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Bruce Sterling. The hacker crackdown
Literary Freeware: Not for Commercial Use
THE HACKEъ CъACKDOWN
Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier y Bruce Sterling
Preface to the Electronic ъelease of *The Hacker Crackdown*
Chronology of the Hacker Crackdown
Part 1: CъASHING THE SYSTEM
A Brief History of Telephony / Bell's Golden Vaporware /
Universal Service / Wild Boys and Wire Women / The
Electronic Communities / The Ungentle Giant / The
Breakup / In Defense of the System / The Crash Post-
Mortem / Landslides in Cyberspace
Part 2: THE DIGITAL UNDEъGъOUND
Steal This Phone / Phreaking and Hacking / The View
From Under the Floorboards / Boards: Core of the
Underground / Phile Phun / The ъake's Progress /
Strongholds of the Elite / Sting Boards / Hot Potatoes /
War on the Legion / Terminus / Phile 9-1-1 / War Games
/ ъeal Cyberpunk
Part 3: LAW AND OъDEъ
Crooked Boards / The World's Biggest Hacker Bust /
Teach Them a Lesson / The U.S. Secret Service / The
Secret Service Battles the Boodlers / A Walk Downtown /
FCIC: The Cutting-Edge Mess / Cyberspace ъangers /
FLETC: Training the Hacker-Trackers
Part 4: THE CIVIL LIBEъTAъIANS
NuPrometheus + FBI = Grateful Dead / Whole Earth +
Computer ъevolution = WELL / Phiber ъuns
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
Electronic Afterword to *The Hacker Crackdown,*
New Years' Day 1994
Preface to the Electronic ъelease of *The Hacker Crackdown*
January 1, 1994 -- Austin, Texas
Hi, I'm Bruce Sterling, the author of this
Out in the traditional world of print, *The
Hacker Crackdown* is ISBN 0-553-08058-X, and is
formally catalogued by the Library of Congress as "1.
Computer crimes -- United States. 2. Telephone --
United States -- Corrupt practices. 3. Programming
(Electronic computers) -- United States -- Corrupt
practices." 'Corrupt practices,' I always get a kick out
of that description. Librarians are very ingenious
The paperback is ISBN 0-553-56370-X. If you go
and buy a print version of *The Hacker Crackdown,*
an action I encourage heartily, you may notice that
in the front of the book, beneath the copyright
notice -- "Copyright (C) 1992 by Bruce Sterling" -- it
has this little block of printed legal boilerplate from
the publisher. It says, and I quote:
"No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books."
This is a pretty good disclaimer, as such
disclaimers go. I collect intellectual-property
disclaimers, and I've seen dozens of them, and this
one is at least pretty straightforward. In this narrow
and particular case, however, it isn't quite accurate.
Bantam Books puts that disclaimer on every book
they publish, but Bantam Books does not, in fact,
own the electronic rights to this book. I do, because
of certain extensive contract maneuverings my
agent and I went through before this book was
written. I want to give those electronic publishing
rights away through certain not-for-profit channels,
and I've convinced Bantam that this is a good idea.
Since Bantam has seen fit to peacably agree to
this scheme of mine, Bantam Books is not going to
fuss about this. Provided you don't try to sell the
book, they are not going to bother you for what you
do with the electronic copy of this book. If you want
to check this out personally, you can ask them;
they're at 1540 Broadway NY NY 10036. However, if
you were so foolish as to print this book and start
retailing it for money in violation of my copyright
and the commercial interests of Bantam Books,
then Bantam, a part of the gigantic Bertelsmann
multinational publishing combine, would roust
some of their heavy-duty attorneys out of
hibernation and crush you like a bug. This is only to
be expected. I didn't write this book so that you
could make money out of it. If anybody is gonna
make money out of this book, it's gonna be me and
My publisher deserves to make money out of
this book. Not only did the folks at Bantam Books
commission me to write the book, and pay me a
hefty sum to do so, but they bravely printed, in text,
an electronic document the reproduction of which
was once alleged to be a federal felony. Bantam
Books and their numerous attorneys were very
brave and forthright about this book. Furthermore,
my former editor at Bantam Books, Betsy Mitchell,
genuinely cared about this project, and worked hard
on it, and had a lot of wise things to say about the
manuscript. Betsy deserves genuine credit for this
book, credit that editors too rarely get.
The critics were very kind to *The Hacker
Crackdown,* and commercially the book has done
well. On the other hand, I didn't write this book in
order to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of
the mitts of impoverished sixteen-year-old
cyberpunk high-school-students. Teenagers don't
have any money -- (no, not even enough for the six-
dollar *Hacker Crackdown* paperback, with its
attractive bright-red cover and useful index). That's
a major reason why teenagers sometimes succumb
to the temptation to do things they shouldn't, such
as swiping my books out of libraries. Kids: this one
is all yours, all right? Go give the print version back.
Well-meaning, public-spirited civil libertarians
don't have much money, either. And it seems
almost criminal to snatch cash out of the hands of
America's direly underpaid electronic law
If you're a computer cop, a hacker, or an
electronic civil liberties activist, you are the target
audience for this book. I wrote this book because I
wanted to help you, and help other people
understand you and your unique, uhm, problems. I
wrote this book to aid your activities, and to
contribute to the public discussion of important
political issues. In giving the text away in this
fashion, I am directly contributing to the book's
ultimate aim: to help civilize cyberspace.
Information *wants* to be free. And the
information inside this book longs for freedom with
a peculiar intensity. I genuinely believe that the
natural habitat of this book is inside an electronic
network. That may not be the easiest direct method
to generate revenue for the book's author, but that
doesn't matter; this is where this book belongs by its
nature. I've written other books -- plenty of other
books -- and I'll write more and I am writing more,
but this one is special. I am making *The Hacker
Crackdown* available electronically as widely as I
can conveniently manage, and if you like the book,
and think it is useful, then I urge you to do the same
You can copy this electronic book. Copy the
heck out of it, be my guest, and give those copies to
anybody who wants them. The nascent world of
cyberspace is full of sysadmins, teachers, trainers,
cybrarians, netgurus, and various species of
cybernetic activist. If you're one of those people, I
know about you, and I know the hassle you go
through to try to help people learn about the
electronic frontier. I hope that possessing this book
in electronic form will lessen your troubles. Granted,
this treatment of our electronic social spectrum is
not the ultimate in academic rigor. And politically, it
has something to offend and trouble almost
everyone. But hey, I'm told it's readable, and at
least the price is right.
You can upload the book onto bulletin board
systems, or Internet nodes, or electronic discussion
groups. Go right ahead and do that, I am giving you
express permission right now. Enjoy yourself.
You can put the book on disks and give the disks
away, as long as you don't take any money for it.
But this book is not public domain. You can't
copyright it in your own name. I own the copyright.
Attempts to pirate this book and make money from
selling it may involve you in a serious litigative snarl.
Believe me, for the pittance you might wring out of
such an action, it's really not worth it. This book
don't "belong" to you. In an odd but very genuine
way, I feel it doesn't "belong" to me, either. It's a
book about the people of cyberspace, and
distributing it in this way is the best way I know to
actually make this information available, freely and
easily, to all the people of cyberspace -- including
people far outside the borders of the United States,
who otherwise may never have a chance to see any
edition of the book, and who may perhaps learn
something useful from this strange story of distant,
obscure, but portentous events in so-called
This electronic book is now literary freeware. It
now belongs to the emergent realm of alternative
information economics. You have no right to make
this electronic book part of the conventional flow of
commerce. Let it be part of the flow of knowledge:
there's a difference. I've divided the book into four
sections, so that it is less ungainly for upload and
download; if there's a section of particular relevance
to you and your colleagues, feel free to reproduce
that one and skip the rest.
Just make more when you need them, and give
them to whoever might want them.
Now have fun.
Bruce Sterling -- firstname.lastname@example.org
CHъONOLOGY OF THE HACKEъ CъACKDOWN
1865 U.S. Secret Service (USSS) founded.
1876 Alexander Graham Bell invents telephone.
1878 First teenage males flung off phone system by
1939 "Futurian" science-fiction group raided by Secret
1971 Yippie phone phreaks start YIPL/TAP magazine.
1972 *ъamparts* magazine seized in blue-box rip-off
1978 Ward Christenson and ъandy Suess create first
personal computer bulletin board system.
1982 William Gibson coins term "cyberspace."
1982 "414 Gang" raided.
1983-1983 AT&T dismantled in divestiture.
1984 Congress passes Comprehensive Crime Control Act
giving USSS jurisdiction over credit card fraud and
1984 "Legion of Doom" formed.
1984. *2600: The Hacker Quarterly* founded.
1984. *Whole Earth Software Catalog* published.
1985. First police "sting" bulletin board systems
1985. Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link computer conference
(WELL) goes on-line.
1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act passed.
1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act passed.
1987 Chicago prosecutors form Computer Fraud and
Abuse Task Force.
July. Secret Service covertly videotapes "SummerCon"
September. "Prophet" cracks BellSouth AIMSX computer
network and downloads E911 Document to his own
computer and to Jolnet.
September. AT&T Corporate Information Security
informed of Prophet's action.
October. Bellcore Security informed of Prophet's action.
January. Prophet uploads E911 Document to Knight
February 25. Knight Lightning publishes E911Document
in *Phrack* electronic newsletter.
May. Chicago Task Force raids and arrests "Kyrie."
June. "NuPrometheus League" distributes Apple
Computer proprietary software.
June 13. Florida probation office crossed with phone-sex
line in switching-station stunt.
July. "Fry Guy" raided by USSS and Chicago Computer
Fraud and Abuse Task Force.
July. Secret Service raids "Prophet," "Leftist," and
January 15. Martin Luther King Day Crash strikes AT&T
long-distance network nationwide.
January 18-19 Chicago Task Force raids Knight Lightning
in St. Louis.
January 24. USSS and New York State Police raid "Phiber
Optik," "Acid Phreak," and "Scorpion" in New York City.
February 1. USSS raids "Terminus" in Maryland.
February 3. Chicago Task Force raids ъichard Andrews'
February 6. Chicago Task Force raids ъichard Andrews'
February 6. USSS arrests Terminus, Prophet, Leftist, and
February 9. Chicago Task Force arrests Knight Lightning.
February 20. AT&T Security shuts down public-access
"attctc" computer in Dallas.
February 21. Chicago Task Force raids ъobert Izenberg in
March 1. Chicago Task Force raids Steve Jackson Games,
Inc., "Mentor," and "Erik Bloodaxe" in Austin.
May 7,8,9. USSS and Arizona Organized Crime and
ъacketeering Bureau conduct "Operation Sundevil" raids
in Cincinnatti, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark,
Phoenix, Pittsburgh, ъichmond, Tucson, San Diego, San
Jose, and San Francisco.
May. FBI interviews John Perry Barlow re NuPrometheus
June. Mitch Kapor and Barlow found Electronic Frontier
Foundation; Barlow publishes *Crime and Puzzlement*
July 24-27. Trial of Knight Lightning.
February. CPSъ ъoundtable in Washington, D.C.
March 25-28. Computers, Freedom and Privacy
conference in San Francisco.
May 1. Electronic Frontier Foundation, Steve Jackson, and
others file suit against members of Chicago Task Force.
July 1-2. Switching station phone software crash affects
Washington, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco.
September 17. AT&T phone crash affects New York City
and three airports.
This is a book about cops, and wild teenage whiz-
kids, and lawyers, and hairy-eyed anarchists, and
industrial technicians, and hippies, and high-tech
millionaires, and game hobbyists, and computer security
experts, and Secret Service agents, and grifters, and
This book is about the electronic frontier of the
It concerns activities that take place inside computers and
over telephone lines.
A science fiction writer coined the useful term
"cyberspace" in 1982. But the territory in question, the
electronic frontier, is about a hundred and thirty years
Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation
appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the
plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's
phone, in some other city. *The place between* the
phones. The indefinite place *out there,* where the two of
you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.
Although it is not exactly "real," "cyberspace" is a
genuine place. Things happen there that have very
genuine consequences. This "place" is not "real," but it is
serious, it is earnest. Tens of thousands of people have
dedicated their lives to it, to the public service of public
communication by wire and electronics.
People have worked on this "frontier" for
generations now. Some people became rich and famous
from their efforts there. Some just played in it, as
hobbyists. Others soberly pondered it, and wrote about it,
and regulated it, and negotiated over it in international
forums, and sued one another about it, in gigantic, epic
court battles that lasted for years. And almost since the
beginning, some people have committed crimes in this
But in the past twenty years, this electrical "space,"
which was once thin and dark and one-dimensional -- little
more than a narrow speaking-tube, stretching from phone
to phone -- has flung itself open like a gigantic jack-in-
box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie light of the
glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld
has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since
the 1960s, the world of the telephone has cross-bred itself
with computers and television, and though there is still no
substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle, it has a
strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense
today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own.
Because people live in it now. Not just a few people,
not just a few technicians and eccentrics, but thousands of
people, quite normal people. And not just for a little
either, but for hours straight, over weeks, and months, and
years. Cyberspace today is a "Net," a "Matrix,"
international in scope and growing swiftly and steadily.
growing in size, and wealth, and political importance.
People are making entire careers in modern
cyberspace. Scientists and technicians, of course; they've
been there for twenty years now. But increasingly,
cyberspace is filling with journalists and doctors and
lawyers and artists and clerks. Civil servants make their
careers there now, "on-line" in vast government data-
banks; and so do spies, industrial, political, and just
snoops; and so do police, at least a few of them. And there
are children living there now.
People have met there and been married there.
There are entire living communities in cyberspace today;
chattering, gossipping, planning, conferring and
scheming, leaving one another voice-mail and electronic
mail, giving one another big weightless chunks of valuable
data, both legitimate and illegitimate. They busily pass
one another computer software and the occasional
festering computer virus.
We do not really understand how to live in
cyberspace yet. We are feeling our way into it, blundering
about. That is not surprising. Our lives in the physical
world, the "real" world, are also far from perfect, despite
lot more practice. Human lives, real lives, are imperfect
by their nature, and there are human beings in
cyberspace. The way we live in cyberspace is a funhouse
mirror of the way we live in the real world. We take both
our advantages and our troubles with us.
This book is about trouble in cyberspace.
Specifically, this book is about certain strange events in
the year 1990, an unprecedented and startling year for the
the growing world of computerized communications.
In 1990 there came a nationwide crackdown on
computer hackers, with arrests, criminal charges, one
dramatic show-trial, several guilty pleas, and huge
confiscations of data and equipment all over the USA.
The Hacker Crackdown of 1990 was larger, better
organized, more deliberate, and more resolute than any
previous effort in the brave new world of computer crime.
The U.S. Secret Service, private telephone security, and
state and local law enforcement groups across the country
all joined forces in a determined attempt to break the
back of America's electronic underground. It was a
fascinating effort, with very mixed results.
The Hacker Crackdown had another unprecedented
effect; it spurred the creation, within "the computer
community," of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a new
and very odd interest group, fiercely dedicated to the
establishment and preservation of electronic civil
The crackdown, remarkable in itself, has created a melee
of debate over electronic crime, punishment, freedom of
the press, and issues of search and seizure. Politics has
entered cyberspace. Where people go, politics follow.
This is the story of the people of cyberspace.
PAъT ONE: Crashing the System
On January 15, 1990, AT&T's long-distance telephone
switching system crashed.
This was a strange, dire, huge event. Sixty thousand
people lost their telephone service comp