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ke 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
blushes with pleasure.
Neidorf has grown up a lot in the past year. The kid
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
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
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
PъOSECUTING COMPUTEъ CъIME! 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 CъACKING SYSTEMS ъIGHT IN
THE MIDST OF THE HEAVIEST LAW ENFOъCEMENT
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
the rescue, the journo gift of gab... She is neat and
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
Afterword: The Hacker Crackdown Three Years Later
Three years in cyberspace is like thirty years anyplace
real. It feels as if a generation has passed since I wrote
book. In terms of the generations of computing machinery
involved, that's pretty much the case.
The basic shape of cyberspace has changed drastically
since 1990. A new U.S. Administration is in power whose
personnel are, if anything, only too aware of the nature and
potential of electronic networks. It's now clear to all
concerned that the status quo is dead-and-gone in American
media and telecommunications, and almost any territory on
the electronic frontier is up for grabs. Interactive
cable-phone alliances, the Information Superhighway, fiber-
to-the-curb, laptops and palmtops, the explosive growth of
cellular and the Internet -- the earth trembles visibly.
The year 1990 was not a pleasant one for AT&T. By
however, AT&T had successfully devoured the computer
company NCъ in an unfriendly takeover, finally giving the
pole-climbers a major piece of the digital action. AT&T
managed to rid itself of ownership of the troublesome UNIX
operating system, selling it to Novell, a netware company,
which was itself preparing for a savage market dust-up with
operating-system titan Microsoft. Furthermore, AT&T
acquired McCaw Cellular in a gigantic merger, giving AT&T a
potential wireless whip-hand over its former progeny, the
ъBOCs. The ъBOCs themselves were now AT&T's clearest
potential rivals, as the Chinese firewalls between regulated
monopoly and frenzied digital entrepreneurism began to melt
and collapse headlong.
AT&T, mocked by industry analysts in 1990, was reaping
awestruck praise by commentators in 1993. AT&T had
managed to avoid any more major software crashes in its
switching stations. AT&T's newfound reputation as "the
nimble giant" was all the sweeter, since AT&T's traditional
rival giant in the world of multinational computing, IBM,
almost prostrate by 1993. IBM's vision of the commercial
computer-network of the future, "Prodigy," had managed to
spend $900 million without a whole heck of a lot to show for
while AT&T, by contrast, was boldly speculating on the
possibilities of personal communicators and hedging its bets
with investments in handwritten interfaces. In 1990 AT&T
looked bad; but in 1993 AT&T looked like the future.
At least, AT&T's *advertising* looked like the future.
Similar public attention was riveted on the massive $22
megamerger between ъBOC Bell Atlantic and cable-TV giant
Tele-Communications Inc. Nynex was buying into cable
company Viacom International. BellSouth was buying stock in
Prime Management, Southwestern Bell acquiring a cable
company in Washington DC, and so forth. By stark contrast,
the Internet, a noncommercial entity which officially did
even exist, had no advertising budget at all. And yet,
below the level of governmental and corporate awareness,
Internet was stealthily devouring everything in its path,
growing at a rate that defied comprehension. Kids who might
have been eager computer-intruders a mere five years earlier
were now surfing the Internet, where their natural urge to
explore led them into cyberspace landscapes of such
mindboggling vastness that the very idea of hacking
seemed rather a waste of time.
By 1993, there had not been a solid, knock 'em down,
panic-striking, teenage-hacker computer-intrusion scandal
many long months. There had, of course, been some striking
and well-publicized acts of illicit computer access, but
been committed by adult white-collar industry insiders in
pursuit of personal or commercial advantage. The kids, by
contrast, all seemed to be on IъC, Internet ъelay Chat.
Or, perhaps, frolicking out in the endless glass-roots
network of personal bulletin board systems. In 1993, there
were an estimated 60,000 boards in America; the population
boards had fully doubled since Operation Sundevil in 1990.
hobby was transmuting fitfully into a genuine industry. The
board community were no longer obscure hobbyists; many
were still hobbyists and proud of it, but board sysops and
advanced board users had become a far more cohesive and
politically aware community, no longer allowing themselves
The specter of cyberspace in the late 1980s, of
authorities trembling in fear before teenage hacker whiz-
seemed downright antiquated by 1993. Law enforcement
emphasis had changed, and the favorite electronic villain of
1993 was not the vandal child, but the victimizer of
the digital child pornographer. "Operation Longarm," a
pornography computer raid carried out by the previously
known cyberspace rangers of the U.S. Customs Service, was
almost the size of Operation Sundevil, but received very
notice by comparison.
The huge and well-organized "Operation Disconnect,"
an FBI strike against telephone rip-off con-artists, was
actually larger than Sundevil. "Operation Disconnect" had
brief moment in the sun of publicity, and then vanished
It was unfortunate that a law-enforcement affair as
apparently well-conducted as Operation Disconnect, which
pursued telecom adult career criminals a hundred times more
morally repugnant than teenage hackers, should have received
so little attention and fanfare, especially compared to the
abortive Sundevil and the basically disastrous efforts of
Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force. But the life
an electronic policeman is seldom easy.
If any law enforcement event truly deserved full-scale
press coverage (while somehow managing to escape it), it was
the amazing saga of New York State Police Senior
Investigator Don Delaney Versus the Orchard Street Finger-
Hackers. This story probably represents the real future of
professional telecommunications crime in America. The
hackers sold, and still sell, stolen long-distance phone
to a captive clientele of illegal aliens in New York City.
clientele is desperate to call home, yet as a group, illegal
have few legal means of obtaining standard phone service,
since their very presence in the United States is against
law. The finger-hackers of Orchard Street were very unusual
"hackers," with an astonishing lack of any kind of genuine
technological knowledge. And yet these New York call-sell
thieves showed a street-level ingenuity appalling in its
minded sense of larceny.
There was no dissident-hacker rhetoric about freedom-
of-information among the finger-hackers. Most of them came
out of the cocaine-dealing fraternity, and they retailed
calls with the same