decentralized, small-scale nodes, with instant global access for the best and brightest, would be a perfect milieu for the shoestring attic capitalism that made Mitch Kapor what he is today.
Kapor is a very bright man. He has a rare combination of visionary intensity with a strong practical streak. The Board of the EFF: John Barlow, Jerry Berman of the ACLU, Stewart Brand, John Gilmore, Steve Wozniak, and Esther Dyson, the doyenne of East-West computer entrepreneurism -- share his gift, his vision, and his formidable networking talents. They are people of the 1960s, winnowed-out by its turbulence and rewarded with wealth and influence. They are some of the best and the brightest that the electronic community has to offer. But can they do it, in the real world? Or are they only dreaming? They are so few. And there is so much against them.
I leave Kapor and his networking employees struggling cheerfully with the promising intricacies of their newly installed Macintosh System 7 software. The next day is Saturday. EFF is closed. I pay a few visits to points of interest downtown.
One of them is the birthplace of the telephone.
It's marked by a bronze plaque in a plinth of black-and-white speckled granite. It sits in the plaza of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, the very place where Kapor was once fingerprinted by the FBI.
The plaque has a bas-relief picture of Bell's original telephone. "BIRTHPLACE OF THE TELEPHONE," it reads. "Here, on June 2, 1875, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson first transmitted sound over wires.
"This successful experiment was completed in a fifth floor garret at what was then 109 Court Street and marked the beginning of world-wide telephone service."
109 Court Street is long gone. Within sight of Bell's plaque, across a street, is one of the central offices of NYNEX, the local Bell RBOC, on 6 Bowdoin Square.
I cross the street and circle the telco building, slowly, hands in my jacket pockets. It's a bright, windy, New England autumn day. The central office is a handsome 1940s-era megalith in late Art Deco, eight stories high.
Parked outside the back is a power-generation truck. The generator strikes me as rather anomalous. Don't they already have their own generators in this eight-story monster? Then the suspicion strikes me that NYNEX must have heard of the September 17 AT&T power-outage which crashed New York City. Belt-and-suspenders, this generator. Very telco.
Over the glass doors of the front entrance is a handsome bronze bas-relief of Art Deco vines, sunflowers, and birds, entwining the Bell logo and the legend NEW ENGLAND TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH COMPANY -- an entity which no longer officially exists.
The doors are locked securely. I peer through the shadowed glass. Inside is an official poster reading:
"New England Telephone a NYNEX Company
"All persons while on New England Telephone Company premises are required to visibly wear their identification cards (C.C.P. Section 2, Page 1).
"Visitors, vendors, contractors, and all others are required to visibly wear a daily pass.
"Thank you. Kevin C. Stanton. Building Security Coordinator."
Outside, around the corner, is a pull-down ribbed metal security door, a locked delivery entrance. Some passing stranger has grafitti-tagged this door, with a single word in red spray-painted cursive:
My book on the Hacker Crackdown is almost over now. I have deliberately saved the best for last.
In February 1991, I attended the CPSR Public Policy Roundtable, in Washington, DC. CPSR, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, was a sister organization of EFF, or perhaps its aunt, being older and perhaps somewhat wiser in the ways of the world of politics.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility began in 1981 in Palo Alto, as an informal discussion group of Californian computer scientists and technicians, united by nothing more than an electronic mailing list. This typical high-tech ad-hocracy received the dignity of its own acronym in 1982, and was formally incorporated in 1983.
CPSR lobbied government and public alike with an educational outreach effort, sternly warning against any foolish and unthinking trust in complex computer systems. CPSR insisted that mere computers should never be considered a magic panacea for humanity's social, ethical or political problems. CPSR members were especially troubled about the stability, safety, and dependability of military computer systems, and very especially troubled by those systems controlling nuclear arsenals. CPSR was best-known for its persistent and well-publicized attacks on the scientific credibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars").
In 1990, CPSR was the nation's veteran cyber-political activist group, with over two thousand members in twenty-one local chapters across the US. It was especially active in Boston, Silicon Valley, and Washington DC, where its Washington office sponsored the Public Policy Roundtable.
The Roundtable, however, had been funded by EFF, which had passed CPSR an extensive grant for operations. This was the first large-scale, official meeting of what was to become the electronic civil libertarian community.
Sixty people attended, myself included -- in this instance, not so much as a journalist as a cyberpunk author. Many of the luminaries of the field took part: Kapor and Godwin as a matter of course. Richard Civille and Marc Rotenberg of CPSR. Jerry Berman of the ACLU. John Quarterman, author of The Matrix. Steven Levy, author of Hackers. George Perry and Sandy Weiss of Prodigy Services, there to network about the civil-liberties troubles their young commercial network was experiencing. Dr. Dorothy Denning. Cliff Figallo, manager of the Well. Steve Jackson was there, having finally found his ideal target audience, and so was Craig Neidorf, "Knight Lightning" himself, with his attorney, Sheldon Zenner. Katie Hafner, science journalist, and co-author of Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. Dave Farber, ARPAnet pioneer and fabled Internet guru. Janlori Goldman of the ACLU's Project on Privacy and Technology. John Nagle of Autodesk and the Well. Don Goldberg of the House Judiciary Committee. Tom Guidoboni, the defense attorney in the Internet Worm case. Lance Hoffman, computer-science professor at The George Washington University. Eli Noam of Columbia. And a host of others no less distinguished.
Senator Patrick Leahy delivered the keynote address, expressing his determination to keep ahead of the curve on the issue of electronic free speech. The address was well-received, and the sense of excitement was palpable. Every panel discussion was interesting -- some were entirely compelling. People networked with an almost frantic interest.
I myself had a most interesting and cordial lunch discussion with Noel and Jeanne Gayler, Admiral Gayler being a former director of the National Security Agency. As this was the first known encounter between an actual no-kidding cyberpunk and a chief executive of America's largest and best-financed electronic espionage apparat, there was naturally a bit of eyebrow-raising on both sides.
Unfortunately, our discussion was off-the-record. In fact all the discussions at the CPSR were officially off-the-record, the idea being to do some serious networking in an atmosphere of complete frankness, rather than to stage a media circus.
In any case, CPSR Roundtable, though interesting and intensely valuable, was as nothing compared to the truly mind-boggling event that transpired a mere month later.
"Computers, Freedom and Privacy." Four hundred people from every conceivable corner of America's electronic community. As a science fiction writer, I have been to some weird gigs in my day, but this thing is truly beyond the pale. Even "Cyberthon," Point Foundation's "Woodstock of Cyberspace" where Bay Area psychedelia collided headlong with the emergent world of computerized virtual reality, was like a Kiwanis Club gig compared to this astonishing do.
The "electronic community" had reached an apogee. Almost every principal in this book is in attendance. Civil Libertarians. Computer Cops. The Digital Underground. Even a few discreet telco people. Colorcoded dots for lapel tags are distributed. Free Expression issues. Law Enforcement. Computer Security. Privacy. Journalists. Lawyers. Educators. Librarians. Programmers. Stylish punk-black dots for the hackers and phone phreaks. Almost everyone here seems to wear eight or nine dots, to have six or seven professional hats.
It is a community. Something like Lebanon perhaps, but a digital nation. People who had feuded all year in the national press, people who entertained the deepest suspicions of one another's motives and ethics, are now in each others' laps. "Computers, Freedom and Privacy" had every reason in the world to turn ugly, and yet except for small irruptions of puzzling nonsense from the convention's token lunatic, a surprising bonhomie reigned. CFP was like a wedding-party in which two lovers, unstable bride and charlatan groom, tie the knot in a clearly disastrous matrimony.
It is clear to both families -- even to neighbors and random guests -- that this is not a workable relationship, and yet the young couple's desperate attraction can brook no further delay. They simply cannot help themselves. Crockery will fly, shrieks from their newly wed home will wake the city block, divorce waits in the wings like a vulture over the Kalahari, and yet this is a wedding, and there is going to be a child from it. Tragedies end in death; comedies in marriage. The Hacker Crackdown is ending in marriage. And there will be a child.
From the beginning, anomalies reign. John Perry Barlow, cyberspace ranger, is here. His color photo in The New York Times Magazine, Barlow scowling in a grim Wyoming snowscape, with long black coat, dark hat, a Macintosh SE30 propped on a fencepost and an awesome frontier rifle tucked under one arm, will be the single most striking visual image of the Hacker Crackdown. And he is CFP's guest of honor -- along with Gail Thackeray of the FCIC! What on earth do they expect these dual guests to do with each other? Waltz?
Barlow delivers the first address. Uncharacteristically, he is hoarse -- the sheer volume of roadwork has worn him down. He speaks briefly, congenially, in a plea for conciliation, and takes his leave to a storm of applause.
Then Gail Thackeray takes the stage. She's visibly nervous. She's been on the Well a lot lately. Reading those Barlow posts. Following Barlow is a challenge to anyone. In honor of the famous lyricist for the Grateful Dead, she announces reedily, she is going to read -- a poem. A poem she has composed herself.
It's an awful poem, doggerel in the rollicking meter of Robert W. Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee, but it is in fact, a poem. It's the Ballad of the Electronic Frontier! A poem about the Hacker Crackdown and the sheer unlikelihood of CFP. It's full of in-jokes. The score or so cops in the audience, who are sitting together in a nervous claque, are absolutely cracking-up. Gail's poem is the funniest goddamn thing they've ever heard. The hackers and civil-libs, who had this woman figured for Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, are staring with their jaws hanging loosely. Never in the wildest reaches of their imagination had they figured Gail Thackeray was capable of such a totally off-the-wall move. You can see them punching their mental CONTROL-RESET buttons. Jesus! This woman's a hacker weirdo! She's just like us! God, this changes everything!
Al Bayse, computer technician for the FBI, had been the only cop at the CPSR Roundtable, dragged there with his arm bent by Dorothy Denning. He was guarded and tightlipped at CPSR Roundtable; a "lion thrown to the Christians."
At CFP, backed by a claque of cops, Bayse suddenly waxes eloquent and even droll, describing the FBI's "NCIC 2000", a gigantic digital catalog of criminal records, as if he has suddenly become some weird hybrid of George Orwell and George Gobel. Tentatively, he makes an arcane joke about statistical analysis. At least a third of the crowd laughs aloud.
"They didn't laugh at that at my last speech," Bayse observes. He had been addressing cops -- straight cops, not computer people. It had been a worthy meeting, useful one supposes, but nothing like this. There has never been anything like this. Without any prodding, without any preparation, people in the audience simply begin to ask questions. Longhairs, freaky people, mathematicians. Bayse is answering, politely, frankly, fully, like a man walking on air. The ballroom's atmosphere crackles with surreality. A female lawyer behind me breaks into a sweat and a hot waft of surprisingly potent and musky perfume flows off her pulse-points.
People are giddy with laughter. People are interested, fascinated, their eyes so wide and dark that they seem eroticized. Unlikely daisy-chains form in the halls, around the bar, on the escalators: cops with hackers, civil rights with FBI, Secret Service with phone phreaks.
Gail Thackeray is at her crispest in a white wool sweater with a tiny Secret Service logo. "I found Phiber Optik at the payphones, and when he saw my sweater, he turned into a pillar of salt!" she chortles.
Phiber discusses his case at much length with his arresting officer, Don Delaney of the New York State Police. After an hour's chat, the two of them look ready to begin singing "Auld Lang Syne." Phiber finally finds the courage to get his worst complaint off his chest. It isn't so much the arrest. It was the charge. Pirating service off 900 numbers. I'm a programmer, Phiber insists. This lame charge is going to hurt my reputation. It would have been cool to be busted for something happening, like Section 1030 computer intrusion. Maybe some kind of crime that's scarcely been invented yet. Not lousy phone fraud. Phooey.
Delaney seems regretful. He had a mountain of possible criminal charges against Phiber Optik. The kid's gonna plead guilty anyway. He's a first timer, they always plead. Coulda charged the kid with most anything, and gotten the same result in the end. Delaney seems genuinely sorry not to have gratified Phiber in this harmless fashion. Too late now. Phiber's pled already. All water under the bridge. Whaddya gonna do?
Delaney's got a good grasp on the hacker mentality. He held a press conference after he busted a bunch of Masters of Deception kids. Some journo had asked him: "Would you describe these people as geniuses?" Delaney's deadpan answer, perfect: "No, I would describe these people as defendants." Delaney busts a kid for hacking codes with repeated random dialling. Tells the press that NYNEX can track this stuff in no time flat nowadays, and a kid has to be stupid to do something so easy to catch. Dead on again: hackers don't mind being thought of as Genghis Khan by the straights, but if there's anything that really gets 'em where they live, it's being called dumb.
Won't be as much fun for Phiber next time around. As a second offender he's gonna see prison. Hackers break the law. They're not geniuses, either. They're gonna be defendants. And yet, Delaney muses over a drink in the hotel bar, he has found it impossible to treat them as common criminals. Delaney knows criminals. These kids, by comparison, are clueless -- there is just no crook vibe off of them, they don't smell right, they're just not bad.
Delaney has seen a lot of action. He did Vietnam. He's been shot at, he has shot people. He's a homicide cop from New York. He has the appearance of a man who has not only seen the shit hit the fan but has seen it splattered across whole city blocks and left to ferment for years. This guy has been around.
He listens to Steve Jackson tell his story. The dreamy game strategist has been dealt a bad hand. He has played it for all he is worth. Under his nerdish SF-fan exterior is a core of iron. Friends of his say Steve Jackson believes in the rules, believes in fair play. He will never compromise his principles, never give up. "Steve," Delaney says to Steve Jackson, "they had some balls, whoever busted you. You're all right!" Jackson, stunned, falls silent and actually blushes with pleasure.
Neidorf has grown up a lot in the past year. The kid is a quick study, you gotta give him that. Dressed by his mom, the fashion manager for a national clothing chain, Missouri college techie-frat Craig Neidorf out-dappers everyone at this gig but the toniest East Coast lawyers. The iron jaws of prison clanged shut without him and now law school beckons for Neidorf. He looks like a larval Congressman.
Not a "hacker," our Mr. Neidorf. He's not interested in computer science. Why should he be? He's not interested in writing C code the rest of his life, and besides, he's seen where the chips fall. To the world of computer science he and Phrack were just a curiosity. But to the world of law... The kid has learned where the bodies are buried. He carries his notebook of press clippings wherever he goes.
Phiber Optik makes fun of Neidorf for a Midwestern geek, for believing that "Acid Phreak" does acid and listens to acid rock. Hell no. Acid's never done acid! Acid's into acid house music. Jesus. The very idea of doing LSD. Our parents did LSD, ya clown.
Thackeray suddenly turns upon Craig Neidorf the full lighthouse glare of her attention and begins a determined half-hour attempt to win the boy over. The Joan of Arc of Computer Crime is giving career advice to Knight Lightning! "Your experience would be very valuable -- a real asset," she tells him with unmistakeable sixty-thousand-watt sincerity. Neidorf is fascinated. He listens with unfeigned attention. He's nodding and saying yes ma'am. Yes, Craig, you too can forget all about money and enter the glamorous and horribly underpaid world of PROSECUTING COMPUTER CRIME! You can put your former friends in prison -- ooops...
You cannot go on dueling at modem's length indefinitely. You cannot beat one another senseless with rolled-up press-clippings. Sooner or later you have to come directly to grips. And yet the very act of assembling here has changed the entire situation drastically. John Quarterman, author of The Matrix, explains the Internet at his symposium. It is the largest news network in the world, it is growing by leaps and bounds, and yet you cannot measure Internet because you cannot stop it in place. It cannot stop, because there is no one anywhere in the world with the authority to stop Internet. It changes, yes, it grows, it embeds itself across the post-industrial, postmodern world and it generates community wherever it touches, and it is doing this all by itself.
Phiber is different. A very fin de siecle kid, Phiber Optik. Barlow says he looks like an Edwardian dandy. He does rather. Shaven neck, the sides of his skull cropped hip-hop close, unruly tangle of black hair on top that looks pomaded, he stays up till four a.m. and misses all the sessions, then hangs out in payphone booths with his acoustic coupler gutsily CRACKING SYSTEMS RIGHT IN THE MIDST OF THE HEAVIEST LAW ENFORCEMENT DUDES IN THE U.S., or at least pretending to... Unlike "Frank Drake." Drake, who wrote Dorothy Denning out of nowhere, and asked for an interview for his cheapo cyberpunk fanzine, and then started grilling her on her ethics. She was squirmin', too... Drake, scarecrow-tall with his floppy blond mohawk, rotting tennis shoes and black leather jacket lettered ILLUMINATI in red, gives off an unmistakeable air of the bohemian literatus. Drake is the kind of guy who reads British industrial design magazines and appreciates William Gibson because the quality of the prose is so tasty. Drake could never touch a phone or a keyboard again, and he'd still have the nose-ring and the blurry photocopied fanzines and the sampled industrial music. He's a radical punk with a desktop-publishing rig and an Internet address. Standing next to Drake, the diminutive Phiber looks like he's been physically coagulated out of phone-lines. Born to phreak.
Dorothy Denning approaches Phiber suddenly. The two of them are about the same height and body-build. Denning's blue eyes flash behind the round window-frames of her glasses. "Why did you say I was `quaint?' " she asks Phiber, quaintly.
It's a perfect description but Phiber is nonplussed... "Well, I uh, you know..."
"I also think you're quaint, Dorothy," I say, novelist to the rescue, the journo gift of gab... She is neat and dapper and yet there's an arcane quality to her, something like a Pilgrim Maiden behind leaded glass; if she were six inches high Dorothy Denning would look great inside a china cabinet... The Cryptographeress... The Cryptographrix... whatever... Weirdly, Peter Denning looks just like his wife, you could pick this gentleman out of a thousand guys as the soulmate of Dorothy Denning. Wearing tailored slacks, a spotless fuzzy varsity sweater, and a neatly knotted academician's tie... This fineboned, exquisitely polite, utterly civilized and hyperintelligent couple seem to have emerged from some cleaner and finer parallel universe, where humanity exists to do the Brain Teasers column in Scientific American. Why does this Nice Lady hang out with these unsavory characters?
Because the time has come for it, that's why. Because she's the best there is at what she does.
Donn Parker is here, the Great Bald Eagle of Computer Crime... With his bald dome, great height, and enormous Lincoln-like hands, the great visionary pioneer of the field plows through the lesser mortals like an icebreaker... His eyes are fixed on the future with the rigidity of a bronze statue... Eventually, he tells his audience, all business crime will be computer crime, because businesses will do everything through computers. "Computer crime" as a category will vanish.
In the meantime, passing fads will flourish and fail and evaporate... Parker's commanding, resonant voice is sphinxlike, everything is viewed from some eldritch valley of deep historical abstraction... Yes, they've come and they've gone, these passing flaps in the world of digital computation... The radio-frequency emanation scandal... KGB and MI5 and CIA do it every day, it's easy, but nobody else ever has... The salami-slice fraud, mostly mythical... "Crimoids," he calls them... Computer viruses are the current crimoid champ, a lot less dangerous than most people let on, but the novelty is fading and there's a crimoid vacuum at the moment, the press is visibly hungering for something more outrageous... The Great Man shares with us a few speculations on the coming crimoids... Desktop Forgery! Wow... Computers stolen just for the sake of the information within them -- data-napping! Happened in Britain a while ago, could be the coming thing... Phantom nodes in the Internet!
Parker handles his overhead projector sheets with an ecclesiastical air... He wears a grey double-breasted suit, a light blue shirt, and a very quiet tie of understated maroon and blue paisley... Aphorisms emerge from him with slow, leaden emphasis... There is no such thing as an adequately secure computer when one faces a sufficiently powerful adversary... Deterrence is the most socially useful aspect of security... People are the primary weakness in all information systems... The entire baseline of computer security must be shifted upward... Don't ever violate your security by publicly describing your security measures...
People in the audience are beginning to squirm, and yet there is something about the elemental purity of this guy's philosophy that compels uneasy respect... Parker sounds like the only sane guy left in the lifeboat, sometimes. The guy who can prove rigorously, from deep moral principles, that Harvey there, the one with the broken leg and the checkered past, is the one who has to be, err... that is, Mr. Harvey is best placed to make the necessary sacrifice for the security and indeed the very survival of the rest of this lifeboat's crew... Computer security, Parker informs us mournfully, is a nasty topic, and we wish we didn't have to have it... The security expert, armed with method and logic, must think -- imagine -- everything that the adversary might do before the adversary might actually do it. It is as if the criminal's dark brain were an extensive subprogram within the shining cranium of Donn Parker. He is a Holmes whose Moriarty does not quite yet exist and so must be perfectly simulated.
CFP is a stellar gathering, with the giddiness of a wedding. It is a happy time, a happy ending, they know their world is changing forever tonight, and they're proud to have been there to see it happen, to talk, to think, to help.
And yet as night falls, a certain elegiac quality manifests itself, as the crowd gathers beneath the chandeliers with their wineglasses and dessert plates. Something is ending here, gone forever, and it takes a while to pinpoint it.
It is the End of the Amateurs.
Copyright © 1998, Software Engineering Laboratory
National Technical University of Athens