TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: hackers.txt

Is Computer Hacking a Crime?

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*            From the March 1990 edition of Harper's Magazine               *
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*                     IS COMPUTER HACKING A CRIME?                          *
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*                     Typed by Warlock, March 13.                           *
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    The image of the computer hacker drifted into public awareness in the
middle Seventies, when reports of Chinese-food-consuming geniuses working
compulsively at keyboards began to issue from MIT.  Over time, several of
these impresarios entered commerce, and the public's impression of hackers
changed:  They were no longer nerds but young, millionaire entrepreneurs.
    The most recent news reports have given the term a more felonious
connotation.  Early this year, a graduate student named Robert Morris Jr. went
on trial for releasing a computer program known as a worm into the vast
Internet system, halting more than 6,000 computers.  The subsequent public
debate ranged from the matter of proper punishment for a mischievous kid to
the issue of our rapidly changing notion of what constitutes free speech -- or
property -- in an age of modems and data bases.  In order to allow hackers to
speak for themselves, Harper's Magazine recently organized an electronic
discussion and asked some of the nation's best hackers to "log on," discuss
the protean notions of contemporary speech, and explain what their powers and
talents are.

The following forum is based on a discussion held on the WELL, a computer
bulletin board system based in Sausalito, California.  The forum is the result
of a gradual accretion of arguments as the participants -- located throughout
the country -- opined and reacted over an eleven day period.  Harper's Magazine
senior editor Jack Hitt and assistant editor Paul Tough served as moderators.

ADELAIDE is a pseudonym for a former hacker who has sold his soul to the
corporate state as a computer programmer.

BARLOW is John Perry Barlow, a retired cattle rancher, a former Republican
county chairman, and a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, who currently is
writing a book on computers and consciousness entitled Everything We Know Is

BLUEFIRE is Dr. Robert Jacobson, associate director of the Human Interface
Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington and a former
information-policy analyst with the California legislature.

BRAND is Russell Brand, a senior computer scientist with Reasoning Systems, in
Palo Alto, California.

CLIFF is Clifford Stoll, the astronomer who caught a spy in a military computer
network and recently published an account of his investigation entitled The
Cuckoo's Egg.

DAVE is Dave Hughes, a retired West Pointer who currently operates his own
political bulletin board.

DRAKE is Frank Drake, a computer-science student at a West Coast university and
the editor of W.O.R.M., a cyberpunk magazine.

EDDIE JOE HOMEBOY is a pseudonym for a professional software engineer who has
worked at Lucasfilm, Pyramid Technology, Apple Computer, and Autodesk.

EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN is the editor of 2600, the "hacker's quarterly."

HANK is Hank Roberts, who builds mobiles, flies hang gliders, and proofreads
for the Whole Earth Catalog.

JIMG is Jim Gasperini, the author, with TRANS Fiction Systems, of Hidden
Agenda, a computer game that simulates political conflict in Central America.

JRC is Jon Carroll, daily columnist for the San Francisco Chronical and
writer-in-residence for the Pickle Family Circus, a national traveling circus
troupe based in San Francisco.

KK is Kevin Kelly, editor of the Whole Earth Review and a cofounder of the
Hacker's Conference.

LEE is Lee Felstein, who designed the Osborne-1 computer and cofounded the
Homebrew Computer Club.

MANDEL is Tom Mandel, a professional futurist and an organizer of the Hacker's

RH is robert Horvitz, Washington correspondent for the Whole earth Review.

RMS is Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation.

TENNEY is Glenn Tenney, an independant-systems architect and an organizer of
the Hacker's Conference.

ACID PHREAK and PHIBER OPTIK are both pseudonyms for hackers who decline to be

                             A Hacker's Lexicon

Back Door:  A point of entry into a computer system -- often installed there by
the original programmer -- that provides secret access.

Bomb:  A destructive computer program, which, when activated, destroys the
files in a computer system.

Chipper:  A hacker who specializes in changing the programming instructions of
computer chips.

Cracker:  A hacker who breaks illegally into computer systems and creates
mischief; often used pejoratively.  The original meaning of cracker was
narrower, describing those who decoded copyright-protection schemes on
commercial software products or to modify them; sometimes known as a software

Hacker:  Originally, a compulsive computer programmer.  The word has evolved in
meaning over the years.  Among computer users, hacker carries a positive
connotation, meaning anyone who creatively explores the operations of computer
systems.  Recently, it has taken on a negative connotation, primarily through
confusion with cracker.

Phone phreak:  One who explores the operations of the phone system, often with
the intent of making free phone calls.

Social engineering:  A nontechnical means of gaining information simply by
persuading people to hand it over.  If a hacker wished to gain access to a
computer system, for example, an act of social engineering might be able to
contact a system operator and to convince him or her that the hacker is a
legitimate user in need of a password; more colloquially, a con job.

Virus:  A program that, having been introduced into a system, replicates itself
and attaches itself to other programs, often with a variety of mischievous

Worm:  A destructive program that, when activated, fills a computer system with
self-replicating information, clogging the system so that its operations are
severely slowed, sometimes stopped.

                          The Digital Frontier

HARPER'S [Day 1, 9:00 A.M.]:  When the computer was young, the word hacking was
used to describe the work of brilliant students who explored and expanded the
uses to which this new technology might be employed.  There was even talk of a
"hacker ethic."  Somehow, in the succeeding years, the word has taken on dark
connotations, suggestion the actions of a criminal.  What is the hacker ethic,
and does it survive?

ADELAIDE [Day 1, 9:25 A.M.]:  the hacker ethic survives, and it is a fraud.  It
survives in anyone excited by technology's power to turn many small,
insignificant things into one vast, beautiful thing.  It is a fraud because
there is nothing magical about computers that causes a user to undergo
religious conversion and devote himself to the public good.  Early automobile
inventors were hackers too.  At first the elite drove in luxury.  Later
practically everyone had a car.  Now we have traffic jams, drunk drivers, air
pollution, and suburban sprawl.  The old magic of an automobile occasionally
surfaces, but we possess no delusions that it automatically invades the
consciousness of anyone who sits behind the wheel.  Computers are power, and
direct contact with power can bring out the best or worst in a person.  It's
tempting to think that everyone exposed to the technology will be grandly
inspired, but, alas, it just ain't so.

BRAND [Day 1, 9:54 A.M.]  The hacker ethic involves several things.  One is
avoiding waste; insisting on using idle computer power -- often hacking into a
system to do so, while taking the greatest precautions not to damage the
system.  A second goal of many hackers is the free exchange of  technical
information.  These hackers feel that patent and copyright restrictions slow
down technological advances.  A third goal is the advancement of human
knowledge for its own sake.  Often this approach is unconventional.  People we
call crackers often explore systems and do mischief.  The are called hackers by
the press, which doesn't understand the issues.

KK [Day 1, 11:19 A.M.]:  The hacker ethic went unnoticed early on because the
explorations of basement tinkerers were very local.  Once we all became
connected, the work of these investigations rippled through the world.  today
the hacking spirit is alive and kicking in video, satellite TV, and radio.  In
some fields they are called chippers, because the modify and peddle altered
chips.  Everything that was once said about "phone phreaks" can be said about
them too.

DAVE [Day 1, 11:29 A.M.]:  Bah.  Too academic.  Hackers hack.  Because the want
to.  Not for any higher purpose.  Hacking is not dead and won't be as long as
teenagers get their hands on the tools.  There is a hacker born every minute.

ADELAIDE [Day 1, 11:42 A.M.]:  Don't forget ego.  People break into computers
because it's fun and it makes them feel powerful.

BARLOW [Day 1, 11:54 A.M.]:  Hackers hack.  Yeah, right, but what's more to the
point is that humans hack and always have.  Far more than just opposable
thumbs, upright posture, or excess cranial capacity, human beings are set apart
from all other species by an itch, a hard-wired dissatisfaction. Computer
hacking is just the latest in a series of quests that started with fire
hacking.  Hacking is also a collective enterprise.  It brings to our joint
endeavors the simultaneity that other collective organisms -- ant colonies,
Canada geese -- take for granted.  This is important, because combined with our
itch to probe is a need to connect.  Humans miss the almost telepathic
connectedness that I've observed in other herding mammals.  And we want it
back.  Ironically, the solitary sociopath and his 3:00 A.M. endeavors hold the
most promise for delivering species reunion.

EDDIE JOE HOMEBOY [Day 1, 4:44 P.M.]:  Hacking really took hold with the advent
of the personal computer, which freed programmers from having to use a big
time-sharing system.  A hacker could sit in the privacy of his home and hack to
his heart's and head's content.

LEE [Day 1, 5:17 P.M.]:  "Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night" (Allen Ginsberg,
"Howl").  I still get an endorphin rush when I go on a design run -- my mind
out over the edge, groping for possibilities that can be sensed when various
parts are held in juxtaposition with a view toward creating a whole object:
straining to get through the epsilon-wide crack between What Is and What Could
Be.  Somewhere there's the Dynamo of Night, the ultra-mechanism waiting to be
dreamed, that we'll never get to in actuality, (think what is would weigh!) but
that's present somehow in the vicinity of those mental wrestling matches. When
I re-emerge into the light of another day with the design on paper -- and with
the knowledge that if it ever gets built, things will never be the same again
-- I know I've been where artists go.  That's hacking to me: to transcend
custom and to engage in creativity for its own sake, but also to create
objective effects.  I've been around long enough to see the greed creeps take
up the unattended reins of power and shut down most of the creativity that put
them where they are.  But I've also seen things change, against the best
efforts of a stupidly run industry.  We cracked the egg out from under the
Computer Priesthood, and now everyone can have omelets.

RMS [Day 1, 5:19 P.M.]:  The media and the courts are spreading a certain image
of hackers.  It's important for us not to be shaped by that image.  But there
are two ways that it can happen.  One way is for hackers to become part of the
security-maintenance establishment.  The other, more subtle, way is for a
hacker to become the security-breaking phreak the media portray.  By shaping
ourselves into the enemy of the establishment, we uphold the establishment. But
there's nothing wrong with breaking security if you're accomplishing something
useful.  It's like picking a lock on a tool cabinet to get a screwdriver to fix
your radio.  As long as you put the screwdriver back, what harm does it do?

ACID PHREAK [Day 1, 6:34 P.M.]:  There is no one hacker ethic.  Everyone has
his own.  To say that we all think the same way is preposterous.  The hacker
of old sought to find what the computer itself could do.  There was nothing
illegal about that.  Today, hackers and phreaks are drawn to specific, often
corporate, systems.  It's no wonder everyone on the other side is getting mad.
We're always one step ahead.  We were back then, and we are now.

CLIFF [Day 1, 8:38 P.M.]:  RMS said, "There's nothing wrong with breaking
security if you're accomplishing something useful."  Huh?  How about, There's
nothing wrong with entering a neighbor's house if you're accomplishing
something useful, just as long as you clean up after yourself.  Does my
personal privacy mean anything?  Should my personal letters and data be open to
anyone who knows how to crack passwords?  If not my property, then how about a
bank's?  Should my credit history be available to anyone who can find a back
door to the private computers of TRW, the firm that tracks people's credit
histories?  How about a list of AIDS patients from a hospital's data bank?  Or
next week's prime interest rate from a computer at the Treasury Department?

BLUEFIRE [Day 1, 9:20 P.M.]:  Computers are everywhere, and they link us
together into a vast social "cybernetia."  The grand skills of the hackers,
formidable though they may have been, are incapable of subverting this
automated social order.  The networks in which we survive are more than copper
wire and radio waves: They are the social organization.  For every hacker in
revolt, busting through a security code, ten thousand people are being wired up
with automatic call-identification and credit-checking machines.  Long live the
Computer Revolution, which died aborning.

JRC [Day 1, 10:28 P.M.]:  We have two different definitions here.  One speaks
of a tinkerer's ecstasy, an ecstasy that is hard to maintain in the corporate
world but is nevertheless at the heart of Why Hackers Hack.  The second is
political, and it has to do with the free flow of information.  Information
should flow more freely (how freely is being debated), and the hacker can make
it happen because the hacker knows how to undam the pipes.  This makes the
hacker ethic -- of necessity -- antiauthoritarian.

EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN [Day 2, 2:41 A.M.]:  It's meaningless what we call
ourselves: hackers, crackers, techno-rats.  We're individuals who happen to
play with high tech.  There is no hacker community in the traditional sense of
the term.  There are no leaders and no agenda.  We're just individuals out

BRAND [Day 2, 9:02 A.M.]:  There are two issues: invariance and privacy.
Invariance is the art of leaving things as you found them.  If someone used my
house for the day and left everything as he found it so that there was no way
to tell he had been there, I would see no problem.  With a well-run computer
system, we can assure invariance.  Without this assurance we must fear that the
person picking the lock to get the screwdriver will break the lock, the
screwdriver, or both.  Privacy is more complicated.  I want my medical records,
employment records, and letters to The New Republic private because I fear that
someone will do something with the information that is against my interests.
If I could trust people not to do bad things with information, I would not need
to hide it.  Rather than preventing the "theft" of this data, we should
prohibit its collection in the first place.

HOMEBOY [Day 2, 9:37 A.M.]:  Are crackers really working for the free flow of
information?  Or are they unpaid tools of the establishment, identifying the
holes in the institutional dike so that they can be plugged by the
authorities, only to be tossed in jail or exiled?

DRAKE [Day 2, 10:54 A.M.]:  There is an unchallenged assumption that crackers
have some political motivation.  Earlier, crackers were portrayed as failed
revolutionaries; now Homeboy suggests that crackers may be tools of the
establishment.  These ideas about crackers are based on earlier experiences
with subcultures (beats, hippies, yippies).  Actually, the contemporary
cracker is often middle-class and doesn't really distance himself from the
"establishment."  While there are some anarcho-crackers, there are even more
right-wing crackers.  The hacker ethic crosses political boundaries.

MANDEL [Day 2, 11:01 A.M.]:  The data on crackers suggests that they are either
juvenile delinquents or plain criminals.

BARLOW [Day 2, 11:34 A.M.]:  I would far rather have everyone know my most
intimate secrets than to have noncontextual snippits of them "owned" by TRW
and the FBI -- and withheld from me!  Any cracker who is entertained by
peeping into my electronic window is welcome to the view.  Any institution that
makes money selling rumors of my peccadilloes is stealing from me.  Anybody who
wants to inhibit that theft with electronic mischief has my complete support.
Power to the techno-rats!

EMMANUEL [Day 2, 7:09 P.M.]:  Calling someone on the phone is the equivalent of
knocking on that person's door, right?  Wrong!  When someone answers the phone,
you are inside the home.  You have already been let in.  The same with an
answering machine, or a personal computer, if it picks up the phone.  It is
wrong to violate a person's privacy, but electronic rummaging is not the same
as breaking and entering.  The key here is that most people are unaware of how
easy it is for others to invade their electronic privacy and see credit
reports, phone bills, FBI files, Social Security reports.  The public is
grossly underinformed, and that's what must be fixed if hackers are to be
thwarted.  If we had an educated public, though, perhaps the huge -- and now
common -- date bases would never have been allowed to exist.  Hackers have
become scapegoats: We discover the gaping holes in the system and then get
blamed for the flaws.

HOMEBOY [Day 2, 7:41 P.M.]:  Large, insular, undemocratic governments and
institutions need scapegoats.  It's the first step down the road to fascism.
That's where hackers play into the hands of the establishment.

DAVE [Day 2, 7:55 P.M.]:  If the real criminals are those who leave gaping
holes in their systems, the the real criminals in house burglaries are those
who leave their windows unlatched.  Right?  Hardly.  And Emmanuel's analogy to
a phone being answered doesn't hold either.  There is no security protection in
making a phone call.  A computer system has a password, implying a desire for
security.  Breaking into a poorly protected house is still burglary.

CLIFF [Day 2, 9:06 P.M.]:  Was there a hacker's ethic and does it survive?
More appropriately, was there a vandal's ethic and does it survive?  As long as
there are communities, someone will violate the trust that binds them.  Once,
our computers were isolated, much as eighteenth-century villages were.  Little
was exchanged, and each developed independently.  Now we've built far-flung
electronic neighborhoods.  These communities are built on trust: people
believing that everyone profits by sharing resources.  Sure enough, vandals
crept in, breaking into systems, spreading viruses, pirating software, and
destroying people's work.  "It's okay," they say.  "I can break into a system
because I'm a hacker."  Give me a break!

BARLOW [Day 2, 10:41 P.M.]:  I live in a small town.  I don't have a key to my
house.  Am I asking for it?  I think not.  Among the juvenile delinquents in my
town, there does exist a vandal's ethic.  I know because I once was one.  In a
real community, part of a kid's rite of passage is discovering what walls can
be breached.  Driving 110 miles per hour on Main Street is a common symptom of
rural adolescence, publicly denounced but privately understood.  Many teenagers
die in this quest -- two just the night before last -- but it is basic to our
culture.  Even rebellious kids understand that risk to one's safety is one
thing, wanton vandalism or theft is another.  As a result, almost no one locks
anything here.  In fact, a security system is an affront to a teenage psyche.
While a kid might be dissuaded by conscience, he will regard a barricade as an
insult and a challenge.  So the CEOs who are moving here (the emperor of
PepsiCo and the secretary of state among them) soon discover that over the
winter people break into their protected mansions just to hang out.  When
systems are open, the community prospers, and teenage miscreants are satisfied
to risk their own lives and little else.  When the social contract is enforced
by security, the native freedom of the adolescent soul will rise up to
challenge it in direct proportion to its imposition.

HANK [Day 2, 11:23 P.M.]:  Barlow, the small town I grew up in was much like
yours -- until two interstate highways crossed nearby.  The open-door style
changed in one, hard summer because our whole town became unlocked.  I think
Cliff's community is analogous to my little town -- confronted not by a new
locked-up neighbor who poses a challenge to the local kids but by a sudden,
permanent opening up of the community to many faceless outsiders who owe the
town no allegiance.

EMMANUEL [Day 3, 1:33 A.M.]:  Sorry, I don't buy Dave's unlatched-window
analogy.  A hacker who wanders into a system with the ease that it's done today
is, in my analogy, walking into a house without walls -- and with a cloaking
device!  Any good hacker can make himself invisible.  If housebreaking were
this easy, people would be enraged.  But we're missing the point.  I'm not
referring to accessing a PC in someone's bedroom but about accessing credit
reports, government files, motor vehicle records, and the megabytes of data
piling up on each of us.  Thousands of people legally see and use this
ever-growing mountain of data, much of it erroneous.  Whose rights are we
violating when we peruse a file?  Those of the person we look up?  He doesn't
even know that information exists, that it was compiled without his consent,
and that it's not his property anymore!  The invasion of privacy took place
long before the hacker ever arrived.  The only way to find out how such a
system works is to break the rules.  It's not what hackers do that will lead us
into a state of constant surveillance; it's allowing the authorities to impose
on us a state of mock crisis.

MANDEL [Day 3, 9:27 A.M.]:  Note that the word crime has no fixed reference in
our discussion.  Until recently, breaking into government computer systems
wasn't a crime; now it is.  In fact, there is some debate, to be resolved in
the courts, whether what Robert Morris Jr. did was actually a crime [see "A
Brief History of Hacking"].  Crime gets redefined all the time.  Offend enough
people or institutions and, lo and behold, someone will pass a law.  That is
partly what is going on right now: Hackers are pushing buttons, becoming more
visible, and that inevitably means more laws and more crimes.

ADELAIDE [Day 3, 9:42 A.M.]:  Every practitioner of these arts knows that at
minimum he is trespassing.  The English "country traveler ethic" applies: The
hiker is always ethical enough to close the pasture gates behind him so that no
sheep escape during his pastoral stroll through someone else's property.  The
problem is that what some see as a gentle trespassing others see as theft of
service, invasion of privacy, threat to national security -- take your pick.

BARLOW [Day 3, 2:38 P.M.]:  I regard the existence of proprietary data about me
to be theft -- not just in the legal sense but in a faintly metaphysical one,
rather like the belief among aborigines that a photograph steals the soul.  The
crackers who maintain access to that data are, at this level, liberators.
Their incursions are the only way to keep the system honest.

RMS [Day 3, 2:48 P.M.]:  Recently, a tough anti-hacker measure was proposed in
England.  In The Economist I saw a wise response, arguing that it was silly to
treat an action as worse when it involves a computer that when it does not.
They noted, for example, that physical trespassing was considered a civil
affair, not a criminal one, and said that computer trespassing should be
treated likewise.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government was not so wise.

BARLOW [Day 3, 3:23 P.M.]:  The idea that a crime is worse if a computer is
involved relates to the gathering governmental perception that computer viruses
and guns may be related.  I know that sounds absurd, but they have more in
common than one might think.  For all its natural sociopathy, the virus is not
without philosophical potency -- like a gun.  Here in Wyoming guns are part of
the furniture.  Only recently have I observed an awareness of their political
content.  After a lot of frothing about prying cold, dead fingers from
triggers, the sentiment was finally distilled to a bumper sticker I saw on a
pickup the other day: "Fear the Government That Fears Your Gun."  Now I've read
too much Ghandi to buy that line without misgivings, but it would be hard to
argue that Tiananmen Square could have been inflicted on a populace capable of
shooting back.  I don't wholeheartedly defend computer viruses, but one must
consider their increasingly robust deterrent potential.  Before it's over, the
War on Drugs could easily turn into an Armageddon between those who love
liberty and those who crave certainty, providing just the excuse the control
freaks have been waiting for to rid America of all that constitutional
mollycoddling called the Bill of Rights.  Should that come to pass, I will want
to use every available method to vex and confuse the eyes and ears of
surveillance.  The virus could become the necessary instrument of our freedom.
At the risk of sounding like some digital posse comitatus, I say* Fear the
Government That Fears Your Computer.

TENNEY [Day 3, 4:41 P.M.]:  Computer-related crimes are more feared because
they are performed remotely -- a crime can be committed in New York by someone
in Los Angeles -- and by people not normally viewed as being criminals -- by
teenagers who don't look like delinquents.  They're smart nerds, and they don't
look like Chicago gangsters packing heat.

BARLOW [Day 4, 12:12 A.M.]:  People know so little of these things that they
endow computers and the people who do understand them with powers neither
possesses.  If America has a religion, its ark is the computer and its
covenant is the belief that Science Knows.  We are mucking around in the
temple, guys.  It's a good way to catch hell.

DAVE [Day 4, 9:18 A.M.]:  Computers are the new American religion.  The public
is in awe of -- and fears -- the mysteries and the high priests who tend them.
And the public reacts just as it always has when faced with fear of the unknown
-- punishment, burning at the stake.  Hackers are like the early Christians.
When caught, they will be thrown to the lions before the Roman establishment:
This year the mob will cheer madly as Robert Morris is devoured.

KK [Day 6, 11:37 A.M.]:  The crackers here suggest that they crack into systems
with poor security BECAUSE the security is poor.  Do more sophisticated
security precautions diminish the need to crack the system or increase it?

ACID [Day 6, 1:20 P.M.]:  If there was a system that we knew was uncrackable,
we wouldn't even try to crack it.  On the other hand, if some organization
boasted that its system was impenetrable and we knew that was media hype, I
think it would be safe to say we'd have to "enlighten" them.

EMMANUEL [Day 6, 2:49 P.M.]:  Why do we insist on cracking systems?  The more
people ask those kinds of questions, the more I want to get in!  Forbid access
and the demand for access increases.  For the most part, it's simply a mission
of exploration.  In the words of the new captain of the starship Enterprise,
Jean-Luc Picard, "Let's see what's out there!"

BARLOW [Day 6,4:34 P.M.]:  Tell us, Acid, is there a system that you know to be
uncrackable to the point where everyone's given up?

ACID [Day 6, 8:29 P.M.]:  CICIMS is pretty tough.

PHIBER OPTIK [Day 7, 2:36 P.M.]:  Really?  CICIMS is a system used by Bell
operating companies.  The entire security system was changed after myself and a
friend must have been noticed in it.  For the entire United States, there is
only one such system, located in Indiana.  The new security scheme is flawless
in itself, and there is no chance of "social engineering" i.e., bullshitting
someone inside the system into telling you what the passwords are.  The system
works something like this: You log on with the proper account and password;
then, depending on who you are, the system asks at random three of ten
questions that are unique to each user.  But the system can be compromised by
entering forwarding instructions into the phone company's switch for that
exchange, thereby intercepting every phone call that comes in to the system
over a designated period of time and connecting the call to your computer.  If
you are familiar with the security layout, you can emulate its appearance and
fool the caller into giving you the answers to his questions.  Then you call
the system yourself and use those answers to get in.  There are other ways of
doing it as well.

BLUEFIRE [Day 7,11:53 P.M.]:  I can't stand it!  Who do you think pays for the
security that the telephone companies must maintain to fend off illegal use?  I
bet it costs the ratepayers around $10 million for this little extravaganza.
The cracker circus isn't harmless at all, unless you don't mind paying for
other people's entertainment.  Hackers who have contributed to the social
welfare should be recognized.  But cracking is something else -- namely, fun at
someone else's expense -- and it ain't the folks who own the phone companies
who pay; it's us, me and you.

BARLOW [Day 8, 7:35 A.M.]:  I am becoming increasingly irritated at this idea
that you guys are exacting vengeance for the sin of openness.  You seem to
argue that if a system is dumb enough to be open, it is your moral duty to
violate it.  Does the fact that I've never locked my house -- even when I was
away for months at a time -- mean that someone should come in and teach me a

ACID [Day 8, 3:23 P.M.]:  Barlow, you leave the door open to your house?  Where
do you live?

BARLOW [Day 8, 10:11 P.M.]:  Acid, my house is at 372 North Franklin Street in
Pinedale, Wyoming.  Heading north on Franklin, go about two blocks off the main
drag before you run into a hay meadow on the left.  I'm the last house before
the field.  The computer is always on.  But do you really mean to imply what
you did with that question?  Are you merely a sneak looking for easy places to
violate?  You disappoint me, pal.  For all your James Dean-on-Silicon, you're
just a punk.

EMMANUEL [Day 9, 12:55 A.M.]:  No offense, Barlow, but your house analogy
doesn't stand up, because your house is far less interesting than a Defense
Department computer.  For the most part, hackers don't mess with individuals.
Maybe we feel sorry for them; maybe they're boring.  Institutions are where
the action is, because they are compiling this mountain of data --  without
your consent.  Hackers are not guardian angels, but if you think we're what's
wrong with the system, I'd say that's precisely what those in charge want you
to believe.  By the way, you left out your zip code.  It's 82941.

BARLOW [Day 9, 8:34 A.M.]:  Now that's more like it.  There is an ethical
distinction between people and institutions.  The law makes little distinction.
We pretend that institutions are somehow human because they are made of humans.
A large bureaucracy resembles a human about as much as a reef resembles a coral
polyp.  To expect an institution to have a conscience is like expecting a horse
to have one.  As with every organism, institutions are chiefly concerned with
their own physical integrity and survival.  To say that they have some higher
purpose beyond their survival is to anthropomorphize them.  You are right,
Emmanuel.  The house analogy breaks down here.  Individuals live in houses;
institutions live in mainframes.  Institutions are functionally remorseless and
need to be checked.  Since their blood is digital, we need to be in their
bloodstreams like an infection of humanity.  I'm willing to extend limitless
trust to other human beings.  In my experience they've never failed to deserve
it.  But I have as much faith in institutions as they have in me.  None.

OPTIK [Day 9, 10:19 A.M.]:  In other words, Mr. Barlow, you say something,
someone proves you wrong, and then you agree with him. I'm getting the feeling
that you don't exactly chisel your views in stone.

HANK [Day 9, 11:18 A.M.]:  Has Mr. Optik heard the phrase "thesis, antithesis,

BARLOW [Day 10, 10:48 A.M.]:  Optik, I do change my mind a lot.  Indeed, I
often find it occupied by numerous contradictions.  The last time I believed in
absolutes, I was about your age.  And there's not a damn thing wrong with
believing in absolutes at your age either.  Continue to do so, however, and
you'll find yourself, at my age, carrying placards filled with nonsense and
dressing in rags.

ADELAIDE [Day 10, 6:27 P.M.]:  The flaw in this discussion is the distorted
image the media promote of the hacker as "whiz."  The problem is that the one
who gets caught obviously isn't.  I haven't seen a story yet on a true genius
hacker.  Even Robert Morris was no whiz.  The genius hackers are busy doing
constructive things or are so good no one's caught them yet.  It takes talent
to break into something.  Nobody calls subway graffiti artists geniuses for
figuring out how to break into the yard.  There's a difference between genius
and ingenuity.

BARLOW [Day 19, 9:48 P.M.]:  Let me define my terms.  Using hacker in a
midspectrum sense (with crackers on one end and Leonardo da Vinci on the
other), I think it does take a kind of genius to be a truly productive hacker.
I'm learning PASCAL now, and I am constantly amazed that people can string
those prolix recursions into something like PageMaker.  It fills me with the
kind of awe I reserve for splendors such as the cathedral at Chartres.  With
crackers like Acid and Optik, the issue is less intelligence than alienation.
Trade their modems for skateboards and only a slight conceptual shift would
occur.  Yet I'm glad they're wedging open the cracks.  Let a thousand worms

OPTIK [Day 10, 10:11 P.M.]:  You have some pair of balls comparing my talent
with that of a skateboarder.  Hmm... This was indeed boring, but nonetheless:
[Editor's note: At this point in the discussion, Optik -- apparently having
hacked into TRW's computer records -- posted a copy of Mr. Barlow's credit
history.  In the interest of Mr. Barlow's privacy -- at least what's left of it
-- Harper's Magazine has not printed it.]  I'm not showing off.  Any fool
knowing the proper syntax and the proper passwords can look up credit history.
I just find your high-and-mighty attitude annoying and, yes, infantile.

HOMEBOY [Day 10, 10:17 P.M.]:  Key here is "any fool."

ACID [Day 11, 1:37 P.M.]:  For thirty-five dollars a year anyone can have
access to TRW and see his or her own credit history.  Optik did it for free.
What's wrong with that?  And why does TRW keep files on what color and religion
we are?  If you didn't know that they kept such files, who would have found out
if it wasn't for a hacker?  Barlow should be grateful that Optik has offered
his services to update him on his personal credit file.  Of course, I'd hate to
see my credit history up in lights.  But if you hadn't made our skins crawl,
your info would not have been posted.  Everyone gets back at someone when he's
pissed; so do we.  Only we do it differently.  Are we punks?  Yeah, I guess we
are.  A punk is what someone who has been made to eat his words calls the guy
who fed them to him.


                         A Brief History of Hacking

September 1970 - John Draper takes as his alias the name of Captain Crunch
after he discovers that the toy whistle found in the cereal of the same name
perfectly simulates the tone necessary to make free phone calls.

March 1975 - The Homebrew Computer Club, an early group of computer hackers,
holds its first meeting in Menlo Park, California.

July 1976 - Homebrew members Steve Wozniak, twenty-six, and Steve Jobs,
twenty-one, working out of a garage, begin selling the first personal computer,
known as the Apple.

June 1980 - In one week, errors in the computer system operating the U.S.
air-defense network cause two separate false reports of soviet missile
launches, each prompting an increased state of nuclear readiness.

December 1982 - Sales of Apple personal computers top one billion dollars per

November 1984 - Steven Levy's book Hackers is published, popularizing the
concept of the "hacker ethic": that "access to computers, and anything that
might teach you something about the way the world works, should be unlimited
and total."  The book inspires the first Hacker's Conference, held that month.

January 1986 - The "Pakistani Brain" virus, created by a software distributor
in Lahore, Pakistan, infects IBM computers around the world, erasing data

June 1986 - The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment warns that massive,
cross-indexed government computer records have become a "de facto national data
base containing personal information on most Americans."

March 1987 - William Fates, a Harvard dropout who founded Microsoft
Corporation, becomes a billionaire.

November 1988 - More that 6,000 computers linked by the nationwide Internet
computer network are infected by a computer program known as a worm and are
crippled for two days.  The worm is traced to Robert Morris Jr., a twenty-four-
year-old Cornell University graduate student.

December 1988 - A federal grand jury charges Kevin Mitnick, twenty-five, with
stealing computer programs over telephone lines.  Mitnick is held without bail
and forbidden access to any telephones without supervision.

March 1989 - Three West German hackers are arrested for entering thirty
sensitive military computers using home computers and modems.  The arrests
follow a three-year investigation by Clifford Stoll, an astronomer at the
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory who began tracing the hackers after finding a
seventy-five-cent billing error in the lab's computer system.

January 1990 - Robert Morris Jr. Goes on trial in Syracuse, New York, for
designing and releasing the Internet worm.  Convicted, he faces up to five
years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

*                                                                           *
*                   Part 2:  Hacking The Constitution                       *
*                                                                           *

HARPER'S [Day 4, 9:00 A.M.]:  Suppose that a mole inside the government
confirmed the existence of files on each of you, stored in the White House
computer system, PROFS.  Would you have the right to hack into that system to 
retrieve and expose the existence of such files?  Could you do it?

TENNEY [Day 4, 1:42 P.M.]:  The proverbial question of whether the end 
justifies the means.  This doesn't have much to do with hacking.  If the file 
were a sheet of paper in a locked cabinet, the same question would apply.  In 
that case you could accomplish everything without technological hacking.  
Consider the Pentagon Papers.

EMMANUEL [Day 4, 3:55 P.M.]:  Let's address the hypothetical.  First, I need to
find out more about PROFS.  Is it accessible from off site, and if so, how?  
Should I update my 202-456 scan [a list of phone numbers in the White House's 
exchange that connect incoming calls to a computer]?  I have a listing for
every computer in that exchange, but the scan was done back in 1984.  Is PROFS
a new system?  Perhaps it's in a different exchange?  Does anybody know how
many people have access to it?  I'm also on fairly god terms with a White House
operator who owes me a favor.  But I don't know what to ask for.  Obviously,
I've already made up my mind about the right to examine this material.  I don't
want to debate the ethics of it at this point.  If you're with me, let's do
something about this.  Otherwise, stay out of the way.  There's hacking to be

ACID [Day 4, 5:24 P.M.]:  Yes, I would try to break into the PROFS system.  But
first I'd have someone in the public eye, with no ties to hacking, request the
info through the Freedom of Information Act.  Then I'd hack in to verify the
information I received.

DRAKE [Day 4, 9:13 P.M.]:  Are there a lot of people involved in this
antihacker project?  If so, the chances of social engineering data out of
people would be far higher than if it were a small, close-knit group.  But yes,
the simple truth is, if the White House has a dial-up line, it can be hacked.

EMMANUEL [Day 4, 11:27 P.M.]:  The implication that a trust has been betrayed
on the part of the government is certainly enough to make me want to look a
little further.  And I know I'm doing the right thing on behalf of others who
don't have my abilities.  Most people I meet see me as an ally who can help
them stay ahead of an unfair system.  That's what I intend to do here.  I have
a small core of dedicated hackers who could help.  One's specialty is the UNIX
system, another's is networks, and another's is phone systems.

TENNEY [Day 5, 12:24 P.M.]:  PROFS is an IBM message program that runs on an
operating system known as VM.  VM systems usually have a fair number of holes,
wither to gain access or to gain full privileges.  The CIA was working on, and
may have completed, a supposedly secure VM system.  No ethics here, just facts.
But a prime question is to determine what system via what phone number.
Of course, the old inside job is easier.  Just find someone who owes a favor or
convince an insider that it is a moral obligation to do this.

BARLOW [Day 5, 2:46 P.M.]:  This scenario needs to be addressed in four parts:
ethical, political, practical I (from the standpoint of the hack itself), and
practical II (disseminating the information without undue risk).
    Ethical: Since World War II, we've been governed by a paramilitary
    bureaucracy that believes freedom is too precious to be entrusted to the
    people.  These are the same folks who had to destroy the village in order
    to save it.  Thus the government has become a set of Chinese boxes.
    Americans who believe in democracy have little choice but to shred the
    barricades of secrecy  at every opportunity.  It isn't merely permissible
    to hack PROFS. It is a moral obligation.
    Political: In the struggle between control and liberty, one has to avoid
    action that will drive either side to extreme behaviour.  The basis of
    terrorism, remember, is excess.  If we hack PROFS, we must do it in a way
    that doesn't become a pretext for hysterical responses that might
    eventually include zero tolerance of personal computers.  The answer is to
    set up a system for entry and exit that never lets on we've been there.
    Practical I: Hacking the system should be a trivial undertaking.
    Practical II: Having retrieved the smoking gun, it must be made public in
    such a way that the actual method of acquisition does not become public.
    Consider Watergate: The prime leaker was somebody whose identity and
    information-gathering technique is still unknown.  So having obtained the
    files, we turn them over to the Washington Post without revealing our own
    identities or how we came by the files.

EMMANUEL [Day 5, 9:51 P.M.]:  PROFS is used for sending messages back and
forth.  It's designed not to forget things.  And it's used by people who are
not computer literate.  The document we are looking for is likely an electronic
message.  If we can find out who the recipient or sender is, we can take it
from there.  Since these people frequently use the system to communicate, there
may be a way for them to dial into the White House from home.  Finding that
number won't be difficult: frequent calls to a number local to the White House
and common to a few different people.  Once I get the dial-up, I'll have to
look at whatever greeting I get to determine what kind of system it is. Then we
need to locate someone expert in the system to see if there are any built-in
back doors.  If there aren't, I will social engineer my way into a working
account and then attempt to break out of the program and explore the entire

BRAND [Day 6, 10:06 A.M.]:  I have two questions: do you believe in due process
as found in our Constitution?  And do you believe that this "conspiracy" is so
serious that extraordinary measures need to be taken?  If you believe in due
process, then you shouldn't hack into the system to defend our liberties.  If
you don't believe in due process, you are an anarchist and potentially a
terrorist.  The government is justified in taking extreme action to protect
itself and the rest of us from you.  If you believe in the Constitution but
also that this threat is so extreme that patriots have a duty to intercede,
then you should seek one of the honest national officials who can legally
demand a copy of the document.  If you believe that there is no sufficiently
honest politician and you steal and publish the documents, you are talking
about a revolution.

ACID [Day 6, 1:30 P..]:  This is getting too political.  Who says that hacking
has to have a political side?  Generalizing does nothing but give hackers a
false image.  I couldn't care less about politics, and I hack.

LEE [Day 6, 9:01 P.M.]:  Sorry, Acid, but if you hack, what you do is
inherently political.  Here goes: Political power is exercised by control of
information channels.  Therefore, any action that changes the capability of
someone in power to control these channels is politically relevant. 
Historically, the one in power has been not the strongest person but the one
who has convinced the goon squad to do his bidding.  The goons give their power
to him, usually in exchange for free food, sex, and great uniforms.  The
turning point of most successful revolutions is when the troops ignore the
orders coming from above and switch their allegiance.  Information channels.
Politics.  These days, the cracker represents a potential for making serious
political change if he coordinates with larger social and economic forces. 
With out this coordination, the cracker is but a techno-bandit, sharpening his
weapon and chuckling about how someday... Revolutions often make good use of
bandits, and some of them move into high positions when they're successful. 
but most of them are done away with.  One cracker getting in won't do much
good.  Working in coordination with others is another matter -- called

JIMG [Day 7, 12:28 A.M.]:  A thought: Because it has become so difficult to
keep secrets (thanks, in part, to crackers), and so expensive and
counterproductive (the trade-off in lost opportunities is too great), secrets
are becoming less worth protecting.  Today, when secrets come out that would
have brought down governments in the past, "spin-control experts" shower the
media with so many lies that the truth is obscured despite being in plain
sight.  It's the information equivalent of the Pentagon planto surround each 
real missile with hundreds of fake ones, rendering radar useless.  If hackers
managed to crack the White House system, a hue and cry would be raised -- not
about what the hackers found in the files but about what a threat hackers are
to this great democracy of ours.

HARPER'S [Day 7, 9:00 A.M.]:  Suppose you hacked the files from the White House
and a backlash erupted.  Congressmen call for restrictions, arguing that the
computer is "property" susceptible to regulation and not an instrument of
"information" protected by the First Amendment.  Can we craft a manifesto
setting forth your views on how the computer fits into the traditions of the
American Constitution?

DAVE [Day 7, 5:30 P.M.]:  If Congress ever passed laws that tried to define
what we do as "technology" (regulatable) and not "speech," I would become a
rebellious criminal immediately -- and as loud as Thomas Paine ever was.
Although computers are part "property" and part "premises" (which suggest a
need for privacy), they are supremely instruments of speech.  I don't want any
congressional King Georges treading on my cursor.  We must continue to have
absolute freedom of electronic speech!

BARLOW [Day 7, 10:07 P.M.]:  Even in a court guided by my favorite oxymoron,
Justice Rehnquist, this is an open-and-shut case.  The computer is a printing
press.  Period.  The only hot-lead presses left in this country are either in
museums or being operated by poets in Vermont.  The computer cannot fall under
the kind of regulation to which radio and TV have become subject, since
computer output is not broadcast.  If these regulations amount to anything more
than a fart in the congressional maelstrom, then we might as well scrap the
whole Bill of Rights.  What I am doing with my fingers is "speech" in the
clearest sense of the word.  We don't need no stinking manifestos.

JIMG [Day 8, 12:02 P.M.]:  This type of congressional action is so clearly
unconstitutional that "law hackers" -- everyone from William Kunstler to Robert
Bork -- would be all over it.  The whole idea runs so completely counter to our
laws that it's hard to get worked up about it.

ADELAIDE [Day 8, 9:51 A.M.]:  Not so fast.  There used to be a right in the
Constitution called "freedom from unreasonable search and seizure," but, thanks
to recent Supreme Court decisions, your urine can be demanded by a lot of
people.  I have no faith in the present Supreme Court to uphold any of my
rights of free speech.  The complacent reaction here -- that whatever Congress
does will eventually be found unconstitutional -- is the same kind of
complacency that led to the current near-reversals of Roe v. Wade.

JRC [Day 8, 10:05 A.M.]:  I'd forgo the manifestos and official explanations
altogether: Fight brushfire wars against specific government incursions and
wait for the technology to metastasize.  In a hundred years, people won't have
to be told about computers because they will have an instinctive understanding
of them.

KK [Day 8, 2:14 P.M.]:  Hackers are not sloganeers.  They are doers,
take-things-in-handers.  They are the opposite of philosophers: They don't wait
for language to catch up to them.  Their arguments are their actions.  You want
a manifesto?  The Internet worm was a manifesto.  It had more meaning and
symbolism than any revolutionary document you could write.  To those in power
running the world's nervous system, it said: Wake up!  To the underground of
hackers, crackers, chippers, techno-punks, it said: You have power; be careful.
To the mass of citizens who find computers taking over their telephone, their
TV, their toaster, and their house, it said: Welcome to Wonderland.

BARLOW [Day 8, 10:51 P.M.]:  Apart from the legal futility of fixing the dam
after it's been breached, I've never been comfortable with manifestos.  They
are based on the ideologue's delusion about the simplicity, the
figure-out-ability, of the infinitely complex thing that is Life Among the
Humans.  Manifestos take reductionism for a long ride off a short pier.
Sometimes the ride takes a very long time.  Marx and Engels didn't actually
crash until last year.  Manifestos fail because they are fixed and
consciousness isn't.  I'm with JRC: Deal with incursions when we need to, on
our terms, like the guerrillas we are.  To say that we can outmaneuver those
who are against us is like saying that honeybees move quicker than Congress.
The future is to the quick, not the respectable.

RH [Day 8, 11:43 P.M.]:  Who thinks computers can't be regulated?  The
Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 made it a crime to own "any
electronic, mechanical, or other device [whose design] renders it primarily
useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire, oral, or
electronic communication."  Because of the way Congress defined "electronic
communication," one could argue that even a modem is a surreptitious
interception device (SID), banned by the ECPA and subject to confiscation.
It's not that Congress intended to ban modems; it was just sloppy drafting.
The courts will ultimately decide what devices are legal.  Since it may not be
possible to draw a clear bright line between legal and illegal interception
devices, the grey area -- devices with both legitimate uses and illegitimate
uses -- may be subject to regulation.

BARLOW [Day 9, 8:52 A.M.]:  I admit with some chagrin that I'm not familiar
with the ECPA.  It seems I've fallen on the wrong side of an old tautology:
Just because all saloon keepers are Democrats, it doesn't follow that all
Democrats are saloon keepers.  By the same token, the fact that all printing
presses are computers hardly limits computers to that function.  And one of
the other things computers are good at it surreptitous monitoring.  Maybe
there's more reason for concern than I thought.  Has any of this stuff been
tested in the courts yet?

RH [Day 9, 10:06 P.M.]:  My comments about surreptitous interception devices
are not based on any court cases, since there have not been any in this area
since the ECPA was enacted.  It is a stretch of the imagination to think that
a judge would ever find a stock, off-the-shelf personal computer to be a
"surreptitous interception device."  But a modem is getting a little closer to
the point where a creative prosecutor could make trouble for a cracker, with
fallout affecting many others.  An important unknown is how the courts will
apply the word surreptitious.  There's very little law, but taking it to mean
"by stealth; hidden from view; having its true purpose physically disguised,"
I can spin some worrisome examples.  I lobbied against the bill, pointing out
the defects.  Congressional staffers admitted privately that there was a
problem, but they were in a rush to get the bill to the floor before Congress
adjourned.  They said they could patch it later, but it is a pothole waiting
for a truck axle to rumble through.

JIMG [Day 10, 8:55 A.M.]:  That's sobering information, RH.  Yet I still think
that this law, if interpreted the way you suggest, would be found
unconstitutional, even by courts dominated by Reagan appointees.  Also, the
economic cost of prohibiting modems, or even restricting their use, would so
outweigh conceivable benefits that the law would never go through.  Finally,
restricting modems would have no effect on the phreaks but would simply manage
to slow everybody else down.  If modems are outlawed, only outlaws will have

RH [Day 10, 1:52 P.M.]:  We're already past the time when one would wrap
hacking in the First Amendment.  There's a traditional distinction between
words -- expressions of opinions, beliefs, and information -- and deeds.  You
can shout "Revolution!" from the rooftops all you want, and the post office
will obligingly deliver your recipes for nitroglycerin.  But acting on that
information exposes you to criminal prosecution.  The philosophical problem
posed by hacking is that computer programs transcend this distinction: They
are pure language that dictates action when read by the device being
addressed.  In that sense, a program is very different from a novel, a play,
or even a recipe: Actions result automatically from the machine reading the
words.  A computer has no independent moral judgement, no sense of
responsibility.  Not yet, anyway.  As we program and automate more of our
lives, we undoubtedly will deal with more laws: limiting what the public can
know, restricting devices that can execute certain instructions, and
criminalizing the possession of "harmful" programs with "no redeeming social
value."  Blurring the distinction between language and action, as computer
programming does, could eventually undermine the First Amendment or at least
force society to limit its application.  That's a very high price to pay, even 
for all the good things that computers make possible.

else is noise.  Cracks in the firmament are by nature threatening.  Taking a
crowbar to them is revolution.


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