AOH :: P45-08.TXT

Running a BBS on X.25

                              ==Phrack Magazine==

                 Volume Five, Issue Forty-Five, File 8 of 28


                        Running a Board on x.25

In this article, I want to inform the reader about advantages, problems,
experiences and fun about running a BBS on x.25.  I also want to do a few
comparisons between x.25 on one hand and the Internet and phone system
on the other.  This article may also help you to setup a BBS on a
UNIX, no matter if on x.25 or not.

I.      Systems on x.25...

In my article for Phrack 42 about the German scene (read it if you haven't
done so yet! :-)  I also mentioned the x.25 scene and a few Bulletin Board
Systems (BBS / boards) on it.

One of the most popular ones, LUTZIFER, just went down on December 20, 1993.
Lutzifer used to be one of the most popular x.25 boards back in 1990 and
early 1991, when US people were still able to use Tymnet ("video" and
"parmaster") and Sprintnet without much of a hassle.  I spoke with Lutz
(sysop of Lutzifer) at the CCC Congress in Hamburg a week later.  He told
me that he first just wanted to change the speed for his x.25 connection
from 9600 to 2400 to save some money (actually 50%), because he didn't get
too many calls anyway.  But the German Telekom (who handle x.25 AND the phone
lines) wanted him to cancel his old x.25 connection, get a new NUA, pay the
$300 installation fee, all to get a 2400 bps connection.  This really made
Lutz mad, and he finally decided to cancel all x.25 - so goodbye to Lutzifer!

On the other side, QSD (the lamest chat system one can imagine) is still
up and running on x.25.  Back in Summer 1993, there have been many rumors
that QSD would go down.  It wasn't reachable from most networks in the world
anymore, including Sprintnet, Datex-P and others.  They were probably just
"testing" something - but QSD will never have its >80 online users again
(sounds pretty ridiculous compared to IRC :) that it had back in the good
old days.

II.     Advantages of x.25

You may wonder what the advantages of running a board on x.25 are.
Wouldn't an Internet link or a phone dialup be enough?  In fact, the Internet
is getting more and more popular, the number of its hosts is increasing
dramatically.  This, and the fact that ISDN is faster and available to more
and more people at cheaper rates, makes x.25 seem unattractive.

But x.25 is a very old and safe network.  It hasn't really changed in 10
years.  There are hardly any netsplits like on the Internet, and it has
a very low rate of data errors.  X.25 is available in almost every country
(far over 200) in the world, even in countries that never heard of Internet
like Mauritius or United Arab Emirates.  This means that a lot of people from
all over the world can call you at a cheap rate (at least cheaper than
international phone charges, for some people even free at all :).
To the sysop it offers a couple of features that modems can't offer, and
where the Internet isn't safe enough.  This is also a reason why most banks,
insurances and credit agencies still rely on x.25.  I will describe those
features in the next chapter.

III.    Setting up your X.25 board

So let's get practical after all this boring theory!

How do you start if you want to setup your own x.25 board?

First of all, you need your own x.25 line.  In most countries your phone
company would be responsible; in a few countries like the US you may even
have a choice of different x.25 providers like "Sprintnet".  The prices for
those lines really vary.  You may check the Sprintnet or Tymnet Toll Free
information service, that also gives you information and prices about
other countries.  E.g. in Germany a 2400 bps (the slowest) link would be
US$130 a month, a 9600 bps link about $260.  The good thing though is that
each additional virtual channel is just $3 more per month (in Germany).
A number of 16 channels is typical and 128 channels aren't exotic.

But remember, all channels have to share the maximum bandwidth of - let's
say - 9600 bps.  So if 10 people would start to leech the latest Phrack
at the same time, they would all just have 960 bps each or 96 cps.

But downloading isn't always that easy.  In fact, many of my users have
been reporting problems while trying to download.  While a few x.25
networks like Datapak Norway and German Datex-P are true 8 bit networks,
many networks and PADs just handle 7 bit connections.  It's not always
that easy to transfer binaries at 7 bit, though it was possible for me
to download from a Sprintnet dialup using a 'good' version of Z-Modem.

X.25 is not the right choice if you want to transfer huge amounts of data
anyway.  It is meant for people who work interactively.  It is recommended
for people who want to do a database research, read and write email and news
or just chat.

You will also notice that, if you are a paying x.25 user (aren't you all :-)
and get your bills, connection time is really cheap; up to 70 times cheaper
than long distance phone charges.  What counts are the transmitted bytes,
no matter how fast you are!  You easily pay $30 for transferring 1 MB.

But what else do you need after you got your x.25 link?

You need a PC (which doesn't have to be fast; I was using a 386sx for quite
some time.  In fact, my new 486/40 board is 'too fast' for my old x.25 8 bit
adaptor :).  It might also be interesting to run it on a Sun or HP
workstation; but the x.25 cards for those machines are rather expensive.

Then you need a good operating system.  Don't even think of running DOS.
You want to have a multi-user multi-tasking system after all, don't you?
So your choice is UNIX.  Systems with pretty good x.25 solutions are
Interactive and SCO Unix.  They are both old fashioned System V / 386's,
but are running safely, hardly ever crash and are popular in the commercial
world.  I chose Interactive.

How do you connect your PC to the x.25 line?

Good guess.  Yes, you need an adaptor card.  I got an EICON/PC card.  EICON
cards are probably the best supported and most common x.25 cards - they
are made in Canada.  However, they aren't cheap.  Usually they are around
$1000, if you are lucky you could get a used one for $600.  You might get
a cheaper x.25 adaptor, but check in advance if the software you want to
use supports that adaptor.  There is no real standard concerning x.25 cards!

Anything else you need?

Yes, the most important thing - the software.  UNIX doesn't come with
x.25 drivers.  However, there is a really good x.25 solution available
from netCS Software in Berlin, Germany.  (The company was co-founded
by "Pengo" Hans H.  Send them mail to for info.)

IV.     Features

This software, and x.25 in general, has a few nice features.  If you
receive an x.25 call from somewhere, the NUA ("Network User Address")
of the caller is being transmitted to you.  This works pretty much like
Caller-ID, with the exception that the caller can't prevent it from being
transmitted, and he usually can't fake the address he is calling from.
Of course he can call through a couple of systems, and you would just
see the NUA of the last system he calls you from.

This feature can easily be used to accept or reject calls from certain
NUAs/systems or whole countries.  Many systems like banks just allow
certain NUAs to call them, just the ones that they know.

You could also give different access to different people:  people from
country A may login to your system, country B may just write you a mail,
all other countries are forced into chat and the NUA of CERT is being
rejected and received a "nice" goodbye message.

Of course you will also keep a logfile (and 99% of the systems you call
will have a logfile with YOUR call and the calls you might place using
its pad).  This logfile usually contains the NUA that calls you (or that
is being called), the programs that are being executed, the userid of
the caller, duration, reason for termination and more.

Another interesting feature is the 'Call User Data' (CUD).  The caller may
transmit up to 16 bytes (default is 4 bytes) to your host before he
establishes an x.25 connection.  In these bytes he may send you a Service
Request.  The default CUD is 01/00/00/00 and means 'interactive login'.
You may define any CUD you want and just accept calls that use that certain
CUD - it would work like a system password then.  Many systems may also
have a service request that allows the caller to execute commands on that
host remotely, without supplying any additional password (be aware of this!)

For more technical information about x.25 read one of the articles in the
previous issues of Phrack.  I am glad that Phrack is still covering x.25
with plenty of interesting articles after all these years!

IV.     Chosing the BBS Software

Okay.  Now we decided to choose UNIX as operating system.  Of course, you
could give all your users shell access, create a guest account with limited
shell access and a chat account that kicks you just into chat.  That's what
I used to do first.  But since we want to run an open system and give
accounts to many hackers, it might be a scary vision that all of them
have shell access and try to hack your system.

This is the point when you are looking for a BBS software for UNIX.  There
aren't too many free BBSes for UNIX around, most of them cost some hundred
dollars (check out the latest Boardwatch issue for more information).

However, I found a pretty decent BBS software called 'Uniboard'.  It runs
fine on most System V's including Interactive and SCO; versions for Sun OS
and Linux are available too.  It offers you a nice colorful (you may turn
it to black & white) menu driven interface.  You have to have C-News and
sendmail installed and running.  Instead of sendmail I use smail, which
is bug-free, much easier to install and offers at least the same features.
C-News though isn't that easy to install and takes quite some time and
document reading.  But these packages are used by Uniboard for messages (news)
and email.  This is pretty nice, because you can just exchange mail with
everyone on the Internet.  You can also read your favorite newsgroups
in Uniboard like and post to local groups.  The filebase
is designed okay, but it doesn't feature the concept of ratios yet.
(You just get one byte download ability for each byte you upload!).  Rick,
the author, promised me to put it into the next version though.  The biggest
drawback is that you will just get the binary, no sources available,
so you can't put in all the features you would like.  For more information
send email to the author Rick in Italy at
He will give you a free demo key that works for a few weeks, if you ask him.
Afterwards you could get a key for $40 and more, depending how many users
you want to have.

V.      How to get more users

You may think:  Okay, fine.  But not everybody has x.25 access, though
(almost) everybody has Internet access.  How could these people call me?
Well, the solution isn't easy.  I was told though that someone installed
an Internet site that would forward the call through an x.25 PAD to my
system.  Of course, the system administrator of that Internet site found
out after a while and installed the following banner (he obviously has
a sense of humor :) - someone sent me this log:

telnet> open 2600
Trying ...
Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
Welcome to Sectec Direct. Please hold the line. :)

MUniBoard v. 1.12
400 users Runtime System S/N 345968791
Licensed for single machine use to Seven Down on sectec
Unauthorized duplication allowed

             /~ .~  /  _ . ~/~ _ . |~  __ ~|  _ . \~ _    _ ~/
            // ____/_ |_\__/. | \__|. |__| | |_\__/\/ |  | \/
           /____   ~/  _|__|| |  __|:     _|  _|__    || |
            // .  //: |_/. \: |_/. || |\ \\: |_/. \   |: |
           /_____ /|________\______|__| \__\_______\  |__|
    ___________________________________________   ___________________
    \~ _    _ ~/ _ . ~/ _ .\~ _    _ ~/ __ |~ ~\ |~~|~| _ . ~/~ .~  /
     \/ |  | \/ |_\__/ | \__\/ |  | \/ /  \||   \| || || \__// ____/_
        || | ||  _|__| |  __   || | \\ \  /|: \  \ :| ||  ______   ~/
        |: | |: |_/. \ |_/. \  |: |  \  \/ || |\   .| ||_/. \/ .  //
        |__| |________\______\ |__|   \____|__| \___|_|______\___ /

Dear fellow hacker,
Please use YOUR telephone to make long distance calls
Using other's systems over the Internet is just NOT fair
let alone that is ILLEGAL.  Anyway, your hosts computer names/IP addresses
and location, as well as accurate logs of most of your recent/6 months
unauthorized calls are in file and might be used against you in court.
Legal service courtesy of FIRST/CERT

sorry if we ruined your day...

Connection closed by foreign host.

V.      Modem Ports

Also, every board on x.25 should have a direct modem dialup (and I guess
every board does!  The dialup for Lutzifer wasn't public, but it had one!)
You need to have a modem at least for uucp polling of news and mail.
If you are running UNIX, you don't need one of those really expensive
'intelligent' cards like DigiBoard for $1000.  But make sure you have
a 16550 chip on your I/O controller or you won't be happy.  A pretty good
deal are AST compatible cards with 4 ports.  You can get them for $60 if
you are lucky.  They just use one IRQ for all 4 ports and let you select
the IRQ and the base addresses.  This is pretty convenient, because it
is even more likely to get an IRQ conflict under UNIX than under DOS.
Try to get a card with 16550's on it, or one that has sockets that let
you replace the old 16450's or whatever with 16550's, without playing
with your soldering iron.  If you buy 16550's, try to get the original
NS (National Semiconductor) ones: NS16550AFN; Texas Instrument's aren't
as good.

Then you should get a good serial port driver like the excellent FAS 2.10.
It is quite flexible with default drivers for AST compatible and standard
I/O cards, supports speeds up to 115,200 bps, and supports both incoming
and outgoing calls on the same line very well.  It only works with System V

I can't help smiling when people tell me about their ElEeT WaR3Z boards
running on DOS and Novell with a separate PC for each node.  With the
configuration mentioned above, you can easily have 4 or 8 high speed modems
with a host speed of 57.600 connected to a single 386 PC and no performance

Email me for information or accounts, or just send me love letters :)

by Seven Up (damiano @ irc)

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