| by Jonathan Littman
Dungeon Master 11
Play a Game? 27
Network News 33
Good Fellas 38
Top Secret 45
Star Watch 53
Identity Crisis 59
Command Control 67
Corporate Headquarters 75
The Anti-Hacker 87
PAR T I I I
The Storage Locker 95
The Bust 102
The Meeting 116
The Wiretap Machine 124
Home Shopping 131
Risky Business 137
Controlled Detonation 146
Tap Dancing 164
Kevin's Court 173
Grand Jury 180
Happy Birthday 187
The Indictment 192
PART I V
Blonds Have More Fun 207
The Giveaway 214
The Stakeout 222
The Chase 230
Unsolved Mysteries 240
Musical Chairs 250
The Office 256
Author's Note 287
oday is the day he takes matters
into his own hands. He fires up yet another in his series of old clunkers,
this one a weathered Army transport van. He drives east on Holly-
wood Boulevard, past the motley array of check-cashing joints, dusty
unleased storefronts, palm readers, and sidewalks imprinted with the
names of yesterday's movie stars. The summer smog is thick as the L.A.
morning commute, an hour that usually finds him fast asleep. He works
nights, though few would consider what he does work, but today, to
earn a living, he's changed his routine and struggled out of bed a little
after dawn. He's in a black phase, except for the hair, dyed platinum to
alter his appearance. Baggyblack Levi's,black Reeboks, a black bowling
shirt from Melrose Street, and one diamond stud in his left ear. His face
and body are narrow and angular, his nose long. But it's the eyes. They
light up at the most unpredictable times.
He's thinking about the second cup of coffee he would have liked
with his Pop-Tart when the music stops. "Today is the day!"booms radio
personality Rick Dees. "This is song number one, 'Escapade,' by Janet
Jackson. If it is followed by 'Love Shack,' by the B-S2s and 'Kiss,' by
Prince, you could be caller number one-a-two and win a brand-new
The greatest radio giveaway in the history of LosAngeles is spinning
to a climax. It's Friday, June I, 1990, the last day of the fabulous contest.
Once a week for seven weeks running, KIIS-FM 102 has handed out
Southern California's fantasy of steel, leather, and status. You can't live
or work in Los Angeles without being caught up in the frenzy. The
gleaming, candy red convertibles are plastered on nearly every bill-
board and bus in town. The station is ubiquitous, playing in cars, malls,
businesses, restaurants, and homes. Office workers, housewives, clerks,
students, struggling actors, and contest freaks jam the call-in lines with
cellulars, auto dialers, even ordinary phones. It's so American, the craze,
the combo of phones and fast cars. We may not be created equal, we
may not all enjoy the same privileges, but we all have an equal opportu-
nity to win. It's so simple, even a child can do it. Just be the 102nd caller
the moment Prince stops singing, and drive home a brand-new Porsche
944 S2 Cabriolet.
Five minutes. That's all he's got, he figures, as he zips through the
lights down the broad, crowded boulevard. The sequence of songs
should last longer than five minutes, but if his partner's late, as usual, it
will be close. He hangs a hard right at Cahuenga at the famous Interna-
tional Newsstand, dashes across the street to the unmarked door next to
Casanova's Adult World, and trots up the red wooden stairs. But the
tune slows him to a brisk walk. Just as he suspected, the disc jockey is
toying with the audience. The second song isn't the B-5 2S' "LoveShack."
But it won't be long. Kevin Lee Poulsen knows that before the day is
out he, and not one of the other hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles
hopefuls, will be the happy winner. He's always wanted a Porsche, but
the $50,000 car isn't really the point. Kevin's a computer hacker and
phone phreak. Access is Kevin's game. He knows secrets the mob would
like to know, secrets for which foreign governments would gladly pay,
secrets that could get people hurt. And as he burrows further into his
fractal world of computer nets and telephone switches, he knows that
access is changing him, as the seminary changes a young man, as the
military changes a recruit.
To Kevin, the FBI doesn't understand. They take away his job, his
life, they paint him as a criminal when he believes his actions have al-
ways been beyond reproach. In his mind, they're the real threat to free-
dom and privacy in the information age: the things they do to hackers,
they'll soon try to do to ordinary citizens. But it won't work, not with
what Kevin has planned. One more hack and he'll be a legend in the un-
They think it's all about money, but to Kevin it's a challenge. Who
would believe that a half-million-dollar radio contest could be manipu-
lated with ape, a few telephones, and a hacker's ingenuity? Kevin Poul-
sen, the artist, is on the verge of his greatest public performance.
Danger is only part of the romance. Today, he just might prove the
almighty system is wearing no clothes. Kevin is fighting for his kind.
Hackers and phreaks are being hunted to extinction. So what if Kevin's
creative, rebellious predecessors helped jump-start the high-tech revo-
lution. In the last few months, Secret Service and state law enforcement
have been making dozens of hacker raids around the country, publiciz-
ing arrests and seizing scores of computers in a nationwide effort to
thwart the new "electronic menace." Operation Sundevil, they call it,
but soon it will be known as the great Hacker Crackdown. To the feds,
all hackers are outlaws, digital desperadoes who've lived beyond their
Kevin is unique even in this elite club. Kevin hacks, phreaks, scales
walls, and picks locks. He's studied Ma Bell's secrets since he was thir-
teen, been raided by the authorities twice, and will soon be featured on
the television program Unsolved Mysteries. He's twenty-four now, and
for him the radio contest is a testament to his ingenuity. He runs ten
phone lines into his Hollywood office from the telephone closet down
the hall, "floaters," unused lines he turns on by hacking into Pac Bell's
computers. Normally, he'd need two phone lines to seize one of the ra-
dio station's eight lines. Normally, he'd be satisfied with simply improv-
ing his odds from one in four to one in two. Today, Kevin isn't taking
A week ago, Kevin hacked Pac Bell's computers and diverted the sta-
tion's incoming calls to a phone at his Hollywood office. He then dialed
72 :It, the forward command, and entered the station's original number.
Once Kevin hung up his loop was complete. Every contest call would
first bounce to his control number and then forward back to the station.
Kevin knew the loop was live, because his control phone rang once each
time it forwarded a call.
The plan is ingenious, but fundamentally simple, a sting in the style
of the great Redford and Newman flick. He enlists the help of his old fel-
low hacker Ron Austin, because even the legendary hacker can't possi-
bly juggle eight phones by himself. Shaggy, with uncombed dirty blond
hair, mismatched jeans and shirt, Ron is Kevin's antithesis. His square
jaw and sinewy body fit; he's handsome and he knows it. But Ron isn't
here for fun or show. He detests KIIS-FM. He's heard every pop tune
the station plays dozens of times, and Kevin is getting on his nerves.
Over and over again, out of the blue, Kevin turns and deadpans, "Stop!
The lyrics from the M. C. Hammer rap "U Can't Touch This" are
stuck in his head. The claustrophobia presses in. There's the sense they
can never totally escape the cramped room, that leaving the building
even for a few minutes is dangerous. When they're too hungry, they
make a mad dash to the corner Jack In The Box,radios in hand, ready to
run back if they hear Janet sing. They take turns knocking a single ball
with an old putter across the tattered brown carpet into a coffee mug.
Ron brought in the putter, but in no time Kevin is banking the ball off
the walls, turning the room into a miniature golf course .
Kevin is chipping the ball over a book when he hears the first song's
"With a smile ... Lookin' shy ... You caught my eye ..."
And the second song?
"I'm heading down the Atlantic highway ..."
Could it be?
"Don't have to be beautiful to turn me on ..."
At last, Prince's familiar wail! As the song ends the calls pour in.
"Caller number two! ... Caller five! ... Caller seven! ... Caller nine!"
the station employees shout.
Kevin's control phone rings wildly, but he's patiently counting. Ifhe
takes over the station's lines too early they might be detected. At sixty
rings Kevin picks up the receiver and taps the 72 :If-killing the forward
command. Now everyone dialing the station will get a busy signal.
Everyone except for Kevin Poulsen.
Half the lines are on speakerphone because Kevin fears they won't
be able to juggle so many. It's reflex and timing now. Wait to hear them
shout out the caller number, then flash that phone's switch hook to
hang up the line. No need to redial. Kevin's hacked into Pac Bell and pro-
grammed the phones so that they instantly reconnect to the station.
They flash the switch hooks like a couple of New York hustlers play-
ing the shell game, all the waiting forgotten in the final electronic
flurry. The eighth and final fiery red chariot is about to be awarded in
the $400,000 KIIS-FM Porsche giveaway. But as the countdown nears
ninety, one more hurdle remains. IfDees puts more than the last couple
of callers on the air, he might realize they sound suspiciously like the
same two young men.
Yet getting caught fixing a radio contest is the least of Kevin Poul-
sen's concerns. For other, far more serious crimes, his name is climbing
near the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. The feds say he's done it all-
compromised national security wiretaps, cracked secure military com-
puters, wiretapped, and committed computer fraud. They want to put
him away for thirty-seven years. But first they have to catch him. Kevin
Poulsen is the first hacker to live the cyberpunk fantasy, the first to
choose the underground over federal justice.
Ron jams the phone toward Kevin.
Over the phone and the airways of Los Angeles, Dees's voice booms
loud and clear.
"This is KIIS. You're on LIVE!"
PAR T I
om in the fall of 1965, Kevin
Poulsen came of age just as the postwar high-technology boom began to
spread beyond the defense industry and into the universities and
schools and corporations. Kevin phreaked phones before he hacked,
and like many of his generation he followed a tradition, a myth, a code.
Society, technology, and even the laws would change, but Kevin held
within his memory bank an image. It was romantic, and yet many parts
of it were true. Phreaking wasn't about getting free calls, it was about
how to get them, how to make them. It was about the process of access.
Legend had it that the first phreaks were blind kids who whistled free
calls, tuning in to the sounds of the vast machines and places they could
never see. To phreak was to discover and master invisible electronic
Phreaks routinely complained about evil, monopolistic Ma Bell,but
to understand the machine, the network, the telephone system-these
were the true goals of the phreaks, a journey that would eventually lead
to a better understanding of the world. The first computer hackers
brought light to a closed world. Early computers were giant, cumber-
some machines tended by a priesthood of technicians who processed
punch cards, maintained massive air-cooling systems, and replaced the
occasional melted vacuum tube.
The first hackers challenged the authority of the priesthood and be-
gan nudging the computers to life, teaching them to play chess, Ping-
Pong, even music. They cleverly removed superfluous commands so
computers would need fewer cards. Hackers at MIT toured telephone
central offices and pumped switchmen and engineers for the secrets
that would enable them to ride the telephone network for free. They
studied lock picking to coax open university doors to examine the com-
puters up close.
Hackers were making computers better, more powerful, easier to
use, blazing a path the next generation could use to probe deeper.
The process of hacking, the dedication, the abandon with which
they hacked, formalized a code: question authority and demand ac-
cess to information. Hackers would change the world, hack the
machines into something that would improve the life of the ordi-
nary man. Impure motives were impossible for the self-evident rea-
son that by nature and training, hackers had superior ethics. Real hack-
ers never hacked or phreaked for money. To do so would be to
undermine the calling, to prove that you were not, after all, really a
The year is r978, the birthdate of the test-tube baby. There's talk of
DNA sequencing to cure disease and the emergence of a mysterious
malady that destroys the immune system and slowly kills huge num-
bers of its victims. The first breeze of the microcomputer revolution is
in the air, and sales of Steve lobs's and Steve Wozniak's revolutionary
Apple II personal computer are taking off.
But Kevin Poulsen is perfectly capable of entertaining himself with
the pay phones at the mall. The thirteen-year-old purses his lips and
lines up his cheeks with the steel in his mouth. His parents have no idea
what he can do with those braces they foolishly thought were there to
straighten his teeth. Too poor to own his own computer, Kevin is in se-
cret training, practicing the telephone arts, studying to be a cyberpunk
before the word, let alone the technology, exists. The mouthpiece is up
close, like a rocker's microphone.
He whistles the pulse of a one.
He whistles twice for a two and listens.
One more whistle to finish dialing ...
Kevin has just whistled the pulses Ma Bellrecognizes as the number
12 I -the internal number for the operator in Blythe, California. Kevin
is whistling at 2,600 hertz, the music that shuttles calls through Ma
Bell's long distance network.
"Blythe," welcomes the operator.
"I'm calling from a testboard," Kevin intones as deeply as possible,
trying to sound at least nineteen. "I need you to place a call."
Kevin rattles off the number of an L.A. operator, and in seconds,
friendly "Blythe" bounces him back to his home city. Kevin repeats the
sequence for another city, and another, and another.
"You'll have to speak up ..." The last operator can barely hear him
through the echoes, through the long telephone chain he has set up.
"Operator, can you connect me to 2 I 3-..." It's the number of the pay
phone next to Kevin in the mall.
Kevin grabs it before the bell stops ringing, a phone in each ear.
"HELLOOO, KEVIN!" he shouts into one phone, then presses his
ear to the other.
The sounds of distant switches and telephone static bubble up in his
ears: "KERCHUNK, CLICK, BIZZZZ, KERCHUNK, FISSSSS,
New York, Santa Fe, Chicago, Portland, Washington, D.C. ... his
words reverberate cross-country, broken with so much switching noise
and telephone static that his name-no, he!-slips through the
switches. Kevin has fallen down Alice's rabbit hole, his voice echoing,
shrinking into infinity.
"Hellooooo, Keeeeevin, hellooooooo, keeeevin, hellooooooo,
Kevin won't do his math and can't concentrate in school. He really does
want to do well, it's just that junior high is too easy, too boring. And be-
sides, Ma Bellisn't on the course list. He talks his frustrated parents into
transferring him to Valley Alternative Magnet, a school for creative and
problem kids. The thirteen-year-old is planning for his future-down
the block is Cal State Northridge. Instead of playing ball with friends,
the prodigy spends his afternoons in the college engineering library,
poring over the dense BellLabs technical histories of the hundred-year
evolution of the telephone network, perusing the Bell technical jour-
nals that detail each new advance.
Soon it's time for hands-on field research. PacificTelephone locks its
dumpster at the nearby Cedros central office, hiding the secrets Kevin
desires. But Kevin knows Master locks are sold with the erasable Mas-
ter lock number written on them, a fact the phone company over-
looks. Kevin scribbles down the number, bicycles to a hardware store,
and has a key cut. Within the hour, he's knee deep in the dumpster,
trashing for manuals, passwords, old equipment-whatever he can
find. What Kevin can't read at the engineering library or fish out of
the trash, he social engineers. It's a simple method really, a phreak
term for an old can. rust phone up the neighborhood central office
and trick them into thinking ... "Yeah, this is Bob from Cedros," Kevin
says. "I'm kind of new here, and nobody's around. There's this wire,
Kevin can recognize a telephone switch by its ring and busy signal,
and sometimes just by its telltale idiosyncratic clicks. Kevin has a com-
plete mental picture of the inner workings of the phone network. He
knows Ma Bell's national ranking of five classes of offices starting with
the handful of regional offices and working all the way down to the
neighborhood central offices.He knows how the old switches work-
the electromechanical Step-by-Stepsinvented in the last century-and
the Crossbars that replaced many of them in the 1930S. When he no-
tices an internal line at the local central office that sounds different, he
makes a few social engineering calls and discovers why. Switchmen
light their phones with tiny neon lamps, pulling off enough electricity
to warp the ring.
Kevin manages to get service for the number 764-0006 in his very
own bedroom. Who cares if "zero" numbers are reserved for internal
phone company lines? Kevin promptly installs his own Radio Shack
neon lamp, dims the lights, deepens his voice. He's got his own central
"Zero six," Kevin answers in his official phone company style when
his friends call.
Kevin buys his first touch-tone phone, tears it apart, connects and
twists a few wires, and attaches a toggle switch. Kevin's exploiting a ca-
pability present in every phone, a ghost key column designed primarily
for the military. Kevin flips the toggle switch and the right-hand col-
umn, 3, 6, 9, and :It, magically turn into the military keys-Flash, Flash
Override, Intermediate, and Priority. He dials directory assistance in
Rhode Island, toggles to military mode, and holds down the :It key-
Priority-catapulting his call to a small switch dedicated to distributing
incoming calls. Kevin presses a few more keys and enjoys a wonderful
anomaly. He's snuck in the back door of Rhode Island directory assis-
tance. He's a spider eagerly awaiting a fly.
"Directory assistance," Kevin answers in his bedroom.
"John Smith, please," requests the unsuspecting subscriber.
"For what city?"
"THWAT, THWAT, THWAT, THWAT, THWAT . . .
Kevin flips through the Yellow Pages as loudly as possible, holding
the pages up to the mouthpiece, licking his finger for the dramatic,
single-page turns. It's like he's performing old-time radio drama, exag-
gerating the sound effects.
"You'll find it on page four fifty-two," Kevin says helpfully.
"What's the number?"
"We don't give out numbers," Kevin explains in his best Ma Bellbu-
reaucratic tone. "We assist you in locating numbers."
"Sean from North Hollywood."
He pauses just long enough. He's cool, he doesn't sound like other
"Hey, I'm Kevin from North Hollywood."
It's a party "chat" phone line, one of the dozens that connect the
young and awkward of Los Angeles in the late 1970S and early 1980s.
They're a new reality, a place to find yourself and maybe someone else.
"So what's your I Q?" Kevin probes.
It's Mensa for teens.
She doesn't hesitate. Doesn't every thirteen-year-old know her I Q?
Sounds cute, Kevin thinks. Got a brain too.
"Can I come over?" Kevin asks.
She senses what's coming. He's much more confident and intellec-
tual than the other boys. He'll be tall, strong, and handsome, the "ma-
ture" love she's read about in books.
Kevin pedals furiously, still catching his breath when he swings off
his Schwinn ten-speed. Sean is waiting for him out front, a blond pixie
standing on the uncut grass before the window of her mother's run-
down brown stucco apartment, the one with the air-conditioning unit
Kevin is everything his phone voice isn't, painfully thin, hollowed
features, a dull, brown mop of hair-and those braces. High-water Sears
Toughskins don't help.
Those deep, sad eyes. Why won't he look me in the eye?
Kevin doesn't move. He just stands there, like a toy soldier on the
lawn, several uncomfortable feet away, the silence growing longer until
finally there's nothing to do but pedal down the long block of bleak
apartment buildings, back to a number and a telephone.
"Hi, Kevin," she says, sprawling on her bed a couple minutes later,
suspecting it's him before she answers,
It's easier for Kevin to relate to other people this way, electronically,
invisibly. And so the two pals chat endlessly on the phone. Time is no
factor, since like many of the L.A. kids who jam the chat lines, neither
bothers much with school. Kevin is having trouble paying attention in
class and Sean is thinking about quitting for good. But for all the phone
time Sean logs, Kevin is not an easy boy to get to know. He lives in a
pleasant working-class section of San Fernando Valley's North Holly-
wood, in a tidy house near the end of Teasedale Street: fresh white and
yellow paint, a well-manicured garden of cactus, dwarf palm trees,
roses, and potted plants, and a sign over the door proudly proclaiming
Kevin invites Sean to his room one day and she's surprised by its
Spartan neatness. The walls are devoid of the usual boyhood heroes.
There are no posters of baseball or football players for the most obvious
reason. Kevin's got the ganglies-alllimbs and no muscles or coordina-
tion. He hates football and thinks professional sports a waste of time. He
cares little for music and hardly watches television. Kevin doesn't have
a lot in common with his family. There are few family outings other
than the required Sunday visits to the nearby Lutheran church. His
pretty half sister is a typical Valley girl. Stepmom teaches as a substitute
at public schools. Dad wields a wrench as an auto mechanic for the Los
Angeles sheriff's department and loves country music. He's part of the
System, a very small link in the chain. His hobby is restoring vintage
junkers in the tidy Poulsen garage.
But Kevin's mechanical skills won't manifest themselves for years.
Books are his first love, nonfiction mainly. Biographies. Everything
from Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, to the leg-
endary Harry Houdini. Kevin is amazed by Houdini's feats as an escape
artist and magician, but he's even more intrigued by Houdini's second
career as a debunker of spiritualists and exposer of frauds and charla-
tans. To Kevin, magic is the search for wisdom and justice.
"RADIO SHACK," beckons the plastic sign at the mini mall.
Kevin's adopted parents can't provide the one thing he desires above
all else. He walks into his local techno McDonald's. What he wants is in
back, plugged in, ready to go. He pecks the keys on the clunky Radio
Shack TRS model 80. Trash-So is what the kids call the box, a reel-to-reel
cassette for storage, fat, mushy keys, and a screen like a cheap black-and-
white TV. But the computer speaks!
"HELLO, KEVIN POULSEN."
A crude, synthesized voice, a cheap version of Hal in the movie 2001:
A Space Odyssey. Kevin pecks a few more times, hearing his name over
and over again. Pretty soon the manager is eyeing this kid who won't let
anybody else tryout the hot new toy. He asks him once, twice, then de-
mands he leave. But Kevin just pedals down to the next mini mall. The
itinerant hacker makes his Radio Shack rounds after school, sneaking
spare minutes on the machines, studying the BASIC manual, tapping
out his first tentative programs.
The boy who would one day become America's most feared hacker
must wait, contenting himself with the game kids all over America are
playing. Dungeons & Dragons is taking off, and it's not just any game.
Kevin pores through the lengthy Dungeons & Dragons guide like it's a
Pacific Telephone proprietary manual. It's a system too-just like the
telephone network. Charts and rules are its frames and switches. Fate is
the roll of the dice. The Dungeon Master is Ma Bell,the creator of each
game, scratching out a medieval world on graph paper, drawing a dun-
geon with treasures, dragons, and hidden dangers.
Kevin chooses a character, usually a magician or a thief surviving
through brains, defeating physically stronger adversaries through
spells and arcane powers. He's working to be a wizard, to open doors
magically with a wizard "lock spell," render himself invisible, and even
detect evil. But the principle of "alignment" is what gives D & D teeth.
Characters can have good or evil alignment, respect authority or wel-
come chaos. Kevin always casts his magicians and thieves in the "cha-
otic, evil" alignment mold, a dark philosophy based on freedom, ran-
domness, and woe.
Several times a week, Kevin and Sean challenge each other for hours
on end at Daniel's house; he's a nice kid who goes to school, earns good
grades, and is a very dull Dungeon Master. Sean is just learning to be a
Dungeon Master, but she isn't sure she wants to play like either of her
friends. When Kevin's the Dungeon Master, his world appears a typical
medieval land, more or less copied from the handbook's overwrought
fantasy style. But once Sean and Daniel play, they realize Kevin is no or-
dinary Dungeon Master. Treasure chests explode in their faces. Walls
split, disgorging horrible monsters. The ground opens and Sean and
Daniel tumble into spike-lined pits haunted by hideous monsters.
Whenever Kevin runs the game his dungeons are so elaborate and
treacherous that Sean's or Daniel's characters are doomed to be killed
over and over again.
Why stop at D&D? Kevin soaks up mysticism and the occult, any sys-
tem that promises extraordinary powers.
One day Kevin asks to join Sean and her mother on a trip to the
House of Hermetics, a quirky Hollywood store run by a woman who
claims to be a witch. The woman sells herbs, oils, incense, candles, and
volumes on witchcraft and the occult from her cluttered storefront.
Kevin tags along, buys a few things, and soon is a budding expert on
witchcraft. When the Randols introduce Kevin to an astrologer, he
quickly learns the foundation of the ancient art. Soon, he immerses
himself in the cabala, and talks at length with Sean about the ancient
Jewish tradition of mysticism. Kevin bathes his tiny North Hollywood
bedroom in the eerie glow of dozens of white candles, reading himself
to sleep with the old books and incantations. None of it makes any sense
to his horrified stepmother, Bernadine Poulsen. All she can think is he
must have gotten the crazy idea from that kooky alternative school he
insists on attending.
But Sean is trying to understand him. "I'm adopted, you know,"
Kevin reveals to her one afternoon on the telephone. "And Bernadine's
not my first adopted mother."
No. Sean doesn't know. He tells her almost nothing about his family.
The reception is fuzzy, but this rerun plays all too often in Kevin's
head: memories of Isabelle, his first adopted mother, speaking French
with her daughter, Debbie. And the day Kevin can't forget, the day Isa-
belle sent Kevin and his half sister to the neighbors' to play with their
children. They were both very young.
When they came back, they found their mother dead.
evin knows the hacker code
like he knows his own name, but he also knows that history and reality
are far more complex. Many of the hackers canonized as the leaders of
the personal computer revolution walked a fuzzy line between explora-
tion and crime. Steve Jobsand Steve Wozniak were high-tech pirates be-
fore they founded Apple Computer and amassed fortunes worth hun-
dreds of millions of dollars. In the early seventies, Jobs and Wozniak
read an Esquire article about the notorious Captain Crunch, an ex-Air
Force man who'd discovered that the free toy in a box of the cereal is-
sued the 2,600 hertz tone that controlled the long distance network. But
what intrigued the budding entrepreneurs most was Esquire's descrip-
tion of a blue box, an automated version of the toy whistle that made
stealing phone calls a breeze.
Within weeks, Wozniak had built a digital blue box. Unsatisfied, the
duo sought out Captain Crunch himself, picked up a few tips, and soon
Jobs saw a business opportunity. Wozniak had circuit boards printed,
reducing manufacturing time to an hour a box. They sold dozens of
them at $r 50 a pop, but after a few purchasers threatened to turn them
in, Jobs dropped out of the venture, fearing they might be arrested. He
was right to be concerned. The Captain was caught and fined for his
own blue-boxing, put on three years' probation, and struggled with his
image as a lawbreaker. Phone company traces had divulged Jobs's num-
ber, but he and Wozniak were lucky to escape punishment.
A few years later, they hatched another scheme to cash in on new
technology. They called it Apple Computer.
"I have this way of making free calls anywhere from any phone," Kevin
declares on the phone. "No, it doesn't require using any codes. And it's
not anything illegal."
Stumped, Ron Austin, an older, less experienced phreak, ventures a
guess. It must be hardware. "Soyou've got a red box?" It's a logical expla-
nation, a twist on Wozniak's and Jobs's blue box, only it emits the sound
of coins dropping in a pay phone.
Soon, Ron runs out of guesses and it's trade time.
"OK, you first," suggests master Kevin.
Ron gives Kevin something real and useful-a company's working
internal Watts extender number that will yield dozens of free long dis-
"Now tell me about the free calls."
"OK, you call an operator and make a collect call. Beforethe party an-
swers, after one ring, you click the line and shout, 'Yes,I'll accept!'"
Ron groans. How is it Kevin always manages to have the upper
hand? It's the puzzle that always brings Ron back. What does this
squeaky-voiced trickster really want? Information? Mental combat? Or
simply the joy of the phreak?
Though they met a few months earlier on the Hey Wow! chat line,
Ron couldn't be more different from Kevin. Tall and crowned with a
halo of blond curls, Ron has a girlfriend and a life. He grew up five
blocks from the beach in a modest house on Second Street in Santa
Monica, the son of an engineer who escaped from Lithuania during
World War II. Ron is a loner, a surfer dude, but he's got a brain. Too
smart for Santa Monica High, Ron is into phones because they're a chal-
lenge, because he loves solving problems.
Kevin too, loves to problem solve and outsmart adults. One day,
Kevin uncovers an ingenious method to turn a flaw in L.A.'s few re-
maining electromechanical Step-by-Step switches into free conference
lines. The intricate plan requires finding obscure disconnected num-
bers and social engineering framemen into physically adjusting the
contacts. Soon Kevin and Ron have built their own little Ma Bell tele-
phone empire, chat lines with not two but six or seven incoming lines,
so many free lines that, like merry Robin Hoods, they generously share
them with other phreaks. They're practicing the hacker ethic, provid-
ing a service, sharing access that they believe should be free.
They keep a few disconnects to themselves, especially the handful
that end in internal phone company numbers. That way, if a phone
company employee questions Kevin's identity and demands a callback
number, Kevin simply offers one of his working numbers. It never fails.
One afternoon, Kevin, Ron, and another friend get a call they've
been hoping for.
"Cedros," welcomes Kevin, adopting the name of the central office
the caller thinks he dialed.
"Hi, this is Charley," says the lineman. "I've got a problem with cable
two, pair ninety-nine. Could you listen to it?"
"Hold on," snaps Kevin, pausing for a minute, all the while biting his
tongue to keep from laughing. "Nope. No tone."
"Damn!" swears the lineman. "Let me try one thing more ... OK.
Could you try it again?"
Kevin waits another minute. "Nope. No tone."
"Shoot. 0 K. I'll check something else and call you back."
When Charley phones back, Kevin's friend quickly dials the real
frame room on three-way and patches Charley through while the three
"Hi, can I talk to Kevin?" asks Charley.
"There's no Kevin here," responds the real Cedros frameman.
"What do you mean? I just talked to Kevin! He checked some pairs
"Look, I'm the only one here."
"All right, I need a pair shoed. SAS shoes."
"SAS shoes?" repeats the stumped frameman. "Never heard of
"I'll bet Kevin knows what SAS shoes are. Forget it. I'll call back later
and get Kevin to put them up for me."
But Charley's wrong. Even Kevin Poulsen, teeth bound with braces,
fluent in switches and frames, has no idea what SAS shoes are. At the
time, it seems a little thing. Kevin's got plenty of time. Kevin knows no
telephone secret is safe. He's fourteen. Only a few years stand between
Kevin and the ultimate phreak. The power to wiretap.
One morning, when his high school English teacher isn't looking,
Kevin pencils another name into her roll sheet. The class is so large and
the teacher so harried that at first she doesn't even notice. Kevin writes
his story, then he writes another one for his double. What could be
more creative in a creative writing class? He reinvents himself, pushing
himself to develop a different style and voice. But being two students in
the same class is pretty demanding. Kevin is juggling, trying to keep his
own alter ego up in the air. He's fifteen years old, and he's already experi-
menting with his first alias.
On his sixteenth birthday, a few months before Kevin drops out of
high school, his parents finally buy him a two-hundred-dollar TRS-80
Radio Shack computer and a modem. There isn't much Kevin can do on
a Trash-So. He can read the manual and write little logic programs, but
after he's done that a few times it's pretty boring. The one thing the plas-
tic and silicon contraption is good for, it turns out, is to connect via mo-
dem to other pieces of plastic and silicon.
He dials the computer bulletin boards cropping up all over the na-
tion. Most of them, like their chat line predecessors, are mundane, car-
rying practical computer tips. But then there are the outlaw boards,
lorded over by The Cracko, Napoleon Bonaparte, or The Dark Lord.
They'll laugh if he calls himself something weenie like "Kevin from
North Hollywood." Or worse yet, banish him from some prized system.
Phreaking free calls isn't the game anymore. On the nets, well past
the midnight hour, the old game of Dungeons & Dragons is turning
digital-and real. It's time for a change of identity, an electronic make-
over, a handle with attitude.
"Login?" prompts Kevin's screen.
He scratches his head. Nothing comes to mind so he wanders
through the house. His parents have a library of classics, from Shake-
speare to Milton. Up on the bookcase is the volume he just read, Dante's
Kevin returns to his computer, types in Dante, and hits return. "In-
valid log in," complains the screen.
Kevin tries it again, and again. Finally, a message appears. A bulletin
board operator, offering a phone number for Kevin to call.
"It needs a first name," explains the operator.
"I just want 'Dante,''' Kevin stubbornly insists.
"Sorry, it won't work."
Kevin thinks for a minute and can't come up with anything. He asks
for suggestions, and after a couple of duds, they've got one that Kevin
"How about Dark Dante?"
In the spring of r983, WarGames hits the L.A. multiplex theaters, a
blockbuster computer hacker movie starring Matthew Broderick and
teen heartthrob Ally Sheedy. Suddenly computer hacking is cool. Up on
the silver screen, a star is portraying a role Kevin dreams of living. And
what about the law? Broderick's good deeds far outweigh the laws he
breaks, and anyway, he's too young to go to jail. Shortly after the
movie's release, Kevin confides to Sean Randol that the movie is pretty
cool. And he really likes Ally Sheedy.
Broderick andSheedy arealone in hisbedroom. Hewarnsheragainst touching
thekeyboard, but herfingertips can't resist touching the numbers onthescreen.
He's instructed hiscomputer todialother computers in Sunnyvale, California,
to find a new video gamehefancies.
"What aboutthecost?" Sheedy asks.
"There's ways aroundthat,"hesays with a chuckle.
She warns him aboutwhat happens whenyou breakthelaw.
"Only ifyou'reovereighteen," cracks Broderick.
Thehackerputsona dazzling display, scoring an access numberfor a bank
and then making plane reservations for two to Paris. Suddenly, the words
"LOG ON" appear.
This time it isn't so easy getting in. After a couple of aborted attempts,
Broderick has an idea. He's looking for a video game. He types"Help Games."
Textflashes across thescreen.
He turns toSheedy and smiles.
AIR TO GROUND ACTIONS
THEATERWIDE TACTICAL WARFARE
THEATERWIDE BIOTOXIC AND CHEMICAL WAR-
GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR
PLAY A GAME?
Invalid account name.
Invalid account name.
Dark Dante types in vain. Cax, the computer he's trying to crack at
UCLA, is proving stubborn. It's the summer of 1983, and he's tried all
the obvious account names. What about the University of California at
He punches in the initials "UCB,"and the screen flashes a full menu
of options. This is it! Kevin can fly inside the Net-just like in War-
Games-and roam the real-life Dungeons & Dragons of nuclear games:
Lawrence Livermore Labs, Los Alamos, White Sands, and the Ballistics
Research Lab. He jets into UCLA's data banks and finds there's nothing
to stop him from surfing others.
And Kevin can always dupe Ron out of information too. Ron,
though still a neophyte, has learned of ABERTAC, a toll-free Arpanet
dial-up located at a Chesapeake Bay Army base. Dark Dante wants to
trade. To make his bartering chip seem more valuable, Dark Dante casts
a spell on the "UCB" account, changing the password to a nearly un-
breakable random series ofletters and numbers. And finally, to greet his
fellow hacker, once he cracks the password, the old Dungeon Master
plants the seminal line from WarGames, when the deadly computer
welcomes the young hacker to a dance with nuclear war.
GREETINGS, PROFESSOR FALKEN.
SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?
Kevin Poulsen is only seventeen, but he's already toying with the fu-
ture, experimenting with a phenomenon that most of the world won't
glimpse for a decade. He doesn't know it, but the roots of the computer
network he's exploring go back to U.S. Defense Department R&D. In the
late 1960s, ARPA, the department's Advanced Research Projects
Agency, oversaw the development of spooky, futuristic weapons.
ARP A officials figured America might make better bombs if the agents
of the nation's military establishment could all tune in to the same
cable channel. They called it the Arpanet, a giant electronic chat line, a
massive computer network that strung together hundreds of military
facilities, universities, think tanks, and defense contractors throughout
the world. The Net, as the hip call it, is a new dimension, a new mode of
communicating, as revolutionary as the telephone. In a few years
they'll call it the Internet.
Everything is a game to Kevin, including his manipulation of Ron. On-
line, Ron complains that the Dungeon Master is intentionally trying to
keep him in the dark:
RON: WHAT IS THE KEY FOR THIS FILE?
RON: AND I WAS SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT?
KEVIN: OF COURSE ISN'T IT OBVIOUS? WHO WOULDN'T
RON: AND THAT'S WHY YOU LOGGED OFF IMMEDIATELY
AFTER SENDING IT?
KEVIN: I WANTED TO WATCH THE REST OF BARNEY
MILLER. WE ALL HAVE TO KEEP OUR PRIORITIES
Ron thought things would cool down once he and Kevin graduated
from phreaking to computer hacking. Kevin appears cooperative, freely
volunteering half of the access commands of some new system, and
then, abruptly, in midsentence, drops off-line.
"You know, 'Zaphod,''' Kevin teases Ron later in a telephone call. "It's
that character in TheHitchhiker's Guide totheGalaxy, Zaphod Bebblevax."
Attitude. It's Kevin's hacker style, and Ron finds it contagious. He
too can be sneaky.
KEVIN: WHY ARE YOU USING BETTY?
RON: I CAN'T TELL YOU.
KEVIN: COME ON. WHY ARE YOU USING BETTY?
RON: I CAN'T TELL YOU. LET'S NOT TALK ABOUT THAT.
WHY DO YOU GIVE ME BULLSHIT KEYS (ZAPHOD)
Ron is fighting back. He's consumed a manual for the Unix operating
system, the cryptic language of the Net. He's staking out new territories,
amassing new accounts. On August 30, at 8:54 P.M., Ron commandeers a
UCLA account and remotely logs into the Naval Research Laboratories
in San Diego. Ron changes the password to "Zeppelin" and opens an op-
erating manual file for the navigation system of an A-70 attack aircraft.
Three days later, at 4:II A.M., Ron reads a file titled "Fiscal Year '84, Fi-
nancial Status," listing programs currently under development at
"NRL." Ron finds it all intriguing. How many kids know what million-
dollar war toys the Navy plans to buy next year?
Why would someone be logged in as U CB?
Dave Dalva, a UCLA grad student, is reading his e-mail when he no-
tices the strange password and even stranger activity. UCB is examin-
PLAY A GAME?
ing a file that lists all the users on the system. Dalva dashes off a message
to the system administrator, and within days, he finds half a dozen com-
promised UCLA computer accounts.
There's a new mood on the Net. WarGames has just warned the
world that computers are vulnerable to attack. Computers are con-
nected to the establishment, to the military-even to the missiles. Dr.
Terry Gray, director of UCLA's Computer Center, does what comes
naturally to a seasoned Dungeon Master. If the hackers wish to visit his
dungeon, then let them come. He'll be ready. Gray's best and brightest
grad students eagerly join the hunt, hacking out the secret code for the
On August 2, 1983, the game imperceptibly changes. When the
hackers return that evening, they don't notice the invisible trap laid by
UCLA's supreme Dungeon Master. They can still seize accounts, pe-
ruse private material, and "chat" about their exploits. They can still
KEVIN: WHO IS THIS?
RON: RON. RONALD MARK AUSTIN 396-8836 244 SEC-
KEVIN: DON'T BE STUPID. YOU WERE JUST BETTY, RIGHT?
KEVIN: WHY WAS OSHER ON AT THE SAME TIME, ON AN-
Ron sits in his darkened bedroom, bathed in the eerie glow of his Texas
Instruments computer. His parents are fast asleep. It's 3 A.M., September
19,1983. Classes are already in full swing at UCLA.
But the sophomore physics major isn't studying particle physics,
wave physics, magnetism, or even computer science. Super-users are
his new target, the one or two systems administrators with "root" privi-
leges on a major computer system. Super-users with root powers can
wipe out files en masse, delete entire disks-or in Ron's case, wreak a
little revenge, say change the password of one of Kevin's seized ac-
counts to Zaphod.
Throwing names at a system doesn't work with the random pass-
words chosen by super-users. Instead, Ron tricks the system into reveal-
ing its hand. His trap is named after the mythological Trojan horse, and
operates in much the same fashion. Ron buries the Trojan horse pro-
gram in the directory of a target computer. Each time someone logs in,
the Trojan horse invisibly sucks up his or her password, and then allows
the normal log-on routine to continue.
That September night, Ron Arpanets to a Stanford University com-
puter known as Shasta, finds an account for "Jim Miller" that's never
been used (and therefore has no password), and transfers his Trojan
horse into the operating system. Ron can sleep now. The Trojan horse
will work steadily through the night, depositing any captured pass-
words into Miller's account.
Brian Reid, a Stanford professor of electrical engineering, notices his
log-on is slow. Later that morning, one of his grad students tells him
why-a phony "set terminal" has been planted in the local directory.
That afternoon, "Miller" returns, unaware that he has been traced to
Indiana's Purdue University by a program Reid and his staff have writ-
ten. Purdue faculty members complete the gumshoe work, tracing
Miller's initial Arpanet entry to an access node a couple of football fields
from Reid's office. Purdue was simply a guise, a detour to cover the
"Miller" returns the following afternoon to find his trap empty, and
hastily departs. Reid seals Shasta off from the Arpanet. He memos cam-
pus users that the machine-though disconnected from the Net-will
But wait! Somehow "Miller" is back in. Reid anxiously traces the net-
work connections. Miller has hacked into a computer in an adjoining
building and leapfrogged over the campus network to Shasta. Time to
pull Miller's plug again. He hits the kill command.
PLAY A GAME?
Reid is about to call it a night when he sees it on his terminal.
Miller is back.
Kevin is exploring UCLA's computers the evening of September 21,
1983, but the systems are responding like a car that has lost its power
steering. Kevin knows it can't be explained by simple heavy use.
"Something's up," he warns Ron on the phone.
Yeah, tell me about it, Ron thinks. He jumps to another UCLA com-
puter, and there's the same guy signed on-somebody he's never heard
of-Doug Trainor. Is there a Doug Trainor on every computer, or is this
guy on his trail?
RON: HEY, IS THERE SOME SORT OF MANHUNT UNDER-
T R A I NOR: I'LL GET BACK TO YOU.
There's still time. Grab his on-line bag of hacker's magic tricks crammed
with Arpanet passwords. Ditch it in the Net thousands of miles from
But Ron is tired. He's just getting carried away by his imagination.
Who really cares about a teenager hacking a few harmless Arpanet ac-
counts? He plants a few Trojan horses on some UC Berkeley computers
and crashes early-a good three hours before dawn.
Kevin isn't so easily mollified. He tries to engage someone in chat
mode on UCLA's computers, hoping to puzzle out what's up, but like
the individual who tailed Ron, this guy isn't providing answers. Kevin
WELL, GOT TO SIGN OFF NOW, THE FBI'S KNOCKING AT MY
· NETWORK NEWS
he time is a little before 7 A.M. on
September 22, 1983. Lieutenant Duane Trump of the Los Angeles dis-
trict attorney's office pulls up outside a single-story stucco house on
Second Street in Santa Monica and raps on the door.
The door opens and Mrs. Austin appears in a nightgown. There's
quite a crowd outside. Trump has brought along a fellow D .A. investi-
gator, a couple of UCLA campus cops, and an FBI agent. Her son, the
one they came to talk to, is fast asleep. Trump leads the way to the room.
He wades through the mess--dirty clothes, a Frisbee, roller skates, a ste-
reo, and a tennis racket, stuff you'd find in any teenager's bedroom, and
then something still novel at the time: a small personal computer and
modem. Trump, a tall, square-jawed man with a linebacker's build,
gives the boy a shake.
"What's going on?" grumbles Ron, as he lies in bed rubbing the sleep
from his eyes, and peering up at four big guys that look an awful lot like
Trump sits Ron down at the kitchen table and asks him how he
turned an ordinary personal computer and modem into a summer ad-
venture. Trump finds Ron abrasive and defensive, but soon he has the
boy describing the technical feats he's learned from his even younger
friend. Ron has no idea that he's recounting his story to someone who
already knows much more than he could imagine. Ron and Kevin had
thought they were invisible, slipping into UCLA's dungeons through
other Arpanet sites, never leaving a clue to their true origins. But the
hackers' exploits had attracted the attention of the FBI. Reid at Stanford
had called in the Bureau and convinced them to trace "Miller's" calls.
When the phone company bungled the trace, UCLA's Terry Gray and
his team of hackers ultimately proved the more skilled Dungeon Mas-
ters. Gray's boys deftly recoded UCLA's computers to print out every
word the hackers typed on-line. In August, after weeks of playing cat
and mouse with Kevin, Ron made the fatal mistake of mentioning his
parents' address on-line. Campus cops called the D.A.'s officeand seized
the phone records of Ron and then Kevin.
That late-September morning, as Ron talks to Lieutenant Trump in
the kitchen, the other investigators and the G-man carefully log the evi-
dence they are confiscating. There's the Texas Instruments home com-
puter Ron's parents gave him a few months before, a standard black
GTE phone, a Vic modem. But it's the files and printouts they really
want: dozens of printouts and hand-scrawled notes listing the phone
numbers of Arpanet sites around the country, manuals and articles
strewn around the room, excerpts from Cheating at Cards, Credit Card
Fraud, and a Newsweek article, "Beware,Hackers at Play."
Tucked under a loose piece of carpet in Ron's crowded closet, the in-
vestigators find something they didn't expect: a manila envelope with
round-trip airplane tickets to New York and London. A few feet away,
hidden under the carpet at the foot of the bed, they turn up eight crisp
hundred-dollar bills. Within days,Trump learns the tickets had been or-
dered on someone else's MasterCard and delivered to a ghost mailbox
for which there was no corresponding apartment.
At nearly the same moment Trump searches Ron's bedroom, three men
approach the front porch of the little yellow house in North Hollywood
and step under the sign that reads "The Poulsens.'
"Kevin, there's some people here to see you."
Kevin hears his mother's gentle knock and then rolls over.
"KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK."
"Open up, Kevin!" a man yells. "It's the D.A. 's office."
Terry Atchley, a wiry, chain-smoking PacificTelephone investigator
with wide brown eyes and slicked, wavy hair, takes in the skinny, awk-
ward boy in pajamas and braces. Atchley has seen his kind before. He's
worked cases against the legendary Kevin Mitnick, as well as "Roscoe,"
Susan Thunder, and several other L.A. phreaks and hackers. He likes
his work, and he's good at it. But he knows Pac Tel and the D.A.'s office
have got a problem. The kid looks even younger than usual, and
Atchley soon learns his suspicion is correct. They'll have to throw this
one back-at seventeen Kevin doesn't measure up for prosecution.
But just because they can't bust him doesn't mean they can't shake
him up good. Atchley and the investigators box up Kevin's collection of
Pac Tel manuals, printouts, cassette tapes, and the Radio Shack com-
puter his parents gave him on his sixteenth birthday. One investigator
asks Kevin what interests him besides computers.
"Is there anything else?"
Kevin and Ron may be the first to hack the Internet, but they're also part
of a larger trend, a nation's youth challenging the powers that be. By
the summer and fall of 1983, the nation's headlines ring with dramatic
tales of teen hacker attacks on the nation's computers. The 414 gang,
named for their area code, cracks the computers of the Memorial Sloan-
Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and from the pages of Time
a doctor warns that the young mischief makers could have seriously
hurt someone. But the attack reveals as much about the establishment
as it does about the hackers. The respected New York hospital admits
that it has virtually no security to protect its computerized patient
records or treatment programs.
In the wake of the attacks, Time and other publications ask whether
the nation is becoming dangerously dependent on computers. It's a
valid question and the answer is troubling. The hard, tedious work of se-
curity hasn't kept pace with the rapid, expansive new use of computers.
Technology is making it easier to access information, but it is also mak-
ing it easier to cripple phone networks and power grids, to steal money
and intellectual property, and to threaten national security.
Never before has so much of society's wealth been so vulnerable.
The electronic priesthood's monopoly over access has disappeared, and
so has that simpler, safer era. While past generations locked away their
nation's jewels in offices, filing cabinets, or secure giant computers, in
the r980s networked computers run everything from banks, air traffic
control, and the space shuttle to perhaps, one day, Reagan's Star Wars.
Now a kid might prove that maybe, just maybe, we should think twice
about putting so much power in something as intangible as software.
Time magazine speaks of a dramatic "war of nerves" waged between
the feds and "thousands of teenagers" abusing federal networks-a fed-
eral "crackdown" no less serious than the war on drugs. Phone taps and
electronic "sting" operations are used to "trap" the suspects. And
though some worry the government's heavy-handed tactics risk turn-
ing the kids into heroes, others warn that apocalypse may be just
around the comer. Adam Osborne, chairman of Osborne Computer
Corp., the first portable computer company, tells Newsweek that it's
only a matter of time before a disaster strikes the financial world. "If this
is what kids can do on a lark," he says,"can you imagine what people are
doing who are serious about this?"
Early on the morning of November 2,1983, Trump and his compatriots
from the D.A.'s office make a surprise return visit to Ron's bedroom,
read him his rights, handcuff him, and drive him to the Los Angeles
Ron's head is spinning. The jail is so overcrowded that he shares a
windowless twenty-by-twenty-foot room with two dozen hardened
criminals. A sheriff's deputy comes to see him in the afternoon.
"There's press people to see you."
"Oh, this is getting a whole lot of publicity. It's in today's papers."
Just then, Ron notices another deputy reading what appears to be
the Los Angeles Times and looking at a photograph.
"Hey, this is you here!" exclaims the deputy.
"Yeah, that's me."
The deputy brightens. He shares something in common with the ce-
lebrity hacker. "You know, I went to UCLA too!"
Ron's accommodations immediately improve once they realize he's
important enough to make the front page of the Times. They transfer
him to Highpower, where his cell adjoins that of Angelo Buono [r., the
legendary Hillside Strangler, convicted earlier in the week of torturing
and sexually assaulting an eighteen-year-old girl before strangling her
Ron wonders where Kevin is right about now.
"Super Computer Caper: War Games II or Simple Fraud?" blasts the Los
Angeles Herald's banner headline. England, Japan, Spain, Norway. News-
papers around the world are running articles about Ron and Kevin's
hacking spree, and the story appears to have legs. The Herald quotes L.A.
district attorney Robert Philobosian saying Austin cracked "sensitive
records" and may be facing a six-year jail term. The Los Angeles Times
publishes articles three days running, and Ron even earns a mention on
network news. He owes his newfound celebrity to the D.A.'spress con-
ference. There's a war going on and the bad guys are America's brainy
teens. Philobosian lays out the contents of Austin's bedroom like the
evidence of a sinister conspiracy. Even Ron's black-and-white TV is
included as potential evidence of the crime.
News trucks and camera cables clog Second Street in Santa Monica.
Television newscasters and reporters for national papers jostle for posi-
tion outside Ron's home, pestering his parents for interviews. But a few
in the press sense that a tremendous error has been made, that the
authorities have arrested the wrong man. UCLA's Dave Dalva, one of
the student investigators, bluntly volunteers to the Los Angeles Herald,
"The juvenile [looked like] the smart one."
· GOOD FELLAS
'm with Tom Hayden's office,"
says the slender, well-dressed blond woman standing at Ron's front
door. "He thinks you're getting a raw deal. He'd like to talk to you."
Out on a $2,000 bail bond put up by his parents, Ron makes the trip
alone in his Mustang to the posh house Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda
share in north Santa Monica. Hayden, the famous sixties activist, is
Ron's local state assemblyman. The maid opens the big oak door. "I
don't think you've done anything that serious," volunteers Hayden, tak-
ing Ron by the shoulder and thrusting him into a crazy scene. Enor-
mous, woolly dogs tear about the sprawling house, at each bound
threatening to upend a lamp or an antique. Ron takes refuge in a chair.
"You know I've been in trouble with the law myself once," the cele-
brated left-wing politico confides in the young hacker. "Everhear of the
Chicago Seven?" Ron shakes his head, and Hayden tells how he, Abbie
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and other antiwar crusaders were harassed after
they disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention. "Ron, I think they're
trying to do the same to you. They're looking for a scapegoat. You're go-
ing to get railroaded."
But Ron is distracted. Jane Fonda is coming down the stairs. He's
seen her before in a wet suit at the beach, never actually surfing, just
holding her board and gazing out at the waves. Tonight, she's dressed in
jeans and a sweater, looking even better than she does in her movies.
She smiles but doesn't introduce herself as Hayden continues.
"They're going to try to turn it into something bigger than it really is!
You weren't hacking for money, it was an attempt to learn!" Ron is
about to agree, but the Santa Monica assemblyman doesn't give him the
time. "There was nothing to read on their computer files! That $200,000
damage charge, that was ridiculous!"
Ron nods in agreement. A dog spins a vase like a bowling pin. "If I
can help with your legal defense just let me know," Hayden promises.
"Let's see, who else might be good on this," he begins, rattling off names
of state and national politicians.
Throughout the rambling monologue, Jane Fonda sits across the
table, wearing a sympathetic face. "Would you like some tea?"
Kevin's seen the pitch on TV. Control DataInstitute, high-paying careers in
computers andprogramming! Enroll inourtechnical courses, andyou'reguar-
anteed a jobin theexciting, new computer industry!
Soon after being raided by the district attorney, Kevin decides to
clean up his act. He dials the 800 number displayed on the screen,
makes an appointment, and drives to the nearby office to take the apti-
tude test with a roomful of hopeful potential students.
When Kevin aces the deductive and inductive logic test, Control
Data is thrilled. His test scores indicate he's perfect for a career in pro-
gramming. But they have one question.
"Kevin, what kind of formal, higher education do you have?"
"Well, I went to a junior college for a few months."
Suddenly, Control Data Institute reverses its spin. "How about our
computer operator class, Kevin?"
It's the option generally offered to those who score poorly.
"But I want to be a programmer."
"We understand that, Kevin. The problem is you don't have enough
post-high school education for our programming class."
Kevin thinks about mentioning his advanced fieldwork, but decides
to keep it to himself. Hacking the Arpanet and having his computer
seized by the D.A. probably wouldn't impress the folks at Control Data.
"But you just said I was perfect for a career in programming."
"Well, you know about our money-back guarantee. Once you've
graduated, if for any reason you can't find a programming job, we re-
fund your tuition. Without college experience, Kevin, we wouldn't be
able to offer you that guarantee."
But the hacker is thinking fast. "I'd be willing to waive that guaran-
tee," Kevin generously offers, neatly solving the logic problem.
''I'm afraid we couldn't do that. It would mess up our statistics."
Control Data Institute may not be in the stars for Kevin, but someone
else is watching out for the young hacker.
"Table for three, please."
Goodfellow is his name. He leaves his BMW 63Si with the valet and
his $10,000 Grid portable computer locked in the trunk, but he's pack-
ing his clunky cell phone. Geoffrey Goodfellow never goes anywhere
without his cell phone.
Kevin protested the choice of restaurant but Goodfellow insisted.
He never eats anywhere that doesn't take American Express. Tonight
it's Le Petit Moulin in Santa Monica, just a sea breeze away from the
palm-lined Pacific Ocean cliffs.
"A booth, please."
Kevin's quiet, watching, evaluating. Goodfellow is old for a hacker,
around thirty, though he looks twenty-five. He's got a trim build, a
schoolboy's haircut, humorless eyes, and floppy ears. Well-shaven, he
wears a sweater, casual slacks, and brown suede shoes. When he gets
keyed up, he talks fast, like he's speed typing and the keys stick. Some-
times he repeats a word.
Goodfellow's heard how Ron and Kevin hacked SRI, the company
he works for in Silicon Valley. He sees two bright guys he might recruit
who know a little about Unix and the Arpanet. Goodfellow's famous for
tracking down that kind of talent.
"The wine list, please."
Goodfellow positions his Motorola "Brick"at the center of the table
like an icon. Kevin and Ron are impressed: Bricks cost about $4,000, and
cell phones are so new even drug dealers aren't using them. "We need a
waiter," Goodfellow grumbles, huffily punching the fat buttons on his
Kevin catches Ron's eye with a questioning smirk. What is Goodfel-
low up to?
"Hello. We're over here in the booth," Goodfellow motions, waving
his Brick above his head in the crowded, white table restaurant. The be-
fuddled maitre d' cranes his neck, looking for the pushy diner.
"Can you get the waiter to step on it?"
After impressing Kevin and Ron with a pager that receives e-mail,
Goodfellow does most of the talking, breaking the ice by describing
how much they have in common. It seems Goodfellow too began as a
hacker, breaking into SRI when he was younger than Kevin. Once in-
side, he e-mailed the system administrator and told him if they gave
him access he would plug in some software and improve the system. It
was a pretty exciting prospect for a sixteen-year-old. SRI did a lot of
military projects and groundbreaking work on the Net. They invented
the computer mouse, the optical disk, and the ink-jet printer. A think
tank with branch offices all over the world.
"They invited me over, gave me a door key, a building pass, and an
account, and said, figure out how to do it, how to break security," Good-
fellow excitedly tells his dinner companions. "I hung around there for
nine months. Sat smack in the machine room right next to the central
processor. They needed someone to burp and diaper their mainframe
on the weekend, a system janitor, you know, to mop up the bits.
"So I dropped out of high school. You did too, didn't you, Kevin?"
Kevin nods, and Goodfellow looks pleased. He asks Ron why he
thinks he needs to finish college.
"Because I'll have a better chance of a job when I graduate."
Goodfellow didn't need school and he doesn't see why anyone else
should. His technical accomplishments are numerous, including the
first radio network for transmitting computer data and the first e-mail
pager. He has a high-level security clearance and he's testified before
Congress on telecommunications security and privacy. And he's got
some novel ideas about how to deal with hackers. He believes all they
need is a little attention, a little respect, and a challenging job.
Goodfellow orders wine, an appetizer, a salad, and an entree, while
Kevin and Ron order Cokes and salads. Goodfellow believes no meal is
complete without dessert. If more than one tempts him, he'll order two.
Three is his limit. Goodfellow is devouring creme brulee, while Kevin
and Ron sip their sodas. Apart from their taste in food and Goodfellow's
pricey tech toys, they've got a lot in common. They all share the same
arrogance, wit, and humor. And they've all hacked SRI's computers.
"I've got this theory about hackers," Goodfellow announces. "You
know Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Jedi Knights. Hackers need to be
turned to the good side of the Force. If you guys worked for SRI you
could hack for a living."
Kevin tallies up Goodfellow's toys: the new BMW, the $ro,ooo Grid
portable, the $4,000 Motorola Brick, and the luxury cars Goodfellow
mentioned, among them a rare vintage Jensen Intercepter. Is there
really this much money in legitimate computer hacking?
"You know I'm really proud of you guys," Goodfellow gushes as he
motions for the bill. "Yup,you guys are following right along in my foot-
steps." Then, the patron saint of hackers pulls out one more gizmo he
hasn't shown his young friends. A plain old pocket calculator. "Let's
see," he says, rapping the buttons like a keyboard. "Ron, you owe ... and
Kevin you owe ... "
n 1984, hackers finally get some
good press. Author Steven Levy celebrates the hackers who launched
the computer industry and inspires a national outpouring of hacker
pride with his runaway bestseller, Hackers: Heroes oftheComputer Revolu-
tion. Veteran hackers rise up and protest the bad rap they've been get-
ting from newspapers and the government. Levy reminds the world
that without hackers there would be no Apple Computer, no IBM PC,
no revolution in computing. Embracing the good in hackers, acknowl-
edging the criminal roots of many of the industry's legends, Levy cites
the young protagonist in WarGames as an example of a "Third Genera-
tion hacker who, having no knowledge of the groundbreaking feats of
Stew Nelson or Captain Crunch, broke into computer systems with the
innocent wonder of their Hands-On Imperative." He ends his book rev-
eling in how today's hackers defy authority, their "triumph of the indi-
vidual over the collective dispirit." Levy is giving the kids of the 1980s a
second chance, an opportunity to rise to their noble calling.
Kevin Poulsen, too, is getting a second chance to prove that like Jobs
and Wozniak he merely flirted with illegal hacking. He hasn't been ar-
rested. He's got a chance to go legitimate and create a new, positive iden-
tity. And so one day he shows up unannounced at the home of his child-
hood friend Sean Randol with the exciting news. A big Silicon Valley
company has hired him to work as a computer programmer, and Kevin
couldn't be more proud.
Kevin fills out the questionnaire: his education, every place he's ever
lived, where he's gone on vacations. His answers are shorter than most.
Next, he has a chat with the security officer. After assuring him he's not
a communist, drunkard, drug addict, or homosexual, he's rewarded
with a security clearance.
Dedicated to the Peace and Prosperity of Mankind, reads the sleek
stone monument at the main entrance to SRI's several suburban blocks
of two-story, brick, concrete, and glass 19 50S buildings. Behind the secu-
rity desk at SRI International's Building A, Pentagon-style clocks dis-
play the time in every major city in the world. A large sign lays down the
law: "In accordance with Department of Defense contractual require-
ments ... briefcases, handbags, packages, etc., are subject to inspection."
Every morning just before 8 A.M., he walks straight to Building E,
past the receptionist, down the corridor, and to the glass door he opens
with his key. One flight down, he takes a left turn, past security, fifteen
paces down the K wing, where he smiles at the security camera and
picks up the phone next to the vault.
"I'm going into the Tank."
It's the fall of 1984, and once more Kevin is ahead of the game. Ron
may be facing trial, but Kevin has a security clearance and a job. Good-
fellow arranged for an account for Kevin on the Arpanet via a Navy host
computer, and Kevin proved a fast learner. Perhaps most surprising was
not that Goodfellow got Kevin a job at SRI as a computer operator and
junior system administrator, but that he did it so easily. Top SRI man-
agers, many of whom were internationally recognized experts with
Ph.D.s in computer science, trusted Goodfellow's judgment, and saw no
conflict in hiring a computer hacker and high school dropout to do clas-
sified military computer work. Only Donn Parker, a world renowned
SRI computer security expert and author of numerous books on com-
puter crime, protested Kevin's hiring. Parker had interviewed hundreds
of hackers and computer criminals, and was the nation's most quoted
authority on hackers and computer crime. He didn't believe hackers
could be rehabilitated.
Kevin signs the "0 PEN" side of the sheet hanging on the wall next
to what looks like a bank vault. He knows the combination by heart. He
twirls the dial to the last digits, spins the bars counterclockwise, and
rolls back a massive steel door heavy enough to crush a man.
The chamber. Fluorescent ceiling panels give off the only light. He
repeats the cycle with a second steel vault. Beyond that chamber an-
other padlocked door, the third and final room, a tiny box not much
more than seven feet square. He approaches the locked filing cabinet
and spins the dial to the last combination he has memorized. Inside, he
opens a little box and finds a tiny message like the fortune in a Chinese
The crypto device looks as if it were left over from the Vietnam War.
Circuit boards and electronic gizmos hang in metal racks-six feet tall
and three or four feet wide-with metal sides and a door. Kevin toggles
the panel's switches to prepare the device to load the next key. He opens
the door and pulls out an electronics board with levers that look like
dimmer switches keyed to the alphabet along the side. He flips them up
or down to match the letters of the key. It takes time. There are nearly
thirty letters, thirty levers to slide, and no room for error.
Ten minutes later, Kevin snaps the card back inside and restarts the
Vax 750 minicomputer. The whole setup is called a PLI, or private line
interface, and connects to the Air Force's Strategic Air Command over
the Milnet, a military subnet of the Arpanet. It's all part of a much larger
SRI defense contract funded by the Department of Defense's Advanced
Research Projects Agency.
DARPA wants a network that can truly survive a nuclear attack: dis-
tributed computer databases on planes, in mobile military vehicles, in
ships, on bases. If Arpanet's leased lines are bombed, the mobile packet
radio units can keep the network up and running. "SAC"is how the SRI
staff refers to ARP A order 471 5, "Command Control and Communica-
tions Testbed for the Strategic Air Command." In October of 1984, the
same month Kevin is hired, the Emergency War Order, Nuclear Weap-
ons Report is added to SAC. This is no video game. The crypto device en-
sures that secret, classified files can be sent without danger of intercep-
tion to the Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force base in Omaha,
Nebraska. The rules are clear. Classified data can only be handled in the
SRI's SAC software designers work in the tank room next to the
crypto device. Tomblike, the room is lined with metal to absorb mag-
netic wave emissions from the terminals. Cables and power lines from
the handful of computer terminals are filtered to protect against leak-
age. Crisscrossing copper wires under the floor soak up any straying
emissions. The phones have standard military "cut-off cards" and
"squeeze buttons," making it difficult to use bugs or other means to
eavesdrop. Until Kevin changes the day's key, Offut Air Force base in
Omaha, and other defense contractors on the project, can't "talk clas-
sified" to SRI. And on every third day, Kevin descends to the Tank with
another Defense Department-cleared individual, snaps the lighter kept
there just for the task, and ignites the paper keys in the urn, watching
them curl to ash.
Just as Goodfellow did before him, Kevin is working his way up. He's
been tapped by the Advanced Technology and Development Depart-
ment, a hundred-strong group that routinely garners major computer
and networking defense contracts. Kevin has passed the DOD standard
security clearance background check with flying colors. He has no
criminal record. His renown as a computer hacker is his credential.
Kevin even augments his "secret" level clearance with a COMSEC
cryptography addition by taking a DOD-certified SRI crypto class. His
security briefing covers the dos and don'ts of handling and transporting
secret documents; operating SRI's secure phone; "scrubbing" classified
computer disks; running the DOD program that scatters every byte on
a computer disk to zeros and ones and then shotguns them into a ran-
dom sequence. Kevin signs the pages on the lengthy security manual,
acknowledging that he's read and understood the Department of De-
Kevin finds SRI a big, exciting place to be. SRI appears to have every
amenity imaginable in a high-tech R&D center. A three-story ware-
house nearly a football field long where the company transforms vans
into mobile military computer communication vehicles and fabricates
its own routers and bridges for military networking projects. A machine
shop with an amazing array of mills, lathes, and drill presses. An
industrial-sized satellite dish. A radio physics lab, toxicology lab, and
physical sciences lab. SRI also boasts one of the world's most advanced
lasers. Then there's Building A, where scientists blow things up, and
years later someone will die in a cold fusion experiment gone awry. Add
to the mix a company robot stationed down the hall from Kevin that
acts on spoken commands and delivers or retrieves documents from
around the campus. The robot too is on the Net, tuned in to packet
People aren't meant to stay where Kevin works, hunched on a stool,
eyes inches from the flickering screen, engulfed by two large Vax 750
minicomputers and massive, whirring tape drives. The droning air con-
ditioners keep the temperature a steady sixty-five inside SRI's third-
floor computer room, a high-tech fish tank with a wall of glass peering
out at the corridor. It's just the computers and Kevin-no desk, no par-
tition to personalize, no corner to mark his identity. Apart from his
morning coding routine, Kevin is a glorified computer operator, per-
forming routine backups or "dumps," for an annual salary in the high
teens. Dumps aren't exactly challenging. Line up the tapes, issue the
Unix commands, and wait twenty or more minutes for the files to be
copied. If after ten or fifteen minutes, something malfunctions, Kevin
starts over again. And on top of it, he has to coddle the users, secretaries,
and other novices.
But Kevin is in heaven those first few weeks, wearing his jacket to
avoid catching a chill, guzzling Coca-Colafrom morning till night. SRI
contains everything a hacker could ever want: the latest computers, the
source code to the machines, the manuals. He spends his days and most
of his nights alone in the computer room, except for the dinners he can't
afford with Goodfellow and his friends. Goodfellow rents him a room in
his condo half a block from SRI, and Kevin dives into his new world,
learning everything he can about Unix and programming. That's his
deal with Goodfellow. Hack his way out of the freezer into a program-
Donn Parker of SRI, the revered SRI staff expert on hackers, com-
puter security, and crime, requests a formal interview with Kevin for
one of his research projects. Kevin considers it an honor since the secu-
rity expert only interviews the best hackers and computer criminals,
only those who have gone to jailor achieved a measure of fame. Kevin
feels like a spy coming in from the cold, confessing his Arpanet exploits
to this enormously tall, quiet, bald man whose poker face gives no clue
to his impression of his subject, no clue that he alone considers Kevin's
hiring a terrible mistake.
Kevin is sitting in the tedious weekly system support meeting when his
ears perk up. "Oh, that's another NP A."
Did his boss just mention a familiar old acronym? Did Bob Gilligan
just casually refer to an area code as an NPA, a numbering plan area?
Kevin is stunned by the answer. His boss is a phone phreak.
Kevin would never have guessed. Bob Gilligan was one of the first
people he met at SRI, and Kevin figured Gilligan would help straighten
him out. The tall, blond, well-mannered Gilligan had already spent
three years toiling on military projects at SRI. In his mid-twenties, Gil-
ligan seemed the ideal, responsible boss-polite, receptive, organized,
tidy in appearance and thinking.
But Gilligan, like so many creative members of the computer revo-
lution, had a colorful past. As a boy, the same Esquire article that cap-
tured Wozniak's and Jobs's imagination had inspired Gilligan to
phreak, build blue boxes, and mess with telephones. He blue-boxed his
way into loop-around and conference circuits and chatted it up with
other phreaks, but he was generally well behaved. At the University of
California at Berkeley,Gilligan studied electrical engineering and com-
puters. But what still intrigued and excited him was phones. He'd
phreak international calls, set off alarms in some remote New Mexico
central office, dial all the 800 numbers in Washington, D.C. (there
weren't as many in those days), and scour old Bell System technical
journals in the engineering physics library for secrets. At night, after
studying at the library, like Kevin, he rifled the trash of local central
The more they talk, the more Kevin and Bob learn how much
phreaking they have in common. Soon, the system support segment of
the weekly meeting is dispensed with in a few minutes to make way for
the phone phreak nostalgia hour. They talk 2,600 hertz, whistling off
tandems, loop arounds, Steppers. Bob gets almost emotional about this
stuff. He teases Kevin with tales of the phone switch ESS dial-ups he
toyed with at Berkeley, modem numbers he could dial that landed him
inside the control console of a switch and enabled him to do whatever
Kevin is impressed and full of questions. He knows he's in the right
place. It's what makes SRI great. Got a question, just walk down the
hall. Someone is sure to know the answer. And the person who loans
you the book with all the answers will probably be its author, and more
than likely the world's expert on the subject. So it is that Gilligan brings
in a manual from his phreaking days with the very dial-up commands
he's described, marches Kevin over to an SRI Xerox machine, and cop-
ies it cover to cover.
There's a certain irony in Kevin's boss encouraging him to phreak. Pro-
tected by the campus-like culture of SRI, they're oblivious to the sea
change taking place around them. The federal crackdown is continuing,
and Kevin's mentor, Goodfellow, is finding increasing resistance to his
Just as he did for Kevin, Goodfellow has arranged for Ron to study on
the Arpanet. But when a Navy officer discovers the account, he goes bal-
listic and e-mails Goodfellow: "I trust that RonAustin does notreally have
an account ona Navy machine thatisusedfor security tests with real classified
data. And that he is notactually using that machine as a base to collect infor-
mation onhow to break into other militarysystems."
Goodfellow defends himself, pointing out there shouldn't be secret
or classified data on any Internet host, and argues that Austin is using
the Navy Internet account to study how to write programs, just like an-
other notorious hacker who's turned out fine. "Kevin now hasafull-time
job at SRI . . . He even has a clearance . . . we now have a shining star on the
way tobecoming afirst rate UNIX wizard."
The Navy officer isn't interested in Goodfellow's hacker philosophy
and issues a warning. He's not going to let Navy computers be used for
a hacker rehabilitation program. But the spunky Goodfellow fights
back, standing by his hacker principles. "Ifeel people are unfairly looking
at Ronthru thepejorative label of'bad hacker' ofpastactions. . . . I justifyRon's
access in thesamecategory as my own . . . learning aboutand improving the
computing environment ofourfacilities at zero cost toanyone. Result: Improved
tools and system for everyone. Immediate Past Example: Kevin Poulsen."
But Goodfellow's bosses don't agree and order Goodfellow to cut off
Austin's account immediately. They see a controversial hacker await-
ing a highly publicized trial fooling around on a Navy host computer, a
Department of Defense disaster in the making that could cost them mil-
lions of dollars of lost military contracts. They may sympathize with
Goodfellow's point, but they can't ignore the government crackdown of
the last two years. Kevin Poulsen aside, SRI isn't-at least officially-in
the business of rehabilitating hackers.
At one minute after midnight, Goodfellow reads the depressing e-
mail from his boss on his home terminal. Ironically, he's carrying on
two conversations: one on his computer and the other on the phone
with Ron Austin. Goodfellow's done all he can for the hacker and the
cause, but he's outnumbered. Ron will have to disconnect. He dashes off
a response to his boss, throwing in the towel and ending on a sad note.
"It is really quite sorrowful to see idle cycles go to waste."
evin is back in Los Angeles for
the weekend, taking a little R & Raway from the stress of SRI, squeezing
in a little celebrity surveillance with his old partner in hacking. They sit
patiently in the late-model white Buick Skylark, the air thick with the
smell of hot grease, staring past the lighted Pioneer Chicken sign. The
Buick, borrowed from Kevin's dad, resembles an unmarked cop car.
They've got a clear view of the ordinary suburban home and the movie
star's gray VW Rabbit. When will she come out to play?
Kevin doesn't worry that SRI might consider his behavior inappro-
priate for a rehabilitated hacker. Nor does he think much about how the
company would frown upon his continued association with a cele-
brated hacker awaiting trial. The pull of Los Angeles and the past is
strong on Kevin, and Ron offers something he's missed up north, a
trusted accomplice and appreciative audience, someone who under-
stands his need for adventure.
The whole escapade starts on impulse, because it's possible, because
Kevin knows from her unlisted phone records that she lives in the Val-
ley about a mile from where he grew up. He's read all the articles about
her middle-class past and her sudden rise to stardom. He's just taking
the next step.
They introduced themselves earlier, though she doesn't know it. "Is
Scott there?" Ron asked when she answered the phone.
"There's no Scott here," she said.
"Sorry. Must have dialed the wrong number."
It's a phreak thing, claiming your star by making a wrong-number
call. Kevin repeated the trick, asking for Scott, apologizing, and then
Star surveillance, like bird-watching, requires patience, but Kevin
and Ron are lucky this North Hollywood evening. Before long a woman
and man leave the suburban house and get into the car, and Kevin tails
his suspect. A few minutes later, on Ventura Boulevard, Ron gets a clear
view of the occupants of the Rabbit.
"That's not Molly Ringwald" Ron sighs. "It's just some old lady."
Kevin shoots a look. "Crap."
Then he takes a closer look. "Wait a minute! She's just incognito."
Ron does a double take. "You're right!"
Molly Ringwald is doing her best to disguise herself, wearing spec-
tacles and wrapping her hair in a frumpy spinster's bun. Kevin keeps up
the tail, following Molly to the parking lot of the multiplex at Van Nuys
and Ventura, staying behind her through the crowded ticket line.
The ticket booth cashier is waiting. "Which movie, sir?"
What movie did she choose?
"Yeah, two please."
"To what?" asks the cashier.
"Whatever it's called," blusters Kevin.
"What do you mean?"
"The movie ... the movie SHE bought tickets for."
Molly and her companion take an aisle seat near the front for the
evening showing of Mask. As Kevin takes an aisle seat right behind
Molly, they notice her drape her purse along the back of the adjoining
seat. Kevin's a phreak and a hacker, but there are limits to how far he'll
go. He'd never steal Molly's purse. This is a virtual-reality game, proof of
how a hacker can begin with the most basic on-line intrusion and safely
flirt on the periphery of a celebrity's life.
Madonna and Sean Penn enter, and everybody, including Molly
Ringwald, turns to look. They're in street clothes, but they've come to
perform. They sit in the back, and once the film rolls, the famous couple
begin making out. Half the audience prefers watching them over Cher
up on the silver screen.
"Look, there's Sean Penn and Madonna!" mocks Ron, loud enough
for everybody to hear.
Kevin can't resist joining in the fun. "Don't be ridiculous," Kevin bel-
lows a couple of feet from Molly Ringwald's ear. "No celebrity would
ever come to this theater!"
Kevin's boss, Bob Gilligan, has ordered Kevin to take an SRI field trip.
Palo Alto's last electromechanical central office is giving tours before it
closes its doors forever.
Kevin wanders off from the crowd, down the linoleum-tiled aisles
under the long fluorescent bulbs, glancing up at the endless racks of
brass crossbars and butterfly magnets that click like a thousand me-
chanical crickets. Everything is bigger than life.
"LOOK UP!" read the red letters, a big arrow pointing up. The plas-
tic sign dangles from a great wooden ladder, itself hanging from rails in
the concrete ceiling. How strange, Kevin thinks of the sign, but then he
gets it. The ladders are sixteen feet high. You could easily grab one with-
out noticing somebody on the top rung.
But who needs to climb? The switch envelops him. Row after row of
gadgetry-a two-hundred-foot-long playground, consuming an entire
floor. It's sort of like when he's working in the computer room. But
Kevin is walking through a computer. He can see the moving, mechani-
cal parts, hear the calls switching from one trunk to another, see the
Kevin chats up the old switching supervisor who conducts the tour.
Kevin impresses him with his knowledge and friendliness. He even
knows how Steppers work. "So you figured out the old disconnects?"
the old-timer says with a wry smile.
Soon, Kevin and Gilligan are both sitting in the switchman's office,
listening to the old-timer's Stepper secrets. "Here, let me draw it for
It's better than Kevin could imagine. Not only does the switchman
gladly chat away for a couple of hours, he even sends Kevin away with
a Stepper diagram.
Next stop, the frame room. Cables rise like bamboo out of the con-
crete footings at the base of the massive sixteen-foot frames, wires
sprouting like vines up the steel skeleton in a rainbow of colors, each
pair a phone line, a place, a person, a small link in the Net.
Kevin is talking to Melvin, the frameman. Kevin's done it before, of
course, but always with a computer and modem. And always, always
from the outside. He strides right up to the terminal, flicks his fingers
across the keys and fishes up the record for his boss's home phone num-
ber, displaying the calling features active on his line, his name, service
Kevin smiles at Melvin. "I used to work for the phone company."
On the way out, Gilligan secretly jots down a number next to a mo-
dem in the switch room. It's just like he promised Kevin. A direct dial-
up into the switch. At home, Gilligan dials the switch with his SRI mo-
dem and they watch the cryptic codes flash by on his terminal. Later, at
his apartment, Kevin also dials the switch with his SRI modem and ter-
minal and sits transfixed, watching the messages flow like an electronic
river, telling himself that it's not hacking ifhe just watches, ifhe issues
"They're tearing the old Steppers out of the Palo Alto C01"Gilligan tells
Kevin over the phone.
Finally, a chance to see the oldest switch, a Stepper! Kevin is ecstatic,
but then he reminds himself. He has to sit at his terminal, finish the
"I order you to leave! I'm your boss. You have to go!"
Kevin logs off, scopes the hall for managers, and walks briskly to the
back stairwell. Seconds later, he screeches out of the SRI parking lot in
his Dodge Dart, all the while thinking of the souvenirs Gilligan says he
"scored" earlier, but by the time Kevin pulls up, the workers are gone.
He returns with Gilligan under the cover of night, and when he arrives,
it's almost as if he were invited. Friendly Pac Bell has left a door slightly
ajar. He's afraid at first, and then suddenly the adrenaline kicks in.
Kevin sweeps the flashlight. It's surreal, a huge frame of the switch
abandoned in a bizarre, gigantic still life. A few emergency lights silhou-
ette the looming skeletons of mechanical equipment. The crickets are
silent. Like Pompeii, as though everyone had fled, leaving everything
exactly where it had been-a half-empty ceramic coffee cup, handwrit-
ten maintenance notes, dusty, antiquated teletype machines, and am-
plifiers draped with gray dust covers.
There's even an old recorded announcement machine, a drum less
than a foot in diameter with sixteen magnetic heads for playing up to
sixteen different recordings. Kevin plugs his lineman's test set into the
line and plays his favorite, the one most people will never hear. "We're
sorry, due to a natural catastrophe, your call cannot be completed at this
Through the dim light Kevin sees it-the ultimate souvenir. Nailed
over the doorway it must be forty years old. Hand painted on wood, the
cracked sign says it all.
Gilligan could be a mentor to Kevin. Bright, engaging, he could lead his
impressionable young disciple to a brilliant and productive career in
Silicon Valley. But Gilligan is no Goodfellow, he doesn't have the
benefit of his experience or the wisdom of his years. Technology is
power and Gilligan and Kevin want it no matter the price.
Soon after the late-night Palo Alto tour, Gilligan and Kevin case a
Mountain View CO and notice Pac Bell has again been kind enough to
leave a door ajar. Together, they walk inside, listening to the twitching
brass bars and fluttering magnets of a crossbar switch in full force. But
Gilligan suddenly freezes and makes a run for it. Kevin listens until the
echoes of Gilligan's footfalls on the old linoleum fade. To Kevin the step
he's about to take is small, but in the eyes of the law he's committing
one of the oldest crimes on the books. There's no ambiguity or technol-
ogy to cloud the issue. Kevin is breaking and entering.
He continues down the aisles, walking far enough to see a bookcase.
Could they be Cosmos manuals, some of the secrets of this very real
game ofte1ephone Dungeons & Dragons? Seconds later, Kevin charges
back into the parking lot, clutching an armful of Cosmos manuals, his
heart pumping. Kevin can't believe it. He's finally taken a bold physical
risk to increase his on-line access. Standing there with Gilligan in the
parking lot, still shaking from the excitement of breaking into his first
working central office, the experience overwhelms Kevin. His initial
fear and sense of danger have changed into something pure, a power
that seems to be pumping through his veins. Kevin feels a rush of ex-
hilaration, and it's more than just the manuals. Taking the risk was a
kick, a high like nothing he's ever felt before.
on has high hopes for his trial
in the summer of 1985, but his parents can only afford to pay a defense
attorney for a few days' work, not nearly enough to call and prepare wit-
nesses. His attorney recommends that he waive his right to a jury trial,
thinking Ron might get a fairer shake from a judge than a jury that has
been inundated with hacker stories. But as testimony begins, Ron fears
it's bound to end disastrously. The brief trial turns on the largely un-
challenged testimony of one prosecution witness, aU CLA student, and
Ron finds himself wanting to interrupt his attorney as he seems to play
right into the prosecution's argument that he was a malicious, danger-
Neither the damage claims of $200,000 nor the "sensitive files" cited
by the district attorney are proved, but after closing arguments, the
judge asks, "Is that all?" and promptly finds Ron guilty of twelve counts
of computer fraud. Stunned, Ron writes the judge an angry letter, saying
his crimes have been wildly exaggerated by the media and that he and
his family have already been punished enough. It's not the penitent at-
titude the judge wants to hear. He sternly warns him not to play with
"grade A double sized eggs" and orders him to undergo psychiatric
evaluation at the California Institute for Men in Chino. The psychiatric
evaluation is one hour with a psychiatrist and several weeks of hard
prison time. Ron returns to court, his nose broken in an attack by three
inmates, disgusted by the legal system. The judge orders him to perform
six hundred hours of community service and sentences him to three
years' probation. And throughout the whole ordeal, Kevin never writes
one letter to his old hacker buddy.
"Read the source code! Read the source code! Read the source code!"
Kevin chides the coworkers he's supposed to assist. Noone spoon-fed it
to him. Why should he volunteer anything?
On January 7, 1986, Kevin arrives at work and proudly reads his
name on a list of promotions broadcast on the Net. Kevin Poulsen, all of
twenty years old, is now a junior programmer. Goodfellow couldn't be
more proud. Slowly but surely Kevin is becoming the responsible Unix
"wizard" he always knew he would. Yet for all of Kevin's success, his ba-
sic duties have not changed. Routine backups and coddling users re-
main his responsibility, and he still must descend to the Tank every
three days and change the codes.
Bored with the routine, Kevin phone hacks for his fellow workers to
pass the time, betting coworkers that he can guess what number they're
dialing by just listening to the touch-tones. When he learns that the
same number to call "Time" in LosAngeles has not been assigned in the
BayArea, he convinces a coworker who lives in the correct prefix to or-
der service in the number and then secretly forwards the incoming calls
to his apartment. Kevin buys a Radio Shack talking clock, a couple of re-
lays, and an answering machine. As if on cue, visiting LosAngelinos dial
the local number several times a day, expecting to hear an automated
voice recite the time. Sometimes they get Kevin's talking clock, some-
times they just get Kevin. "The time is-hold on a second. My watch is
a little slow," Kevin jokes. "It's around four. No wait a minute, maybe it's
closer to four-thirty."
Kevin seems to be having trouble growing up. Over the Christmas
holiday, he surprised Sean one night at the Los Angeles restaurant
where she was waitressing and offered her a ride home. She remem-
bered it as a wild, weaving ride around LosAngeles in which she had to
beg Kevin frantically to take her home. Kevin saw it as a perfectly nor-
mal evening, other than his admittedly impulsive and erratic driving.
But on another occasion, Kevin was hardly normal. He dispatched his
sister to the North Hollywood supermarket where Sean was working,
and Debbie Poulsen popped up in the checkout line snapping photos of
the puzzled girl, explaining, "They're for Kevin."
Even Goodfellow's enthusiasm for his young wizard is beginning to
wane. Too often, Kevin's seat at Goodfellow's weekly pricey dinners is
vacant, and when Kevin does show, Goodfellow wonders why he seems
so distracted. One afternoon, Kevin offers Goodfellow a chance to win a
dollar. He bets him he can make one of SRI's pay phones go dead, and
Goodfellow takes him up on the offer.
Kevin promptly lifts the handset to demonstrate it has a dial tone
and then trots down the hall. A couple of minutes later he returns with
Goodfellow wonders what Kevin is up to. Why isn't he working on
his career-working on becoming the president of SRI?
"Now try it."
Goodfellow lifts the handset. The phone is dead.
Kevin isn't playing games anymore. He flips on David Letterman and
methodically practices taking apart the lock on his apartment door.
When he's done he puts it back together. Soon, he doesn't have to take
his eyes off Letterman. It's all in the hands, in the feel.
Kevin has no real friends. He's too shy for girls. He doesn't have the
money or the inclination to go to concerts or clubs. So he spends his eve-
nings getting a feel for locks in his sparsely furnished studio apartment
overlooking a parking lot. Scattered around are a few mismatched SRI
furniture castoffs, lock picks, and a terminal linked to the company's
computers. The bare walls are interrupted by a poster from the David
Bowie movie TheMan Who Fell to Earth and a lonely print of two antique
gas pumps at a beach on a cloudy day, titled "Sea Pumps."
One night, Kevin squeezes the bolt cutters and snaps off the padlock
from the metal gate at the nearby central office. Back at home, Kevin
slices the lock open with a hacksaw. Since Pac Bell makes its own cus-
tom key blanks, Kevin must also modify a standard blank with a fine
grinder, widening grooves, reshaping the edging. Thirty minutes later,
Kevin's handmade blank fits the lock.
Kevin places his new blank in the cylinder, watching the lock's
seven pins push up. He has to shape it so the pins align with the top of
the cylinder. Kevin files the key carefully, then puts it back in to see
where the first pin aligns. He files a little more until it's flush with the
cylinder. Six more pins and Kevin gets lucky. When he returns, the key
also fits the central office front door.
Around midnight a couple of evenings later, Kevin stuffs his back-
pack with his lock pick set, plug spinner, powdered graphite, and latex
surgical gloves and sets out for a ten-minute fire drill beside a dark cen-
tral office door. He slips on the gloves and dabs in a little graphite to
loosen up the tumblers. He likes the physical touch, the fine grains of
graphite, the beads of sweat that tickle his brow. But that's not what he
loves most about picking locks. While his fingers twist the pick, his
mind visualizes the internal workings. It's like phreaking an old Step-
per switch or hacking the Net.
In no time at all Kevin has made or stolen keys to two dozen central
offices along a sixty-mile stretch of the San Francisco Peninsula. He
knows what time the last technicians leave with the night's computer-
ized billing tapes. If Kevin can't pick a lock in a few minutes, he finds a
window left ajar or climbs a drainpipe to enter a rooftop door.
DATE: 29 APR 86 16:02 PDT (TUE)
How do you reslove [sic] yourselfto havingdone something really
Kevin is confessing his sins to the System, admitting the price of nightly
central office crashing. Kevin doesn't return home until two, three,
sometimes four in the morning, and then he can't sleep. He's like a
cartoon-strip character stuck repeating the same ridiculous antics. His
alarm doesn't ring, and he rolls out of bed late and races out the
door. Speeding in his car, he hears the sirens. The guy with the dark
glasses leans toward his window. "Do you know how fast you were
It happens over and over again. Kevin may be an ace hacker and so-
cial engineer but he couldn't talk his way out of a speeding ticket if his
life depended on it. The infractions and court appearances begin piling
up. The penalties double and triple. Soon, his driver's license is sus-
pended. And then it gets worse.
"Hey, Dwight, it's Kevin," he says casually one night on the phone.
Dwight Hare is one of Kevin's mentors at SRI, a skilled senior pro-
grammer with a secret clearance. He likes Kevin, considers him a talent.
"Dwight, I was wondering if you could bail me out?"
"Traffic stuff. I'll tell you about it when you get down here."
"Where are you?"
"Redwood City Jail. Dwight, I need four hundred dollars to make
bail. I'll pay you back tomorrow."
Dwight pauses to think. He doesn't trust Kevin with money.
"Where's your ATM card?"
"It's at home."
Hare bails him out with the ATM card, but Kevin forgot one little
detail. He didn't have the money in the bank to cover the bail and his
outstanding checks. Like the rest of Kevin's life, his finances are spin-
ning out of control. His corporate American Express card and Macy's ac-
count are in collections, the credit union won't approve the loan he
needs to dig himself out, and his boss delivers his last option. Sign a note
with SRI for the amount due, and set up a payment schedule to have
the money deducted from his paycheck.
But the night in jail and mounting debt aren't Kevin's only prob-
lems. His boss e-mails him about being late to key the crypto in the
SUBJECT: LATE KEYING OF THE KG AND ADMINFS SUPPORT
DATE: 08 MAY 86 14:58:00 PDT (THURS)
... therecords show thatyou havebeen consistently late with get-
ting thekey installed you promised thatyou wouldgethere on
timein themorning Thisdoes notappear tobethecase . . .
Kevin feels he's getting a bum rap. He fires back an e-mail, defending
himself, but Kevin's boss's superior simply cites another dissatisfied
SUBJECT: KEYING TIMES
DATE: 27 MAY 86 18:32:33 PDT (TUE)
Here isyet another complaint aboutthekeying times notbeing
metfor yourfile. . . . We cannolonger afford to lose thisvaluable
timewhen theother contractors and/or clients need access to our
. . . Kevin seems unable to manage histimetomeetthis obligation.
It seems veryinconsistent tome thatheissoconscientious about the
security issues in thevault but chooses toignore thesecurity [timing]
requirements associated with thePII. . . . Thishas tochange imme-
DATE: 08 JUL 86 14:34:34 PDT (TUE)
Though it seems a puzzle, Kevin's memo to himself provides a clue to
his future. Kevin has just finished reading The Shockwave Rider; a sci-fi
tome that reads like a futuristic version of his life. The Shockwave Rider
is sold by his mother as a "rent-a-child" until he's finally "requisitioned"
by the Secretary of Defense and packed off to a bizarre behavioral center
for "bright, deprived kids" to undergo unconventional, accelerated
learning. He never lets himself "become deeply engaged in anything. It
would be dangerous, as dangerous as coming to love somebody."
One day the Shockwave Rider does the unthinkable-he punches a
new identity into the Net from a phone to become the person he
chooses to be "instead of the person remembered by the computers." He
cycles through personae as if he's changing clothes: utopia designer,
gambler, computer-sabotage consultant, systems rationalizer. Kevin
too seems to have half a dozen personae. Just as Kevin keys memos to
himself on the Net, the Shockwave Rider updates his brain banks with
"memos to selves." And Locke is the Shockwave Rider's alias.
In Kevin's mind, the System forces him to take a radical, illegal step
to resolve the problem of his suspended license. Oblivious to the conse-
quences of his actions, like a child playing in a grown-up world, Kevin
doesn't see that his games have graduated from harmless phone pranks
to picking locks and compulsive, nightly Pac Bell break-ins. And why
should he? Until now, Kevin's virtual world has held him in good stead.
His on-line crimes have won him a job, his boss has encouraged his
phreaking, and he's more or less managed to separate his nighttime ob-
sessions from his daytime duties.
In a strange sense, Kevin's lack of self-knowledge may be an advan-
tage in the journey he's about to take. The hacker is preparing to take
his fantasy role-playing to another level, readying himself for the ulti-
mate cyberpunk magic trick. Kevin starts with his own birth certificate,
ordering a photostat at a print shop and obliterating all the pertinent in-
formation and names, including his own, with a black felt tip photostat
pen. Ironically, his original birth certificate is incomplete. Birth cer-
tificates for adopted children are reissued after adoption, with the new
parents' names typed in but the signatures missing. Kevin is going to
make his fake certificate look more authentic than his real one.
He slides the photostat into an old-fashioned typewriter and types
in his new name and new birthdate using white correction tape. Then
he places the correction tape across the document and signs for his new
parents. He makes ten copies of the photostat on high-quality, thick
bond paper, neatly cutting them to size. He soaks one for a few minutes
in Lipton tea for a faded, twenty-year-old look.
Next, he visits a print shop to get it embossed with a phony Califor-
nia state seal. The first place sends him packing, the second store makes
him a seal-no questions asked. The Department of Health stamp is a
little tougher. First, he copies the back side of his birth certificate, then
he finds a shop that doesn't ask questions. Twenty dollars later he's got
Kevin is proud of the finished, authentic-looking product. He's
thought everything through, right down to modeling his new identity
after his past in case he's ever questioned. Kevin Alexander Locke was
born at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and raised in Van
Nuys. His father, John Norman Locke, was a schoolteacher just like his
Kevin gets knocked a few points for excessive speed but passes his
driver's test easily. The DMV clerk hands him a temporary license in
the name of Kevin Alexander Locke, one blue-eyed, brown-haired, five-
eight, I 30-pound male. Kevin's permanent license will arrive at his mail
drop in a few weeks. He can drive. He can be whoever he wants to be.
ntercontinental nuclear missiles
wipe out half the nation's major air bases. Nuclear fallout will soon
engulf several more. By the time our bombers limp back home,
where will they be able to land? Which air bases will have spare parts
The date is July 16, 1986. SRI has sent Kevin to man a Sun worksta-
tion at Offut Air Force Basein Omaha, Nebraska, home of the Air Force's
long-range atomic strike force. The first attack lasts forty-five minutes,
the second an hour and a half, the third four hours. NATO dubs the si-
mulcasts "Global Shield." Kevin is living the ultimate hacker dream.
The U.S. military is paying him to play computer war games.
That morning he checks in with the base's military police station to
get his colored pass, and listens to the required security briefing advis-
ing him on the use of red "secret" pouches and computer scrub downs.
The base is enormous: four thousand acres of fields, grassy knolls, and
pavement, punctuated by olive drab buildings and a two-mile-long run-
Kevin's job is simple. Make sure there are no computer glitches dur-
ing the nuclear catastrophe. Keep the systems up and running. On the
Net, SRI emphasizes the computer's ability to make wartime decisions
"much quicker and easier than humans":
Thesystem [involves] three other sites operating on a secure subnet
across the United States. . . . The "Advisorrfunction [notifies] .. . se-
lected command personnel ofaircraft launch activity, aircraft re-
entering theUS, and aircraft redirection caused by events that
disabled destination bases. . . .
Thisis thebeginning ofartificial intelligence in command control
In the past year or so, Kevin has flown to simulations at military bases
in New York,Washington, Texas, and Florida. Sometimes there are ac-
tual planes in the sky or soldiers on the ground, and sometimes it's a
pure simulation. Algorithms compute the immediate damage of inter-
continental nuclear strikes, graphics pinpoint planes, ships: and nu-
clear weapons, while minute by minute, the screens map the ominous
spread of nuclear fallout.
SRI, with Kevin doing his small part for God and Country, is dab-
bling with the prototype of real computer war games. The System
doesn't drop the bombs yet, but this is only the first version of the soft-
ware. Kevin knows he's come a long way from the day when the D.A.
knocked on his door. Among the authors of SRI's 1986 report "Com-
mand Control and Communications Testbed for the Strategic Air Com-
mand" is one Kevin 1. Poulsen. His role in the U.S. military's program
for survivable nuclear war is logical. Who could be better qualified than
a hacker to write the section on security?
Just as Kevin has become a member of the computer security estab-
lishment, federal laws criminalizing hacking have finally come to pass.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 makes it a felony, punish-
able by five years in prison, to access or enter a "federal interest com-
puter without authorization" and obtain "anything of value." Damag-
ing or disabling a nonfederal computer, network, or program is a crime
"Accessdevices" have been rendered illegal too-credit cards, codes,
account numbers, electronic serial numbers, and other keys to money
or valuable services. It's a felony to steal $r,ooo worth of access devices,
or to possess fifteen of them fraudulently. And penalties for access de-
vice or computer fraud offenses can reach as high as twenty years in
Unauthorized computer accessis now considered more serious than
physical breaking and entering. A joyrider who accidentally impedes
the use of a critical computer program could face a sentence of several
years. Law enforcement has new powers in tracking cybercrime too.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act authorizes eavesdropping
on portable phones and certain pagers and requires telephone compa-
nies to hand over subscriber or toll records to the FBI without judicial
review. So deeply is the FBI engaged in electronic surveillance that it is
granted congressional approval to hire independent contractors to in-
There's a war on and the enemies are hackers and digital thieves.
The Secret Service estimates electronic funds fraud exceeds half a bil-
lion dollars a year and the Justice Department acknowledges wide-
spread vulnerabilities. Meanwhile most banks continue to transmit
their customers' secret account numbers over unprotected telephone
lines that USA Today says even a twelve-year-old hacker could tap.
The date is September r o, r986. There's been a hacker break-in at nearby
Stanford University. Excited by the prospect of combatting a real threat,
Kevin e-mails his Stanford counterparts.
Boy, you really haveproblems with crackers overthere.
Could you sendme the details ofthe initial attack? Did they come up
with something new, orjust usean oldbug? Has theL.A. Times
news wiregotten the storyyet?
Kevin has even adopted the lingo of the establishment. He's a hacker,
while the intruder is a common, lowly cracker. In honor of Computer-
Security Week Kevin demands passwords be assigned even on unused
SRI accounts, and inserts code to track failed log-ins. He e-mails his su-
periors and fellow workers, warning that they shouldn't permit users of
one system to have access to all the other SRI systems. He knows the
risk because like any top security expert he's been attacking SRI to pin-
In my opinion thisiseasily ourgreatest vulnerability . . . ourpass-
wordfile is also readily accessible toanyone in theoutside world. . . .
The lasttimeI tried, I thinkit took aboutfive hoursfor a simple
program . . . tocheck a single encrypted password against the
Kevin shifts effortlessly between his selves. One day he works for the
military, the next he hacks for fun. Within days of the Stanford
"cracker" attacks, Ron sees a campaign ad for the "Toxic Water Caravan"
and reads how Jane Fonda and her celebrity pals plan a California bus
tour rally for Proposition 65, the r986 Clean Water Initiative. Kevin is
intrigued when he learns Ally Sheedy has promised an appearance. Af-
ter the phone call to introduce themselves, they bang out business cards
on their computers.
The last weekend in September, Jane and about sixty celebrities pile
into a bus and head north, trailed by a press bus packed with writers
from Time, People, and countless newspapers, a blond photographer, and
"Kevin A. Locke,"a writer/photographer for Health andFitness Magazine.
It's dicey from the outset. When L.A. district attorney Ira Reiner takes
the podium at the press conference to kick off the tour, Ron ducks to
avoid being spotted. The risks are part of the fun. At a party on the Uni-
versal Pictures lot, Ron clicks away as Kevin slips behind Judd Nelson,
Michael J. Fox, Rob Lowe, Roseanna Arquette, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Ron tires of the tour, but Kevin continues without him, riding the
whole four hundred plus miles north to San Francisco, mistakenly
thinking Ally Sheedy will make her promised appearance.
Things aren't going quite so smoothly for Kevin at work. His perfor-
mance review in early October isn't what he expected. Kevin knows
they're wrong. He's proud of his security modifications to SRI's com-
puters and his role in several military projects. His mistake was think-
ing he could work from morning to night, without a personal life. He e-
mails his superiors:
... Unfortunately thissinqle-mindedness took it's toll lateron. I re-
cently discovered that everything thatI had neglected by way ofmy
personal obligations hadsnowballed intoan immense mountain of
problems.... In addition, I've always hadsome trouble sleeping and
my anxiety ledtochronic insomnia. Consequentially, I began hav-
ing more trouble getting towork on timein the morning. Thisim-
pacted my ability tokey the"PLI" security device in a timely man-
ner, and mademe unavailable at times whenI was expected tobe
able to answerquestionsfrom staffmembers. . . .
Any schedule problems Kevin may have had are a thing of the past. And
the critical things his managers say about him simply aren't true. They
say he is not a team player. Not so. Kevin is simply someone who doesn't
The fact is, I rarely encounter a technical problem thatI'm notable
to handle withoutseeking aid. Most ofmy tasks arenoteven close to
the limits ofmy own ability. . . .
In the fall of 1986,Kevin's ex-boss Gilligan returns from a year at Brown
University, and he and Kevin quickly pick up where they left off. Gilli-
gan has taken a job at Sun Microsystems, the high-flying computer
company, just a short, convenient drive from SRI.
It's just like the good old days, when the boss encouraged Kevin's
nightly exploits. Gilligan knows where the keys are. They wait until
midnight, scan the fleet of white pickups, and find one without SRI's
brown logo on the door. Kevin drives the pickup out of SRI's main en-
trance, continues up to the bustling main avenue, El Camino, stops for
gas. and makes a left down San Antonio. Peering through the chain-link
fence, Kevin can't believe his eyes. Scores of defunct 1960s long distance
operator consoles are scattered across the central office parking lot,
bulky metal and plastic slabs used to patch through long distance calls.
They look like control decks off the Starship Enterprise, and Kevin can't
resist hauling one of the three-hundred-pound hulks home.
DATE: 15 OCT 86 10:14:36 PDT (WED)
FROM: KEVIN L. POULSEN
Yesterday was a nightmare. Thefirst thing Joan saidtome was
"you look like you didn't getANY sleep", plussome comment about
my mentalstatethatI can't remember. I had toleave workearlyat
around 2:00, but I didn't want to gotosleep tillnineor ten soI could
getbackin synch. I wound up lyingdown 'justfor a second", and
waking upfour hours later. Then I had togo tobeda couple hours
The old partners in phreaking are back in business. One evening at their
favorite Santa Clara central office, their usual second floor balcony door
entry is locked. Kevin spies a heavy steel grate, wedges it aside, and un-
earths a twenty-foot drop to a six-by-six-foot concrete tomb and what
looks like a door at the bottom. It's too far to jump, but back at the trash
bins Pac Bell has left 50 feet of twenty-five-pair phone cable. Kevin
wraps the colored cable around a nearby tree and tosses it down. He's
played this role before, the thief in Dungeons & Dragons. Hand over
hand down the thick, sinewy cable. Sneakers slap the concrete, twenty
"So ... is it?" Gilligan whispers.
Kevin smiles upward in the dark. The door swings open.
They've got the fever. Three or four crazed nights a week they crash
central offices, examining switches, perusing manuals, taking pass-
words and test trunk sets, collecting discarded Crossbars, once even pry-
ing a pay phone off the wall. When Kevin's not inside Pac Bell's offices,
he boots up his computer, turns on his modem, and roams the phone
company's electronic ordering database-Cosmos, or Computer Sys-
tem for Mainframe Operations. Studying those manuals he swiped has
opened up worlds he didn't know existed. Kevin can do just about any-
thing he wants in Cosmos: start or modify phone service, add or remove
custom calling features, check for lines marked for repair, look up un-
listed numbers. Kevin loves remote call forwarding or RCFs. For kicks,
Kevin bounces calls around the BayArea, trying to see how long a chain
he can create.
Kevin and Gilligan fire e-mail back and forth, trading discoveries
and comparing notes on everything from trunk lines and intricate Pac
Bell calling options to tips on how to apply forty-eight volts to jolt the
relays on their Crossbar switches to life. It's a strange mix of practical
phreaking knowledge and phone trivia, the messages both giddy and
conspiratorial, laced with reminders to call from a secure phone and
bring tennis shoes and Levi's.
Kevin believes his adventures are innocent. This is the phone com-
pany, after all, once the world's biggest monopoly. He can't imagine
how his hobby could possibly threaten such a giant, powerful bureauc-
racy. The phone company is practically invincible. He's just a kid swing-
ing on the giant's shoelaces, going for a ride.
Gilligan lives near the San Francisco Soviet consulate, infamous for its
satellite dish and forest ofrooftop antennae aimed like ICBMs at Sili-
con Valley. One of just three Soviet missions in the United States-the
others are the embassy in Washington and the United Nations-the
consulate is of huge strategic importance to the Soviet Union. The FBI
estimates a third of the thirty-five- to forty-member delegation attached
to the San Francisco consulate are intelligence officers. Against that
cold war backdrop, Gilligan e-mails Kevin about how cool it would be
to get a number similar to the Soviets' and snare some fascinating
wrong numbers. Then Gilligan follows up his message with a note
about how reality seems to have anticipated his fantasy.
SUBJECT: THE FBI
DATE: 28 OCT 86 09:45:38 PST (TUE)
FROM: GILLIGAN@SUN.COM (GILLIGAN GILLIGAN)
It looks like the FBI had thesameidea as I, but earlier. Didyou hear
on thenews about thisguy, aformerAir Force enlisted man, who
was arrested yesterdayfor spying? Well thenewsstories saidthat
hephoned theSoviet embassy in San Francisco and told themthat
hehad some secrets tosell. Unfortunately for thisguy, thenewsstory
went on, theFBI "intercepted histelephone call" and staged a meet-
ing with an undercover agent, who thisguy mistookfor a Soviet.
I wonderwhat kindofarrangement theyhave? The embassy phone
number(922) is definitely in the[central] office that serves thearea
where theembassy islocated. Perhaps theFBI just has thelines run
through theiroffices and always acts as "receptionist"for theSovi-
ets. I wonder what theentryfor that line looks like in Cosmos?
Obsessed, Gilligan drives by the consulate and urgently e-mails Kevin
that all the windows on the first floor aren't windows at all but really
one-way mirrors. But what intrigues Gilligan is how the FBI caught the
spy. Does the FBI screen the Soviets' calls, and if so why wouldn't the So-
viets catch on? Gilligan suggests the hackers find out for themselves.
"I think we should just give them a call and ask whoever answers
who they are-FBI or embassy staff," Gilligan e-mails Kevin. "What do
you say? We could do it on 3-way."
evin arrives just before IO P.M.,
south of Market Street, near San Francisco's financial district, the im-
posing art deco skyscraper rising out of the mist like a vision from
The date is February IS, I987, and Kevin is about to enter territory
that will forever separate him from those who pretend to be warriors of
the electronic age. There's something surreal about the enormity of the
risk he's willing to take. BeforeKevin looms I40 New Montgomery, cor-
porate headquarters for Pacific Bell. He raps lightly against the locked
door and presses his I D to the glass. The guard unlocks the door and
Kevin follows him across the marble floor to the streamlined desk. He's
walked it countless times in his mind.
"G. S. Holt," he signs, writing a random room number into the log
The guard hands back his laminated Pac Bell ID card, the one Gilli-
gan suggested he try. Excited by his success, Kevin rides the elevator to
the sixth floor, stops briefly, and continues to the top floor. He takes in
the city lights and the tiny cars slipping in and out of the fog far below.
Within minutes, Kevin finds an empty office and a phone.
"I'm in," Kevin phones Gilligan. "I'll keep you posted."
Kevin takes his time, methodically casing each floor. On the eigh-
teenth, he notices a door with smoked glass and a chipped sign. Kevin
reads it and muses, Security.
Picking the lock won't be easy, but he quickly sees he won't have to
try. The old-fashioned transom window above the door is unlatched.
Kevin drags over a thick cardboard box, gingerly steps up on it, and
wiggles up and through the opening.
Kevin Poulsen has Pac Bell's corporate security offices all to himself.
He wants to be the best, and what better way than to go to the source?
Walk straight into the guarded, multibillion-dollar headquarters of one
of the world's most technologically advanced phone companies and
find its deepest secrets.
Kevin flips on the lights and gets down to work.
''I'm in security," Kevin updates Gilligan.
"Don't forget to bring back souvenirs," his former boss reminds him.
Kevin has been collecting lots of souvenirs lately. A few weeks before,
during his Christmas break, Kevin hacked Cosmos and ordered an ex-
tension off Sean Randol's phone to be activated at his parents' house on
Teasedale. "Bridge lifter" was the technical term, though secret party
line was more like it. Kevin and his tape recorder became the third, un-
invited party on Sean Randol's calls. He saw nothing wrong with his in-
trusion. As a hacker, Kevin knew that corporations and private detec-
tives frequently violated people's privacy. He didn't see why he
shouldn't too. Besides, Kevin simply had to know for certain. Sean had
told him countless times that she wasn't interested in men, but Kevin
couldn't be satisfied until he could hear the evidence live.
Ironically, Kevin played the wiretap recording for Ron a few nights
later while they were sitting in Kevin's Dodge Dart on Old Victoria Road
in Malibu, waiting to follow Ally Sheedy. As Ron listened to the wiretap,
it was clear that Sean was uninterested in Kevin. Ron heard the two lov-
ers fantasize about living together, and then he and Kevin joked as the
girls described a couple of porno flicks. But to Kevin, the funniest part
was when the line cracked and popped. The girls wondered what it was,
and then Kevin heard Sean Randol say, "It'sprobably Kevin Poulsen listen-
Listening to the wiretap, Ron wondered about that evening's target.
More than the star of WarGames, Ally Sheedy was the sexy girl in black
in The Breakfast Club, a Brat Packer and teen temptress to millions of
American boys. Ron knew that Kevin was obsessed with the star, watch-
ing even her worst films over and over again, religiously hacking her
latest unlisted phone number and address, and often joking to Ron in
the lingo of a B-movie psycho, "I'm going to take this beauty away from
Last summer Kevin had called Ron saying he'd somehow learned
that Sheedy was going to be at a Malibu celebrity nightclub. Ron had
tagged along, figuring it might be amusing. When Kevin pulled up out-
side the club on Trancas Street in West Malibu, Ron realized Kevin had
only told him part of the story. Though they didn't see Sheedy that
night, Kevin spotted her black Jeep next to a market. He parked his car
a ways off, made the trip solo, opening the Jeep's passenger door and
reaching into the glove compartment. A minute later, he was back in
the Dodge Dart with Ron, showing off the vehicle registration he'd sto-
len from Sheedy. Ron had been surprised by the theft. Kevin really was
becoming a stalker.
Scouring Pac Bell's eighteenth-floor security offices, Kevin helps him-
self to a secret Bell Lab security memo and another memo titled, "Com-
promising of Customer and Tel Co." He scans the files on various inves-
tigations, and makes sure to take the one on the notorious phone
phreak Susan Thunder. Next, he picks a file cabinet in an adjacent,
locked office, grabbing a stack of Pac Bell ID blanks, enough to provide
a change of identity for every day of the week.
The phone rings.
"Security," Kevin boldly answers. It's Gilligan, asking what souve-
nirs he's found.
"Hold on," Kevin whispers, crouching down behind a security
officer's desk as he hears keys jingle outside the door. "I can hear the
guard walking by."
The guard doesn't spook Kevin, but huddled behind the desk, whis-
pering to Gilligan, he realizes he may have a problem. He's already col-
lected a thick manila envelope full of documents from his evening's
work. If the guard downstairs notices he didn't come in that night with
the envelope, making a run for it will be out of the question. The front
door is locked.
But on this cool Sunday night, a few minutes before 3 A.M., G. S.Holt
strolls out of the eighteenth-floor security office with the manila enve-
lope tucked under his arm, calmly takes the elevator down to the lobby,
and signs out at the front desk of Pac Bell's corporate headquarters, as if
he's done it a thousand times.
ou know, Kevin," Goodfellow be-
gins, "there's a reason I haven't kept in touch."
The mentor and his disciple are meeting for lunch at a Menlo Park
restaurant. It's been a long time since the two have talked.
"You've been up to some of your old tricks again, Kevin."
Kevin smiles broadly. "OK, I've been going into some phone com-
Kevin figures he's just doing the same stuff he's done since he was
sixteen. Maybe he's a little more serious, but the way he sees it, that's no-
body else'sbusiness, certainly not Goodfellow's.
Goodfellow doesn't buy it. "Kevin, I think you need an attitude ad-
Kevin knows the rules. You get a job, you stop hacking. Simply by
being employed by SRI, anything you do in your private life can
ultimately embarrass your employer. But maybe Kevin's past makes
it hard for him to see that his mentor is making one more effort to
help him. Didn't his real parents put him up for adoption and his first
stepmother commit suicide? Why shouldn't Goodfellow abandon him
Instead of reaching out to Goodfellow, Kevin seeks out an old friend
he's manipulated once before. Mark Lottor is subletting Goodfellow's
condo, and he hasn't spoken to Kevin in over a year, not since he swore
off the hacker for getting him into trouble. When Kevin reads a note on
SRI's network that Lottor needs a roommate, he e-mails his interest. But
Lottor puts him off, saying he has other people lined up.
A shy, bright young man with an impish grin and unruly hair, Lot-
tor studied math at Carnegie-Mellon and had a hacker's distrust for
authority. At SRI, Lottor oversaw the annual counting of hosts con-
nected to the Net, the closest thing to an Internet census. Lottor and
Kevin got along well at first, occasionally meeting at Goodfellow's
lunches and dinners, sharing a mutual fascination with computers and
phones. But then there were the dark parking lots Kevin drove him to,
the telephone poles and fire escapes they climbed, the break-ins that
Lottor later regretted, the compulsion that Lottor admitted he could
only control by cutting off all contact with Kevin.
But when his other rent prospects fade, Lottor changes his mind. He
decides to come straight with Kevin, to explain why he finds him fasci-
nating and dangerous. He doesn't hate him. It's just Kevin's annoying
ability to convince him to do things he doesn't want to do. Sure, maybe
he could have restrained himself, but Lottor found it easier just to stop
being friends. Now that he's learned what to avoid, Lottor hopes they
might be able to be friends again. If he can just resist getting in the same
car with Kevin, he's certain everything will be fine.
A few days after Kevin receives the rambling e-mail, he promises not
to coax Lottor into a car, and formally begins moving into Goodfellow's
pad with his expanding cache of swiped, salvaged, and purchased
switches, antique phones, test sets, and other telephonic collectibles.
The following week, Kevin e-mails Lottor and jokingly asks if he too ad-
mires the "aesthetic perfection" of the ridiculously large TSPS con-
sole he lifted from the central office parking lot with Gilligan. "Person-
ally I think it would look awesome in the living room," suggests Kevin
of the three-hundred-pound electronic carcass. Lottor can't help but
Before long, Kevin is once again pulling Lottor into his vortex. Within
a few weeks of moving in, Kevin talks Lottor into a weekend drive south
along the coast on Highway I, and a stroll on the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
On the return trip, Kevin takes a shortcut through the Santa Cruz
Mountains and suddenly veers off the highway. "Hey," Kevin says mys-
teriously, "I wanna show you something neat." Minutes later, dressed
immaculately in white like a comic book superhero, Kevin picks a tele-
communication trailer's lode on a remote mountain road and lures his
It's only the beginning. Lottor soon finds himself drawn into Kevin's
activities, and watches as his condo becomes a laboratory for phreaking
and hacking. Kevin scavenges a pay phone from a central office and
hooks it up in the condo, routing the calls through a wire closet in a Palo
Alto building so they can't be traced.
Kevin is refining his wiretapping skills, trying to eliminate the noise
from the Radio Shack recording device that made Sean suspect he was
listening in. Kevin sets up a bridge lifter tap in Cosmos on a coffee shop
pay phone in downtown Palo Alto so he can route his outgoing calls
from his condo pay phone and tap the public. Kevin looks upon the
downtown pay phone as communal property. He's willing to share.
Once when Kevin's chatting on the line with a friend, someone at the
coffee shop pay phone is surprised to pick up the receiver and hear a
conversation. "Sorry, I'm just finishing up," Kevin apologizes, getting a
kick out of the bizarre twist. "I'll hang up now."
Kevin is reading the Watchmen comic series, a bloody, apocalyptic story
that resembles a novel more than a picture book. The main character is
Walter Kovacs, the disturbed son of a prostitute who was abandoned by
his father. When Kovacs blinds one of his boyhood tormentors, he's
packed off to a children's home and then a sewing sweatshop. A woman
orders a strange spotted dress and when she never picks it up the quirky
Kovacs keeps it. Two years later he learns who ordered it: Kitty
Genovese, the New York woman raped and tortured while her neigh-
bors stood by. As Kovacs explains, "Some of them even watched. Do you
understand? ... I knew what people were, then, behind all the evasions,
all the self-deception. Ashamed for humanity, I went home. I took the
remains of her unwanted dress ... and made a face that I could bear to
look at in the mirror."
At night, the scrawny Kovacs dons his eerie mask and steps out as
Rorschach, a brutal vigilante who maims both innocents and criminals
in his self-appointed role as New York's administrator of street justice.
Ultimately Kovacs must battle Jon Osterman, a radioactive mutant
with superhuman power. Osterman's radioactive charge gives his lov-
ers cancer, and his visions of a doomed future haunt him. He may be im-
mortal and all-powerful, but he's also the most alienated creature in the
The two characters' bleak worldviews appeal to Kevin because in
some way each resembles a different side of the young hacker. Kevin
shares Kovacs's physical inferiority, his history of abandonment, and
his search for power through an alternate identity. Osterman, on the
other hand, represents the superpower Kevin becomes through hack-
ing, and the danger he poses to those closest to him-and to the world.
So, it's not surprising that when Kevin has trouble paying his phone
bill, he enlists the help of his superheroes. He starts phone service as the
Watchmen vigilante Walter Kovacs, and when Kovacs is disconnected a
few months later, John Osterman takes over.
There's an irony in Kevin's fascination with the Watchmen. His
electronic powers give him the possibility of self-knowledge, but the cy-
berpunk with revolving identities never looks inward to search for the
mother and father he's never met. Like Kovacs, Kevin is too busy
fighting his war against the powers that be to consider himself.
Bynow, Kevin has a dozen different techniques to crack a System. One
evening, he hacks a Pac Bell network in nearby Hayward and leapfrogs
to a local area network at San Ramon, Pac Bell's massive administrative
headquarters. Once inside the San Ramon net, he changes a variable,
shifting the way the system interprets keystrokes to trick it into launch-
ing a simple editing program that enables him to slip into yet another
network. From San Ramon, Kevin scans for files named "dial-up," and
finds one that doesn't require a password since it's designed to go only
from Pac Bell's most secure network to its less secure network. Kevin
cleverly turns off the dial-up and reverses it, connecting himself to the
Bell Application Network Control System. Within BANCS Kevin can
run nearly every Pac Bell ordering or maintenance program-Premis,
Lmos, Sword, Word. He can retrieve everything from customer names
to telephone numbers, addresses, and billing and credit information.
It's as if Kevin is playing Dungeons & Dragons, pressing for combat,
pushing harder to see if he can get Pac Bell's attention and goad them
into a counterattack. A couple of weeks later, he gets the response he
seems to want. While perusing for security memos, Kevin finds one
headed "Break-in." On September 9,1987, Robert Tracy, a Pac Bell local
area network administrator, began learning about Kevin. After docu-
menting the intruder's movements, Tracy shut down the system and
changed passwords. He wrote a memo to Gerri Lyons, a Pac Bell security
investigator, including an ongoing chronology of the attacks and his
countermeasures. He also detailed the company-wide plan to move to a
"Gordian key," a credit card-like ID with a chip that would be issued to
dial in employees. The card would generate new random numbers
every ten seconds or so, and theoretically seal the leaks. But Kevin knew
the Gordian knot had yet to be tied .
Kevin borrows a briefcase for the job, packs his lock picks, and tosses in
a phone book for dead weight. He drives his Mustang with the top down
over the San Mateo Bridge and past the rolling brown hills to Pac Bell's
sparkling new administrative headquarters in San Ramon. The week
before, while cruising Pac Bell's network, Kevin intercepted an an-
nouncement of a power outage scheduled the following Sunday. That
settled the date for Kevin. No power would mean no people and no
He ambles into the lobby and places his badge on the security
guard's desk. Kevin is about to discover another limitation of Pac Bell's
security. The employee pass for one Pac Bellbuilding can get him a pass
for another. Kevin clips the temporary ID the guard gives him on his
shirt and walks calmly past the lobby and down the hall into the huge,
darkened offices. He spots a guard at the end of a hall, but he doesn't
panic. He knows all he has to do is have the guts to walk straight toward
the guard until he can make out his ID.
This is what makes Kevin unique. He's breaking the mold for a
hacker, proving that a cyberpunk can straddle both electronic and
physical worlds. Plenty of kids can hack on-line, but how many are will-
ing to take the risk oflooking down the barrel of a security guard's gun?
Intellectually he knows the difference between his physical break-ins
and on-line adventures, but Kevin's never been punished. He's been
breaking into Pac Bell offices for a couple of years and he's never even
had a close call. Why would his luck change now?
Kevin approaches the desk where network administrator Robert
Tracy has been doing his damnedest to catch him. He opens his brief-
case, deftly picks the locked desk drawer, and fishes out Tracy's logbook.
Sure enough, it holds the very secret Kevin seeks, proof that Pac Bell
has traced his calls and snared a clue. Ron had naively let Kevin call
through his home phone to mask his intrusions into Pac Bell's data-
bases, and just as Kevin had suspected, Tracy had picked up Ron's num-
ber. Kevin is just about to Xerox the handwritten log when he remem-
bers the power is off. He flips back a few months on Tracy's daily
calendar, tears off a page, and transcribes the notes word for word .
Lesser hackers might consider the trace put on Ron's line a warning, a
good reason to call it quits, but Kevin considers it a challenge. On Sep-
tember 19, 1987, Kevin pulls up a particularly interesting Cosmos rec-
ord. To someone without Kevin's knowledge, it's technical gibberish,
but midway down the eighteenth line he reads, "2790//GREEN/ SAN
FRAN 94123."Kevin, it seems, has pulled up the Pacific Heights address
of the San Francisco Soviet consulate.
A few weeks later, Gilligan sends Kevin e-mail about Masnet, an Ar-
panet Army network that caught his eye.The banner Gilligan e-mails to
Kevin includes a warning that unauthorized access will be prosecuted
under Title 18 Section r030 of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a
veritable invitation to a hacker. Just what Kevin does with the Soviet
consulate records or the Army network isn't clear, but the timing of his
intrusions will one day be the source of much investigation. Bya twist
offate in November ofrg87 Kevin is sentto Austin, Texas, for a military
exercise called Caber Dragon 88.
A plastic laminated security badge pinned to his T-shirt, Kevin mar-
vels at the huge inflatable green tent. Giant fans keep it bulging, and
Kevin guesses it's the size of a basketball court, maybe bigger. Inside the
colossal tent, nearly a hundred Army officers and troops mill about,
their voices drowned out by the hum of the fans. Kevin's job is to make
sure SRI's computers are properly installed, and help with Unix if need
be. But the systems are running fine, so Kevin passes the time drinking
coffee and sneaking out to watch the lightning streak the sky.
One day he's asked to write a quick fix to a program that isn't work-
ing quite right. "There's a problem in our program," one of Kevin's SRI
supervisors tells him. "It can't handle the Army's data." It seems the
"real" data of the military exercise is giving their program fits. Kevin
quickly writes an interim fix and thinks nothing more of it.
Back at SRI two project leaders pull chairs up around Kevin's cubicle
and tell the hacker how they need some more extensive coding done on
the program Kevin modified at Caber Dragon.
One of the men diagrams the program on a piece of paper, explain-
ing their predicament. "Blue Flag is just a few weeks away," he contin-
ues, referring to an important Army exercise. "Could you write some
"Sure," Kevin volunteers, always eager to program. On another piece
of paper the men scribble down the specifications of the scripts. Once
the men leave, Kevin quickly breaks the program into its parts. Since
the problem began with using phony data, the project leaders have
given Kevin real Air Force tasking orders with actual bombing coordi-
nates for live foreign targets. Kevin tinkers on the scripts most of the
day, and by 4:30 P.M. he's ready to put them to the test. The final spec-
ification requires Kevin to copy the highest numbered tasking order
into his SRI workstation.
Kevin is pleased with himself as he watches the tasking order pop
into his workstation's directory. He walks down to one of the project
leaders' offices, informs him the test was a success, and lets him know
where the scripts are stored. On his SRI time card for November 25,
1987, Kevin charges the day to Ron Lee, SRI project leader for the Army
His luck is about to run out.
TH E ANTI-HACKER
is name is Justin Tanner Pe-
tersen, but that's about to change. He knows how to do it, he's seen it on
television. At the Martin Luther King Library in Washington, D.C., he
searches for the right newspaper article, a fatal accident about twenty
years ago in a state far from home. He mails the ten-dollar fee to the Bu-
reau of Vital Statistics, and two weeks later, the death certificate arrives
with the place of birth and the mother's maiden name. He phones the
county recorder in Ventura, California, and sends away for the birth cer-
tificate, leaving the return address of an abandoned house. Then, with
the birth certificate as his identification, he takes and passes the driver's
As a young boy, Justin had always loved controlling his environment,
monkeying with the lights, alarms, and public address system at school.
Trouble was never far away. At fourteen, Justin ripped off a bank's drive-
up window and the feds gave him probation. A few months later he
wasn't so lucky. Caught stealing phone gear from Ma Bell service vans,
he was sentenced to eight months in juvenile detention. Justin dropped
out of Southeast High in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the fall of his senior year,
and moved with his twice-divorced mother to Washington, D.C.With-
out a high school diploma or formal training, he was relegated to the
blue-collar drudge work of the high-tech revolution. He repaired micro-
film cameras, installed alarms, and plugged in computer circuit boards,
disk drives, and power suppliers. He never lasted very long at a job. He
knew he was smarter than his bosses.
At the late age of twenty-three, Justin began experimenting with
computers and passing his free time on the hacker bulletin boards.
Justin liked the idea of being a hacker. Depending on his mood, he was
"Phucked Agent 004" or "Agent Steal," and if he lacked technical exper-
tise, he made up for it with moxie. Agent Steal had attitude. He stole
Sprint access codes and hinted at other crimes to an admiring gang of
Steal didn't know or care about the history and culture of phreaking
and hacking. Ethics didn't matter to him. He remembered how his fa-
ther had told him he regretted having a child, and how his stepdad split
before he could get to know him. The only hackers Justin knew were
the ones getting busted or about to be busted. He'd read of the govern-
ment crackdowns, saw the headlines the teens were making for mess-
ing with the System. Hackers were changing and so was the meaning of
the word. Justin was a new generation of hacker, not the third genera-
tion inspired by innocent wonder that Levy eulogized in Hackers but a
disenfranchised fourth generation driven by anger.
Whatever Justin's latest crimes might be, in his mind they're enough to
end his life. He charges up his credit cards, writes as many bad checks as
he can, and says his goodbyes. He has no idea how hard the cops might
look for him, so he cuts himself off from everyone and everything he's
known, destroying anything with his old name on it. He rents a Ryder
moving truck, packs up his computers and sound gear, and, dogged by
five Montgomery County felony warrants, heads west to California. He
has a new life to look forward to.
Within a year, Justin's Hollywood makeover is complete. Along
with the new name, he's had his nose done to perfect his new identity.
He works as a soundman with a rock-and-roll band to skim off the
groupies. Days are for sleeping and nights are for club hopping or an
occasional gig with the band. Once in a while he squeezes in some hack-
On a cool spring night in 1985, well past the midnight hour, Tustin
phones up Lisa,a petite [ewish girl who enjoys his bondage games. Why
not buzz over on the old bike?
Tustin hits the freeway and cranks it way up, about a hundred miles
an hour, before he sees flashing red lights in the rearview. No chance of
passing any Breathalyzer tonight. Full throttle off the exit ramp, sweep-
ing into the side streets, stop signs blurring at about eighty. He spots the
dog out of the corner of his eye, a flash of brown. THUMP!
The bike slams into a curb, flinging Tustin onto someone's neatly
mowed front lawn. One roll and he's up and running like G.I. Toe. He
leaps a wall, jumps a fence, stops a second to catch his breath.
Shit! Another dog.
Tustinlaughs, spotting a six-inch-high ankle biter. Five minutes later
the loud hum drops out of the sky, an LAPD copter buzzing overhead,
briefly circling the neighborhood, then flying in a straight line-s-away
He makes a break for it, hurtling a fence into a front yard, hitting the
street at a full run. Suddenly the headlights of a cop car barrel down. He
sprints. Run, run, run! Back across another lawn, up and over another
fence. And then~SPLASH!
"Hey!Get the fuck out of there!" a voice yells.
Like I really want to swim in your pool, asshole.
He can barely drag himself out of the water, his down parka sud-
denly feeling like a load oflead feathers. He dumps it and runs straight,
sloshing through rosebushes that tear at his thighs. He jumps another
fence and rips a long gash in his Levi's. Back out on the street, he slogs
to the nearest gas station, phones a cab, and waits, shivering behind a
A half hour later Lisa greets him at the door in her silk nightie.
"What the hell happened to you?"
Justin is keyed. This is the first time, not counting kid pranks, he's ever
tried to tap someone's phone. Most people would look at him as a Peep-
ing Tom, or worse. But to Justin his plan is proof of how much he really
cares about Lisa. The tap is an expression of his commitment.
He spies the crawl space where the phone lines run to a terminal box
on the side of her house. He buys a telephone coupling transformer and
a voice-activated cassette tape recorder. On his next visit, while Lisa
showers, Justin slips on his trousers and sneaks out the back door. He
crawls under the house, attaches the transformer to her line, and plugs
it into the auxiliary input on his tape recorder.
"What do you want?" Justin whispers to Lisa's dog, as the mutt
watches him finish the wiretap.
The dog cocks its head knowingly. But Justin doesn't have a con-
OK. What are you going to do, tell her?
Back at his apartment, after crawling under the house again to re-
trieve his first tape, Justin settles in and presses play. He's proud of his
first tap. This is what's so cool about hacking phones. Not the technol-
ogy, but the power, the control.
"Hi ... Tonight? ... Sure, I'm free."
The bitch, Justin thinks. She's seeing two other guys, and lying to all
three of us.
On the rebound, Justin is making his rounds. Tonight's menu features
two leather-bound nasties visiting from the Big Apple. Rockers with
shoe-polish black hair, black lipstick, and pierced noses who prefer kink
to small talk. Justin and his pal squire them up to his friend's pad off
Sunset Plaza in the Hollywood Hills. Justin doesn't invade her privacy
by bothering with her name, but he has his fun with her until six in the
morning, when he says his goodbyes, opens the throttle on his bike,
and roars down into the smoggy haze of a Los Angeles dawn.
First, the sound of a revved V-6engine. Then he sees it out of the cor-
ner of his eye, an early-model green Chevrolet Impala.
Justin leaps from his bike, barely clearing the Impala.
Curl up in a ball! Curl up in a ball!
His foot jams the asphalt, and the scene skids into slow motion: he's
sliding on his back, his arms cradling his knees, head tucked, his body
skidding through the intersection, his bike a few feet behind him,
closer, closer ...
It's going to hit me! It's going to hit me!
Everything stops. Justin is on the Strip, Sunset and La Cienega, but
he isn't going anywhere. A few feet away his bike lies in a crumpled
heap. He's slid about a hundred feet right before a group of startled com-
muters waiting for an early bus.
He struggles up and flops back like a fish out of water. Then he sees
it, his leg bent backward, ninety degrees, just below the knee, his blood
pouring onto the pavement.
"You 0 K? You 0 K? " someone frantically yells.
Justin thinks for a second and touches his forehead.
"Yeah ... I'm OK. Where's my sunglasses at?"
Puzzled, a bystander retrieves Justin's scratched glasses. Justin puts
them on and looks again.
The green Chevrolet Impala is gone.
"I'm a doctor!" shouts a man who wraps his belt around Justin's
Snow begins to fall. Like on a fuzzy TV set, the flakes getting bigger
and bigger, while everything else fades. He's sure he's a goner. But then
they stick the IV in his arm and pump him with blood or plasma, he
doesn't know which, and it's like a switch going on. He's on a stretcher
in the ambulance, a doctor next to him, his leg jammed in a wood splint.
"Put me out! Put me out!" Justin begs.
Finally, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, they prepare the
anesthesia. But the doctor has bad news.
THE STORAGE LOCKER
hat could possibly be better
than working for SRI?
What if Kevin could learn at the feet of the world's premier Unix ex-
perts? What if he could join the company bringing networking and
powerful, inexpensive workstations to corporate America? And what if
they'd pay him a lot more than he's been making at SRI, enough money
to end his financial problems?
Gilligan doesn't need to resort to much persuasion to talk Kevin into
following him over to Sun Microsystems in nearby Mountain View. It's
not as if things are going well at SRI. Kevin's credit problems and late-
night phone phreaking habit have limited his opportunities for ad-
vancement at the think tank and defense contractor. To Kevin it's a no-
brainer. A job with Sun is a chance to ride the latest wave of technology
and climb aboard one of the nation's fastest-growing companies.
As a system administrator, it's Kevin's job to support the thousands
of users on Sun's internal network and upgrade systems as new capa-
bilities come on-line. To a hacker, the job is akin to being paid to stay
abreast of the latest advancements in networking. It's Kevin's responsi-
bility to know the ins and outs of the network, to determine quickly if a
user has made a routine error or been blindsided by a bug. Kevin, like
other "sys admins," is given super-user powers, or root privileges-the
power to access any Unix system without the user's password, knowl-
edge, or permission. In short, Kevin's got a great job at one of the hottest
companies in Silicon Valley. And there is another plus to working for
Sun. When Kevin feels the central office urge, it's that much easier to
schedule an evening adventure with Gilligan.
A file sits open on the desk of Larry Tyson, the owner of Menlo Atherton
Storage: Locker number 219, John Anderson of 1267 Ravenswood,
Menlo Park. A $42 second-story locker, plus the $10 a month for za-hour
access. The rent is overdue a hundred days with $162.50 delinquent.
Two preliminary lien notices were sent to two addresses, but both were
returned stamped "undeliverable."
Tyson, a straight-talking, balding ex-cop, decides the time has come
to cut Anderson's lock and see if it's abandoned or there's something
worth selling. He shuttles his brother and Scott Welsch, a cop who
moonlights for him, down the row of identical sheds bordering Silicon
Valley's bustling 101 corridor to Building I, storage locker 219.
Welsch snaps open the lock with bolt cutters and looks in at piles of
phone gear. He pokes around and unearths a pay phone, old switching
equipment, Pac Bell manuals, some nine-inch reels of computer tape,
and what appear to be the tools of a burglar or forger: a full locksmith
set, razor blades, and a laminator. When they see the papers on the Rus-
sian consulate and the Legion of Doom hacker gang articles they call Ty-
son down to take a look. But Tyson has an awful realization when he
studies the file more closely. Anderson came in just a few days ago and
paid seventy dollars toward his outstanding rent. Concerned about the
possibility of a lawsuit, Tyson phones a judge he knows who directs
him to the FBI.
"We just opened the locker of this guy," Tyson excitedly tells a San
Francisco FBI agent over the phone. "He's got stuff on the Russian em-
bassy, the U.S. military ..."
"What's your name and phone number?" the FBI agent asks rou-
"Well, are you guys coming down?" Tyson demands.
"That's another agent's territory. If he's interested he'll get in touch
But Tyson isn't about to let this one slip away. He phones his Red-
wood City police buddies, knowing that even though it's Menlo Park's
jurisdiction Redwood City won't blow it off.
As the Redwood City cops confess they don't know who to call at Pac
Bell, Tyson picks up a stack of phone bills lying in the storage locker-
hundreds of pages of calls made by Pac Bellsecurity officers.
"Here's all their names," says Tyson.
Kurt Von Brauch, a barbell-armed Pac Bell security officer, shakes his
head at the name on the cut lock that once secured Anderson's locker
stash of phone gear: Pac Bell.
Wondering whether the guy could be a Pac Bell employee, Von
Brauch wades inside the locker, surveying the mounds of papers and
"Damn! These are ours!" Von Brauch exclaims as he sees a box of
phone bills that he realizes must have come from 140 New
Montgomery. Von Brauch knows that Pac Bell requires its security
agents to send their monthly phone bills to the San Francisco office:
every phone call a security officer has made to other law enforcement
agencies, to relatives, wives, or girlfriends.
"Damn," Von Brauch repeats, lifting a bill with his name. But it's not
just the phone bills. Von Brauch's police training helps him see the big
picture. The Soviet stuff troubles him, and the microfiche cable maps,
too. One map shows a central office near the San Francisco Interna-
tional Airport. Maybe this guy's trying to find out where the radar cir-
cuits go from the airport. Could he be a terrorist? The nine-inch com-
puter tapes raise another concern. Could they hold proprietary
information? Later, James Neal, a polite, slender, mild-mannered Menlo
Park police detective, meets Von Brauch and another Pac Bellinvestiga-
tor, Steve Dougherty, at the locker.
Neal is glad the two Pac Bell security guys have come along to help
sort out the contents. He doesn't know the first thing about phones or
THE STORAGE LOCKER
computers. For the next two hours the three men prepare a detailed in-
ventory, filling twenty boxes with well over a hundred items: monitors,
phones, telecommunications equipment, Pac Bellmanuals, maps, and a
hacksaw. It isn't until Neal sees the two snapshots that he begins to un-
derstand. In the first, a young man with long brown hair and a bright
white jumpsuit kneels in front of a telecommunications trailer door, in-
tent on picking the lock. The next photo is proof of his success. The
young man stands inside the trailer, surrounded by switching equip-
ment, grinning at the camera.
Three days later, on February 12, 1988, John Anderson arrives in his
1974 convertible Fiat to pay the outstanding rent on his locker. Tyson
greets him from behind the counter and then realizes who he is. "Hold
on a second," he tells Anderson, then walks to the back room to make
the phone call.
A couple of minutes later, Tyson returns. "You know we had some
trouble with the address you gave us."
"Oh, I just moved. My new address is 4021 Jefferson."
Tyson resists smiling. Jefferson used to be his beat. There is no four
Suddenly Anderson hears his real name called from behind him by
a Menlo Park cop.
Kevin waits for Detective Neal in the suburban police station's tempo-
rary holding cell, just a few hundred yards from SRI's main entrance.
"Have a seat right there." Neal points to the blue metal bench
equipped with leg manacles and handcuffs.
"I guess I'm in big trouble," Kevin says sheepishly.
The detective starts slow and easy, talking about the traffic warrants
out for Kevin. Neal was the arresting officer on one of them, a driving
without a license rap.
"Well, you got promoted," Kevin momentarily distracts Neal.
"Yeah,"acknowledges the detective.
The detective thanks Kevin and continues. He'd like to know which
of the addresses he has for Kevin is real.
"I'm at 1055 Pine Street," Kevin replies.
"And what's your phone number there?"
"My phone was just disconnected."
Kevin knows he's telling the truth. There's no phone he's paying for.
None that Pac Bell ever bills anyone for.
"Your full name is?"
"Kevin Lee Poulsen."
"And what other names do you use? Kevin Alexander Locke?"
"That's right, that's what 1drive with." Kevin has yet another alias.
"Are you on probation or parole?"
''I'd take a guess I'm on probation because of the driving on the sus-
pended license conviction ..."
Neal ambles along Columbo-style. He reads Kevin his rights, tells
him he has the right to a lawyer, then asks him ifhe wishes to talk with-
"OK," Kevin says calmly.
It's a game, and if Kevin wants to win he figures he needs to know
what he's up against. Does the cop know he was almost caught at a
nearby Pac Bell office a couple of weeks ago? Does he know it's Kevin
who has been running wild through Pac Bell's computers? And besides,
why in the world would he want a lawyer? Kevin doesn't need help. A
lawyer would just get in the way.
Neal prods Kevin into revealing he used a phony birth certificate to
get a driver's license and then asks why he used another name at the
"This isn't easy to admit," Kevin confesses, sounding uneasy and sin-
cere. "I used the name because ... I'm very financially irresponsible. 1
felt at some point there might be a problem with me renting a storage
area, and 1didn't want it to affect my credit rating."
"What was stored there?"
"I had some electronic equipment, a lamination machine, some mis-
cellaneous telephone stuff. 1collect telephone equipment ..."
"What about the laminating machine," Neals asks. "Ever used that
machine to make 1D cards?"
THE STORAGE LOCKER
"Just to make joke IDs," Kevin says coolly. "To show my friends."
Neal tries something concrete. He asks Kevin if he's been in the
nearby Palo Alto phone company office.
"I've been in that one on the tour ... two or three years ago."
Kevin figures he's telling the truth, except for a slight error of omis-
But Neal doesn't relent. "OK. Have you ever been in there under
false pretenses or with a false ID?"
Ask the right question, get the right answer. "Under false pretenses,
I have been in there more recently than the past three years," Kevin ad-
mits. "I had an expired Pacific Bell ID card that I found in the trash can."
"And did you take anything out of the building?"
"Nothing at all. In fact, I met somebody there and they showed me
around the building."
True, true. Kevin did meet an employee at the Palo Alto office after
breaking in, and miraculously talked him into giving him a guided tour.
"Who was that person?" Neal presses.
"I'm afraid I don't know his name," Kevin says, suddenly realizing
Neal knows more than he thought. "Can you tell me offhand what I'm
going to be charged with ... ?"
"Well, right now, possession of stolen property ... all the ID cards
you have here, it sort of fits a trend ... and I'd like for you to be honest,
because I'm aware of your past. I know that you were involved in that
incident in Southern California with Ron Austin."
Minutes later, Kevin is on the jail phone, trying to rustle up $2,700
in bail. His friend doesn't sound too eager to help. ''I'll definitely pay you
back," Kevin promises, offering his paycheck. When that isn't enough,
he swears he'll sell everything he owns. "The quicker you get started on
this the better. 'Cause after a certain point ... I'll have to spend the
whole weekend in Redwood City Jail."
Detective Neal continues asking about Kevin's involvement with
"I was never charged with anything," Kevin insists. "In fact, I was
"My concern is that you're doing that again. That would be a logical
"I'm not sure of the legality of going through trash cans, but I have
been doing that, and I've been finding some equipment ..."
"So you're saying ... you have not been involved in that same type
of activity that occurred back in '83, '84, when your friend Ron Austin
was arrested ..."
"I haven't been continuing that activity at all."
In Kevin's mind he's telling the truth. He hasn't bothered with "that"
activity-harmless Internet hacking-for years. He's a serious phone
hacker now, burglarizing PacBelland routinely cracking the company's
"OK. So the computer equipment that you have [at home] now,
would have no bearing on any of that activity ... 7"
"To prove that, would you be willing to have me take a look at the
equipment that you have at your home 7"
THE STORAGE LOCKER
evin takes a gamble and opens
the door to his Pine Street condo, letting in Neal, two other Menlo Park
cops and Von Brauch and Dougherty of Pac Bell.He figures it's the lesser
of two evils. Neal said he would post guards outside the condo until the
warrant came through if Kevin withheld his permission. This way,
maybe they'll give him a break.
"Wow!" exclaims Dougherty, grinning broadly. Smack in the
middle of the living room sits the enormous Traffic Service Position
System console festooned with bright buttons and switches and lamps
that glow when the phone hooked up to it rings. "A TSPS console,"
Dougherty muses. "That's a pretty unusual piece of furniture."
"I'm kind of into the phone company," confesses Kevin.
The condo resembles a science fiction movie set, a curious amalgam
of past and future. A pay phone hangs on the wall, and strewn around
the room are telecommunications panels, terminals, monitors, parts of
switches, boxes overflowing with cables, countless phones, and a trunk
test set inscribed with a nearby Pac Bell office address. Upstairs an old
wooden switch room sign hangs over a door. Antique phones clutter a
desk, and tape recorders are plugged into phone jacks on either side of
Kevin's computer. It's an eclectic mix, ranging from celebrity maga-
zines and amateur photos of Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy to books
on how to buy stocks, a yellow report book filled with handwritten
notes titled "Burglar Alarm Procedures," and a thick copy of the Watch-
men comic book.
Von Brauch flips on his tape recorder and begins dictating, while
Kevin leans against his bedroom door, his look of disgust captured by
the camera of one of the policemen. The Pac Bell security man methodi-
cally describes a military ID: "On the windowsill to the left is one Blue
Flag controller ID badge 88-1 ('If found please return to 441 TTT-DUS
Elgin Air Force Base, Florida')," then rattles off what seems to be evi-
dence of phone phreaking. "We have a wire ... organization chart for
[Pac Bell] San Diego ... several Cosmos direct link telephone numbers."
Next to the bed, he finds a spiral notebook filled with Kevin's handwrit-
ing: "Tuesday, lunch with Allen A., install DI tap begin monitor, 853-
5937." There's also a John Osterman Pac Bell calling card, a Best lock
blank ground off on one side to make a master key, notepads marked
United States Central Command, and a black bag with four hundred
"Are you Walter Kovacs and Osterman?" Von Brauch asks Kevin af-
ter momentarily shutting off the tape.
Von Brauch dumps a burlap bag onto the floor and out spills a secret
document with an SRI control number. From Kevin's right-hand desk
drawer Von Brauch pulls out a "Tactical Air Command" document, an
"Air Force base telephone directory," and a warning not to discuss clas-
sified information on nonsecured telephones. From a bag and backpack
the security man pulls vinyl gloves, a lock pick, a graphite lock burner,
and a G. S. Holt Pacific Telesis ID. Dougherty finds a Pac Bell security
memo to the Menlo Park office, asking them to build out a cross-
connect, in other words, a wiretap.
Then he spots a Pac Bell printout of a special customer. He slips into
another room and phones Pac Bell's director of technical network op-
erations. He thinks the FBI should know Kevin Poulsen may be prying
into the phone service of the San Francisco Soviet consulate.
"How'd your weekend go?" Kevin's boss asks him at Sun Microsystems.
"Not so good," Kevin replies in a major understatement. Just as he
had feared, after the search, Kevin was "transported" to the grungy Red-
wood City Jail where he shared a cell with drug dealers, thieves, and
foul-smelling drunks. Gilligan didn't come through with the cash to
bail him out for several hours, and the time he spent behind bars made
a strong impression. Kevin told Lottar being in jail was like being dead.
Two or three hours later, Kevin's boss asks him to meet with him
and his supervisor about that weekend that didn't go so well. They tell
him they're pleased with his work and they're sorry this had to come up.
"What were you doing?" they ask.
"I collect a lot of old phone equipment," Kevin replies cautiously, as-
suring them that there's no reason to warry.
His bosses aren't so sure. "Our information is things are moving
faster than you think."
On February 23, 1988, FBI special agent Phillip Crumm submits the
search warrant affidavit for a second search of Kevin's condominium,
quoting liberally from his technical expert, Von Brauch of Pac Bell.Just
how Poulsen is breaking the law isn't clear, but he certainly seems dan-
gerous. Von Brauch states that "all or most of' the property seized at the
Menlo Atherton Storage locker had been stolen from Pac Bell, and that
Poulsen had an "unauthorized clandestine telephone hook-up" whose
sole purpose was to gain "access to telephone lines without authoriza-
tion." Crumm concludes that "Von Brauch immediately seized some of
the items because of their highly classified nature."
At 10 A.M. on February 24, agents from the Federal Bureau ofInvesti-
gation arrive at 1055 Pine Street, presumably figuring that at such an
hour the two inhabitants will be off at work. But Kevin is home sick and
Lottor is sound asleep.
An agent knocks on Lottor's bedroom door.
"Go away, I'm still sleeping!" Lottar shouts.
"Open up or we'll break down the door," yells the FBI.
Reluctantly, Lottor opens the door, and immediately realizes he's
made a terrible mistake. The FBI agents spot his SRI terminal, and to
Lottor, it seems as if they've spotted a bomb.
"Is that connected to SRI?" asks one of the FBI agents.
"Yes," replies Lottor.
"Do you know when it was installed?" persists one of the agents.
"No," replies Lottor.
"Do you know who installed it?"
"Was it installed when you got here?"
"Is that real?" asks the G-man, pointing to something plastic. Lottor
wonders if he's joking about his plastic squirt machine gun, but then
sees to his disbelief that he's serious. Could this be the technical level of
the nation's most talented cybercops? Lottor decides he doesn't want to
find out, dresses, and leaves.
To the Federal Bureau ofInvestigation, nearly everything in the con-
dominium is a potential instrument of crime or terrorism. " Check out
that map!" orders one FBI agent when he sees the cluster of United
States Geographical Survey maps of the San Francisco Peninsula plas-
tered across one wall. "Look it over for pinholes."
The agents meticulously examine the dozen topographic maps for
telltale clues of secret hacker targets. There aren't any, but suddenly in
the "switch room" one of the G-men discovers Kevin Poulsen has an FBI
"Look at this!" exclaims the agent, picking it up.
"That's mine," the other agent confesses, stuffing the badge back in
But Kevin is hardly amused when he sees the FBI is taking every last
piece of electronics or scrap of paper Pac Bell hasn't already seized. They
take his six antique rotary dial phones, his two ordinary phones, his
Osterman and Kovacs phone bills and disconnect notices, his Health and
Fitness Magazine business cards for Kevin A. Locke, his AI's Lock 'n' Key
business card for Kevin A. Locke.
When he sees what they're taking from his roommate, he cringes. It
isn't just his prized radar guns. They take his grow lights, his supersoil
potting mix, his "home-made drying device," his "dry leaves," and his
blue glass water pipe. They take something else that also appears unre-
lated to computer hacking: a videotape of Lottor having sex.
Kurt Von Brauch of PacBellsecurity briefs John O'Loughlin, Sun Micro-
systems' head of security, on Kevin's suspected crimes. Finally, after
two to three weeks of regular updates, O'Loughlin meets with Kevin's
supervisor at Sun, and recommends suspending Kevin with pay. Still
the supervisor wants to give Kevin a second chance. Sun, like a lot of
Silicon Valley companies, was practically launched by hackers. But
when Pac Bell informs Sun that Kevin never returned a terminal and
modem loaned to him by SRI, the hacker loses his last defender.
"You've got five minutes to grab your things and go," his boss tells him
on the phone, suspending him.
But what they do next insults Kevin. Immediately after escorting
him out of the building, Sun Microsystems changes all of the dial-up
numbers for its thousands of networked computers. To Kevin this is an
insult not only to his principles but to his ingenuity. Do they really
think that would stop him?
Von Brauch of Pac Bell pounds Sun with daily updates on past intru-
sions traced to Kevin Poulsen. Finally, Von Brauch and another Pac Bell
official ask for a meeting with Sun. Attendees include O'Loughlin, Sun's
general counsel, and its vice president of Corporate Resources. Von
Brauch repeats his allegations. Poulsen has broken into Pac Bell offices
all over the BayArea, picking locks and assuming identities, even infil-
trating the company's downtown headquarters. He's gained detailed
knowledge of wiretaps, and appears to have been accessing Pac Bell
computers at will.
The officials mention Pac Bell's plan to continue using Sun's ad-
vanced workstations to manage its vast networks. The officials are un-
easy when they learn that Poulsen's job has potentially given him ac-
cess to the inner workings of Sun's operating system software.
"What could he do to us?" a Pac Bell official wonders out loud.
Sun can't fire Poulsen because of unproven allegations, no matter
how serious they might appear. There are questions of fairness, of due
process, of basic worker's rights. But the Phone Company has come to
deal. The Phone Company is conducting its own investigation and
wants to exact its own speedy justice. It wants Kevin Poulsen termi-
nated. If there is a price to pay, they will gladly foot the bill. Pac Bell of-
fers and signs the contract, accepting potential liability for the termina-
tion of one Kevin Lee Poulsen.
Day by day Von Brauch has been pushing the case. He's tracked down
stolen manuals, tried to trace the origin of the TSPS console, even made
numerous attempts to contact Molly Ringwald after they found a tape
recording of what sounded like her voice. The physical evidence he's
amassed is impressive: printouts from Pac Bell databases, Best keys and
lock cores for Pac Bell central offices, lock picking tools, and a test set
and coin telephone that formerly resided in a Pac Bell office.
But not everything pans out. The reel-to-reel magnetic computer
tapes Von Brauch took from Poulsen's locker turn out to be SRI's prop-
erty after all, but he keeps the tapes anyway, until a Pac Bell technician
admits he has no idea how to extract the data. After the tapes are sent
back to Neal a few days later, the detective returns them to SRI, which
determines the data is stored in an ordinary Unix format. Deeming the
data personal and not proprietary to SRI, the company suggests they be
returned to Poulsen.
Von Brauch keeps pounding the pavement. A trip to a Palo Alto cen-
tral office museum reveals thefts from July of 1987 to January of 1988.
Calls to Pac Bell's 140 New Montgomery headquarters confirm missing
IDs of the type found in Poulsen's locker. While examining one ofPoul-
sen's floppy disks, Von Brauch finds a program to create IDs and a date
stamp that suggests February 1987. At 140 New Montgomery, the inves-
tigator checks hundreds of pages of logbook entries for the alias G. S.
Holt and finds Poulsen's signature on that February night a year before.
Kevin Poulsen seems to have committed an amazing range of
crimes. Bob Tracy of Pac Bell at San Ramon confirms there was a net-
work break-in the previous fall, and identifies the memo taken from his
computer. But what about the notes made on calendar pages in Poul-
sen's handwriting? Tracy could swear that they detail a conversation be-
tween him and Gerri Lyons, a Pac Bell security investigator. Had Poul-
sen wiretapped Tracy's phone?
Lyons, in a memo, postulates an even more disturbing possibility.
Poulsen had apparently taken Cosmos printouts with handwritten
notes and a diagram detailing wiretaps run through the Menlo Park
office. How could he possibly know about the taps? She retraces her
steps. Just weeks before, on January 25, Lyons had phoned Bill Hewins,
the Menlo Park office frame chief, and told him she needed three cross-
connects, or wiretaps. She gave Hewins the cable pair numbers of the
wiretaps. She put it in writing, of course, but Lyons and Hewins ob-
served all the security measures required by federal law, making it vir-
tually impossible for anyone to seize the paper describing the FBI wire-
Hewins, too, believes Poulsen must have known where to look "I
did not authorize anyone to listen in on either of the previously de-
scribed telephone calls,"writes Hewins in his statement for the investi-
gators. "And to my knowledge no one other than the one party I was
talking to on each call was listening to these conversations." Could
Poulsen have wiretapped the wiretappers?
On March r6, Neal turns the reel-to-reel magnetic tape over to Von
Brauch. Pac Bell has flown in three experts from Bellcore in New Jersey
to investigate, and this time the Bellcore experts and a Pac Bell tech-
nician quickly access the ordinary Unix formatted tape. The following
week, March 25, Von Brauch's progress report file notes excitedly,
"... They've dumped some Pac Bell Ef Possibly DOD stuff"
Three days later, Von Brauch receives the printouts. "Dumps consist
offiles ofouroffices and what appears to begov. logistical plansfor militaryma-
neuvers. Showed theabove toJohn Zent, FBI. Concerned!"
t begins with a seventy-five-cent
Clifford Stoll, a quirky astronomer with a tangle of hair and a fond-
ness for yo-yos, is asked to investigate the minor discrepancy at his new
job as a systems manager at Berkeley's Livermore Labs. Stoll dives into
the task, and when he discovers a hacker roaming about the labs' com-
puters, he decides to playa game of cat and mouse. For the next ten
months Stoll and half a dozen investigative agencies trail the hacker as
he slips through military, industrial, and university networks around
Finally, Stoll and the team of investigators dangle a morsel the
hacker can't resist, a file of bogus Star Wars information titled "SDINet-
work Project." The trap works. In early 1988, authorities trace the call to
a Hanover apartment and arrest a number of hackers. As the prosecu-
tion unfolds, authorities learn that the trail ultimately led to East Berlin
and a delivery made to a KGB agent. The rogue hackers sold hacker tech-
niques and printouts on U.S. high-tech research to the Russians.
The long feared hacker attack on the military has finally come true.
The WarGames formula, where the young hacker rescues the System
run amok, has been flipped on its head. Now, it's a scientist who is hip
and powerful, a cybercop tracking down a corrupt hacker to foil the
KGB. Hackers aren't heroes anymore.
Blindfolded and carefully led into Kevin's car, Ron tries to figure out
where they are headed, but soon he realizes that Kevin is driving in
circles, looping around in a maze of turns to disrupt his internal
When the car stops at the secret destination, Kevin dumps Ron in
front so they won't be seen together while he parks. Ron removes his
blindfold and does as Kevin told him, looking down at the pavement,
following the fence down the driveway like a blind man. Suddenly, he
hears a car.
"What are you doing here?" booms a cop who happens upon the odd
Ron mumbles vaguely.
"Youstaking out the place?" suggests the other cop.
Ron doesn't know what to say. He's having a tough enough time just
focusing his eyes on the two cops.
"What's the last thing you were doing?"
It's a straightforward question. But when Ron says he was watching
a movie in Century City, fifteen miles away, the cop asks him how he
got there. Ron doesn't have a very good answer other than the truth he
doesn't dare tell the police-that Kevin had demanded the elaborate
Dungeons & Dragons routine to keep the location of his new apartment
a secret, that once again Kevin was drawing him into his world.
The run-in with the cops gets Ron to thinking. Why did he agree to be
blindfolded and driven to the sparsely furnished North Hollywood
apartment Kevin had rented after moving out of Lottor's condo?
A few weeks ago Kevin had phoned Ron from a West Los Angeles
z-Elevenpay phone, and waited for his old hacker pal to arrive for a chat
in the convenience store lot. The moment Ron pulled up, Kevin had
asked him whether he thought the feds would try to press a case against
him. They talked by their cars, Ron nervous about being seen with
Kevin. At first, Ron didn't think the government had anything serious,
but as Kevin filled him in on the evidence they'd seized, he caught him-
self. He hadn't thought the Los Angeles district attorney had anything
serious in his case, either.
Ron knew very well that he shouldn't be talking or meeting with
Kevin. He might even be violating his three-year probation, which is
just about to end. Perhaps it was just boredom that drew Ron back or the
allure of hanging out with Kevin now that his elite hacking had finally
earned the attention of the FBI. At first, it seemed to Ron that they were
just having fun. Kevin showed him how to access Pac Bell's Premis to
link customer addresses to phone numbers magically. They perused
maps of the Hollywood stars' homes, plugged in the addresses of
Sylvester Stallone, Barbra Streisand, and other big names and instantly
retrieved their unlisted phone numbers. Sometimes there was a twist,
like Madonna's second line under another woman's name. When they
felt the urge, they'd dial a star just to hear a famous voice. On one call,
they managed to engage the pretty actress from All theRight Movesand
SpaceCamp in conversation. And when Ron uttered his usual, "Hi, is Joe
there?" to whoever picked up the phone at Michael Jackson's unlisted
number, a voice that sounded like the real pop star squeaked back, "No,
It was as if they'd discovered a way to make those kids' X-rayglasses
that used to be advertised on the back of cereal boxes really work. Kevin
had tapped into a ubiquitous, invisible network that linked real people
with trunks full of private information. Addresses yielded phone num-
bers and numbers generated whole profiles of individuals, from birth-
dates to social security numbers and jobs. Ron isn't sure where it will
end, but he is no longer sure that he can stop .
The news Kevin has heard on the grapevine isn't good. The FBI
searched Gilligan's place from top to bottom and dispatched an agent to
question Sean about Kevin's wiretap. From the little bits and pieces
Kevin has gleaned from Gilligan and a friend of Sean's, it appears that
the FBI believes he violated national security.
At first, Kevin is in shock, stunned by how quickly his career and life
have taken a nosedive. But his dismay gradually turns to angry resigna-
tion. Kevin has no doubt that Pac Bell ordered Sun Microsystems to fire
him, and he believes it's hopeless to try to find another position in the
computer industry. He thinks Pac Bell would just track down his new
employer and have him fired again.
As to the facts of his case, Kevin knows that the truth seldom mat-
ters with hacker busts. He knows that just a year ago the nation's papers
were full of headlines about a gang of hackers who moved satellites
with a few keystrokes. The truth didn't matter in the satellite case
either. Even when the New Jersey D.A.'soffice retracted its startling as-
sertion after experts said the stunt never happened, "the satellite caper"
remained real, as Time wrote, "a dramatic reminder that for a bright
youngster steeped in the secret arts of the computer age, anything is
Kevin knows that Pac Bell and the FBI believe he can bring the Sys-
tem to its knees. They've got the media's ear, and Kevin believes they
can make whatever unfounded charges they want. How can he fight
public opinion? How can he change the fate they've already chosen for
Freed from the daily grind of a regular job, Kevin has plenty of time on
his hands, enough to get out regularly for the first time in his life and
check out clubs, the music scene, and yes, girls. It's a remarkable transi-
tion for a hacker once known for his painful shyness, but then Kevin
has developed a Midas touch.
He meets his first candidate at God Save the Queen, a Gothic heavy
metal club in downtown Los Angeles. Kevin wears a black turtleneck,
black leather jacket, and black rubber-soled shoes, his days of wearing
white behind him. He's sipping a margarita, his first and only drink of
the night. He never knows when he might need to drive.
She too is in black. Hair dyed jet black, skin pasty pale, pretty,
though Kevin wishes she had black lipstick too.
"No, sorry, I don't," Kevin confesses.
"You suck," spits the girl.
She watches Kevin's stunned face, then cracks a smile.
The second time they meet she takes Kevin to her apartment in Hol-
lywood, where they listen to the angry cries of Sisters of Mercy. He asks
what she does, and, as if on cue, she inquires about his chosen profes-
"I'm a computer hacker," Kevin proudly explains. "Yeah,I'm kind of
into some shady stuff."
When it doesn't seem to bother her, he takes it a little further, men-
tioning a few of his favorite Sisters of Mercy tunes. Just as he expected,
she likes them too. From there it's a small step to introduce the subject
of radio stations. "KROQ used to be really good. Now they're so com-
mercial." Kevin makes his segue. "The only difference between them
and KIISis they don't give away twenty thousand dollars every week."
Kevin lets that sink in for a second, and then continues his setup.
"You ever tried one of those contests? I can win anytime I want to. I just
hate listening to the music."
Kevin laughs. "The problem is they probably wouldn't like it if the
same guy won every week."
"Well," she said eagerly, "you could always help me win."
The ethical question is easier than Kevin expected. How could anyone
look at his scheme as a crime? He isn't robbing a bank. Everybody will
get what they want. Well, just about everybody. Kevin looks at it like a
stockbroker acting on a really good tip. In his mind there's no victim.
He's only thinking about winning something that's being given away,
and maybe the rent that needs to be paid.
Kevin's decision to begin hacking for cash might seem brazen in
light ofthe FBI's heightened interest in his activities. Wouldn't he be
cleaning up his act instead of inviting danger? But within Kevin's vir-
tual world, his actions are logical. Competition breeds excellence.
Kevin wants to be a great hacker. What greater challenge than to hack
in the face of an ongoing FBI investigation?
Kevin has singled out something so simple it's brilliant. He'll just
dial a different number from the one the station advertises. Nearly
every station has a series of incoming lines, but they only give out the
first number. The other numbers are linked in sequence, what the
phone company calls "in hunt." So when the first line is busy, the call
hunts the second line and so on down the line.
Take the second line out of hunt and it's like breaking a chain. Only
a person who knows the second or third numbers can call them, a per-
son who can look up the numbers in Cosmos, a person like Kevin Poul-
sen. The odds depend on how many lines are in hunt and how many
lines Kevin takes out of sequence. Take out the third line of a four-line
contest and your odds are about fifty-fifty;the second of a three-line con-
test bumps you up to 66 percent. The trick isn't simply winning, but
how to win the same contest over and over again without raising suspi-
Every Thursday at 7 A.M. KRTH 101.1 radio in Los Angeles an-
nounces what hour that day it will award its weekly trip to Hawaii and
thousand-dollar prize. Kevin only takes the last two of KRTH's four
lines out of hunt, affording each of his handpicked contestants a 50 per-
cent chance of victory. Timing is critical too. Taking lines out of hunt in
Cosmos won't do. Since the database only processes orders at periodic
times in the day, the station might notice the nonringing lines and re-
port the problem to Pac Bell. So Kevin goes right into Mizar, a front end
to the central office's switching computer. Seconds before the contest
begins, he issues the command to disconnect the hunt sequence.
The sting doesn't even require him to see his accomplice. Kevin ma-
nipulates the station's lines remotely from his apartment, while his des-
ignated contestant waits by her phone to be three-wayed to the station
for the winning call. She doesn't know his real name or where he lives.
It's part of the game, part of the appeal. Noone, not even a girl, can get
Kevin takes satisfaction in knowing that there are few purer hacks.
Hacking radio prizes is about beating the System, skimming the cream
of society. The station gets the advertising it wants, the public doesn't
know what it's missing. What's the harm in a little demonstration of
the power of the individual, a few acts of divine hacker intervention?
Just as Kevin promised, the girl in black squeals with joy for tens of
thousands to hear. Kim, his second lucky winner, likes her mysterious
benefactor so much that she invites him along to Oahu. Kevin likes Kim
too, but sun and sand just aren't his cup of tea. When he returns to Los
Angeles, Kevin decides not to mix business with pleasure. He lets the
girls keep the trips and, like a gentleman, just keeps half the cash prize.
Each girl has a friend, and for a while, anytime a pale young woman in
black walks into KRTH to collect her trip to Hawaii and thousand-
dollar prize, there's a good chance she too is Kevin Poulsen's friend.
t 8 P.M. on the evening of No-
vember 2, r988, Robert Tappan Morris, the son of a world-famous NSA
cryptographer, copies a program he's written to an account known to be
frequented by hackers. After watching his creation for twenty minutes
or so, the young computer science graduate student leaves Cornell's Up-
son Hall and walks home.
On the Internet, Morris's worm is awakening. One hour and twenty-
four minutes after its East Coast release, the worm squirms across the
country and into the computers of a Santa Monica defense contractor,
the Rand Corporation. In two hours it hits the major network gateway
at the University of California in Berkeley; the Lawrence Livermore
Laboratories in Berkeley and Livermore; and the Los Alamos National
Laboratory in New Mexico. Then the infection erupts. The worm cycles
through its arsenal of attack methods, clones itself on victim comput-
ers, and then seeks out new targets. Emergency teams at Berkeley, MIT,
and other computer centers work frantically to stop the invader.
Shortly before midnight, one of the Berkeley scientists on the front line
fires out an electronic SO S over the crashing Net: "We are under attack
from an Internet virus."
By midnight, NASA's Ames Research Center, in Silicon Valley,
shuts off all communications with outside researchers, stranding
52,000 computer users. At 12:21 computers atthe University of Utah are
running smoothly at 5 percent of capacity. Forty minutes later, the load
reaches 16 percent, and incredibly, in just another five minutes, the sys-
tem tops out at IOO percent, choking to a standstill.
It will be months before the final costs of the Internet worm are tal-
lied. Roughly IO percent of the Internet's 60,000 hosts are infected, de-
nying computing power to tens of thousands of the nation's top mili-
tary and university researchers. The tab for the wasted time and lost
computer resources is initially estimated at a staggering $I 5 million.
Finally, the long predicted hacker-caused disaster has come true, a
dangerous worm that reproduces so widely throughout the Internet
that it all but shuts down the world's largest computer network. As the
story hits the front page of the New York Times, the hacker's motivations
become clear. Morris saw his worm as a bold experiment, a test to see if
he could infect the world's computers without anyone ever finding out.
Later, he will admit that his schoolboy adventure turned into an inter-
national incident because he naively set his worm's internal reproduc-
tion clock at a pace that crippled the Internet within hours. The world
was left to wonder what might have happened if the young hacker had
actually intended to wreak havoc.
As the world cleans up after the Internet worm, Kevin weighs a strange
ad he's read in a local classified newspaper. The advertiser is "looking
for Tel Co. BSPs," the Bell Systems Practices that hold the secrets to con-
trolling the phone network. Kevin can't see how it could hurt to make
just a single call from a z-Eleven phone booth, a harmless inquiry to
check out the person bold enough to place the ad.
"It can't be legitimate," Ron warns as they wind down past the night-
clubs and giant billboards of Sunset Boulevard to their rendezvous.
"Maybe he's working for the feds,' Ron hypothesizes. "Maybe the ad is
aimed at us."
Kevin smiles. "Maybe it's aimed at me."
The man has agreed to meet at ten that night at what seems a pecu-
liar choice for a hacker encounter: the rock 'n' roll Denny's on the Strip.
Just a few blocks from some of the hottest clubs in Hollywood, the
twenty-four-hour chain restaurant serves as an after-hours joint for
the young and restless, a front-row seat on the neon Strip.
Kevin is prepared. Ron will be Dave, and Kevin will be John on the
off chance that the man in the ad isn't an aspiring hacker. The caller
waits in a red booth not far from the door. He says he's notorious in the
computer underground. Long brown teased hair falls past his shoul-
ders. High cheekbones, his nose a little too straight. He doesn't look any-
thing like the typical hacker. Could he really have a little makeup, a
touch of blush, a hint of mascara? And that David Copperfield attire-a
vest, silk shirt, and a cane. He says his name is Eric, and everybody in
Hollywood seems to know him. Kevin and Ron order pie and coffee and
watch in amazement as a continuous parade of longhaired acquain-
tances cruise by, half of them beautiful women, each planting a kiss on
"I've cracked a major Pac Bell system at corporate offices in San Ra-
mon," Kevin offers, figuring the disclosure will grab Eric's attention. But
Eric stares off blankly and says nothing for several seconds. "You know
Denny's pissed me off once," Eric casually counters, gesturing around
his favorite restaurant. "I climbed up onto the roof and shut off their
gas,"he smiles, savoring the memory of the night's havoc. "Denny's had
to stop serving hot food that night."
Eric flaunts his crimes, bragging of how he stole $10,000 worth of
business phones right from under a company's nose, and tapped Tym-
net's lines in broad daylight by packing a loaded -45, entering their Sher-
man Oaks hub office, and sticking a tape recorder on the modem line.
He waxes on the perfection of his lineman's disguise and Kevin is in-
trigued, inquiring where he stole his Pac Bell cap and lineman's tool set.
Next, Eric runs down his criminal record. "I picked up some warrants,"
he says. "They nailed me as the middleman in a coke deal, and I skipped
bail." The stories go on and on, and while they speak more to Eric's skills
as a criminal than as a hacker, there's no doubt he has a certain hard-
A few minutes later, after listening to how Kevin had cracked an-
other Pac Bell computer, Eric makes an unusual disclosure. "I've in-
formed on people before," Eric warns his new pals. "But never to help
"I don't trust him," Ron warns Kevin later that night. " You heard him
talk about informing on people."
Kevin shrugs it off. He thought that was just for show. "Yeah, but
what's the story with this guy? I mean he's a rock 'n' roller and a hacker
on top of everything else."
Ron is the wrong person to be warning Kevin about Eric. Ron won't
even join Kevin on his late-night central officevisits or take the smallest
physical risk. How can he possibly let him know how odd the whole
scenario strikes him?
"Do you think I'd be taking a chance if I hacked with him?" Kevin
Ron nods, knowing it doesn't matter what he says. "Yes."
Eric's real name was Justin Tanner Petersen, though he wasn't quite the
same person since his motorcycle accident. When he woke from the an-
esthesia at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills, Eric looked like a cyborg, a
huge gap in his calf with metal pins holding together the flesh.
Several months later they cut off the leg below the knee and Eric
figured the world owed him. He and his buddy Grant Straus pulled an
elaborate phone-hacking, check-kiting scam on a couple ofLA check-
cashing outlets. While Straus played the front man, cashing a phony
check, Eric clipped into the lines at the outlet's phone closet, inter-
cepted their calls, and impersonated Straus's bank and the business that
supposedly wrote the check. It worked perfectly until Straus tried to hit
the same place two days running. The none too pleased check-cashing
outlet owners responded by sending several armed thugs over to see the
young check kiters. Eric and Straus were kidnapped at gunpoint, and
Eric was ordered to strip in the back of a Lincoln in Beverly Hills to
make it tougher to escape. As Straus was forced into his bank to pay
back the victims, Eric made a dash for it in his boxers and his prosthetic
leg, running down a crowded Beverly Hills sidewalk, chased by a man
swinging a baseball bat.
Straus was caught and pled guilty to a felony while Eric managed to
go scot-free. The lesson Eric learned from his near death experience in
Beverly Hills was simple: rip off victims who don't have guns. When he
needed new wheels he simply made a $2,000 down payment and drove
a blue 944 Porsche off a Sunset Boulevard dealer's lot. He didn't have to
worry about someone coming after him one day with a baseball bat. He
created a dummy name, phony job, fake bank account and mail drop,
and never made another payment.
The Porsche was Eric's turning point. He saw nothing wrong with
what authorities might call fraud and grand theft. Without even trying,
Eric began picking up women at traffic lights and in parking lots. He
had the car, the hair, the look, all the essentials in a town of first impres-
Nearly every night after 10 P.M., Eric would pull up in his Porsche,
step out with his steel-tipped cane, and toss his keys to the valet in the
Rainbow Bar and Grill parking lot. He was a glam-rock king. Shag hair
with the Farrah Fawcett highlights, a deft makeup job, long nails, cow-
boy boots, and depending on the evening, a linen suit or torn jeans. Eric
would walk to the front of the dimly lit club and make his rounds with
Straus among the red Naugahyde booths, pausing when they sensed a
look, exchanging a high five with a male rocker friend.
Eric's sexual prowess-he claimed to be approaching a thousand
conquests-was not solely attributable to his stolen Porsche, techno-
logical mastery, or physical makeover. He had a system. Just as he
had methodically wiretapped to gain his hacker access, he had dili-
gently sought the secret to easy sex with strippers, mud wrestlers,
call girls, and porn stars. Eric picked up girls not only at the Rainbow
and other Hollywood hangouts but on their working nights at strip
clubs. He'd sit in the back in his torn jeans with a calculated look of
disinterest. His technique was irresistible, Eric figured, because strip-
pers weren't accustomed to such indifference. Sometimes Eric had to
pinch himself to remember that it was real. Had he hacked his way into
Kevin circles the windowless building a couple of times, dressed in his
now customary black. Midnight has come and gone; the last Pac Bell
tech has already left with the day's billing tapes. Kevin scans the lot for
normal "civilian" cars, finds it empty, and tells Eric that means there's
nothing to worry about. That is unless one of the many Pac Bell cars or
trucks parked in the fenced lot happens to be from a Pac BellSwitching
Control Center over for a few late-night tests. As to the ground rules for
Eric's first central office break-in, Kevin has already laid down the law.
No stealing big-ticket items until they get to know one another a little
They hop the fence and crouch behind the trash dumpster, Eric's
heart racing as he watches Kevin slip up to pick the lock. With Eric
close behind, Kevin tiptoes through the dark building, tiny red and
white lights on the frames twinkling like stars in a dark sky. The warn-
ing signs only heighten Eric's excitement. He's been messing with
phones since he was a kid, and now, finally, he's stepped into the laby-
rinth. But huddled over a Simplex lock at room 314, Kevin is oblivious
to his epiphany. He chose the room because it's locked, because it's
there. Kevin is good with Simplex locks because he practiced picking
one at home hundreds of times. His fingers sense the feedback from the
lock's buttons. He knows the lock's limits, knows each button can be in-
voked only once in the combination. It's only a matter of patience and
time. Five minutes later the door swings open. Everything looks ordi-
nary at first. The usual metal desks ...
What are those odd-looking terminals in the corner?
They look like oldIBM 3270 terminals. The monitor catches his eye,
with its dated built-in streamer cartridge drive to the right of the screen
and the nearby black controller the size of two refrigerators. Kevin's
never seen anything like it, certainly not in a CO. He takes a seat, grabs
the nearest manual, and begins leafing through it:
Enclosed you willfind theproceduresfor reporting badNTTs . . .
The reliability oftheNTTs arenow withinyour control.
If you haveany questions, additions orcorrections please giveus a
7323 SunsetBlvd. Rm 3 14
Los Angeles, Ca. 90046
Southern California SARTSISAS SystemManagement Group
Kevin is interested because he knows NTTs are numbered test
trunks-a way of getting control of a phone line. He reads on about how
the system does decibel and electrical checks on circuits, hits the on but-
ton, and begins following directions. The manual says he needs to enter
his commands onto a cartridge tape, so he rummages around the desk,
finds one of the blank, hand-sized cartridges, and pops it in the slot. A
target? The number pops into his head, the pay phone he's used at the
gas station at Coldwater and Roscoe,near his folks' house.
One step at a time. He searches the manual's directory and finds
something called a SAS unit in Lankershim, the central office nearest
the target pay phone. He enters the number of the unit, the correspond-
ing test trunk, and the phone number of the data line of the SAS unit.
Kevin types a long series of keystrokes and watches a graphic unfold
on his screen, symbolizing his data line connecting to the Lankershim
SAS unit. Next, he types in the number of the phone sitting by him, and
like magic the phone rings, the system's callback security routine.
"Hello," Kevin answers cheerily to no one, pleased with himself.
Eric glances over briefly, then continues surveying the computer
equipment he plans to steal on a future trip. "Do you think this is a
VGA or a CGA monitor?" Eric thoughtfully inquires.
Kevin ignores him and enters the target pay phone number. And
The thick, scratching click means his phone just accessed the Lank-
ershim test trunk. The silence lasts a few seconds, then there's a clear
audible click followed by a fainter one.
It sounds alive.
Kevin's screen comes to life, drawing a graphic display of a terminal
board connected by lines to a phone circuit.
Could it be? Could it be a wiretap?
Ten minutes. That's all it takes. Kevin performs one of the mainte-
nance tests to check the resistance on the pay phone line. Satisfied, he
replaces the cartridge with the one that was there before and sticks the
new one in the middle of a stack. Kevin takes a long look at the large
controller. This is the brains, the device that's communicating to the
Lankershim SAS unit Kevin knows the unit has dialback security to
make certain the caller is a central office employee. But he doesn't see
why he needs the cumbersome controller. Why can't he clone the ma-
chine's function? His mind is working through the problem.
I'll cut through the extraneous layers. Find the protocol. There are
ways of getting around dialback security.
Meanwhile, Eric continues merrily pricing out equipment. Kevin
joins him and points thoughtfully at the SAS controller and terminal.
"I think that's a Remob."
Captain Crunch, the legendary phone phreak, mused years ago
about a Remob, a phone phreak's dream. You'd be able to dial in, punch
in any phone number, and have a covert, remote computerized wiretap.
The Remote Observation Machine seemed the stuff of fantasy, a Wiz-
ard's wand or Lancelot's sword, the Holy Grail that made the whole
journey of discovery worthwhile.
"If that's not a Remob," Kevin says reverently, "it's the closest thing
to it I've ever seen."
THE WIRETAP MACHINE
X-COMPUTER WHIZ KID HELD
ON NEW FRAUD COUNTS
Kevin reads the December 17, 1988, Los Angeles Times article with in-
terest, even if the story about a notorious hacker is about another Kevin.
Like any other self-respecting Los Angeles-bred hacker, Kevin knows
the legend of Kevin Mitnick. Rumored break-ins to NO RAD, the North
American Defense Command, tales of judges and probation officers
who had their credit records scrambled and phones disconnected, and
most colorful of all, credit for inspiring the movie WarGames.
Few of the more outrageous charges have ever been proven, but this
time, the government seems to have something solid on Mitnick. The
hacker has been charged with causing $4 million in damages to a Digi-
tal Equipment Corporation computer, and a magistrate has ordered
him held without bail, ruling that "when armed with a keyboard he
posed a danger to the community."
When armed with a keyboard? The phrase angers Kevin. Nothing ir-
ritates Kevin more than government hype, and to him the Mitnick case
reeks. Who has Mitnick hurt? he wonders. When will the $4 million
figure cooked up by the government be knocked down twentyfold? In
the days following Mitnick's arrest, the media hype builds to a frenzy.
Claims of threats to national security, and a page one L.A. Times article
headlined "COMPUTER AN UMBILICAL CORD TO HIS SOUL: 'DARK SIDE' HACKER
SEEN AS 'ELECTRONIC TERRORIST'"
It all starts to click. The sensationalist stories, the trumped-up
charges, holding Mitnick without bail. Kevin sees the same thing about
to happen to him. That's why he thinks the feds are making all the noise
about national security. If they can get him held without bail they can
win before they've begun. The government doesn't have to convict him,
he figures. He'll already be in jail.
Kevin is back in room 314 at the Sunset central office. He's alone to-
He repeats the sequence of his previous visit, powering up the com-
puter terminal, inserting a blank cartridge, and setting up the connec-
tion. Then, he clips a butt set onto the lines behind the terminal, listens
until he finds the right line, and replaces it with a tape recorder. He's got
Back at his apartment, Kevin prepares to play back the keystrokes
and commands he recorded at Sunset. He boots his terminal and dials a
test line that produces minimal noise. He attaches alligator clips from
the output jack on his recorder to his phone line, hits the play button,
and types the modem answer command. Characters flash across the
screen, and then the security callback sequence begins. Kevin takes
notes by hand, deciphering a conversation between the controller in
the Sunset central office and the SAS unit in the Lankershim central
office. There are five transactions necessary to take control of a SAS
unit to wiretap, and Kevin captures them all the first time, rewinding
the tape and repeating it once more, just to be sure.
Kevin believes true hackers are free from ordinary human failings and
ethical shortcomings. His is a simple hypothesis developed from per-
THE WIRETAP MACHINE
sonal experience and bits and pieces he's read. True hackers, in Kevin's
mind, are good by definition, refined by the noble quest for electronic
information, kung fu masters who use their lethal skills sparingly and
Kevin believes this credo so strongly that he can rationalize nearly
anything. He can't know how much Eric shares his principles, and
whether he too will one day develop into a "responsible" hacker. But
then, as he thinks over the challenge, he sees it as a manageable prob-
lem. Kevin is a Dungeon Master. There's no reason he can't keep SAS a
secret. Kevin starts by giving Eric limited Cosmos access and is pleased
to see that Eric seems satisfied, content to wait until his more experi-
enced mentor feels he's ready to move up to the next level. When Eric
wants something he can't find through Cosmos, he invites Kevin over
to his apartment. There, Kevin taps into the Pac Bell databases and
plucks out the desired information, carefully erasing his temporary
files in case Eric might later try to retrieve any clues he might have in-
advertently left behind.
"Check out this groovy view," Eric says with a laugh, inviting Kevin and
Ron onto the balcony of his new "executive studio."
Across the street looms the windowless, textured brick wall of the
Sunset central office, an imposing, three story-structure shrouded by
palms. The balcony provides a clear view of the back door and the
fenced lot crowded with Pac Bell vans and cars. Incredibly, Eric has
rented an apartment one hundred feet from a Pac Bell central office,
proving that if he can't learn it by computer, he'll learn it by breaking
and entering. Even Kevin is impressed by his commitment. They meet
a little after midnight at the studio, survey the central office parking lot
through Eric's binoculars, and then head over. Kevin tells him not to
worry about being caught. Improbable as it sounds, the alarms on the
doors generally go to an unmanned center.
The new partners settle into a routine, breaking and entering several
times a week without fear of capture, claiming the switching offices as
their private stomping grounds. They bring candy bars and chips and
even scrounge food left behind by employees in the office fridge. The
routine seldom varies: read manuals, examine systems, and rifle em-
ployee desks for passwords. Pac Bell makes it easy. Company policy re-
quires that passwords be random. That's why Kevin and Eric know just
what to look for, something strange like !*12$FG:l+.
Having so far largely played the role of a spectator, Ron surprises
himself by letting Kevin and Eric talk him into joining them on one of
the trips. Barely inside, the deafening clatter sets him on edge. Every-
where he looks are bold signs warning "Doors Alarmed!"
"What do you think are our odds of getting caught?" he nervously
asks a calm Eric. "Oh, about one in ten." The rocker chuckles.
Ron runs for the door and clambers over the fence, his mind flashing
back to his few weeks in jail. But while Ron isn't willing to take the
physical risks that Kevin and Eric delight in, he finds the nightly adven-
tures irresistible. Nearly every time Kevin meets Eric, Ron does too.
Sometimes Ron just hangs out with Eric at his studio, trying to make
sense of the spare furniture, the Nagel posters of perfectly shaped
women, the single poster of a red 91 I Porsche, and the video camera on
a tripod next to the sliding closet mirrors and the bed.
On one visit, Ron watches Eric disappear into the bathroom to fix his
hair, a half-hour operation that entails a wide variety of sprays,
mousses, and two salon-quality blow dryers. While Ron busies himself
watching Eric's large-screen television, he notices an extensive video
collection, a couple of documentaries on computers, and then some-
thing else. Forty tapes or more, with different girls' names. Alex, Bar-
bara, Cynthia ...
Hair freshly teased, Eric emerges from his salon.
"What's this?" Ron asks.
Eric smiles and pops one of the videos into the VCR, a short, action
feature, starring Eric and a girl tied to his bed. As the last moans fade,
Eric explains how his image was carefully planned. "I figured it out.
This is the person I am, this is the life I want to fit into.
"I used to be almost preppy," Eric says, showing Ron a snapshot of
himself with a beard and trimmed hair. The man in front of Ron might
THE WIRETAP MACHINE
as well be another person. The long teased hair, the John Lennon
glasses, the carefully selected rags from trendy Melrose district bou-
"Your nose was different," Ron remarks.
"Yeah, I had it done."
One evening at Sunset while walking through the frame room Kevin
and Eric notice a small rectangular metal box on the floor.
"HIKAMIN," spell the letters on the box, Kevin immediatelyrecog-
nizing that it's a digital number recorder, or DNR. There's a business
card taped to it with a reference to John Venn of Pac Bell security. Kevin
writes it all down, notes the office equipment number the box is con-
nected to, and walks over to a Cosmos terminal and pulls up the record.
It's all there, the telephone number of the tap and the office equipment
number it's connected to on the frame.
Huh? No cable pair?
Most phone lines are coded so the frame man can know which set of
wires or pairs go over which cable. But the DNR tap isn't like a normal
phone line. It's more like a parasite, just hooking into someone else's
cable pair on the frame. Since the tap doesn't leave the office, it doesn't
need to be assigned a cable pair.
Kevin returns to find Eric disconnecting a butt set from the line the
tap is connected to. The target. The number being tapped.
Kevin smiles wryly, wondering how he'll ever control Eric. He never
asked for Kevin's permission. He just clipped in and dialed Pac Bell's
automatic number announcement service to identify the subject of the
"You AN A'd it," Kevin says incredulously. "You knoui"
"Yeah,"Eric shrugs. "I just had to know who it was."
It's a question of hacker ethics. Kevin has no choice but to investigate
the tap he found with Eric in Sunset, for if the subject of the wiretap is
a hacker, Kevin knows that he has a moral obligation to warn him the
Phone Company is listening. Thanks to Eric, Kevin has the target's
phone number, which makes it trivial for Kevin to look up his phone
service in Cosmos. Henry Spiegel is his name, and he's got several
phone lines. Running Spiegel through a few on-line databases turns up
a criminal record, though Kevin can't make out for certain whether he's
a hacker. Still, the abundance of phone lines is more than enough to
warrant Kevin's continued investigation.
A thick SAS directory Kevin swiped from room 314lists every Pac
Bell service area in Southern California. Kevin finds Spiegel's Sunset
central office, scans for the "no," or numbered test trunk, associated
with Spiegel's prefix, selects the designated data phone number, and
dials it with his modem.
First, he has to beat the callback security. As the system prepares to
call back Kevin to ensure he's at an authorized location, Kevin turns off
his modem but stays on the line. The instant the SAS unit dials the
authorized line, Kevin flips back on his modem. Hacker parking is what
it's called. The SAS unit is duped into thinking it's connected to the
Kevin dials Spiegel's "monitor" phone number. He's in control
now-and not just of Spiegel's tap. He can wiretap anyone served by
Spiegel's prefix. He can surf from line to line, tapping dozens of people
in a matter of minutes. And with a little clever programming, Kevin
automates the process. He enters the SAS and test trunk numbers for
his favorite central offices into a simple program. Now all he has to do
is type the number he wishes to tap.
It's not a perfect remote wiretapping system. There's an audible
click on older, electromechanical switches, and he can't tap until a call
is in progress. But Kevin is happy to discover that alternatives exist.
Northern Telecom's new digital switches-the DMS, or Digital Multi-
plexing System-have no such limitations. Kevin can tap whenever he
wants in total silence on a DMS switch-before or during a call.
And Kevin can put up lengthy taps on electromechanical switches
too. Years ago, when he overheard a lineman asking a frameman to put
up some SAS shoes on a line, he was listening to a phone company
method to test a line. Now, Kevin can put up SAS shoes too-to wire-
THE WIRETAP MACHINE
tap. He just tells the frameman to shoe the line he wants tapped-
replace the line's lightning protector with a shoe plug and connect the
other end to the test trunk Kevin's dialed. Shoes stay up a few days, until
a frame man notices them and bothers to take them down. And there's
Half the pleasure of wiretapping by computer is simply knowing
you've got the power. Kevin uses SAS as a third eye, a remote poly-
graph. When he sees an item that interests him in the classifieds, he
phones the seller and asks a few questions. The man names a high price
and claims he can't budge because he's selling it for a friend. That's
when Kevin wiretaps his line. When the owner calls the seller, Kevin
listens in and, just as Kevin suspected, the friend reveals he's providing
the item for considerably less than the seller had represented. Kevin
passes on the item, pleased he could wiretap the truth.
There are other things he could do with SAS, but Kevin has limits.
SAS is the ultimate information tool. If Kevin wants to know how
something secret works, he can simply listen to the subject's phones or
data lines and pick up key words and phrases that might later prove in-
valuable. Someone with access to SAS could listen in on law enforce-
ment lines and monitor how the officers call in to get information:
names, badge numbers, IDs,and lingo. Armed with that inside informa-
tion, how hard would it be to social engineer the details on a warrant or
Kevin drops in on the tap at the Sunset officewith SAS and waits. A few
minutes later, he hears Henry Spiegel dial and start talking to a friend
about the Hollywood rock scene. Kevin listens a little longer and then
drops off the line. It's a question of ethics. He won't need to notify the
subject of the surveillance after all. Henry Spiegel, as far as Kevin can
tell, is not a hacker.
he three of them meet at about r o
P.M. at Eric's Sunset pad. Kevin arrives in his customary black in time to
watch Eric pull on his Pac Bell jacket and cap. As Ron watches Eric strap
on his heavy leather lineman's belt stuffed with tools, he wonders
whether half the fun for Eric is in getting dressed.
"You want to come along?" Eric teases him.
"Then keep Frecia company, OK?"
"Sure," Ron replies warily, glancing at the shapely, olive skinned girl
curled up by the TV. Frecia is Eric's true love, a pretty, dark-haired girl
from New Mexico with a nine-to-five job at a financial firm. Eric met her
at the Rainbow, but she's different from the other women that taxi in
and out of his bed. Eric believes they have a relationship based on trust.
From the balcony, Ron watches Kevin and Eric open the back door
to Sunset with a key Kevin cut for the lock. Ron can't see what happens
next, but he knows what's up. The two intruders simply walk up to the
board and find the keys. Within a couple of minutes, Ron hears the Pac
Bell van start up in the lot, and then watches it pull slowly through the
Tonight Kevin will test the limits of his hacker code. The opportuni-
ties are just too tempting to resist any longer. Pac Bell maintains an on-
line list of every single piece of equipment it owns. It's like the Home
Shopping Network, only instead of dialing 1-800 all they have to do is
back up a Pac Bell van and load in whatever they fancy. After watching
Eric's apartment fill up with equipment pilfered from Pac Bell, Kevin
has finally decided to relax his self-proclaimed prohibition against bla-
tant theft. This evening, he's asked Eric to join him on a heist at a central
office that holds a large Unix-based minicomputer that he fancies.
Kevin has always wanted to own his very own minicomputer.
Freda is reading David Copperfield, and though Ron is ostensibly
watching TV they soon strike up a conversation. Ron wants to find out
whether she knows Eric's real name and background. She claims to
know nothing about his true identity or past, but she knows what night
he goes to which club, and without the slightest hint of irony she lays
out his weekly entertainment schedule. Ron notes that not too many
nights are left open for Frecia.
"We have an open relationship," Frecia observes optimistically, add-
ing that she knows all about Eric's kinky films. "I told him, 'I know you
have this camera and I don't want to be in one of your movies.'''
Ron doesn't say anything.
"You want to see one?"
"N0 thanks," Ron replies, certain that Eric has asked her to set him
up to see how far he might go.
Three hours later Eric and Kevin return in high spirits. Kevin's com-
puter had turned out to be even bulkier and heavier than they expected,
and they laugh about how they had barely been able to hoist the hulk-
ing machine onto Pac Bell'svan. Eric's take was substantial too: a couple
of loaded personal computers, a few printers, and two fax machines. So
what if a sheriff was parked up the road. What could be suspicious
about a couple of Pac Bell employees in a company van backed up to the
central office door?
Soon after his evening with Frecia, Ron finally feels comfortable
enough to volunteer his unlisted home phone number to Eric.
"That's OK." Eric grins. "I've already got it."
Ron shrugs it off, chalking it up to hacker curiosity. But Kevin is
troubled by the revelation, especially since he never gave Eric access to
phone systems he'd need to deploy to find Ron's unlisted number. And
there are other inexplicable events. Kevin begins to notice messages
missing from his voice mail. Friends call and ask whether he's received
Then, Kevin discovers that Pac Bell security is investigating un-
authorized activity in an advanced Pac Bell system. It's the very same
one he accessed at Eric's apartment when he performed one of his fa-
vors, the same one that he refused to grant him access to until he knew
him better. The system is being accessed in strange ways at odd hours of
the night-all the signs of an amateur on the loose. Kevin investigates
the intrusions on-line for a couple of days but finds nothing.
"Did you tap your own data line when I came over?" Kevin asks Eric
on the phone.
"Well, if I did do it, I had the best of intentions."
Like a good boy, Eric had willingly agreed to the restrictions on his
access, invited Kevin and Ron over to do favors at his apartment, and
then cleverly tape-recorded everything that went out over his data and
phone lines: accounts and passwords for high-level Pac Bell systems,
Kevin's voice mail passcode, Ron's phone number, and perhaps more.
"'Best of intentions.' What do you mean best of intentions?" Kevin
demands to know.
"Well, you know we'd all get along better if I had the same access
Doesn't Eric see? He hasn't given him access because he can't handle
access. In Kevin's mind, Eric's screwing around on Pac Bell's computers
will likely boil down to one of two equally disastrous results. One, Eric
might actually crash a system, a catastrophe for which Kevin believes
he would undoubtedly be blamed. Or, two, his foolish wanderings
might get Kevin caught.
"Look,Eric, I told you I was not going to give you things until I knew
you better," Kevin tries to reason with Eric. "Tapping us doesn't encour-
age me to share."
That's when Eric begins listing what he believes Kevin has been
withholding from him, a long list of things discovered on their nightly
excursions, including that lone secret Kevin had found in room 314 of
the Sunset central office-SAS.
"I'll get them one way or another," Eric warns.
Kevin's stormy relationship with Eric creates what for anyone else
would be a dilemma. On the one hand, he's increasingly convinced that
he can't trust Ericwith SAS or other powerful phone company systems.
On the other hand, he believes he's too involved and responsible simply
to walk away from the problem. But Kevin believes he has a solution to
his predicament: continue breaking into central offices with Eric, keep
an eye on him, and keep controlling his access.
Ron acts almost as Kevin's undercover agent, secretly reporting back
to Kevin on his findings. He begins hanging out at Eric's apartment and
meeting his friends, a motley collection of musicians, coke dealers, and
small-time cons. One night, when Ron returns with Eric to his apart-
ment, they're surprised by an elderly black homeless woman on the
stairs. Eric whips out a gun. "Get the fuck out of here or I'll blow your
head off!" he yells, pressing the barrel to her head. Guns are part of Eric's
trip. He brags of being able to hire a hit man for $5,000, and proudly
shows Ron the holster he keeps hidden by his bed, ready to draw if
someone makes an unannounced visit. For kicks, Eric fires his gun at
random buildings or industrial tanks. He isn't worried about getting
caught. He has a theory that with all the city noise you can always pop
off a single shot in Hollywood. Late one night, seconds after leaving
Eric's apartment, Ron hears a shot and flinches. "He's trying to off you,"
Kevin jokes when he hears the story.
To pay the rent, Eric sells phony birth certificates to gypsies and
other small-time cons. For entertainment he wiretaps. When two cute
girls move in down the hall, Eric taps them for a few days until he con-
cludes they're just a couple of "coke whores." He keeps a tap on the
Denny's pay phone live on a butt set near the television, just loud
enough to hear people dialing, so if a call sounds interesting he can pick
it up and listen. One afternoon Ron is surprised to hear the faint sound
of a familiar woman's voice on Eric's butt set.
"Oh that's Frecia," Eric explains dryly.
"Don't you think she'd be kind of upset if she knew you were tap-
ping her phone?"
"She knows," responds Eric, grabbing the receiver to listen in. "She
The man in the Pac Bell uniform arrives one morning at the Mutual of
Omaha building on the comer of Wilshire and LaBrea,near the target's
central office.In the basement he finds what he's looking for, a large, un-
locked telephone room, and inside a scramble of wires that will hide his
The ultimate target is the dial-up commercial network Telenet,
brimming with accounts and passwords of some of the most exclusive
on-line systems in the nation. The goal: a virtually endless tap into the
heart of the information superhighway. Part of the tap is a custom piece
of hardware built by a friend of Eric's that will answer a call. Eric's job is
to connect the device to the line and hide it in the telephone room amid
the countless wires.
Between them, only Kevin knows how to place the order in Cosmos,
how to build in the circuit for the Mutual of Omaha line and set up the
bridge lifter. He's creating a virtual phone extension that juts off one of
Telenet's main lines to the Mutual of Omaha line Eric tapped. From
there Kevin electronically connects the tapped line to Eric's apartment.
It's the same method Kevin used to tap Sean-plus an additional line to
Eric's apartment for security.
Eric dedicates two PC s he stole from Pac Bellto the task. He dials the
new number Kevin created, hears the initial "swoosh," the silence of the
dead Mutual of Omaha line, the ringing of the second line, and then,
once again, the "swoosh" that means Telenet is in his control. Within
seconds, data streams down the parallel screens. The two PCs make it
possible to listen to both sides of the digital conversation-the pass-
words and accounts typed in by users, as well as the system information
logged by the host computer.
Several times a week, Kevin scrolls through the sea of data: pass-
words to Bank of America's home banking system, TRW Credit, Infor-
mation America, Nexis and Lexis, and even the California Department
of Motor Vehicles. It's up to Kevin to learn the numerous commands to
transform the DMV system into a veritable cornucopia of information.
Within a couple of days, Kevin returns to Eric's and shows him what
he's learned. Kevin can search licenses for everything from motorcyles
to government vehicles to find names, birthdates, weight, height, eye
color, addresses, and warrants. Or he can enter a name and get similar
information-and a license number. Not a bad investigative tool for a
hacker who's often wondering if someone's following him.
One day, Eric finds what seem to be passwords and codes for elec-
tronic money transfers at major banks. Within days, Kevin quickly de-
termines that three different people in three different departments
have to issue approvals to transfer the money to a set list of payees. The
odds are against Kevin ever picking up all three passwords, but then the
odds didn't count on Kevin poring through the data stream night after
Sure enough, Kevin uncovers all three passwords and codes for
three different people in three different departments in Security Pacific
bank. A search on Nexis reveals no published reference to a successful
major electronic money transfer fraud. Could there be an additional re-
view once the transaction is completed? What might he have over-
There are some basic preparations that need to be made, like setting
up an offshore account. But there are other problems he has to solve
that he's unlikely to learn about on-line. Kevin suspects there must be
other checks in place that might make it difficult to withdraw a large
sum from a bank once it's transferred. There are probably a dozen ways
to fail he hasn't even anticipated. Still, Ron and Eric are impressed at
how far he's gotten, and how he just keeps plugging away at the prob-
lem. Kevin just won't let it go.
ric's got a girl over at his apart-
ment. Erica's her name. She's got the Hollywood look. Silicone breasts,
cortisone lips, thigh-high patent leather boots with six-inch heels, and
long black gloves that ride past the tracks on her arms. Eric cuffed and
manacled her once and used his little electrical clamps and the other
tools in his black bag. But they're friends now. Erica is a junkie and a
hard drinker and not particularly choosy about her company.
Erica is listening to his Denny's tap when suddenly Eric points to a
number on his computer screen. "See that?"
Eric has pulled up the Cosmos record of the target of the tap he
found in Sunset with Kevin. "These guys are in trouble," he says.
Erica looks over at the number on the screen. She can't believe her
"Fuck, dude, I know that number!"
Erica pounds on the locked door of the unfinished house where she
rooms just across the Strip, a half block down Martel Street and around
the corner from the rock 'n' roll Denny's.
Inside, Henry Spiegel checks his watch. Midnight. She knows he
doesn't have drugs. Could she want money? But when Spiegel opens the
door he's surprised. The guy with Erica is cleaner than most of her boy-
friends. Sure, he has long hair and torn jeans, but he doesn't look like a
junkie. And as Spiegel pushes aside his papers and magazines to make
space to sit in the front room, the only one where carpet covers the ply-
wood floor, he senses the man is intelligent. Spiegel decides to hear him
The man tells him about the surveillance on his line and Spiegel
nods and asks a few questions. But Erica's friend won't talk much about
himself. Spiegel thanks him for the warning, walks them to the door,
and then trudges back up the plywood stairs to the mattress in the attic
cluttered with his albums and old junk. He'll worry about the wiretap
"I don't have to say SHIT!" screams Erica.
Spiegel is handcuffed in another room. Several Secret Service
agents, a few Sprint agents, and a couple of LAPD vice officers rip
through his file cabinets and piles of paper searching for evidence.
They want to know about Spiegel and the phones. Erica knows
about the phones. She and Spiegel have been tight for a year, ever since
he found her nodding out in a plate of chicken-fried steak at the rock 'n'
roll Denny's. Erica is afraid if she doesn't talk they're going to beat
"I know my rights!" yells Erica. "I don't have to say shit!"
Spiegel knows that the Secret Service normally doesn't get involved
in internal phone company matters. But as he soon learns, the lead
agent's boss owes a friend at Sprint a favor. Nobody can quite figure out
how Spiegel has been able to run up about $I50,000 in unpaid long dis-
Spiegel has programmed several computers with Sprint and MCI
calling card numbers. All told, he has about thirty lines running into his
house, a boiler room operation for ten ex-cons and Erica to telemarket
investments in his latest scam, Domestic Gold Fund II. His scam isn't
high-tech-he's just figured out a system to keep getting new long dis-
tance charge cards without ever paying a single bill.
Listening to the Secret Service agents threaten to beat him up,
Spiegel thinks how lucky he was to have received the warning and been
prepared for the raid. He already senses he's not going to get busted.
Without Eric's timely tip, he might actually be in trouble.
Henry Spiegel has the look of a Svengali. Six feet tall, he has strong,
square features, a thick ponytail, and the muscles of a man a decade
younger than his near fifty years. Spiegel lifts weights and often wears
sandals, black sweats, and a gold chain around his neck. Once a promis-
ing athlete, Spiegel dropped out of UCLA and began hanging out at the
Whiskey or the Roxie on the Strip to watch the girls, listen to the bands,
and shoot dope with the musicians.
By the mid-seventies Spiegel kicked heroin and started an escort
service. He hit the big time in 1984 after Los Angeles vice officers ar-
rested thousands of prostitutes in town for the Olympics. Just as he had
suspected, Spiegel found that many of the phone numbers of the big
Yellow Pages escort ads had been disconnected. He called Pac Bell and
said he wanted to get the numbers turned on. Often, there was a balance
due of a few hundred dollars, but Spiegel gladly paid a few hundred in
return for an ad that normally cost several thousand dollars.
Soon, Spiegel was paying for thirty escort phone numbers all call-
forwarded to his house on Martel. Girls would call the Yellow Pages ads
looking for work, and Spiegel quickly had nearly three dozen on call-
blondes, brunettes, blacks, Hispanics, Asians. Spiegel charged $411.76
an hour for their services, the odd figure a total of $350 plus a hefty
credit card service charge. He grew a handlebar mustache, sported ve-
lour sweatsuits and fat gold rings encrusted with diamonds. Spiegel ac-
quired all the pimp trimmings. A big car, a big hat, a big money clip, a
cellular phone he carried in an alligator pouch, and a ruby and diamond
bracelet that spelled his name like a marquee. But nothing lasts forever
in Hollywood. The legendary Madam Alex was busted, and as Heidi
Fleiss would learn years later, Madam Alex liked to talk. It seemed
Spiegel's companion, Winter, also turned tricks for Madam Alex. One
evening at the rock 'n' roll Denny's, Winter introduced Spiegel to her
new friend, Megan McElroy, a blond, attractive girl looking for work.
Detective Megan McElroy was hired, and Henry Spiegel, aspiring Los
Angeles pimp, was busted and on his way to six months in Los Angeles
It's a three-way phone conversation and Spiegel has no idea how the call
has been placed. "We run the phone company," announces Eric, intro-
ducing himself and one John Smith-Kevin's latest alias-on the line.
"Trust us and you won't get into any trouble."
Spiegel has a feeling that this John Smith has another name, but he
knows it isn't his place to ask questions. Hadn't Eric saved his ass by tip-
ping him off to the tap on his line and the impending Secret Service
raid? Maybe these guys really are the phone company. Whoever they
are, trust doesn't have much to do with their budding relationship.
Soon after the introduction, John Smith starts phoning Spiegel on his
own, casually dropping key phrases Spiegel remembers saying to other
people on previous calls in the day. Spiegel figures Smith is wiretapping
him, and he gets the message. Smith isn't the kind of guy you can easily
Spiegel decides to play along with the game. Mr. Smith likes to lis-
ten, and so when he phones, Spiegel lets him eavesdrop on anyone else
who happens to call. One of those callers is David Star.
David Star is an actor, a player of bit parts. Like thousands of other des-
perate Hollywood hopefuls, the short, overweight man vainly presses
his airbrushed publicity photos upon anyone who will look. But the
real-life role Star pursues is as a great hacker and phone phreak. He
brags of phenomenal contacts with the National Security Agency, the
supersecret U.S. spy agency. Star carries a security badge and drives an
old, undercover detective's car. He claims to have worked for Para-
mount Studios, and if he meets a girl, he's Dave Star Productions, a ris-
ing Hollywood movie producer. Spiegel finds Star a source of amuse-
ment, and often shares with him little scraps of information he picks
up. When he tells Star of his recent encounters with Mr. Smith, Star
smells an opportunity. Maybe Smith could hack Pac Bell and tum on
the dead Yellow Pages lines for free?
The next time Mr. Smith calls Spiegel mentions the scheme.
Spiegel's Olympic Yellow Pages scam led to Pac Bellissuing passwords,
making it impossible to activate a dead line by paying the outstanding
"Can you get the passwords for the ads?" Spiegel asks.
"Yeah, I could do that," Kevin says, thinking through the problem.
"But I could do it another way."
"What do you mean?"
"We could tum it into a business for ourselves."
Kevin's mind races through the possibilities. He's thinking through
the problem all the way to the working girls. To him it's the perfect
hack, creating an electronic opportunity without any real victims. But
when Kevin tells Ron about his scheme a few days later, his old friend
reacts angrily. How could he conspire with a pimp he's never even seen?
Is he crazy? Does he want to get arrested?
There's a disconnect taking place in Kevin's mind and he doesn't see
it happening. This time his rationalizations can't possibly squeeze his
conduct between the margins of his hacker code. Kevin is not just talk-
ing about fixing contests. He's planning to go into business with a pimp.
But Kevin doesn't think about the sleazy side of prostitution. He con-
vinces himself that the girls are escorts who are freely choosing to sell
their favors, and that since he's only providing electronic services he's
not really involved.
Kevin listens to his friend's concerns and then tells him why there's
no danger in running an outcall escort service. Kevin will orchestrate
every move. Spiegel thinks he's wiretapping him, thinks he knows his
every word and thought. Spiegel doesn't even know his name. Smith
hasn't even trusted him with a voice mail number, nor will he ever see
him in person. He's nothing more than a voice on the phone, an ear al-
ways listening, the anonymous Watchman. \"
The man isn't listed in the phone book, and Eric thinks that's a good
sign. He drives his Porsche to the elegant Beverly Hills address, and is
impressed by the spacious office and sexy blond girl Friday. The Inves-
tigator greets him with a warm handshake. He has a round, sturdy face,
tanned Mediterranean skin, hair cropped close like a golf green, and an
infectious smile. His clothes convey the same ease: stonewashed de-
signer jeans, cowboy boots, and a $I50 cotton sport shirt that reeks of
Beverly Hills. He has the gift of manners, and he quickly dispatches his
girl Friday to pour Eric a drink.
Eric made the connection through a woman he picked up at the
Rainbow who after hearing about his skills as a hacker and wiretapper
said she knew just the person he should meet. She couldn't have been
more right. The Investigator immediately takes to his intelligence, wit,
and humor, even his savoir faire with the ladies. In Eric, the Investigator
sees the ideal undercover man, someone capable of a sit-down dinner
with the most prominent people or a wild night on the Strip with the
rockers. Surveillance would be second nature. Eric is an unbelievable
driver and he knows the streets of Hollywood better than any cab
driver. That's the cover story anyway, the one the Investigator re-
hearses, the one for the cops or the feds if that day ever comes. The truth
is the Investigator wants Eric for his access to Pac Bell and DMV data-
bases. And his willingness to break the law.
"Where are you? Wake up, you fucking longhair!" booms the Investiga-
tor's voice on Eric's voice mail.
It's a little after two in the afternoon, too early for Eric. The Investi-
gator has a job for Eric that requires his hardware skills: one of Heidi
Fleiss's most frequently requested hookers, a blond, leggy bombshell
featured in Playboy's Girls of Summer. Her rich, coke-snorting sugar
daddy boyfriend wants to know what she's up to.
Eric opens the bridging box outside the blonde's apartment, scans
the pairs, and places the transmitter on her phone line. A few feet away,
he parks a car with a receiver and a twelve-hour voice-activated tape re-
corder. Two grand is his take for the wiretap. Not much, considering he
knows the Investigator charges $ro,ooo for the service, but then again
the Investigator is discreet and has some heavy clients. Eric only listens
to a little of the tape as he transfers it to regular cassettes for the client's
easy listening. He's not the least bit surprised by what he hears. She's
sleeping with some other guy.
Almost daily, the Investigator pages Eric with a new job, leaving
him names, addresses, social security numbers, whatever leads the cli-
ent has provided. Sometimes it's just a license plate number. Eric runs
DMV records, pulls credit reports, searches for unlisted numbers and
phone records. With swiped access codes and passwords it's all free. Eric
organizes the database hits, types a few notes, and then faxes a nicely
formatted report to his employer. That leaves time for errands, perhaps
half an hour at Sunset Tanning, a short nap, and a little TV before he
grooms for his evening on the Strip .
Kevin is intrigued by his venture into Hollywood prostitution. Who
would ever imagine that a computer geek, obsessed with electronics
and bits and bytes, could control a world of sex? But Kevin doesn't see
call girls. He sees phone numbers and wasted Yellow Pages ads. An op-
portunity to use his mastery of the phone system to create a fully auto-
mated sex service.
Kevin juices the fifty Yellow Pages ad numbers that Henry Spiegel
has told him are disconnected, but accessing the $200,000 worth of ad-
vertisements is just the start. Next, Kevin creates a system for Speigel's
escorts to respond to johns' phone requests. Voice mail is ideal for the
job, so Kevin wiretaps a data line at a branch office of American Voice
Retrieval to snare the password and log-in commands. Quickly master-
ing the menu-driven system, Kevin creates a dozen voice mail boxes.
Simply forwarding the incoming calls to his voice mail boxes won't do.
Toll records would be generated by the longer calls, and Pac Bell might
wonder why disconnected numbers are generating bills. But what
about a series of short call forwards, splitting one toll call into two or
more local calls? Kevin creates new digital DMS phone numbers, dials
each new number with SAS, and punches the 72:j:j: command, forward-
ing the lines to a North Hollywood choke point before the mass of in-
coming calls feeds into his voice mail. There are no bills, no records, no
sign of existence.
The system is seamless. A john calls the ad and hears a recorded mes-
sage. "Thank you for calling College Girl Escorts. Please leave a message
and one of our girls will call back immediately."
"I'm at the Beverly Hilton," one might say. "My number is ..."
"I'd like a tall blond," a more discriminating client might inquire.
Whoever picks up the message first has first dibs. "This is Julie. I
called back Jim. I'm going to take the call. It's at the Beverly Hilton,
room number 304."
Kevin's system automatically broadcasts the "taken" message to the
other escorts. And if they discover a john has checked in under an alias
or don't like the sound of his voice, they'll alert their coworkers. "This
is Sarah. I just talked to George. He sounds like a sick one. I'm not tak-
Best of all, from Kevin's perspective, his elaborate system costs no-
body and simply utilizes the excess capacity of Pac Bell and American
Voice Retrieval. If the authorities catch on to the operation, Kevin can
take control of his choke point with SAS and forward the ads to another
voice mail company in minutes. And he's careful not to leave a trail.
Kevin always randomly dials someone else's voice mail box before en-
tering his number to step neatly over to his box. If anyone puts a trap on
Kevin's box, all they'll trace is a call to another random box.
Once an escort reaches the designated hotel, she leaves a message on
Spiegel's voice mail. Her call back to announce she's done also serves as
an accounting check; perhaps an even better one than Spiegel suspects.
Whether Spiegel knows it or not, Kevin listens to his messages to be
sure he gets his twenty dollars per "date." Kevin never speaks to the es-
corts, and though Spiegel describes each escort to him over the phone,
Kevin still thinks it odd that Spiegel requires them to supply nude snap-
shots for his book.
Kevin is fascinated by the barrage of Friday and Saturday night calls,
interrupting his hacking frequently to make sure everything is running
smoothly. He becomes so engrossed with the process of voice mail pros-
titution that he lets far more lucrative opportunities slide by. Radio con-
tests with $10,000 prizes come and go, as Kevin follows the details of
every "date," from a john's initial call to the escort's check-in message
and occasional description of the trick.
Perhaps as a precaution to guard his own prized privacy, Kevin is
careful to maintain his physical distance from Spiegel and the girls. But
Ron suspects it's more than that. He sees the whole strange affair as a
weirdly appropriate facsimile of a social life for a cyberpunk to whom
technology is reality. Kevin watches, content with his one-way window
"Is this a great country or what?" Kevin jokes to Ron. "Girls are going
out and sleeping with guys, and I'm making money on it."
n late spring of 1989, a group
calling itself the nuPrometheus League commits the ultimate com-
puter hack. Like the mythical Greek hero Prometheus, the mysterious
group of software artists steals fire from one of the gods of high tech,
Apple Computer. Anonymous Apple employees mail the Macin-
tosh's proprietary code to industry observers with a manifesto. "The
nuPrometheus League has no ambition beyond seeing the genius of a
few Apple employees benefit the entire world, not just dissipated by
Apple through litigation and ill will."
In a sense it's logical that the nuPrometheus League would rebel at
Apple. Though the maverick company first made its fortune by promot-
ing the Individual over the System, its critics fear that by refusing to li-
cense its highly touted interface, Apple is crippling its own growth and
denying the public the power of its intuitive computing. But there are
consequences for stealing fire from the gods. When Zeus discovered
Prometheus had given fire to mankind, he bound him to a rock and sent
an eagle to peck him again and again for thousands of years. When
Apple discovers the nuPrometheus rebels have copied its software, the
corporation declares it piracy and a crime. Though the pirates appear to
have a goal of free exchange of information, the age when Apple or the
authorities might have listened to their idealistic philosophy is long
past. Computers are a multibillion-dollar business, firmly entrenched
in the establishment. Apple calls in the FBI to investigate.
Agent Steal is making waves on-line.
I'm here! Bigdeal right? Wellsome day I'llgetbusted andyou will
all hearabout all theinnovative, bold and crazy things I've done
and can't talk about because mostphreaks are narrowminded bull-
shitting, immature,Juck heads that wouldnarc on theirgirlfriend if
the shitcame down!
Eric is finding himself on the hacker bulletin boards, stretching his elec-
tronic wings, creating his identity and entertaining his public. When
Kevin comes over to Eric's pad for their evening central office outing,
Eric is dishing off an e-mail post, asking Kevin to check whether he's
gotten his techno facts straight. When Kevin spies a postscript he real-
izes he's been right all along not to trust Eric. Over the Net, for every
hacker or government informant to see, Eric is hinting at their latest
I wishI was at liberty to explain to everyone thecorrect way to
"monitor" dialups. However, doing so could draw attention tomy
Kevin is disgusted by Eric's arrogance. Why doesn't he just announce to
the whole world that they have a tap on Telenet in the basement of the
Mutual of Omaha building? Why not just hand over the number to the
FBI? But then, Kevin doesn't understand Eric. Kevin has no need of an
audience other than Ron and perhaps Eric. He can't fathom why Eric
needs this outlet, why it's necessary to his sense of well-being, why he
needs it just as badly as he needs to cruise the clubs nearly every night.
On-line, caught up in the moment, Eric imagines a utopian hacker's bul-
I would like to announce the creation ofa new sub. . . This sub will
beexclusivelyfor hack/phreaks thathavebeen activefor at least 3
years. Having been aroundfor 10+ yearsand three handles IfeelI
havethejustification in being the sponsor. I hope thiscanbea sub
where we can talk with a little openness about some ofthethings we
don't usually talk about onothersubs. I planon personally inviting
themembers andI hope some ofyou won'tbeinsulted whenyou're
notinvited. . . .
But Eric's on-line euphoria evaporates faster than a screen refresh. He
may impress teens with hints of his crimes, but the hard-core hackers
he boasts of inviting mock him for his technical blunders. Phiber Optik,
a skilled hacker and phreak from the original and most famous gang of
digital desperadoes, the Legion of Doom, slams one of Eric's posts. Sud-
denly it's an all-out attack. Acid Phreak, a talented and arrogant young
New York member of the feared Masters of Deception gang, writes,
You should excuse your ignorance Mr. Steal. . . this isbecoming one
bigjoke . . . pardon my "abusive" and "embellishing" attitude. . . .
But the insults don't dampen Eric's enthusiasm. He charges ahead,
in search of celebrity status.
It makes no sense to Kevin. Why in the world would Eric spend days
writing a twenty-page file for LOD's on-line technical journal? Why
would he bother retyping detailed descriptions from stolen Pac Bell
manuals, loosely disguising the lifted material with his own hacker
commentary? Does he really believe this will provide him an entree to
the notorious gang?
Eric asks Kevin to offer critical suggestions on his opus, a detailed,
behind-the-scenes look at how a central office and the local phone net-
work work. While Kevin does offer a few corrections, he isn't sure it's in
his best interest to tum Eric into a public figure that might gain the at-
tention of the authorities.
THE LOD/H TECHNICAL JOURNAL, ISSUE #4: FILE 04
$ Central Office Operations $
$ Western Electric rESS,rAESS, $
$ Theend office networkenvironment $
$ Written by Agent Steal r989 $
Topics covered in thisarticle will be:
BL V, (REMOB) and "No testtrunks"
DidI getyour attention? Good, everyone should readthis. With the
time, effort, and balls it has taken me to compile thisknowledge it is
certainly worthyour time.
The article begins by describing the fundamentals of the Bellphone net-
work, but there's no doubt that Agent Steal is trying to live up to his
handle and advise his audience on how to commit crimes. He recom-
mends calling through several different phone companies to avoid a
trace and adds a postscript:
Special thanks toall thestupidpeople,jor withoutthem some ofus
wouldn't besosmart and mighthavetoworkfor a living. Also all
the usualBell Labs, AT fT T blablabla etc. etc.
fffff FREE KEVIN MITNICK fffff
Kevin's carefully constructed plan oflimited access for Eric hasn't quite
worked out the way he hoped. He could point to a dozen violations, but
for Kevin, Eric's detective work is the unforgivable crime. Kevin sees
hacking as the ultimate expression of the individual in the age of high
technology. To hack is to challenge corporate and governmental con-
trol over knowledge and information. But instead of placing that power
in the hands of individuals, Eric is selling his access to a detective, who
in tum is selling it to businesses and corporations. To Kevin's way of
thinking, that transgression is far worse than his own small role in the
world's oldest profession.
There's a practical matter too. Eric is jeopardizing their information
stream by selling its bounty to the highest bidder. Suppose, Kevin ar-
gues, that Eric keeps selling DMV printouts to the detective and some-
body blows the whistle. The private eye could get caught, and then it
would only be a matter of time before Eric would get caught, and Kevin
would be at risk too.
An all-out attack is being made on the Sunset CO. Windows are broken,
doors are left ajar, alarms are tampered with, computers are unplugged,
and smoke bombs blast warning plumes up into the sky. Kevin always
figured that if Pac Bell ever suspected that anyone was breaking into its
central offices the buildings would become more secure than an Air
Force base. But try as Kevin might to draw attention to the break-ins, Pac
Bellremains disinterested. He just can't seem to get them to do anything
about their security problem.
The new guard is a start, but since none of the building's other secu-
rity breaches have been remedied, the guard's hour break in the middle
of the night provides an ample window of opportunity. If Pac Bell re-
fuses to take responsibility for the powerful and dangerous secrets it
holds within its walls, then someone or something more responsible is
going to have to take on the task. If Pac Bell won't keep Eric out, then
somebody will have to do the next best thing.
Kevin's warrior mentality is simple. His bold measures at Sunset have
failed. Eric is getting too close to SAS, and Kevin fears that if he spends
much more time in room 314 in Sunset, Eric will not only ruin the op-
portunity for Kevin but become a danger to society. Ultimately, Kevin
sees it as a question of being faithful to his code. His hacker ethics re-
quire that he control whatever access Eric might have stumbled upon
through their association.
"It's like a bomb being detonated in a field," Kevin says matter-of-
factly to Ron one afternoon. "You detonate it under controlled circum-
stances. Eric is going to go off sooner or later, and who knows what's go-
ing to happen then."
Ron is stunned. Kevin has broken into dozens of central offices with
Eric at his side. How could Kevin justify doing this to Eric?
"But if you get him caught he's going to tell about everything you've
been doing!" Ron protests.
Kevin shrugs. "That's going to happen anyway."
In Kevin's mind Eric's arrest is a foregone conclusion. The con-
trolled detonation is the most direct way to go about it. He knows, given
the chance, Eric would do the same to him. This way he can get rid of
Eric cleanly without having to worry about being caught up in one of
his stupid mistakes.
"I'd rather die," Kevin tells Ron in all seriousness, "than let Eric get
"You want to go?" Eric teases.
About a week has passed since Kevin's controlled detonation decla-
ration. Ron is hanging out at Eric's apartment late one evening. Eric
knows that despite Ron's reluctance, he still finds the idea of the nightly
excursions appealing, something romantic and forbidden.
"No, I'll just stay here," Ron says, waving him on.
A couple of minutes later Eric's phone rings. It's the Watchman.
He's surprised. What could Ron be doing at Eric's?
"Nothing," explains Ron. "I just dropped by to see Eric."
"Across the street."
"That's all I need to know," Kevin says, hanging up.
Ron's mind races. There still might be time. He could phone the Sun-
set public address system. If Eric's lucky, he might just hear him before
it's too late.
Kevin calls a Pac Bell switching control center from a pay phone
around the corner from Eric's. "I'm going into your Sunset CO," Kevin
says simply. "There's nothing you can do to stop me."
He waits a block away, in the parking lot of Ralph's supermarket.
Finally, after about ten minutes, a single LAPD squad car slowly
Shit, not much of a response.
It seems almost impossible to get Pac Bell to acknowledge its secu-
rity problem. Kevin drives to the corner mini-mall near Eric's, across the
street from Sunset, and waits.
Eric hears the Sunset phone ring and then the sound of a door opening,
but he doesn't panic. He knows the layout better than the engineer who
designed the place. He doesn't need a light to find his way through the
vast frames and switches. So what if the cops are already in the building.
Before they can take more than a few tentative steps, Eric is out the
He hears the grinding copter blades overhead in the darkness and
the roar of the squad cars racing toward him. He's tempted to run, but
he relaxes. What kind of burglar or phone hacker would have teased
blond hair below his shoulders and be dressed for a night on the Strip?
Cop cars screech in from every direction, choking the street. A cop-
ter shines its spotlight on Kevin's car for a moment, and then onto the
dark, windowless building. Kevin calmly gets out of his car and sits on
the curb. He chats with a couple of homeless men, counting the dozen
or so LAPD squad cars and returning the glance of a suspicious cop.
That's one of the Watchman's favorite parts. Watching the scene he's
orchestrated play itself out.
Ron thinks about picking up the phone and making the call. Then, he
thinks about what Kevin had said about controlled detonation. What
might Kevin do if he messes with the fuse?
Five minutes slowly tick by. Eric's caught, Ron thinks to himself, as
the first cop car arrives and the building lights up like a Christmas tree.
He doesn't have a chance.
And then, Eric,a quirky smile on his face,strides into the apartment.
He's excited. He's never seen anything quite like it. They lie on their
stomachs in his living room, peering through the bakony rails, close
enough to make out faces in the dark, watching Sunset crowd with
squad cars and police dogs. The helicopter hovers above, its searchlight
tracing the building.
"Do you think Kevin did this?"
When Kevin first mentioned his controlled detonation plan, Ron
had always figured he would expose Eric's other criminal schemes, like
supplying birth certificates to gypsies or wiretapping for the detective.
Ron can see no logic in alerting the cops to the very place where they too
committed their crimes. It's like leaving a trail for the authorities, like
dropping crumbs that lead back to his own lair.
But lying there, next to Eric on the floor, Ron realizes that whether
by plan or accident, he has been used. If Kevin has indeed set up Eric, it
doesn't look good that Ron happened by that very night, waiting in the
apartment to coordinate the critical timing of Kevin's threatening call
to Pac Bell.
There's no way out. If Ron tells Eric the truth, Eric will likely see him
as a rat since he pretended to be Eric's friend. But that's only the first of
Ron's fears. To him, Kevin's idea of a controlled detonation is crazy. If
Eric is caught or even just seriously challenged, he will certainly turn
against Kevin, and quite probably Ron, too. It will be all out war.
"N0," Ron reassures Eric, as they lie on their bellies looking out at the
searchlights illuminating the building. "I really don't think he would do
anything like this to you."
Kevin knows that Ron has completely misunderstood him. He only
meant to spook Eric. Ron's job was to keep Eric from going inside. If
Kevin had wanted Eric busted he would have called in the address of
Eric's apartment to the Switch and Control Center. There was plenty
of evidence of crimes in Eric's pad. By controlled detonation, Kevin
meant detonating Sunset and Eric's hopes of getting SAS.
That's why Kevin used the word controlled. That's why one night af-
ter Eric goes out on the town, the Watchman enters his apartment
building, picks the cheap lock on the telephone closet, and yanks on the
secret cable to make it appear someone has been messing with it. Back
at his apartment, he implements the electronic side of his plan.
The following evening, Ron is hanging out at Eric's pad when it hap-
pens. Eric keeps his phone line attached to his stereo speakers just in
case someone is foolish enough to tamper with his line. That way, he
figures, he'll hear the slightest modulation in sound.
"What the hem" wonders Eric. Somebody or something has put
tone on his line. Eric runs down to the street and looks around the Bbox.
Nothing. He pries open the box and counts down the terminal posts to
his line. Nothing unusual. Back at his apartment he checks the base-
ment telephone closet. Ron watches Eric pale when he sees that his line
has been tugged at.
In the morning Eric finds an authentic Best phone company lock on
his B box. Then, Eric's apartment manager gets a phone call from Pac
Bell, a few questions about how long Eric Peters (his alias) has lived in
the building. That same day all of Eric Peters's free custom calling card
features are removed from the system by someone called G. S. Security.
Kevin, of course, has ostensibly been out of town during the attacks,
up north to attend to some business. On Friday afternoon, after every-
body leaves for the day from Pac Bell's Southern California loop assign-
ment centers, the Watchman changes the Cosmos password for the
weekend, the same password that Eric has been using to provide the In-
vestigator with services and enjoy free custom calling features. Eric im-
mediately notices he can't get into Cosmos, but he's not sure what to
make of it. He doubts even Kevin has the power to change the password
that thousands of Pac Bell employees use.
That same Saturday night, Eric returns home drunk with Frecia, ex-
cited about the prospect of sex. But before he's even opened his door he
knows there's trouble.
"Beep,beep, beep!" chimes the computer Eric keeps on-line with the
Sunset switch. He stumbles in and stares at the flashing control "G"son
his screen. Call traces have been issued on his line.
Drunk as he is, Eric knows it's time to go into "secure mode." Eric
calls Grant Straus and unplugs every piece of electronic gear he owns.
He grabs his manuals and drags everything down the stairs into his
Porsche and over to his friend's apartment. It's a lot of stuff to move in a
drunken blur. Two computers, three terminals, five modems, and six
boxes of manuals and gizmos.
Freda will have to wait.
tamped "Secret" and filled with
bombing coordinates and references to CBX Caber Dragon military ex-
ercises, the air tasking orders found on Kevin Poulsen's computer tape
propel Pac Bell's Von Brauch into action. Fearing the worst, the investi-
gator immediately notifies a local FBI foreign counterintelligence agent.
But the FBI agent tells him the Pentagon says the documents are unclass-
ified, and the evidence Von Brauch has passed along about Poulsen's
possible compromising of federal wiretaps doesn't interest the Bureau.
So Von Brauch returns to his modest state case. He sees plenty of
prosecutable crimes. Dozens of counts of illegal entry into a computer
system and fraudulent wire communications. Half a dozen counts of
wiretapping or interception of communications. Plus the old-fashioned
crimes of burglary, possession of stolen property, and theft.
But then the feds decide to give Poulsen another look. Joe Burton,
head of the San Jose U.S. attorney's office, calls Poulsen associate Mark
Lottor before a grand jury. But the hacker with the silent grin takes the
Fifth, and so goes Burton's interest. The prosecutor assigns the case to
another assistant U.S. attorney in the office and, after the case lan-
guishes for a few months, Von Brauch is told that no one can find more
than two misdemeanor charges, hardly sufficient to bring a federal in-
By March of 1989, Von Brauch begins to worry. How long can he
count on finding enthusiastic district attorneys when the feds keep
jerking the case away from him every few months and then leaving it in
limbo? But Von Brauch never considers quitting. He knows something
about adversity. He'd done a tour in Vietnam, and walked a beat for the
rough-and-tumble Oakland Police Department. The bull-necked,
tough-talking Von Brauch has earned the dubious distinction of being
fired twice by the Oakland Police Department. He's knocked a man un-
conscious with a beaver tail sap, and kicked out a window at the Hell's
Angels Oakland clubhouse. The first time Von Brauch appealed and
won back his job with back pay. The second time, when the department
fired him for violating numerous police department codes, including
those regarding "use of physical force" and "truthfulness," Von Brauch
decided to take a job at Pac Bell, later appealing his case and winning
back wages and legal fees.
A determined Von Brauch writes the U.S. attorney and asks
whether the feds are going to fish or cut bait.
OnFebruary 9, 1988, Pacific Bell Security andthe Menlo Park Police
Department opened an investigative case onKevin Poulsen andMark
Lottor. As a result ofinformation obtained in two searches, theFBI
was notified ofevidence indicating interception ofcommunication
and national defense violations by thesuspects. . . . DuetotheFed-
eralcharges andAssistant U. S. AttorneyBurton's insistence onFed-
eralprosecution, local authorities havebeen reluctant toproceed. . . .
This case hascaused great effort and expenditure offunds by Pacific
Bell. As a corporation, we arevery interested in seeing this case
prosecuted to thefullest assoon as possible. I respectfully request
clarification oftheU.S. Government's position onprosecution.IfIed-
eralprosecution isnotforthcoming, therelease ofthiscase tolocal
authoritiesfor prosecution wouldbegreatly appreciated.
K. J. Von Brauch
Rob Crowe can read between the lines.
"Crowe, this is going to be like recreation. It's going to be a really fun
case, and it's also going to be like a law school exam," Joe Burton says in
February of 1989, soon after Crowe begins working at the San Jose U.S.
attorney's office. "The mission is to find federal charges here."
Crowe knows that as the new kid on the block he's being handed the
office dregs. Short and stocky with a boyish face, Crowe had worked in
the Brooklyn D.A.'s office for four years, prosecuting robberies,
murders, and drug deals. A native Chicagoan, Crowe appreciates direct-
ness. That's what he likes about Von Brauch's letter. The man sounds
earnest. He writes back and promises that the federal merry-go-round
DearMr. Von Brauch:
I am writing in response toyour letter ofMarch 6, I989, toMr.
Joseph P. Russoniello, United States Attorneyfor theNorthern Dis-
trict ofCalifornia, regarding thereferenced matter. I havebeen as-
signed to this case. Our Office regards thisas a mostserious matter
deserving rigorous prosecution ofall possiblefederal offenses. Please
call meat your earliest convenience during the weekofMarch 27,
I989, sothat we may arrange a meeting to discuss thefacts, anyfur-
therinvestigative steps that may benecessary and thespecificfed-
eraloffensesfor which we canprosecute these individuals.
Joseph P. Russoniello
United States Attorney
Robert K. Crowe
AssistantUnited States Attorney
Von Brauch is impressed by Crowe's reply and his phone call the very
same day. Finally, somebody in the U.S. attorney's office is interested.
Crowe pens Von Brauch in for a meeting at his office on the thirty-first
of March, but when the day arrives, the assistant U.S. attorney cancels.
Nor does he make the next three meetings they schedule. This time Von
Brauch is pushed aside by a zo.ooo-pound marijuana smuggling case
and a $S6 million fraud case. Crowe is working over sixty hours a week,
and the truth is that he, like the two attorneys before him, can't find
time for Poulsen.
On April 28, 1989, Von Brauch finally finds himself face-to-face with
Rob Crowe and Special Agent Jim Monte in a conference room at the
San Jose u.s. attorney's office.The chemistry surprises both men. Crowe
had expected some techie dweeb, not a 2 so-pound streetsmart former
cop busting out of his suit like the Terminator. Both men pump iron,
and there's a sense of mutual respect. Von Brauch respects Crowe's ex-
perience as a D.A. in Brooklyn, while Crowe looks to Von Brauch for
guidance because he doesn't know anything about computers or
They open up the federal code and start analyzing the charges. This
is what Von Brauch likes best about working a case. He's always consid-
ered himself creative, skilled at turning up obscure laws. "Bailstacking,"
he calls it. Take literally every possible charge and then "whack" the de-
fendant. Let Poulsen prove his innocence.
Crowe believes Poulsen's crimes are morally reprehensible, but he
isn't sure whether statutes have been enacted to cover his electronic
violations. He's flipping through his paperback copy of the Federal
Criminal Code and Rules when Von Brauch makes an unusual sugges-
tion. "How about the charge of using a false social security number?"
"I've never heard of that," a puzzled Crowe replies.
The Pac Bell man smiles. "It's Title Forty-two."
The minor social security charge, almost never brought in a federal
case, symbolizes the new attitude the Pac Bell man and the prosecutor
bring to the case. Possibilities, that's what they're developing, and nei-
ther man wants to limit himself to traditional ideas of crime and pun-
ishment. Bythe end of the day they've mustered thirty-five possible fel-
ony counts against the hacker. Crowe is rolling. In early July he begins
calling witnesses and convening grand juries. He's laid out the felony
charges on paper. Now, he's got to persuade a jury that they merit a fed-
Molly Ringwald places her hand on the Bible and takes the oath. She
had not wanted to appear before the grand jury, declining to cooperate
with the investigation until the subpoena forced her from Hollywood
to the San Jose courtroom three hundred miles north. Dressed plainly
and without makeup, she looks entirely ordinary, not at all the rosy-
cheeked star of TheBreakfast Club.
Crowe and the grand jurors await Ringwald's arrival with anticipa-
tion, for what greater proof of the all-encompassing power of a danger-
ous computer hacker could there be than his victimization of a rising
young starlet? Last week Ringwald's sister and brother had testified un-
der oath before the grand jury. Kevin Poulsen, the government charged,
had tapped the phone of a movie star.
"I am going to playa tape for you at this time, Ms. Ringwald," Crowe be-
gins after swearing her in. "Will you please see if you can listen to the
voice and identify the voice on the tape."
Crowe plays the tape confiscated from Poulsen, a strange message
left on the unlisted phone at Ringwald's parents' North Hollywood
home. The grand jury hears words they never expected.
"Does it sound like your voice?" asks the prosecutor.
"Not to me," replies Ringwald.
Crowe asks her to read the transcript out loud so they can compare
it to the tape.
"Excuse me. Can you hold on for a second?" Ringwald interrupts the
prosecutor. "I need to call for a recess."
To Crowe, Ringwald appears pale, almost as if she's about to be
A few minutes later, an ashen Molly Ringwald returns to the stand.
"Ms. Ringwald, have you had an adequate opportunity to consult
with your attorney?"
"Do you wish to continue at this time?"
Crowe tests the microphone and shows Ringwald which button to
press to play the recording.
"Ready?" she asks.
"Yeah," replies Crowe.
"This is 5°9-0338. If you're calling and looking for Scott, he's not
here and you should have figured that out by now. If you call again, I
swear I am going to call the police because there's nobody here by that
name. It's driving me up a fucking wall. ..."
Still shaken, Ringwald ended her gut-wrenching testimony, uncertain
if Poulsen's intrusions into her life were over. Crowe wasn't happy
about having to put her through the ordeal, but if Poulsen were to be
stopped, he'd have to prove his crimes. That was why he was proud of
his interrogation. For despite Ringwald's vague denials, the voice on the
tape seemed to be hers.
But what exactly had the prosecutor proved? If he'd just listened to
the tape closely he would have seen that Ringwald's testimony couldn't
prove a wiretap. The government had merely established that Kevin
Poulsen had phoned the unlisted number of a Hollywood star and tape-
recorded her outgoing answering machine message.
The Ringwald fiasco doesn't bother Crowe. He's got an ace in the hole,
the military orders found in Kevin's locker. Crowe makes an appoint-
ment with Special Agent Monte, one of the G-men working on the Poul-
sen case. Monte walks to the evidence room and carries the file to his
office.The assistant U.S. attorney can't copy anything or take it from the
FBI agent's office. To do so would be a federal crime.
The first air tasking order Crowe reviews is stamped "Secret" and
dated November 25, 1987. He can barely make out that it's from
Bergstrom Air Force Baseto an Army base at Fort Bragg,North Carolina.
The heading reads, "EXER/CABE DRAGON."
The rest is gibberish to Crowe. He starts asking Monte concrete
questions. Was the exercise real? Were there planes flying? What was
happening on the ground? But Monte doesn't know. He phones some-
body in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and then the
AFOSI guy phones somebody in the Pentagon. The game of telephone
requires three or four people for Crowe to get a reply, and the answers
At first Crowe is told there's one air tasking order, then, two: a 1987
exercise with real bombing coordinates for Nicaragua and a 1986 exer-
cise targeting Iraq. Crowe is told the Iraq exercise had planes in Georgia
simulating the dropping of bombs over a geographical overlay of Iraq.
He struggles to sort through the muddle of previous inquiries. Back in
March of 1988 an FBI memo reported there was no classified informa-
tion on Poulsen's computer tapes. In April of 1988 an FBI agent was told
by a major in the Pentagon that the 1986 ATO, at least, had been declas-
None of these setbacks slow Crowe. The records on the first inquir-
ies are so shoddy that he's not sure what they prove. Perhaps the mili-
tary wrongly assumed the 1986 ATO had been declassified because it
mistakenly believed the Georgia targets were fictional? But Crowe sees
no such confusion on the 1987 ATO. The document is stamped "Secret"
and has real bombing targets. SRI supplied the computers and techni-
cians to run the computer simulations on the ground. And Nicaragua?
That makes Crowe stop and think. Wasn't Reagan rattling his saber
against the Sandinistas and General Ortega about then?
"This thing has to be classified," Crowe insists to Monte. "I want
someone to review this again."
So Monte picks up the telephone once more. A colonel who was con-
tacted before is sent the 1987 ATO. He checks the document's classifica-
tion codes and again concludes the document was declassified after the
exercise. Crowe requests and receives the classification code, and after
studying it decides the colonel must be mistaken. As he sees it, the code
suggests the document should never have been declassified.
In early August, Crowe abandons trying to change the colonel's
mind and finds a Major Lecklieder who flew in the exercise. Monte
sends Major Lecklieder the ATO and receives a telegram from the Air
Force's Office of Special Investigations on August 9,1989. "Major Leek-
lieder looked at the information and advised the information was and
still remains classified...." The following week, on August 17, 1989, an
FBI teletype reads, "San Francisco is re-opening this matter due to 8/10
determination of Air Force 0 SI that information stolen by subject was
Maybe they're classified, maybe they're not. Either way Crowe
knows the AT 0 s have national security implications, and Poulsen's got
no business having copies of them. Crowe doesn't have the slightest
idea whether Poulsen took them while working for SRI on the exer-
cises or hacked the military's computers, but he knows the hacker was
given a second chance and a security clearance and abused the trust SRI
and the government put in him. The arrogance of Poulsen's Pac Bell
break-ins, his invasions of privacy, his inquiries about the Soviet consu-
late and federal wiretaps, his lies to Detective Neil-all these facts
weigh on Crowe.
Crowe makes his request to the Justice Department in Washington,
D.C., unaware that he's asking the federal government to make his-
tory. No computer hacker has ever before been charged with espionage.
evin sees what others don't.
When Eric spots the thin metal DNR tap lying on the floor of the
Sunset CO, he only sees a hunk of steel connected to the frame. But
Kevin looks beyond the physical discovery. He's interested in general
principles, the greater framework. Ifhe can understand how a single tap
is placed perhaps he can understand others. Perhaps he can anticipate
the taps he fears Pac Bell might place on the lines of his parents and
So Kevin checks Cosmos and finds a clue. The on-line record does
not-like a normal telephone number-include a cable pair assign-
ment. From his apartment, Kevin dials Cosmos and begins searching for
more of these unusual phone numbers. The first pass turns up over a
hundred records, far too many taps for a single central office,and Kevin
chastises himself for not anticipating the problem. Foreign exchanges,
numbers that ring in one office and then run over a carrier to another
office,don't show a cable pair, nor do remotely call forwarded numbers.
Kevin begins a crude search for every Pac BellDNR tap in the state
of California. When the sheer volume of the search bogs down in Cos-
mos, Kevin writes a program to streamline the process. Pac Bell's com-
puters do his grunt work. His program runs on twenty Cosmos ma-
chines, half of them located in San Diego, the other half in Hayward,
searching millions of telephone lines.
In just ninety minutes, Kevin Poulsen turns up roughly seven Pac
Bell wiretaps spread around the state. He could visit the central office
where each tap is located, to listen in, but he doesn't need to-he's got
SAS. Kevin checks the first line. He hears a high-pitched tone, a signal
to the phone company's tape recorders that the phone is on the hook
and there's nothing to record. Then, the curtain of sound suddenly lifts,
and he hears modem breath. Kevin watches someone upload a program
to a bulletin board, then skips to a couple of other lines-a conversa-
tion, and more data transmission. He types a one-line description of
what he finds on each tap.
Only Kevin knows exactly why he eavesdrops. The illicit taps have
an obvious attraction for a hacker, but for Kevin maybe it's a question of
survival, of checking the taps in case they lead back to him. Or perhaps
something simpler, the allure of playing Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's
RearWindow. Could Kevin have a higher goal? Might he be looking out
for phone phreaks or others he believes are being unfairly targeted by
the Phone Company? Whatever his motivations, that evening Kevin
doesn't find anyone who merits his protection.
Each afternoon, Kevin searches the offices that switch Eric's, Ron's,
his parents', and his own calls, canvassing every phone line in North
Hollywood, Glendale, Sunset, BeverlyHills, and Van Nuys. He can begin
hacking before his search is complete, because he knows how the sys-
tem works. The records are entered into Cosmos a day or so before the
technician physically hooks up the tap to the frame. It's a remarkable
insight. The Watchman has developed the power to anticipate every
Pac Bell wiretap in the state of California.
Kevin finds it in a Bbox on the street one night, a thin metal device with
phone wires going in one end and out the other, and a big red sticker
that warns, "Do not remove this device! Please call security at ..."
Something tells Kevin this is different from the DNR tap he found
on Spiegel's line. At his apartment, he runs the circuit number listed on
the device through Word, a Pac Bell system that tracks private circuits.
"Please contact Mark Yelchak in security," says the file, giving an ad-
dress of 180 New Montgomery. That's funny, Kevin thinks, remember-
ing his late-night visit to Pac Bell's New Montgomery headquarters.
He pulls up the building in various Pac Bell systems, checking floor
by floor. Something doesn't look right. Suddenly it hits him. The build-
ing he burglarized was 140 New Montgomery-not 180. Kevin zeros in
on a single floor dedicated to security, a department called Electronic
Operations, and finds fifty phone lines all grouped together. Electronic
Operations-what could it mean? The files on each line contain a refer-
ence to the Pac Bell Computer Security System, and reveal the equip-
ment on each line. Tape recorders. Fifty of them.
Kevin isn't totally surprised by his discovery. He knows that Pac Bell
and other phone companies are required by law to carry out federal,
state, and local court-ordered wiretaps. It's a carefully monitored legal
process. The federal criminal code orders the assistant attorney general
to "reveal the identity of the ... law enforcement officer making the ap-
plication ... [and] make a ... statement as to whether or not other inves-
tigative procedures have been tried and failed." Only specific crimes
such as murder, espionage, kidnapping, racketeering, drug dealing,
bribery, and fraud can justify taps. Even U. S. intelligence agencies have
to apply to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for national
The Pac Bell taps Kevin has discovered appear to be DNRs which
can double as wiretaps. That's what troubles Kevin. He knows there's
nothing stopping Pac Bell from tapping dozens of lines on a moment's
notice. Phone companies are the only entities in America that can wire-
tap with impunity, the only entities granted more power than the CIA,
the NSA, or the FBI. The federal statute states that it is "not unlawful"
for "an operator of a switchboard, or an officer, employee, or agent of a
provider of wire or electronic communication service" to use that same
service to "intercept ... that communication" in the "protection of the
rights or property of the provider of that service...."
Somehow this doesn't make sense to Kevin. Other companies can't
invade their customers' private conversations. Why shouldn't Pac Bell
and other phone companies turn their fraud cases over to the proper
law enforcement agencies, and let justice take its course, like other cor-
But Kevin knows that the taps are only the tip of the iceberg. The
statute is silent on the right of phone companies to perform traps and
traces and detailed analyses of a suspect's calling patterns. If Pac Bell
wished to hide an investigation from the FBI or Secret Service, no court
could force it to reveal the nature or target of its inquiry. Even the an-
nual number of taps is secret. Does Pac Bell wiretap ten people a year,
fifty, or a thousand?
Kevin decides to find out. First he dials the fifty phone numbers at
180 New Montgomery and discovers that no matter what the hour they
ring endlessly or are forever busy. Then he wiretaps all fifty lines with
SAS. If he hears anything-conversation, modem tones-he writes a
one-line summary. He comes up with seven working taps.
Kevin repeats his statewide Cosmos Pac Bell wiretap search, and
ninety minutes later he can't believe what he's found. Seven numbers,
the same figure he found in 180 New Montgomery. He drops in on the
Cosmos taps scattered around the state and hears the same voices and
sees the same data. It's as if he's stumbled onto a parallel universe. Every
Pac Bell tap has two different monitor lines, one in the local central
office attached to the suspect's line and another at 180 New Mont-
gomery attached to a tape recorder and the Pac Bell Computer Security
System. Security investigators can dial any of those fifty numbers and
enter a remarkably easy one- to eight-digit security code. And Kevin
knows that if the monitor line happens to be down the tap will be sit~
ting there waiting to be exploited. Kevin won't even need SAS. Just dial
the number plus the security code and wiretap the wiretapped.
Kevin hasn't forgotten about Mark Yelchak at 180 New Montgomery.
He begins perusing random circuits on-line, and after a little checking,
finds another record that suggests he contact Yelchak. Kevin compares
it to the first circuit he found in the Bbox. Both are identified by two ran-
dom numbers, then the letters AFLA, followed by a string of random
digits. That isn't all the two circuits have in common. Both originate in
ordinary Bboxes and terminate at IIOOO Wilshire, the federal building,
LosAngeles headquarters for the FBI. After further study, Kevin finds a
couple of alarm pairs that don't run to the Federal building but share
the AFLA designation. Kevin can't explain the false positives, but then
he doesn't really need to: over 90 percent of the AFLA circuits he finds
are federal wiretaps.
What surprises Kevin is how easy the federal government makes it
to crack their vaunted veil of security. Since the early days of Hoover,
wiretaps have been the secret weapon of the FBI, powerful enough to
ensnare gangsters and keep political enemies and presidents in check.
Indeed, traditionally wiretaps have been what separates the govern-
ment from the crooks. The idea that an ambitious hacker with a PC
could expose federal taps is absurd. If that's all it takes, then how well
could the FBI be expected to investigate mobsters, corrupt politicians,
But as Kevin learns more about how the government and Pac Bell
track federal wiretaps, he discovers that it's even worse than he
thought. The Bureau is not the only federal agency that permits Pac Bell
to track its taps on-line. Kevin soon finds taps running to two occupants
of the Los Angeles World Trade Center, the DEA and the Secret Ser-
vice-the primary federal agency entrusted with investigating hackers.
And when Kevin enters "AFLA" circuits into another Pac Bellsystem to
find out who ordered them, he finds that federal agents may actually
have a sense of humor. "Acme" and the "BusyBee"answering service or-
der lots of federal wiretaps.
Being curious, Kevin sometimes wants to know who's being tapped.
He could find the actual B box on the street, pry it open, and trace the
wires from the metal federal tap to the binding post and the specific
cable and pair numbers. Then, with Cosmos, he could turn the cable and
pair into a phone number that could be entered into other systems to re-
veal the person's name, social security number, birthdate, driver's li-
cense, and finally the street address.
But Kevin checks few taps this way. Why rely on physical crutches
if he can hack the answer? Many of the federal taps are in the San Fer-
nando Valley, and Kevin sets out to learn why. Since Pac Bell's comput-
ers volunteer the Bbox of the tap, Kevin systematically checks the lines
of the businesses within the building or block. Most appear ordinary: in-
surance companies, accountants, and lawyers. But then there's a red
flag, the company name for what seems to be a publisher or producer of
pornography. It makes sense. Los Angeles, and specifically the San Fer-
nando Valley, produces much of the world's pornography.
Kevin can definitively locate the porn tap without ever leaving his
apartment. He can remotely tap the tapped line in the B box with SAS
shoes, then dial the suspected porn business or call every number
within the target building. The proof? The sound of his own phone ring-
ing on the federally tapped line-through his own tap. He'd have the
phone number of the target of a federal investigation, and could, if he
wished to, listen in.
Why should the government hold all the cards? If they're going to
pursue him, why shouldn't he be able to track their moves? That's why
Kevin has to take it further and write the program that will blast a
massive hole in whatever false sense of security the federal govern-
ment holds in its ability to play Big Brother. And really, why not? The
founding fathers didn't promote spying in the Constitution. Far from
it, they instead wrote the Fourth Amendment, prohibiting warrant-
less searches and seizures, and emphasized the right to bear arms to
counter any government that might one day prove unrepresentative or
Once a day, Kevin's computer polls the Southern California systems,
checking dozens of central offices at a time. Each day, in a little over half
an hour, the computer accomplishes a task for which the mob or for-
eign agents would gladly pay thousands of dollars. Kevin knows every
FBI wiretap in Southern California, more than half of the largest state
in the Union, boasting the sixth largest economy in the world, and some
of the most advanced, classified technology in the nation. Kevin doesn't
simply know the existing wiretaps. Pac Bell enters the circuit identifier
and subscriber information, such as "Acme,"into its computers the very
day it receives a federal court order. But it's often days or even weeks be-
fore the taps are installed, days or weeks in which Kevin holds the
power to compromise the moves of the FBI, the DEA, or even the Se-
Who could possibly be wiretapping thirteen lines?
Kevin has found a building with thirteen taps, far more taps than
he's ever found clustered in one location. Publicly, the FBI claimed that
it wiretapped less than 250 people the previous year. How then could
there be thirteen wiretaps focused within a single building in Beverly
Few federal judges would authorize thirteen wiretaps on a single in-
dividual or business. Even the biggest mob investigations seldom reach
that size. No, Kevin has hit on something larger. Excited, he learns that
the thirteen lines are being monitored from the federal building. He
traces the tap back to its target, a process that is now second nature. At
first, the Beverly Hills address means nothing to him. What could be so
interesting across the street from the Beverly Center, the posh shopping
mall for movie stars, celebrities, and the rich?
Not more than a few hundred feet from the shopping center stands
the South African consulate. Could it really be true?
Ron punches up South Africa in Nexis, and watches the stream of sto-
ries mentioning nuclear power leap from the screen. The two hackers
are dumbfounded. They've stumbled onto real life, honest-to-God spy
taps, the stuff of espionage and national security. Kevin and Ron can't
possibly know whether the taps are authorized under the Foreign Intel-
ligence Surveillance Act by the Washington, D. C; court that grants
taps to the CIA and other spy agencies. Unlike common FBI and state
and local wiretaps, the court authorizations for spy taps have, according
to the Justice Department, never been made public. But what the hack-
ers have uncovered stuns them. Pac Bell's own on-line, Net accessible
records provide irrefutable evidence the spy taps have been in place for
It's just the beginning. Kevin finds ten more wiretaps that run back
to the federal building, ten wiretaps in the LosAngeles consulate of our
friendly ally Israel. And there's more. Incredibly, Kevin uncovers four-
teen taps near an office of the American Civil Liberties Union around
Wilshire and Sixth Street. Could one of the biggest FBI counterintelli-
gence operations in Los Angeles be targeting the American Civil Liber-
ties Union? Kevin checks all the businesses within the ACLU's build-
ing and finds one with five lines and another with two. There's no
match, so his hunch about the ACLU must be wrong. But the Chinese
consulate, on Shatto Street, off Wilshire, three doors down the street
from the A CLU, has fourteen lines. And something else is unusual. In-
stead of running back to the federal building like the other foreign taps,
the Chinese taps loop, jumping up to another floor, and then dropping
downstairs. Could the feds be listening to the Chinese from an upstairs
The game of hacking has suddenly drawn Kevin into a dangerous
world of international espionage. He can systematically ferret out spy
taps anywhere in Southern California, and he knows that it's a small
step to extend that capability to the rest of the nation, and even, poten-
tially, overseas. Kevin could send evidence of the taps to the South Afri-
cans, the Israelis, the Chinese, or even the Los Angeles Times. What might
the Israelis think about the ten wiretaps? And what might the FBI
think about its secret taps being featured on the evening news? What
might it think about a couple of hackers delving into national secrets?
Ron phones the number Kevin has dug up for the FBI's counterin-
telligence front operation at the Chinese consulate building and pre-
tends to be looking for a job. The spies at J. W. Collins & Associates can't
seem to get their story straight. One day they're in the publishing busi-
ness, the next they're in the information business. What side of the in-
formation business J. W. Collins & Associates pursues is not something
the company cares to discuss. Ron decides to pay a visit to the consulate,
a large, white office building. As he gets out of his car he notices some
dilapidated apartments across the way, and has the uneasy sensation
he's being watched. He strolls through the marble lobby, past the cheap
chandelier and half-dozing security guard, and takes the elevator to the
second floor. A laminated plaque next to the tall brown doors tells him
he's in the right place, J. W. Collins & Associates.
The office is larger than he imagined, covering nearly half the floor
of the consulate's building, and resembling a law firm. Magazines are
neatly arranged around the chairs and table in the waiting room, and
Ron can see numerous Macintosh computers and desks beyond. The
only crack in the FBI's counterintelligence facade is the absence of peo-
ple during normal business hours. Nobody seems to be home. The
woman comes out after quite some time, a little old lady right out of the
pages of a John le Carre novel.
"Can I help you?"
Kevin's found his first wiretap in the coastal home to Hollywood's
stars. As he investigates further, he notices that the Malibu tap runs to
a regional FBI office in Van Nuys. Why, Kevin wonders, is this tap run-
ning to a small office, situated farther from the tap than the federal
This time Kevin sees no easy method to divine the subject of the fed-
eral eavesdropping. SAS doesn't work with GTE, which handles ser-
vice in Malibu. So how can he do it? The easiest method would be to
drive out to the actual B box in Malibu and physically trace the lines,
but Kevin keeps his actions secret. All Ron knows is that Kevin discov-
ers that along with the FBI field office, a nearby Malibu residence has
been set up as a listening post, and to add to the mystery, the subject of
the wiretap appears to be a tony restaurant on the edge of the Pacific.
Why would the feds take such elaborate security measures for a res-
taurant? Ron searches the restaurant's name in Nexis and a story begins
to unfold. An October 1988 L.A. Times article describes a Prudential
Bache executive who "accepted a $2 million post-dated check from
ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaning kingpin Barry Minkow after he flew her to
Los Angeles" and "took her out for an intimate seaside dinner ... at
Malibu's Splash restaurant."
Kevin and Ron, like just about everybody in Los Angeles, remember
the ZZZZ Best scandal. The story became a parable for the greedy eigh-
ties, an improbable tale of a kid who seduced Wall Street and bilked
thousands of investors with a carpet-cleaning pyramid scheme. But
how does Splash fit in? And why would the feds still be tapping the joint
long after Minkow had been exposed? Another article describes
Splash's manager as Ronnie Lorenzo, "a member of the New Yark-based
Bonnano crime family" and then names prominent New York mafiosos
who frequented Splash and muscled in on the ZZZZ Best scam.
Kevin has hacked his way into one of the most publicized scams of
the last two years, a national front-page story that led to congressional
hearings. The federal attention and media circus only highlights
Kevin's phenomenal find. Advance knowledge of federal wiretaps is in-
deed a powerful tool, and the mare Kevin thinks about it, the more he
realizes how fortunate it is that he's continued his vigilance against
Eric. Eric already works for a detective who has no scruples about illegal
wiretaps. What would stop Eric from offering his services to the mob to
uncover federal wiretaps? Kevin knows it's not a hypothetical question.
Although Minkow's in jail, the Splash tap is still live. Very live. Incred-
ibly, within weeks of Kevin's discovery, Ronald Lorenzo, the owner of
the trendy Malibu nightspot, begins having a series of phone chats with
one Robert Franchi, an undercover FBI agent, over the very same line
Kevin knows is being tapped by the FBI.
Kevin makes the seven-hour drive to Northern California to visit Lottor
and Gilligan, but it's a little too long far his oil-leaking clunker. Just
short of the Menlo Park exit, the engine seizes and the car dies on the
freeway. Lottar isn't at his condo when he straggles in, and without a car
Kevin wonders how he'll pass the afternoon. Then he remembers.
There's a tap in the neighborhood he could check.
Kevin doesn't have long to wait before a white van pulls up to the B
box. The driver, wearing a suit and a tie, doesn't look like a Pac Bell tech-
nician. Kevin sits on the wall near the 7-Eleven and sips the Coke he just
bought. The man looks at Kevin and Kevin looks back. Even from a dis-
tance, Kevin sees him carry the six-inch-long metal tap from the van. He
can't quite make out the rest, but he can guess the routine. The man will
connect the eavesdropped line to one end and the federal line to the
other, lock the box, and be on his way. Kevin knows it's almost certain
the box holds a federal tap: the FBI is about the only entity that bothers
to lock Bboxes.
Finally, after all his years as a hacker, Kevin has witnessed the plac-
ing of a federal tap. But far from being impressed, he's amused at what
seems an amateur process. Byits own count, the Bureau taps fewer than
a few hundred people a year. So if the FBI considers the subject of the
tap important enough to merit surveillance, why does it execute the
final physical connection with all the subtlety and secrecy of Maxwell
Tucked away behind the hills east of Oakland, Concord draws BayArea
professionals for its warm weather, open space, and outdoor concerts.
Kevin's heard of Concord, but it's always seemed sleepy. That's why he's
surprised to find that the suburban community is home to a hotbed of
A Nexis search would open his eyes to another side of the East Bay
community. Concord is also home to the Concord Naval Weapons Sta-
tion, the major West Coast supply center for military weapons and am-
munition. Numerous reports, never confirmed by the military, say the
station houses nuclear weapons. During the I980s, the station became
a trigger point for demonstrations about arms shipments to Central
America. Antiwar demonstrators believed an elite FBI counterterrorist
unit at the Concord office was specifically tracking one of the leading
protesters. Brian Wilson, a former Vietnam Air Force Intelligence
officer, had learned that the station shipped deadly white phosphorus
explosives to El Salvador.
Then, in September of I 987,a terrible "accident" at the weapons sta-
tion raised an international stir. Wilson lost both legs trying to block a
train carrying munitions for the Contras and was declared a "coura-
geous peace fighter" by Soviet newspapers. A fired FBI agent told the
L.A. Times that the Bureau considered Wilson a terrorist, engaged in a
"violent conspiracy" against the government. Congresswoman Barbara
Boxer demanded to know why the Navy train didn't stop. Was it an un-
avoidable accident? Or was the fired FBI agent correct that the Bureau
considered Wilson a terrorist? And could the FBI have tapped the
phones of Wilson and other protesters?
Kevin is more secretive about the Concord taps than he's ever been be-
fore, this time mentioning nothing to Ron and encrypting his files sev-
eral times. Whether Kevin is alerting any of the targets of federal sur-
veillance is hard to know. He has the tools and the knowledge, but it's
not simply a technical question. Kevin weighs who he believes is de-
serving. If he encounters a hacker he deems worthy Kevin feels he has
no choice but to warn him of the surveillance.
One evening, Kevin discovers a tap at 180 New Montgomery and lis-
tens to Shadow Warrior and a friend, a couple of young hackers toying
with internal phone company test numbers and computers that re-
spond in synthesized voices. Kevin takes to them immediately and de-
cides they must be warned, but he can't just break in and say Dark Dante
is coming to the rescue. Kevin prizes his ability to find taps for his own
protection. How can he warn the hackers without clueing Pac Bell into
Just then, Shadow Warrior's friend three-ways off to listen to the
synthesized voice of a credit card approval system.
"APPROVED FOR FIFTY DOLLARS," booms the staccato voice,
and then mechanically reads off a phone number. The credit card sys-
tem performed an ANA, an automatic number announcement check,
and spat back the kid's phone number.
This is my opportunity.
Kevin punches the number on his test set.
"Oh shit," says the friend as his call waiting beeps. "Should I answer
"Yeah! Answer it! Answer it!" shouts Shadow Warrior.
But his friend chickens out. "Oh shit, now I'll never know."
Don't worry, you'll get a second chance.
Kevin waits a minute, then punches redial. This time the friend
picks up the call. "Yeah right!" Kevin swaggers, trying to sound like a
cop. "We know all about you and your buddy Shadow Warrior, and
you'll be hearing from us soon."
Kevin is surprised by his emotions. His voice shook a little as he
alerted the kid to the tap. He hangs up and eavesdrops on Shadow War-
rior's monitor line.
"Oh shit, what was that?" the friend frantically asks Shadow War-
"What happened?" asks Shadow Warrior.
"This guy!"exclaims the friend. "Man, he was serious business!" And
then the conversation slips into what sounds like code. They seem to
have gotten the point. They start talking about meeting somewhere.
Kevin doesn't need to listen anymore.
The Watchman has done his part.
But Kevin's duty is not only to warn those being targeted by the phone
company. When necessary, he taps his own enemies.
"1 don't want to talk to you anymore, 1don't want to hear from you
anymore!" Eric declares in an unusually stiff, angry voice mail to Kevin
not long after Kevin spooked him from Sunset. "We're finished because
you tried to mislead me from valuable access!You should forget that 1
exist! Any attempts to locate my whereabouts will not be tolerated!"
Kevin has a quick retort: "I'll be happy to forget you existed provided
that no evidence of your existence is forced upon me." But a few weeks
later, while combing Pac Bell's on-line security memos, Kevin finds
what he believes to be damning evidence of Eric's existence. Months be-
fore, not long after the three met, an anonymous tipster asked for Steve
in the security department, and said an L.A. hacker had cracked the
BAN CS network at Pac Bell's San Ramon offices. "1 also am a hacker in
Los Angeles," the memo quoted the tipster, and then noted, "the caller
Kevin calls Ron for an emergency meeting. Ron is his court, his mag-
istrate, and Kevin rarely taps without his approval. Kevin formally pre-
sents his evidence, an official computer printout of Pac Bell's security
memo, and makes his argument that Eric must be the rat. "See how it
mentions both the intruder and the tipster are from L.A."
Ron considers this for a moment. He recognizes his role as magis-
trate is to consider the suspect's rights fairly. "Yeah, but it says he's
young," he notes. "Eric doesn't sound young on the phone."
Kevin reluctantly agrees that Eric doesn't sound young-for a
hacker. But he has another, more compelling argument. "OK, but how
many hackers who have access to BANCS are going to be snitched on,
and are going to ask specifically for Steve in the security department?"
Kevin seems to have a point. He had told Eric about Steve Dougherty,
one of the Pac Bell investigators who searched his condo in Menlo Park.
"All right, you win," Ron declares. "You've got probable cause."
Kevin is pleased at having won his wiretap order through a fair, ju-
dicious proceeding. He knows he had to fight for the tap just like an as-
sistant U.S. attorney, and he knows that Ron gave it a lot more consid-
eration than the countless federal judges who routinely rubber stamp
applications for wiretaps.
A straight SAS tap is out of the question because Eric's phone ser-
vice is through an old electromechanical switch and he would likely no-
tice the click. But Kevin's got just the thing. He takes one of the clunky
metal federal taps he swiped from a Bbox and installs it in the phone
closet of a random business on Cahuenga in Hollywood. He connects
the side that normally would run to the federal building to a phone line
that he juices. Next, he bridge lifts the Cahuenga line to Eric's Sunset
central office, where he cleverly wires it to Eric's line on a place on the
frame where he'll never find it. Finally, Kevin dials the new line he's cre-
ated at the Cahuenga phone closet with SAS.
There's no click on Eric's end, and if someone happened to dial the
number he just created all they would get would be a disconnect record-
ing. It's not just ingenious. It's a good example of the level of sophistica-
tion the feds might employ if they wanted to make their taps harder to
Two days after putting up the tap, Kevin has listened to several of
Eric's calls to Frecia, when he hears him phone a friend and announce,
"You know me. I'm a live-and-let-live type of guy." The phrase sounds
crafted for Kevin's ears, though there's virtually no technological clue
Eric might have uncovered to prove he's being tapped. But there's one
problem even Kevin can't avoid. Eric, being a wiretapper himself, has
every reason to assume that Kevin can't resist the temptation to put
him under electronic surveillance.
Kevin phones Eric and suggests a face-to-face meeting. They meet a
couple of blocks from Eric's old Sunset apartment, in the crowded park-
ing lot of Ralph's Supermarket.
Kevin starts by confronting Eric with the evidence he's found in Pac
Bell's security files that suggest Eric's informed on him, but Eric wants
to talk about something else.
"There's something I can't tell you, something about my past," Eric
Kevin doesn't see what Eric's past can possibly have to do with his
betrayal. "What, you mean that you informed on your friends?"
"N0, what I mean is there is a reason I'm here in L. A., a reason under-
lying everything I'm doing here, and I can't tell you anything more
"OK, Eric. Great. So why'd you rat on me?"
"I wouldn't snitch on you."
"Really. Then what about this tip?"
Eric laughs, a quick, short, humorless laugh.
"I'd just have you killed."
etective Bill Spradley is an old-
fashioned cop fighting an old-fashioned war. He joined the LAPD in the
early seventies and worked Hollywood vice, battling the tide of hookers
working Sunset and the streets beyond. Work began with roll call at
three-thirty in the afternoon. Dinner was something bought at McDon-
ald's or Pioneer Chicken and eaten out of Styrofoam on the hood of a
car. Spradley would start by picking up a rental car or an old junker
from Bundy's Rent A Wreck, and despite his slim build, mild demeanor,
and meticulous grooming, he always managed to look the part of a man
on the make.
Spradley had a job that might drive some men crazy. Every night it
was his duty to pick out a prostitute, invite her into his car, get her to
solicit him, and then, ifhe was lucky, maneuver the car and his compan-
ion back to the designated arrest post before she caught on. On a good
night he'd arrest several girls before his shift ended at 3 A.M. He'd get
home and to sleep by about four-thirty and then rise about a quarter
past seven to be ready to testify in court.
Over the years he'd had a number of close calls. Sometimes when a
prostitute realized he was a cop, she would try to leap from his moving
car. Other times they'd jam their high heels on the accelerator or reach
for the keys. The desperate ones would lunge at Spradley and grope for
his gun, a particularly vain effort since early on he'd learned to sit on his
Until he heard the story in September of 1989, Spradley thought
he'd seen it all. He gathered it in bits and pieces, never getting the whole
story from anyone prostitute. On street corners, between tricks, they
told him what they knew. One said the Yellow Pages ad bill wasn't paid.
Another said she knew how to get a free phone number. Still another
said she knew how to get a phone number that would be billed to some-
When Spradley pieced it all together he began to see a pattern.
Someone in Hollywood could get free Yellow Pages outcall ads. Every-
body knew somebody who told them it could be done, but try as he
might, he couldn't get to that somebody to solve the mystery.
"Please state your name and your occupation," Robert Crowe calmly
"Last name is Von Brauch, first name, Kurt," the bull-necked former
cop introduces himself. "Occupation, security investigator for Pacific
"The telephone company7"
Crowe drives home the point. The telephone company itself is on
the stand. The date is September 6, r989, and once again Crowe stands
before a secret grand jury. Under Crowe's direction Von Brauch pro-
vides an overview of the evidence taken from Poulsen's locker and
condo, everything from pay phones to Pac Bell printouts on the San
Francisco Soviet consulate, even a 660 communications panel with a
sticker that states that it contains confidential material that will "bring
the person into trouble with the federal government."
It's not as dangerous as Von Brauch claims. The 660 is simply a rou-
tine multiline central office phone, and the stickers are World War II
memorabilia Kevin bought at a surplus store. But while the govern-
ment is exaggerating, there's no doubt that Kevin is playing with fire.
On what appears to be a page from Kevin's calendar, Von Brauch found
what he believes to be a transcription of a private conversation of a Pac
Bellinvestigator who works in the department that wiretaps for the fed-
"Is it correct to say that when the federal government, usually the
FBI, obtains a court order for a wiretap, that Pacific Bell,pursuant to a
contract with the government, actually conducts the wiretap?" Crowe
"Does Pacific Bell take certain security precautions to make sure the
information is not disclosed to the public?"
"Our lab that performs that type of operation ... [is] in a locked and
alarmed facility. They have all papers and court orders maintained per
government specifications in an approved safe...."
"Did you discover in Kevin Poulsen's bedroom papers indicating
that he had gained access to some of those federal court order wiretaps
from Pacific Bell offices?"
"Yes, sir. We found three pieces of paper that ... call the telephone
number, the line equipment and cable and pair of the targeted tele-
"In this case, do we know what these were involved in?"
"Yes. The three wiretaps that Mr. Poulsen had intercepted and inter-
fered with involved the tapping of the telephone of Ferdinand Marcos
But there's an even more startling fact that Von Brauch doesn't tell
the grand jury. The Marcos tap was run by the foreign counterintelli-
gence arm of the FBI.
"At some point, did Pacific Bell internal security people draw up a
memorandum regarding Kevin Poulsen's access to Pacific Bell internal
"Yes, sir, they did."
"Did you have occasion to find this memorandum during your
searches of the storage locker or of Poulsen's apartment?"
"Yes, sir, I did."
"Did you conduct an inquiry as to how Kevin Poulsen could have en-
tered these internal Pacific Bell documents?"
Crowe's careful phrasing has a purpose. He wants to conjure up the
image of old-fashioned criminal "breaking and entering," an act not yet
equated with mere unauthorized computer "access."
"Yes,sir. That document involved the entry into a computer in San
Ramon .... I believe the man's name was Robert Tracy at our San Ramon
facility, and the contents of the memo indicated that Tracy had discov-
ered an illegal entry."
"Did you have any conversation with Mr. Tracy or Ms. [Gerri] Lyons
regarding an unusual phone call they received, an inquiry concerning
this particular memo?"
"Yes, sir ... there was an attempt to obtain that particular memo,
with the person who was calling claiming to be someone else."
"Who did that person claim to be?"
"He claimed to be a high-ranking management official at Pacific
"Did they also give the correct callback number?"
"Yes, sir, they did."
Von Brauch first explains how he discovered the executive's phone
had been surreptitiously call-forwarded to a pay phone, and then Crowe
suggests a likely culprit. "Did you find in Poulsen's apartment, or in the
storage room, Pacific Bell directories indicating the names of the top-
ranking Pacific Bell officers, security personnel, and their telephone
Von Brauch mistakes some of Kevin's junk for wiretapping and military
equipment. The antique three-hundred-pound TSPS console suddenly
"allows an operator to break into calls...."A sixteen-button phone used
for routine testing is represented as a "military communications sys-
tem." A mechanized lube testing trunk test set and a direct access test-
ing unit, or DATV, enables the hacker to tap "any telephone literally
within the country."
Unfamiliar with Poulsen's electronic world, the grand jury needs a
simple, physical sense of the hacker's powers, and Von Brauch's colorful
descriptions seem to do the trick. "Agent Von Brauch, you have talked
about a room and called it the switching room. What does the name
switch room come from?"
"Switch room' is the term given to telephone switching rooms be-
cause that is basically what they are. They are in a room and they con-
tain a telephone switch."
"Why did you refer to the room depicted in the photo as the switch
"The sign 'switch room' here that you see in the left margin of this
photograph was attached over the door of the third bedroom of the
apartment at 1055 Pine Street in Menlo Park."
"So,in other words, Poulsen and Lottor ... had placed a sign up there
saying 'the switch room'?"
Crowe impresses upon the grand jury that the most relevant statute for
their deliberation will be Section 1029 of Title 18 of the United States
Code, Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Access Devices.
"Access" is the key word, and Crowe asserts that access has been ob-
"Did your investigation come up with evidence whether Poulsen,
Lottor, and Gilligan had access to various government equipment?"
Crowe asks Von Brauch.
"Let me show you this document. ... Describe it," Crowe requests.
"That is a piece of electronic mail transmission we obtained from
one of the data tapes that was recovered from Kevin Poulsen ... mailed
from Robert Gilligan...."
Von Brauch continues, stating that the mail is evidence Gilligan ac-
cessed a military network called Masnet. The printout of the network's
opening screen, Von Brauch asserts, proves he broke the law. "Under-
neath that Masnet label is a warning that states, and I will quote it: 'Un-
authorized access to the use of this computer system is in violation of
Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1030. Violation will be prosecuted.'
"It then goes on to list a menu of ways to enter the system."
"Access codes?" Crowe leads his witness.
"Those are access codes," agrees Von Brauch, adding, "There is also a
comment from Mr. Gilligan to Mr. Poulsen that says, 'Check this out!'"
The evidence appears solid. Robert Gilligan had allegedly "accessed"
a government computer and Poulsen allegedly had in his possession the
valuable access codes. The system banner itself warned that trespassers
would be charged with a felony.
"During the course of the investigation did you obtain information
from Kevin Poulsen as to whether he had accessed any classified mili-
tary records?" questions Crowe.
"Yes, sir, I did."
"What did you pull off the computer that indicated that?"
"Are we at liberty to discuss that?"
"I found a detailed air attack task order that involved a military ex-
ercise of the Eighty-second Airborne Division, which involved all air-
craft, air transporters plus fighter intercept and attack orders. The tar-
gets on the fighter interception and attack orders are current targets and
are currently classified."
The allegations are all beginning to tie together. Kevin Poulsen has
hacked access codes to military computers and obtained something
that might be of real value to the Soviet consulate on Green Street in
"Did this particular document indicate it was classified at the secret
level?" Crowe continues.
"Yes, sir, every page listed that classification."
"Did Poulsen, Lottor, and Gilligan have appropriate clearance to
have access to those documents?"
"None of them have ever obtained any level of security clearance,"
Von Brauch states.
But Von Brauch is at least partly mistaken. Both Poulsen and Gilli-
gan had government security clearances.
The grand jurors have a few questions for Von Brauch about the moti-
vations of the hackers' eavesdropping. "Did you find a specific reason
why they were doing it? Was it just a prank?"
"The one that was done on the college we believe was an experimen-
tal type of tap," Von Brauch begins. "... The taps of the family ... down
in the North Hollywood area, the one young lady was an ex-girlfriend of
Kevin's.... The third one, which I don't believe we included here, was
Molly Ringwald. Apparently he had a fixation with a certain number of
stars, Janis Quey, Molly Ringwald, and I believe there was a third one."
"The equipment that they had," probes the persistent juror, "is there
evidence of their using it for their own benefit ... were [they] selling any
kind of service with the equipment that they had?"
It's a good question, but neither Von Brauch nor any other federal
witness called before the grand jury has an answer. And some basic
questions need answering. Ignorant of Poulsen's mastery of SAS, the
government can only guess at how he's wiretapping. And there are
other mysteries. Why had this young man stuffed his apartment with
swiped and scavenged telephone equipment? Why had he walked
straight into the phone company's downtown San Francisco headquar-
ters to have the run of its security offices? How did he know about the
federal Marcos spy taps and possess phone records of the Soviet consu-
late and what appeared to be classified military documents? And, most
of all, what did he plan to do with all of his secrets and access?
on rubs his sleepy eyes and
squints at the alarm clock through his usual early-morning fog. It's 8:02
A.M., and he's only half awake when the caller's voice on the radio begins
to penetrate his consciousness. N0, it can't be, he thinks, remembering
he set the alarm for seven. But the clock now says 8:03 A.M., and the voice
continues on the air, the voice of an ecstatic winner of a Maserati TC
Ron swats his alarm clock to the floor and leaps out of bed to stomp
on it. How could he be so stupid? If only his alarm had gone off on time!
He crushes the clock again and feels a stab of pain. He's limping and
swearing, and there's not a chance in hell he's going to be driving a
Maserati anytime soon.
For the last five days, Ron has been in a holding pattern, dropping
everything to stay within a minute or two of his phone and computer
from seven in the morning till seven at night. Each day he's waited for
KLSX to play the song, and each day it didn't happen. This was the last
day of the contest, and Ron knew the station had announced to its lis-
teners that it would give away the Maserati between seven and eight, a
magic opportunity he's just kissed goodbye.
Eric listens patiently to Ron's elaborate explanation of how he was go-
ing to fix the Maserati contest. But the technique Ron is describing
sounds too complicated to be practical, and Eric senses his friend isn't
telling him the whole story. That's 0 K, Eric thinks. If they don't want
to share, he can hatch his own hacking scams.
The throbbing in Ron's foot only heightens his dilemma. He knows
Kevin would be furious with him for letting it slip that they'd devised
a scheme to win contests, but he's tired of what he views as Kevin's
double standard. Over and over Ron has listened to Kevin complain
about Eric's lack of responsibility, his sellout to the Investigator, his
coke dealer friends and petty scams. The way Kevin explains it, it all
makes sense. Eric does seem to lack a conscience and have a natural in-
clination toward crime. Eric probably can't be trusted with SAS or
some of the other advanced Pac Bell systems Kevin has discovered. But
Ron also remembers the games Kevin played with him as a young
phreak, the traps he has laid to deny him access. Does Kevin really be-
lieve he can still play Dungeon Master? How much of Kevin's righteous
hacker's ethos is just a mask for his desire for control?
Ron isn't happy that Kevin has ignored his advice. He'd warned him
against getting involved with Eric and Spiegel and Kevin hadn't lis-
tened. Then, just as Ron predicted, Kevin's escort operation had sparked
trouble. A competitor bribed a phone company employee to steal some
of the lines Kevin had activated. Outraged, Kevin countered, dialing
into Cosmos on Friday nights to forward the swiped lines to Spiegel's es-
corts and steal back the brisk weekend business. Come Monday morn-
ing, Kevin let them have the lines back. He figured by just doing it over
the weekend, he'd intercept their calls without them ever knowing.
But Kevin had opened Pandora's box. Competing outfits threatened
one another and began warning Pac Bell that somebody was secretly
turning on disconnected ad numbers. One day a Cadillac pulled up at
Spiegel's place off Sunset, and a well-spoken black man, shimmering
with gold and diamonds, chatted with Spiegel about business. They
came to a mutual understanding. Spiegel wouldn't mess with his ads.
But Kevin was enjoying the fun. Even when Pac Bellfinally took the
protests seriously and started to issue on-line warnings to Cosmos sys-
tem administrators, Kevin reacted with glee. In his mind, the chaos he'd
spawned brought order. The new security measures would help keep
Eric and the rest of the riffraff out. Best of all, he told Ron, Pac Bellwould
likely be lulled into a false sense of security.
Kevin knew he could always find a new route in. So what if the
infighting he'd sparked might lead to a serious Pac Bell investigation?
How could they possibly come looking for him? Kevin was wired so
deep into Cosmos that he'd pick up their trail before they could take
their first step.
Kevin and Ron decide to pool forces to increase their odds. Each will use
SAS to commandeer two of KPWR Power 106 radio's station phone
lines during its $10,000 birthday giveaway, and each will be responsible
for lining up a stand-in to pick up their prize should they win. Ron
doesn't hesitate in selecting his partner. If anything, Kevin's controlled
detonation efforts have pushed him closer to Eric. At least Eric lets Ron
know where he lives. The only way Ron can meet Kevin is to leave a
voice mail suggesting a rendezvous at one of seven code-numbered cof-
fee shops and fast food joints around LosAngeles. And as far as the fight
over SAS goes, hadn't Kevin found the wiretapping system that first
night with Eric? Why shouldn't Eric share in the bounty?
Eric, for his part, feels vindicated when Ron decides to deceive Kevin
and share SAS. Over and over again Eric has told Kevin how he wished
they could all be honest and work together. He's tried to be straight with
Kevin, but Ron would tell him how it wouldn't work. "Kevin will never
go for it," he would say. "He's always going to deny things to protect his
access." To Eric, Kevin's efforts to keep him out of Sunset are simply
proof of his inability to share.
When Ron begins to tell Eric how SA S can be used to win radio con-
tests and wiretap, it just confirms what he's always told Kevin. If he
would just share his phone company access they'd all get along better.
SAS will be an incredible boon to Eric's detective work, enabling him
to wiretap from the comfort of his apartment, and win an occasional ra-
dio contest when the fancy strikes him.
On September 28, 1989, at Eric's Sunset apartment, everything is
ready to go. Frecia comes over to wish them luck and Eric borrows a
neighbor's phone line to give them the four they'll need for the contest.
Everything goes as scheduled. At the appointed moment, they take over
two of KPWR Power 106's lines, and Ron makes the winning call,
shouting out, "It's my birthday!" on cue. Kevin, oblivious to Eric's role
in the scam, leaves Ron a voice mail, "Congratulations."
Ron and Eric drive over to KPWR radio in Universal City in Eric's
Porsche, and Eric presents a phony ID he made with the winning birth
date. They split the $10,000 prize fifty-fifty, and Eric, a magnanimous
sort, donates his share of the windfall to pay for breast implants for
Frecia. He feels it's only right since she fed him and shared her bed with
him when he was in need. Eric knows that if you share you too will
Spiegel listens carefully and follows John Smith's instructions, leaving
a couple of passport photographs of himself in the P.O. box left slightly
ajar at 8333 Sunset Boulevard. A few days later Spiegel retrieves a lami-
nated IBM employee identification card with a new name and his
"Tomorrow's the contest," John Smith reminds Spiegel. "Beby your
Smith coolly explains that he will seize KPWR Power 106's lines to
ensure that Spiegel will be the winning caller. The prize? Ten to twenty
grand, split down the middle. The money sounds good to Spiegel, and
besides, he figures it's an offer he can't refuse. The horror stories he's
heard about hackers might come true. Smith already can wiretap him
whenever he wants. How hard would it be for him to turn off his
phones, repossess his car, or shut off his gas and water?
Kevin knows it's going to be a little trickier since Spiegel is at a re-
mote location. He has to seize two of the station's lines at the precise
moment and then bridge Spiegel to both of them. To do the job he's set
up a PC with a split screen, two communication ports, and a couple of
modems. If Kevin's lucky, one of the two lines will be answered by the
DJ on the air. But Kevin has got to be quick. The instant he hears the DJ
pick up, he's got to drop the modem on his other line. Ifhe hesitates, the
station might simultaneously hear the winner's voice on the air-and a
On October I2, 1989, the prize stands at an impressive $20,000.
Spiegel waits at his Sunset digs, while Smith, several miles away at his
Van Nuys office, juggles the lines. When the contest begins, Smith
phones Spiegel and tells him to stand by. And then, before Smith knows
what is happening, the station's disk jockey is talking to him.
"It's my birthday!" Spiegel shouts to Los Angeles with all the
trumped-up excitement he can muster. Today, October I2, is the birth
date for Corey Phillip Reuben, the name Smith picked for his front man,
his voice on the phone, his persona to claim the check.
Spiegel drives to KPWR and proudly presents his new temporary Cali-
fornia driver's license and his IBM identification card. A couple of days
later, the station hands him a $20,000 check made out to Corey Phillip
Reuben. Spiegel promptly cashes the check with his false IDs and places
$10,000 in hundred-dollar bills inside the P.O. box.
It seems to be just the beginning of their criminal joint ventures.
Smith tells Spiegel he's looking for another contest for him to win. Im-
pressed with how smooth Spiegel had been on the phone, how quickly
and easily he had been able to cash such a large check with a false ID,
Smith hints at a new venture on the telephone. Something to do with a
million-dollar wire transfer. "Do you think you could open a bank ac-
count in the Cayman Islands?"
THE INDICTMENT '
n the fall of 1989 Kevin receives
an intriguing voice mail message from the FBI. Special Agent James
Monte takes Kevin's return call and gets right to the point. "We're work-
ing on an indictment against you."
The day the hacker has dreaded for over a year and a half has sud-
denly struck. Kevin knew grand jury hearings were being conducted
and witnesses were being interviewed, but the investigation had
dragged on for so long a part of him believed it would eventually just
stall out and die. Still, he has been careful. He's never given the FBI a
phone number or current address. They have no idea where he's living,
and can only reach him through voice mail.
The San Jose FBI agent promises to leave Kevin a message when his
indictment is imminent to give him time to hire an attorney. He tells
Kevin all he has to do is show up, go before a magistrate, get his bond,
and he'll be on his way. "All right," Kevin cautiously replies. "Just let me
know when and I'll be there. I'll get a lawyer."
At least, Kevin thinks, he'll be able to walk into the courtroom in
street clothes and present a better image for the judge and, hopefully,
win bail. At least they won't drag him in shackles and prison togs before
the judge like a criminal.
Kevin is in denial.
He exchanges glances with the Secret Service agent fifteen feet
away. Kevin's making a statement about his intentions, and he's not
afraid to make it publicly, right in the face of his enemy. So what if the
FBI has warned him that any day now he may be indicted on federal
computer hacking charges. Kevin isn't going to let a little thing like that
slow him down.
Kevin sees no reason to rein in his passion or interrupt his continu-
ing education. Why not cruise down the 405 freeway to the giant Ana-
heim Convention Center, near Disneyland, and join thousands of pro-
fessionals attending a major telecommunications conference? Kevin
grabs a front-row seat for one promising seminar. Security professionals
and management from Sprint, MCI, and GTE crowd the conference
room, "suits" who work for phone companies of one sort or another, all
hoping to learn how to protect against phone fraud.
The distinguished gray-haired head of the Secret Service's computer
crime division encourages the security professionals to work with law
enforcement to combat telephone fraud, warning that it isn't enough to
beef up internal security, that there will always be one hacker talented
enough to crack the weak link. The agent's goal is to frighten the audi-
ence into cooperating with the feds, to dramatize the threat that sits at-
tentively in the front row, watching and listening to his every word. To
rally his audience against the enemy, the Secret Service man reads "The
Hacker Manifesto," the cyber underworld's Declaration of Inde-
pendence, posted on-line years before by The Mentor.
The Mentor's LastWords . . .
Anotherone gotcaught today, it'salloverthepapers. "Teenager Ar-
rested in Computer Crime Scandal," "Hacker Arrested afterBank
Tampering" ... Damn kids. They're all alike. But didyou, inyour
three-piece psychology and 1950S technobrain, evertakea look be-
hind theeyes ofthehacker? Didyou everwonderwhat madehim
tick, whatforces shaped him, what may havemolded him?
I am a hacker, entermy world. . . . I'm smarterthan mostof the
other kids, thiscrap theyteach us bores me. . . . I madea discovery to-
day. Ifound a computer. ... It does what I want it to. If it makesa
mistake, it'sbecause I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't like me.
. . . Orfeels threatened by me. . . . And then it happened . . . a door
opened to a world. . . rushing through thephone line like heroin
through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse issentout, a refuge
from theday-to-day incompetencies issought . . . a board isfound.
. . . Thisis ourworldnow. . . theworldoftheelectron and the
switch, thebeauty ofthebaud. We makeuseofa service already ex-
isting withoutpayinqfor what could bedirt-cheap ifit wasn'trun
by profiteering gluttons, andyou call us criminals. . . . We seekafter
knowledge . . . andyou call us criminals. . . . You buildatomic
bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie tous and try to
makeus believe it'sfor ourown good, yet we're thecriminals.
Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that ofcuriosity. . . . My crime is
thatofoutsmarting you, something thatyou will neverforgive me
for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop thisindi-
vidual, butyou can't stop us all. . . afterall, we're all alike.
The Secret Service man pauses and scans the concerned faces of the tele-
communications professionals and one very bemused hacker sitting in
the front row.
"Pretty scary, huh?"
The show has only just begun. The seminar's other main speaker is
John Venn, head of corporate security for Pac Bell in San Francisco.
Kevin knows Venn's name from on-line Pac Bell security memos and
some of the papers he lifted from 140 New Montgomery, everything
from wiretap orders to hacker investigations. And he knows Venn is
Steve Dougherty's boss, the Pac Bellsecurity man who helped search his
Menlo Park locker and condo. Venn has never previously met the
hacker in person, but he's seen his photograph and knows plenty about
his intrusions. Each man, for professional reasons, has made a point of
learning about the other, a backdrop that makes the Anaheim encoun-
ter only more ironic. For Venn has no choice but to deliver his talk, no
choice but to reveal how Pac Bell protects its vast multibillion-dollar
phone network against the hacker a few feet away.
Kevin listens as Venn advises the Sprints, the MCIs, and the GTEs
of the world to delay bringing in law enforcement when investigating
phone fraud. Did Kevin hear him right? The Secret Service's computer
crime man had just encouraged the audience to engage and cooperate
with the law. But then Venn explains why it makes sense to keep inves-
tigations unofficial as long as possible. Before the law gets involved
phone companies can legally do their own "voice monitoring" without
warrants. Kevin, of course, has seen evidence of the taps on-line and
even listened to a few. But the prospect of warrantless wiretaps visibly
stuns the professional audience.
"Can a phone company really do that legally?" asks one attendee.
"It's right in the statute, Title 18 Section 2SII," Venn cites from
Agent Monte phones Kevin's voice mail within a few days, and though
Kevin figures there must be a connection, the FBI man mentions noth-
ing of Kevin's front-row seat at the phone fraud seminar. Nor is this the
promised warning of his upcoming federal indictment. The G-man sim-
ply instructs Kevin to call Charley Price of the Los Angeles FBI office.
Monte is so casual that Kevin would think nothing of it if not for the
odd call his parents had gotten a couple of days before. An old high
school acquaintance had phoned and asked for Kevin's number. It
sounded like a social engineering job to Kevin, what the feds call a pre-
text call. He figures it was either Eric or the feds.
But Kevin has been preparing for this day, perfecting the art of mak-
ing virtually untraceable calls. Byhis workstation, a trunk test set wired
into his phone hangs at head level from a mechanical arm. Coal black
with matching keys, the metal laptop-sized box speaks dual tone multi-
frequency, or DTMF: the voice that directs phone calls through the net-
work, the sounds that command trunks and tandems.
Kevin hits the start button on the test set, hits pause twice, and dials
the number he actually wants to reach. The whole sequence is stored in
the test trunk's memory. He's set up a number in Cosmos so that when
he picks up his line, instead of getting dial tone, he drops on a random
Van Nuys trunk. Normally, something called a route index channels
calls through a limited path of trunks and tandems. But Kevin has
learned to build his own custom route indexes.
Kevin toggles the test set's on button and his line begins executing
his new route index. Kevin blindfolds the route index-holding back
the number he's calling-batting his call back and forth between ran-
dom Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks trunks, until the test set drops in the
number he's calling and the call finally connects.
The technique buys Kevin time. Pac Bell could trace his call to the
Sherman Oaks office. The switch would reveal a Van Nuys trunk num-
ber, and a technician would then query Van Nuys for the phone num-
ber. But instead the technician would only find another Sherman Oaks
trunk, and another Van Nuys trunk, and on and on.
To phone the Los Angeles office of the FBI Kevin uses his magic route
index and a new trick. First, he picks a large federal agency in Los An-
geles, and creates a secret number at its local central office.Then, he pro-
grams that number to dial automatically an incoming trunk at the fed-
eral agency's private branch exchange. Once on the local PBX, Kevin's
new route index sends it a 9. Kevin has an outside line.
Now he can call Charley Price at the FBI from the ordinary pay
phone, disguising his call to appear as if it originated from within the
federal agency itself. But Kevin's hack isn't just about technology, it's
about style and gamesmanship. If the government is messing with him,
he wants to send it a message, just like Robert Redford did in Three Days
of the Condor, the classic phone phreak movie. In the movie, the CIA
says it is trying to protect Redford. But when Redford goes out to grab
lunch one day, he returns to find everyone at his CIA front office mur-
dered. Then, people start trying to kill him. Redford wires together doz-
ens oflines in a central office to call his CIA control. The agency's trace
locks in and for a moment Redford's duplicitous spymasters think they
have him, only to discover the call has been wired to look like dozens of
people simultaneously phoning the CIA .
On November I, 1989, a secret indictment is filed under court seal
against Kevin L. Poulsen and a warrant is issued for his arrest. So secret
is the filing that even its target, Kevin Poulsen, a master of countersur-
veillance, is unaware that he is under indictment. Unsuccessful in
learning Poulsen's whereabouts, the FBI is hoping that the secret arrest
warrant and electronic surveillance might ensnare the hacker. U. S.
District Judge William Ingram, responding to a series of applications by
Assistant U. S. Attorney Rob Crowe, orders the first of a web of traps and
It ishereby ordered, pursuantto Title 28, United States Code, Sec-
tion I65 I, that thePacific Bell Telephone Company shallprovide the
Federal Bureau ofInvestigation with the necessary services, equip-
mentand technical assistance toinstall a dialnumberrecorder and
trap and trace onphone number 8I8-7 65-4 2 05, commencing as
soon as practical and continuing through January I990, or termi-
natingupon the arrest of. .. thefuqitioe Kevin 1. Poulsen.
Kevin Poulsen is officially wanted by the FBI. The sealed court order de-
mands that Pac Bell put virtually every form of electronic surveillance
possible on Poulsen's parents' home line, providing the FBI a twenty-
four-hour watch on who calls in and who calls out. Additional court or-
ders are issued for surveillance on a number where Kevin tells the FBI
he can be reached, as well as his voice mail box. Crowe seems especially
hopeful the voice mail trap might lead to a tip:
His mother, Lee Poulsen, contacts Kevin 1. Poulsen through thisser-
vice and told Special AgentsoftheFBI that they also could reach
him there. . . . Consequently, there is reasonable cause tobelieve that
Kevin 1. Poulsen will call that numberin order toretrieve messages
and that ascertaining thetelephone numberandlocation from
whichKevin 1. Poulsen is placing calls may lead tohisapprehen-
Judge Ingram orders that Pac Bell and General Telephone "make no dis-
closure of the existence of this Application, the Supporting Verification
and order for the installation of Dial Number Recorder and Trap and
Trace" and further instructs the clerk of the court to seal both the U.S.
attorney's applications and the orders .
In late November of 1989, Detective Spradley's persistence results in a
possible break in the mystifying Yellow Pages case. Spradley gets a fel-
onywarrant for a madam who has fled California, and her attorney calls
and says she has valuable information to trade for her continued free-
dom. Spradley plays it cool, not letting her know he isn't planning to
chase her cross-country. Then the madam reveals her secret. She knows
the guy who can turn on phones without generating bills.
The madam lists the numbers that had been turned on for her, and
Spradley serves warrants on the phone company for the corresponding
phone bills. A few days later Spradley is informed that the numbers are
not in service. The detective thinks this strange, and decides to try a test.
He dials the number listed in the big Yellow Pages ad for Final Touch Es-
corts, and is greeted by a sexy drawl.
"Hellooo, may I help you?"
After getting similar results from the Cover Girls Yellow Pages num-
ber, the lieutenant makes an appointment with Terry Atchley of Pac
Bell Security at 1010 Wilshire Boulevard .
A quarter century on the job had taught the slim, chain-smoking
Atchley plenty about telephones and the criminal mind. Atchley had
joined Pacific Telephone in 1964 as a flame man, working out of the
Van Nuys CO, but within a year he enlisted in the Navy, serving tours
of duty on the USS Wiltsie in the Gulf of Tonkin and the Saigon River.
A sonar technician, Atchley sat in a cramped compartment high atop
the destroyer, searching for signs of torpedoes from enemy PT boats.
Four years later Atchley returned to the Van Nuys office and main-
tained crossbar and stepper switches. His career spanned the phone net-
work's evolution from a hodgepodge of wires, mechanical switches, and
relays to a streamlined national system dominated by computers. In
1979, a year after he became supervisor of the North Hollywood central
office-the same office that served Kevin Poulsen's parents-Atchley
was asked if he wanted to be an electronic fraud investigator, and he
welcomed the challenge. Blue boxes, much like the sort Jobs and
Wozniak had made a few years before, were the main target. Atchley de-
ployed secret telco equipment and programs that would pick up the
boxes' telltale 2,600 hertz tone, learned to write search warrants and
affidavits, and became adept at surveillance. Many of the suspects were
drug dealers. He found them in homes, on the street, even in a bank, and
once tracked the 2,600 hertz tone to a Beverly Hills movie director who
worried that it might slip out that he, of all people, was a phone phreak.
Before the term had been invented, Atchley was well on his way to
becoming one of the nation's first cybercops. When hackers and
phreaks burst upon the Los Angeles scene in the early 1980s, it was
Atchley, behind the scenes, writing the searches, laying traps and traces,
and chasing down the new enemies ofMa Bell.Atchley worked the first
major computer hacker cases against the legendary Kevin Mitnick,
Susan Thunder, and Lewis Depayne. He was there in North Hollywood
when Kevin Poulsen was raided in 1983. If there was a phone phreak or
hacker bust in Los Angeles in those years, the odds were that Atchley
was in on it.
Atchley and Spradley sit down and begin flipping through the hun-
dreds of pages of escort ads in the nine greater LosAngeles phone books.
Spradley reads the phone numbers and Atchley punches them into his
computer. One by one, they find advertised escort numbers with no bill-
ing records, no statement, no credit application, no history of anything
at all, except the unmistakable fact that the ghost numbers ring and
women pick up the lines offering sex.
Once they find a ghost escort number, Atchley traps the line to de-
termine where it's ringing, and they're both surprised at the scope of the
scam: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West L.A., the L.A. airport, West
Valley, East Valley. There's no set pattern, and within a few hours
they've discovered over fifty phantom lines ringing all over Los An-
geles. And as Atchley continues his investigation, he discovers another
twist. Legitimately owned Yellow Pages escort numbers are being di-
verted to other outcall businesses for an hour or so at a time so that calls
from johns can be intercepted and prostitutes dispatched, all without
the duped owner of the number ever being the wiser.
But what about the larger question of legitimacy? There's an irony
to the investigation that neither man pays much attention to. They've
found escort numbers not being paid for, but then in a broader sense,
none of the numbers are legal-even the paid ones. Prostitution is a
crime in California, and virtually all of the "escort" ads are fronts for out-
call call girls. But in practice the establishment permits the escort ads
until the police can prove an ad is a front for prostitution. Thus,
Spradley's paradox. Facing a sea of pimps and madams criminally abus-
ing the Yellow Pages,the vice cop isn't looking for outcall operators but
someone clever enough to bring dead outcall ads back to life.
The madam says it's an inside job, masterminded by a Pac Bell em-
ployee. The other possibility they consider-a hacker-seems unlikely.
Atchley knows that hackers hack for access, fame, or revenge, but sel-
dom for profit. The dozens of ghost lines call to mind a different psycho-
logical profile, one that Atchley knows more commonly fits that of a
dishonest employee. And there's another, practical reason the suspect
must be a PacBellemployee. Who else could have seemingly unlimited
access to Pac Bell's computers?
Special Agent Charley Price sounds friendlier to Kevin than his North-
em California counterpart. Agent Monte, it seems, has sent down some
two hundred pages of documents seized from Kevin's storage locker
pertaining to something called "Masnet." The Defense Department, for
purposes of what Price calls "damage control," wants Kevin to clue
them in. "Defense is putting pressure on Monte," explains Agent Price
over the phone. "So he's offering you limited immunity from prosecu-
tion for anything you tell them about the Masnet documents."
"Have I been indicted?" Kevin asks. "I have an agreement with
Monte that I'm going to self-surrender in court."
"No, you haven't been indicted," the Los Angeles FBI agent insists.
"Absolutely not. We just want to talk to you about these documents."
That's what Kevin finds odd. As far as he can recall, he's never heard
of Masnet. Kevin may have forgotten, but Price is talking about the
Army network log-in banner Gilligan e-mailed to Kevin. Replete with
warnings about the penalties for illegal trespassing, the Masnet screen
appears quite serious. But in reality it's simply the equivalent of an elec-
tronic door. It's not a crime to look at it, it's not even a crime to copy it,
and despite the talk of hundreds of pages, the government has no evi-
dence that Kevin ventured inside.
"OK, I'll be happy to come in," Kevin tells the agent after thinking
over the proposal. "Iwas just worried you guys might be trying to set me
up. That you decided it would make better press, and look better for the
judge, if you brought me in a jail uniform and handcuffs."
Agent Price laughs off the suggestion. He says he doesn't really care
whether Kevin looks at the documents. He explains he's just a "lead"
agent, making the call for Monte since his office is closer to Kevin.
"Monte is pissed off that he has to give you immunity because of the De-
fense Department," Price explains. "He'd rather just prosecute you for
Masnet and everything else.
"Look," backtracks Price. "If you don't want to come in and look at
them, I'll just send them back up to Monte."
"That's OK, I'll come in," Kevin volunteers.
Masnet, Kevin puzzles, as he hangs up. Not only does he have no idea
what the government is talking about, he's certain he never had two
hundred pages on the subject. He hits the phone, polling his friends.
Few are optimistic. When he tells Gilligan that he's decided to drop by
the FBI to look at the documents, his old boss chuckles. "OK. Well, I
guess you'll be arrested tomorrow. Bye."
The next morning, Kevin phones Price and surprises him with a
change of heart, telling him he doesn't think he's going to be able to
come in. Kevin doesn't tell the agent why, but his reasons are simple.
The line about Price offering him immunity while Monte wants to play
hardball just doesn't wash. Kevin doesn't trust the FBI, and he suspects
he's been listening to a variation on the good cop, bad cop routine de-
signed to lure him into a trap.
Kevin needs time to think before he acts. He needs a chance to learn
the full extent of the charges against him. He needs to know how to
counter the government's propaganda. So Kevin tells the FBI to get lost.
"I think as a matter of policy," he informs Price, "I'm probably better off
just not cooperating with the FBI in any way."
"Listen," Price argues, "Monte's just going to give you a grand jury
subpoena, for you to come up there."
"If you give me a grand jury subpoena, I'll just take the Fifth," Kevin
replies, noting Price has suddenly taken an interest in his case. "There's
"He's going to do it anyway. Why don't you just come down and pick
up your grand jury subpoena tomorrow?"
Kevin has been on the phone longer than he feels comfortable. He
thinks over the proposal. First Price wanted him to look at the Defense
Department documents. Now he just wants him to pick up his grand
"If you get a grand jury subpoena, contact me," Kevin says, quickly
hanging up the pay phone.
The Bureau's trace fails.
"Where's Kevin?" an FBI agent questions Mrs. Poulsen the following
day at her North Hollywood home when the hacker fails to pick up his
grand jury subpoena. Mrs. Poulsen has no idea, but that doesn't stop the
FBI from returning frequently to the Teasedale residence and Kevin's
father's workplace to inquire about Kevin's whereabouts. Agent Rich-
ard Beasely, a veteran who specializes in capturing fugitives, pulls Mrs.
Poulsen over one day as she's driving from her house, and pleads with
her to do the right thing and turn in her son. Kevin doesn't appreciate
the feds harassing his parents, but the real irritant is when someone
messes with his voice mail. He can't believe it's happening to him, of all
people. "You have entered an invalid passcode," repeats the female
voice when he tries to pick up his messages. "You have entered an in-
At first he wonders whether Eric might have changed his password,
but when he discovers the line he routinely hijacks to control the sys-
tem is dead, he knows he's up against something more serious. He
crams his voice mail with so many dummy messages that it can't take
any new messages from his friends for the FBI to read. Then he phones
his friends and gives them a new voice mail number.
And just in case the FBI discovers his new voice mail box, Kevin
makes certain the Bureau respects his skills. Kevin's new outgoing mes-
sage is a computerized recording of a memorable movie line that
reflects his predicament, the dramatic moment in 200r: A Space Odyssey
when Hal 9000, the spaceship's distraught computer, warns the astro-
nauts who plan to disconnect him, "Dave, I know that you and Frank
were planning on disconnecting me, and that is something I just cannot
allow to happen."
\ PART IV
BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN
t 2:25 P.M., eastern time, January
15, 1990, the first AT&T long distance switch fails.
The program is built for just such a scenario. One switch fails and an-
other takes over. No single failure can possibly incapacitate the net-
work. The crashed New York switch fires a distress message to another
switch. But the second switch crashes too, and a third and a fourth.
Overload alarms flood the network, mowing down switches like sum-
mer grass. Is it a virus or a worm? Could it be a computer hacker?
All over America people are getting busy signals, and as the minutes
tick by there's no sign of relief. Dozens of AT&T switching stations are
paralyzed and half the network's 150 million daily calls fail, costing
businesses millions of dollars in lost revenue. An AT&T spokesman
tells the New York Times in a front-page article that the company can't
rule out the possibility of a virus or worm planted by a computer
hacker. Far-fetched as it sounds, it's hardly an improbable scenario. On
trial this very week in Syracuse, New York, is one Robert Tappan Morris,
who a little over a year ago launched the destructive Internet worm.
But it's Kevin Poulsen who makes the front page of the New York
Times on January 17, 1990, and the pages of Newsweek the following
week. "The federal government today charged three men in California
with engaging in a widespread pattern of breaking into government
- - - - - - _.._ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
and telephone company computers and obtaining classified informa-
tion from a military computer," reads the Times article, which portrays
the nation's phones and computers at great risk from a hacker with
Poulsen's skill. "Poulsen could do whatever he wanted to do with the
telephone system," says Rob Crowe, the prosecutor, "as well as with gov-
There's only one problem. The government can't find Kevin Poul-
sen. The hacker had recently contacted the authorities, but according to
the government, which sealed its indictment until this week in the
hopes that secrecy would help it apprehend Poulsen, the hacker ma-
nipulated his call to evade a phone trace.
The day after the story breaks, the New York Times questions
whether Poulsen had hacked classified military computers. Quoting ex-
perts who say that classified government networks are "isolated from
the outside world," the Times sources suggest Poulsen probably ob-
tained the air tasking orders by ordinary means, and infer that the infor-
mation is probably inconsequential. Meanwhile, "Mr. Crowe," reports
the Times, "said he could not discuss the evidence that led officials to be-
lieve the crime was computer related."
Robert Crowe is proud of his nineteen-count federal indictment. Being
on the cutting edge is how Crowe sees it. Like his charges of unauthor-
ized use of access devices-i-r S USC, section 1029. Crowe knows the
statute applies to someone swiping an ATM or credit card and running
up charges, but it's less clear that it applies to fraudulently using a Pac
Bell calling card to make free phone calls. Something of value has to be
obtained. None of the examples cited in the statute fit Poulsen's case,
but then the phrase "any other thing of value" seems to leave a door
Phone calls are "things of value," Crowe figures. Why not charge it
and make them "beat me, rather than not do anything." So he includes
numerous counts for running up over a thousand dollars in charges on
Pac Bell cards under Watchmen aliases, and asserts that the swiped calls
affected interstate commerce. Another creative count describes every-
thing from Poulsen's Pac Bell keys to his ID-making equipment as ac-
cess device-making tools.
Poulsen, Gilligan, and Lottor are charged with conspiracy "to obtain
unlawful access to electronically stored confidential information from
United States Government and Pacific Bell Telephone Company com-
puters." Citing three of Poulsen's break-ins and his illegal obtaining of
the Soviet consulate's unlisted phone number, the indictment portrays
the hacker as a master burglar who victimized Pac Bell offices to obtain
access codes. Six of the eighteen counts charge Poulsen and Gilligan
with minor offenses such as using fictitious names and social security
card numbers to obtain Pac Bell calling cards and receive mail. Crowe
later explained, "To sort of cover myself, I charged a very minor felony,
like a fraudulent use of a social security number."
But there are serious felonies too. Two counts for access or "at-
tempts" to access the Army Masnet Network, and to transfer "access
codes" to the Army network; one count for obtaining classified air task-
ing orders with "intent to convert same to his use or gain"; three counts
for wiretapping Sean and Annette Randol, and for intercepting "conver-
sations between Pacific Bell security employees Gerri Lyons and Bob
Tracy." All told, Gilligan and Lottor could each be sentenced to twenty
years in prison, and Poulsen could face thirty-seven years.
Kevin feels the bleach sting his scalp as he stares up at the ceiling of
Carlton's Hair Salon in the Valley. Kevin has been doing a lot of think-
ing since the news of his federal indictment hit the papers. He doesn't
have the indictment, but judging from the articles he figures he doesn't
need it. He never cracked government computers, and still has no idea
what this "classified" Army Masnet network is all about. He sees the
feds pressing all the hot buttons-the Soviet consulate, air tasking or-
ders, government computers, and FBI wiretaps. Even the timing seems
uncanny, calculated to inspire fear in the public. Could it really just be
coincidence that the government unsealed his indictment the week
AT&T's long distance network crashed and the Internet worm hacker
went on trial?
BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN
It seems that everything Kevin predicted about the feds is coming
true: just as he feared, the FBI attempted to trace his calls, double-
crossed him on its offer to allow him to self-surrender, and brought
trumped-up national security charges. He sees little consolation that
some in the media aren't accepting all of the government's case. They
aren't prosecutors or judges, and no amount of fine print is going to help
Kevin. His trouble is the headlines. And that's what Kevin is now-a
headline, a piece of news, a carefully packaged factoid alongside the
AT&T meltdown and the Internet worm.
The phone crash spawns a flood of stories bemoaning a society dan-
gerously dependent on computers. "It was caused by a new societal haz-
ard of the '90S: the mysterious failure of a complicated computer-
software program," writes Newsweek. "And the next time it happens, the
result may be death rather than merely loss of dial tone." The unsealing
of Kevin's indictment the day after the phone crash puts a face on the
fear that is sweeping America. Software may not be bugproof, comput-
ers may not be error free, but at least one of the culprits of an age of elec-
tronic disasters can be put safely behind bars.
To Kevin, the feds and the media have made his choice inevitable.
Publicly declared a fugitive in every major newspaper in America,
Kevin figures the hype alone makes it impossible for him to turn him-
self in. He isn't interested in becoming a scapegoat. But the truth is
there's more involved in Kevin's decision to remain a fugitive. If the feds
are looking for him in LosAngeles, as the LosAngeles Times suggests, one
solution would be to move. But Kevin likes LosAngeles, its anonymity,
its endless streets, its sprawling size. LosAngeles is the closest Kevin has
to a home. He isn't going to move. Besides, he wants to make the chase
Kevin parks in the rock 'n' roll Denny's lot, while Ron hides from view
in the back of the white Army van Kevin bought at a government auc-
tion and souped up for surveillance. Kevin tore out the old metal
benches used for transporting soldiers, built panels and shelves, bought
a couple offolding chairs, and installed a drape with Velcro to seal off
the back. Finally, he had the back windows tinted.
Despite the federal indictment, Kevin feels he has more than the
FBI to worry about. Obsessed with the idea that Eric betrayed him to
the authorities, Kevin has been looking for the hacker. When Eric
finally moved from Sunset, Kevin hacked out an ingenious program on
Pac Bell's computers to find him. After sorting through thousands of
normal Cosmos orders in the Hollywood area, his program turned up a
dozen or so orders that weren't placed in the normal fashion. It wasn't
hard to figure out who was Eric Heinz. He'd transformed his new build-
ing's elevator phone into a flat rate residential line-a dead giveaway
for a hacker. Elevator phones are usually direct lines. Within minutes,
Kevin had the address on Sierra Bonita, the phone number and his new
alias. He paged Eric to a pay phone and enjoyed every second of the tan-
But Kevin was too clever for his own good. This time Eric was more
careful when he moved, and Kevin's on-line method failed to pick up
his new address. Frustrated, Kevin tried attaching a transmitter to Eric's
Porsche while it was parked at the Rainbow. But when the device didn't
work as planned, he decided to simply scour Eric's favorite haunts.
Kevin is just about to go into Denny's when he spies Eric drive up in his
Porsche. He hops back in the van and whispers to Ron to stay put, but
unfortunately he's already popped the back door open. To shut it Ron
would have to slam it, and if he slams it Eric might hear. He's already
seen Kevin, though he may not have recognized him because of his hair.
"He's trying to look at you," Ron whispers from the back, watching
through the tinted windows.
Kevin looks off to the side, trying to make it harder for Eric to get a
"He's pulling into a parking place on your right," Ron tells Kevin.
Kevin looks off to the left to hide his face.
"He's still trying to get a look at you."
Finally, Eric turns off his car. Kevin waits a few seconds and then
BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN
starts his engine and guns it. Kevin isn't likely to lose Eric in his Porsche,
but he's willing to give it a shot. He straddles both lanes to make it tough
for Eric to get a good look. He cuts quickly off Sunset and then zigzags
on side streets. A couple of minutes later, he swings back on Sunset,
takes another left onto a side street, and sees Eric right behind him. He
hears a deep growl, and the Porsche shoots by and spins in front, cutting
Kevin slams on the brakes, barely stopping in time. Eric and Grant
Straus jump out and run up to Kevin's van, shouting, "What the fuck
are you following us around for?"
Ron is still holding the back door. He can't let Eric know he's in the
back because he's still been playing double agent, continuing his friend-
ship with both men. Why, he even knows where Eric lives. Then, sud-
denly Ron feels a jolt against the van, like a body being slammed against
the steel. Has Eric finally done it? he wonders. Has he finally shot
"Oh I was just driving around," Kevin finally replies to Eric's ques-
tion, and Ron sighs with relief.
"So why were you at Denny's?" Eric presses
"I was going to use the john," Kevin replies.
"What's with the blond hair?" Straus asks.
Eric, who knows something about personal grooming, waves his
friend off. "It looks good on you."
After the high-speed chase, the three hackers call a truce and meet at a
restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Kevin is still furious at Eric because he
thinks he tried to rat him out to Pac Bell, but considering all that's
passed between them, they get along. Eric even tells Kevin where he
lives on Sunset, though Kevin correctly deduces Eric is only willing to
reveal his address because he's stopped paying rent and plans to move
in a few months.
To an outsider the meeting is perplexing. Kevin is under federal in-
dictment, a fugitive from the FBI. Why would he be entangling himself
again with the very man he believes may be the greatest threat to his
freedom? But in Kevin's mind the calculated risk makes perfect sense.
Kevin likes to keep a close watch on his enemies.
Bored with L.A.'s central offices, Kevin and Eric set off to break into
new ones outside the city's limits. Kevin drives his surveillance van and
Eric navigates, reading out addresses from a Pac Bell directory that lists
every CO and switching center in the state. They get a scare inside a
Ventura CO when Kevin spies an employee. But Kevin is like a moth
drawn to the light. The close calls just seem to inspire him to take
greater risks, to see how close he can push to the edge. One night in Van
Nuys Eric holds the flashlight while Kevin picks the lock of a Pac Bell
building he suspects houses a good supply of the company's new r990
IDs. But the second Kevin opens the door an alarm bell rings. As they
screech away in Eric's Porsche, he jokes to his fugitive partner. "Kevin,
do you think the building was alarmed?"
Minutes later the police radio crackles with the address of the Van
Nuys office, but Kevin and Eric aren't the least bit worried. They're al-
ready miles away.
The timing of Kevin's decision to dive back into hacking couldn't have
been worse. That spring, the pressure that had been building for nearly
a decade finally burst in a huge series of raids. In early May r 50 law en-
forcement agents in over a dozen cities swept down on the computer
underground with twenty-seven search warrants. Led by the Secret
Service and federal and state authorities in Phoenix, Operation Sun-
devil netted dozens of seized computers and thousands of floppy disks,
stemming criminal bulletin boards estimated to be costing telephone
companies millions of dollars a year. Gary M. Jenkins, the assistant di-
rector of the Secret Service, warned that the Service was sending a "clear
message" to computer hackers who mistakenly believed they could
hide behind their computer terminals.
The Hacker Crackdown of r990 had begun.
BLONDS HAVE MORE FUN
, THE GIVEAWAY
riple play is what KIIS-FM I02
calls it. Every Monday morning at 7:IO A.M., in April and May of I990,
Dees plays three songs in sequence. The next time listeners hear the
triple play-and Dees promises to play them again by the end of the
day Friday-the countdown begins. "Win a Porsche by Friday," KIIS-
FM dubs it, hyping the massive promotion as the biggest giveaway in
radio history. Eight $50,000 Porsches given away once a week over two
months, nearly half a million dollars.
Kevin and Ron have scored some pretty big radio prizes, but the
Porsche contest is a public challenge. Wherever they go, the hackers
can't miss the images of the candy red Porsche 944 convertibles. They're
literally bombarded by LosAngeles's metaphor of wealth, freedom, and
sex appeal. And if that isn't enough, the fantasy lives on the air, playing
on radios in burger joints, malls, and cars passing in traffic. Nearly ev-
eryone is helpless before this dream, stuck playing a contest in which
the odds of winning are minuscule. Nearly everyone, that is, except for
Thanks to the contest's lengthy three-song sequence, Ron lounges by
his apartment's swimming pool and even briefly walks or drives a few
blocks away while listening to his portable radio without fear of blow-
ing his opportunity.
Ron decides to power up when he hears the first beat of Janet Jack-
son's "Escapade." Bythe time he hears the familiar "LoveShack" riff, he's
already called up the SAS unit and is sitting on it, waiting, knowing
that the odds are that this, too, will just be a false alarm. But at the sound
of the Prince tune, he drops onto the first of the station's eight lines. A
couple more minutes now. The lines are off-hook at the station, pre-
venting the auto dialers from jamming the lines, but Ron's got line
number one under his total control. Finally, Prince's voice fades, and a
voice declares, "That's it, we played the three songs."
Ron rings line number one at KI IS. The station makes it easy. Mon-
keys could be dialing, for all they know. Since they never listen whether
somebody is on the line, they never know that the caller is always the
same person. Just seconds elapse between each time Ron hears the
countdown, and he wonders whether Kevin has seized one or two lines,
whether their combined chances are roughly one in four or three in
Suddenly, there's a man saying hello in his ear, the same man he's
been listening to on the radio all day. "Who's this?" asks the DJ.
"Rick, can I go for a ride in your brand-new 1990 red convertible
Porsche 944 S2 Cabriolet?"
"Yeah,you're kidding!" Ron exclaims.
"You won it!"
"Yeah!" Ron shouts, his voice drowned out by a tape of a cheering
"Rick. Rick, this car is red hot."
"Oh yeah!" Ron cries, getting into character.
"W 000," the DJ croons. "It's not hot. We paid for it."
Probably not much, Ron thinks as the laugh track roars. Porsche
probably considers this free advertising.
"Oh, man, you're going to look so hot cruising around this summer.
Do you know the babe factor when you're in that car, man?"
"I don't know. What's the babe factor?"
"I took it out for a ride," says the DJ. "Even 1 got three phone num-
"Whoa, that must be pretty high then."
Even the D J laughs at the snappy comeback "Hey, Rick, what radio
station has the biggest Porsche giveaway in the history of mankind?"
"KII S-FM, " Ron answers on cue.
"Rick,what's your last name?"
The name too is part of the hacker's panache. If you're going to win,
why not do it outrageously, why not choose a name that, spelled slowly,
calls KIIS's acerbic disk jockey a name.
Rick, he a cock
"Congratulations" is all Kevin says in his voice mail message, left sec-
onds after the contest. Ron can't believe his good luck All it had taken
was two tries to win his very own, brand-new Porsche. The next day, he
drives down to the station, presents his fake identification, and fills out
the requisite form. No one thinks twice about his phony ID or his crude
name. Down at Ogner Motors, the dealership supplying the Porsches
for the contest, the salesman doesn't notice the name either, but he does
wonder why the lanky towhead seems so nonchalant about winning a
For Kevin, meanwhile, the car fantasy must wait. On May 4, Shelly
Evers of Riverside wins, and on May 10, Deborah Court of Orange
County. That's four Porsches down, leaving only four up for grabs. It's
about that time that Kevin starts calling. As the Porsches disappear,
what begins as a subtle suggestion becomes a demand. If by some
chance, Kevin fails to win a Porsche, Ron will of course sell his car and
split his winnings with his friend. It's the right thing to do, Kevin re-
minds him. Without Kevin's technical know-how Ron wouldn't have
won a wheel, let alone a sports car. And Kevin still needs the money. He
hasn't been able to pull off the Cayman Islands wire transfer scam.
Kevin parks next to the occult bookstore, surveys the seedy block, and
likes what he sees. Tattered blue awnings hang over the red "Interna-
tional Newsstand" sign, the piles of newspapers and magazines giving
the block the look of a bazaar. He crosses the street and notices an adult
bookstore, a gay night club, and an unmarked door. He checks the ad-
dress he tore out of the newspaper once more and buzzes. He's already
checked on-line to make sure there are plenty of spare phone lines in
Kevin isn't willing to take any more chances. This is week seven of
the eight-week KIIS Porsche contest, and he has to prepare for the pos-
sibility that he'll lose and have just one more chance to win. The build-
ing manager has just what he's looking for. An office in back, a ten-by-
twelve-foot patch of stained blue carpet with a view of the alley and a
barbed wire fence. Kevin likes the two-hundred-dollar rent and the fact
that he can move in immediately. Located just a few blocks from KIIS-
FM, the office meets Kevin's other requirement, proximity.
Kevin tells Ron he needs his help, asking him to buy nine tele-
phones from a nearby Radio Shack with a liberal return policy. Kevin
furnishes the office with a couple of metal chairs and two tables to di-
vide the phones between them. First, Kevin dials Cosmos to establish
phone service for nine new numbers in the office. After midnight, he
picks the lock on the building's phone closet, clips his orange butt set
onto the spare pairs, and dials the AN A number until he locates the
new numbers he's created.
Kevin stands on a chair by the phone closet, pops open a flimsy ceil-
ing panel, and hoists himself up. He worms through the dusty duct-
work a good twenty feet, the live pairs in his hand. When he's pretty cer-
tain he's reached his office, he drops down from the ceiling, and
punches down the nine new lines in his office, confident Pac Bell will
never know they exist. He's created flat rate residential service, and
doesn't plan on making any toll calls.
Late in the seventh week, just as Kevin feared, he loses. It doesn't make
sense-seven tries at a one-in-four chance-but this time luck isn't
with him. And SAS won't do for the eighth and final week. The Holly-
wood Pac Belloffice that serves KIIS-FM has only four SAS units, only
enough to take out half of the radio station's lines. Fifty percent is a
chance Kevin isn't willing to take.
Kevin dials one of the front end systems that feeds directly into the
Hollywood switch. He already knows KIIS's contest line number-
52o-KIIS. He hijacks the station's main number, diverting it to another
number only he knows, a process called translation. Within seconds,
KIIS's contest line answers at Kevin's office on his control phone at his
"KIIS-FM," Kevin answers.
"Could you play ..." a listener asks for a song.
"We'll play it right away," Kevin says.
Now that Kevin has funneled KIIS's incoming calls back to his
office, he can implement the second stage of his plan. It's only the Fri-
day before the last week of the Porsche giveaway. He doesn't need
KIIS's lines yet. He picks up the control phone's receiver and dials 72:1f,
the forward command, then enters 52o-KIIS. Once he hangs up his
loop is complete. Every contest call will bounce to his control number,
ring once, and then forward back to the original KIIS number.
Ron arrives early Monday morning and is struck by the creepiness of
the building and the rank smell of the shoebox office. Once in a while,
they bump into someone wandering the halls in a bathrobe, using a
cheap officeas an apartment. Two doors down, a heavy metal band prac-
tices at odd hours. The crusty old apartment manager says he doubles as
a talent agent, and offers to take Ron's picture.
As the minutes turn to hours, they devise games and amusements to
pass the time. Those careless enough to pass under their window are
showered with a pail of water. They keep the front door voice monitor
constantly live to eavesdrop on hookers propositioning johns. But the
weirdest noise they hear seems to be coming from somewhere above
their closet. At first they wonder if it's a big rat, but when Ron bangs on
the ceiling space, a voice responds. "What the hell are you doing?"
The hackers soon learn that their neighbor, a recently released men-
tal hospital patient, has built himself a bunk bed in the crawl space ad-
joining their closet.
Prince sings the final note, and the contest begins, each hacker manning
his four phones. Ron can't win because his voice is known to the station.
The agreement is that if he hears the disk jockey on one of his phones,
he'll quickly pass the handset to Kevin.
The control phone starts ringing wildly, and they count the rings-
five, ten, fifteen. At fifty, Kevin picks up the line and hits 72 #, canceling
the forward that looped the calls back to KIIS. The next person to call
will hear it ring once. Everyone else will get a busy signal.
But Kevin and Ron are ringing through. Four phones apiece, two on
speakerphone, two with handsets. Once they hear a voice, they flash the
switch hook to hang up, and the phone automatically reconnects to
KIIS. It doesn't take long. "You're caller number ninety! You're caller
number ninety-two, You're caller number ninety-three!" the voices
shout in their ears.
Then, it happens. They have to put their voices on. They have to talk
on the air. Kevin picks up a line.
"You're caller number-ninety-nine!"
"ARG HHH!" he groans.
Seconds later, Kevin's got another phone to his ear.
"Hello," says Rick Dees, sounding friendly. "You're caller number
"SHITTTTT!" Kevin sighs dramatically
Ron lifts a phone to his ear. "This is KIIS, you're on LIVE!"
Oh my God, Ron thinks. He jams the receiver to Kevin, but he's busy
on his own lines.
"This is KIIS, you're on LIVE!"
"Awwww, what am 17" the caller whines.
"What's your name?" probes Rick Dees.
"Do you always use this fake little talk when you talk to people on
the radio, Mike?"
"No, I'm just nervous," the caller squeaks.
"That's 0 K. I thought you were putting another voice on. Because so
many people from other radio stations have disguised their voices try-
ing to win Porsche number eight ... and Mike-"
"What is your last name?"
"Peters," the caller struggles, gasping for air, hyperventilating.
"Mike, eeeh, eeeh," Dees mocks the caller. "You're caller number
The caller sounds stunned. "Oh, I don't believe it."
"Well, then bye, bye-" Dee cuts off the caller.
"What!" Mike screams.
"Well, Mike, you said you don't believe it. If you don't believe it,
then I'll have to move on."
"No. Don't," Mike pleads.
"Well, then, say 'I BELIEVE IN KIIS!'" Dees thunders like a gospel
"I believe in KIIS," Mike mutters.
"Put your hands on the radio, Mike, repeat after me ... Say these
words after me as loud as you can, and listen carefully."
Phrase by phrase, Dees forces Mike to repeat the station's call sign
and name, like the marriage vow at a shotgun wedding. "KIIS-FM has
put me in the driver's seat of a brand new fifty-thousand-dollar Porsche
Cabriolet." Finally, Dees hits his screaming girls track and then asks the
caller what he does.
"I'm an electrician."
"Don't hot-wire this car, Mike!" Dees jokes, hitting his laugh track.
The caller giggles, and Dees asks the name of his company.
The caller hesitates. "I'm unemployed right now, but that's what I do
when I work"
"Well, you've got a fifty-thousand-dollar car. You can keep it, you
can sell it, you can drive it off a cliff, whatever you want to do, but I
would get behind the driver's seat if! were you, Mike," Dees sneers, "and
I'd say, ha, ha, ha at least one time.... God bless you for being number
"Oh thank you," Mike gushes.
Dees punches up a tape that sounds as if the nerdy Mike had just
gulped down a mouthful of uppers and inhaled helium. "Ha, ha, ha, ha,
oh, whooppeee, ha, ha, ha, I'm so happy I just wet my pants."
"That a boy, Mike!" Dees cries.
Michael B. Peters, the eighth and final winner of the KIIS- FM
Porsche giveaway, is the only caller to be so publicly humiliated. But Pe-
ters holds another distinction. It seems that after all the careful prepara-
tion Kevin had worried that his voice had been heard on a couple of the
final calls and pressed the phone back into his friend's hand. Ron too
had feared that someone was bound to recognize that just a few weeks
before he had won the second Porsche. The idea of impersonating a nerd
popped into his head. Dees immediately sensed the voice was fake, but
Ron hung by his impersonation, even as he listened to his voice danger-
ously slip back to his own.
Once the station takes Ron off the air, Kevin takes over the call, imi-
tating Ron's nerd voice for a few seconds to ease the transition. They've
come a long way from the nights they spent dueling on the Internet.
Once they've both collected their prizes, they go for a joint spin, racing
in the hills above LosAngeles, chasing one another, revving the power-
ful engines, doing what boys do. It's the most fun Kevin has had in a
long time, and one night to test his car's limits, he accelerates up to a
hundred miles an hour on an abandoned road, and slams on the brakes,
marveling at how the high-performance sports car comes to a sudden
stop without skidding.
If only the other powers Kevin has set in motion could be so easily
know this john who can do the
phone thing," a hooker tells Detective Bill Spradley one night on the
Strip in July of 1990.
"What's his name?"
A couple of days later, on July 6, Spradley tells the hooker how it's
going to go down. He's got a Yellow Pages number for her to turn on, an
outcall massage service that he had personally busted, and a judge had
ordered disconnected. It's the ideal test.
Starr tells the hooker it will cost $250, and she passes him the
marked bills and the number. Across town, at his office at IOIO Wilshire
Boulevard, Terry Atchley is watching. At precisely 5:30 P.M., on July 7,
the outcall number mysteriously springs back to life. Atchley's com-
puter screen gives him a big clue. Whoever turned on the Yellow Pages
number called through one of Pac Bell's hundreds of dial-up ports and
used Cosmos. Atchley, who took the precaution of placing a tap on
David Starr's line, knows something else. The order was not made over
David Starr's line.
"This is Big Brother calling," announces the man on the phone. Fine,
thinks the Hollywood vice squad detective at LAPD's downtown head-
quarters, Parker Center, who answers the anonymous call.
"What kind of trouble would someone be in if they ... 7"BigBrother
begins tentatively. The detective listens to the elaborate, "purely hypo-
thetical" description of Yellow Pages ads, phone numbers, and com-
puter hacking. Sounds like the stuff Spradley is working on, he thinks.
The detective keeps Big Brother on the line, and talks him into a meet-
ing with Detective Spradley.
Terry Atchley saunters past the line of Rolls-Royces in his faded Levi's,
tennis shoes, and sport shirt, drawing on a cigarette. He's never been to
the Four Seasons before, never seen such a flagrant display of wealth.
These people either have money or know how to fake it, he thinks. The
fancy clothes, the jewelry, the Gucci bags.
Of all the coffee shops and restaurants in Los Angeles, David Starr
has chosen the elegant, expensive hotel to meet Atchley, Spradley, and
his partner, Megan McElroy.Amid the Casablanca setting, Starr delivers
his lines as if he's auditioning for the biggest part of his career. "I want
immunity," he demands as he sips on the Coke the investigators bought
him at the bar.
The investigators don't reply.
"You've got to protect me," Starr harps shrilly. "If word gets out these
people could kill me."
Spradley has seen a lot of David Starrs in his years on the Strip. Over
thirty, short, with a paunch, Starr is just the sort of small-time flimflam
man cops despise. "You're a co-conspirator," Spradley informs Starr in
his clipped monotone. "You can cooperate or risk prosecution."
On September 7, Spradley hands Starr six twenty-dollar bills and re-
quests a Yellow Pages number invisible to Pac Bell. Starr, meanwhile,
continues to insist on protecting his source.
Spradley and McElroy drop their fidgety informant at Sunset and
Fuller, sit back in their unmarked van, and watch him start down a fa-
miliar street. Before Starr turns up the sidewalk, Spradley and McElroy
have a hunch their rat is heading for the house of Henry Spiegel. Years
before, McElroy had the pleasure of busting Spiegel for pimping at the
rock 'n' roll Denny's. Spradley, too, has memories. He'd served a warrant
at the Martel address and been amazed at the number of phone lines
leading into Spiegel's house. Spradley had returned with telephone
linemen, and even after they'd clambered up the pole they couldn't sort
out how Spiegel had swiped so many phone lines for his telemarketing
After a short wait, Starr emerges with Spiegel and gets a ride home
in the pimp's Lincoln Town Car. But after the quick Beverly Hills drive,
Spiegel makes a short detour. He parks on Sunset and swings open a
pair of glass doors into a private post office box service. Spying with bin-
oculars from across the street, Spradley sees Spiegel slip an envelope
into a box. Perhaps the Yellow Pages scam goes beyond Starr and
Spiegel, the detective wonders. As Spradley watches an empty-handed
Spiegel drive away, he radios two undercover cars for backup and turns
his attention to the box. It's now 8:45 P.M. Positioned across the street,
the three undercover vehicles stake out the P.O. box. Midnight comes
and goes. Up since dawn, Spradley catches his eyes drooping toward the
Well before Kevin pulls up at the P.O. box at the corner of Sunset and
Laurel Canyon, he glances over at the Ford Bronco and what looks like
a cop behind the wheel. Kevin has seen plenty of mail service joints
staked out before to catch criminals, but he doubts tonight's surveil-
lance has anything to do with him. Nor is he the least bit worried about
the Bronco, though he knows that cops love the four-wheel-drive ve-
hicle. On the drive over, Kevin scanned the FBI's channel and didn't
hear any activity at all.
At precisely 2:15 A.M., Spradley rights himself and watches a thin,
casually dressed man with platinum blond punk hair stick a key in the
glass door. Peering through his nine-inch binoculars a hundred feet
away, Spradley sees the man reach up to Spiegel's box and retrieve an
envelope that looks like the one the pimp just dropped.
"We've got a pickup from the box," Spiegel radios his team.
Kevin fires up his van, then watches the Bronco quickly pull behind
him to get his plate and then duck into the corner gas station. But two
can play at this game. Kevin swings a If-turn, doubles back behind the
Bronco at the gas station, and leans forward to memorize the plate.
Kevin chuckles to himself as the Bronco pulls onto Sunset, amazed
they didn't even bother with the pretense of getting gas. He lets the
Bronco go, and turns back on the same side street where he was parked,
stopping a couple of blocks away to write down the Bronco's plate
Suddenly, Kevin sees a car several blocks back in his rearview mir-
ror. He decides the attention must be because he glanced at the Bronco
and because anybody visiting a P.O. box at two in the morning looks
suspicious. Kevin revs up his old van and begins weaving and screech-
ing through Hollywood. He even goes the wrong way down a one way
street. A few minutes later he pulls over and waits, but nothing pops up
in his rearview.
Time to do a little "dry cleaning," Kevin thinks. He heads over the
dry hills to the Valley, takes a right at Laurel, and drives under the 101
Ventura freeway into a grid of suburban homes. Right, left, double back,
kill the headlights. Wait.
But even after all of Kevin's evasive driving, a Camaro pulls into the
street, slows, and then speeds away. Kevin takes off after the Camaro,
pulling close enough to get the license plate. He hasn't seen an FBI
Cessna or an LAPD chopper, but he's pretty sure someone up above is
directing the guys on the ground. He hops on the 134 freeway, quickly
gets off,and then takes the first exit in Burbank. He spots an office build-
ing to hide behind and swerves hard to make the turn, but his right tire
hits the curb and explodes.
Steering the crippled van behind the building, Kevin kills his
headlights. A minute later the Camaro zips by. Kevin considers his
options. His van is dead. The FBI hasn't said a peep on his police scan-
ner. It can't be related to him. Why should he worry? There's nothing
incriminating in his van, unless, of course, they're looking for a hacker.
Kevin grabs his black gadget bag and starts walking. A car is stopped in
the street, its blinding lights trained on him.
Kevin casually approaches the open driver's window, a woman
looking at him with a pinched smile. "Hey, listen," Kevin says. "As long
as you guys are following me around, maybe you could give me a hand
with a blowout?"
"Oh yeah?" snaps the woman.
Another car skids toward Kevin and shudders to a stop. A cop leaps
out, gun drawn. "Who do you think you're fucking with?" Spradley
yells, splaying Kevin against the hood and shoving the barrel of a gun
against his face. "We're the fucking police!"
A cop's silver badge is waved in Kevin's face, but it's been removed
from its holder, and there's no name.
"I didn't do anything," Kevin protests.
But Spradley isn't interested in talking just yet. First, he wants to ID
the guy. He's got no driver's license, just a DMV leamer's permit and a
business card in the name of Steve Holland. The van is registered to a
Jerome K.Anderson at a San Diego P.O. box.
"Where are you coming from?" Spradley asks.
"Downtown," Kevin answers.
"No you weren't," Spradley corrects him. "We picked you up in Hol-
"Oh yeah, that's right. I went to Hollywood."
"You were dealing narcotics."
"N0, I wasn't. I met a friend of mine."
Spradley empties Kevin's tote bag. Out spills a portable police scan-
ner, binoculars, a flashlight, and a plug spinner for lock picking. In the
back of the van are two chairs and an M-I 6 squirt gun.
"Is this where you work?" McElroy asks, waving Kevin's fake work
I D in his face. "What's your name?"
Let's see, I know my first name.
"Steve," Kevin replies dumbly.
"Steve, what's your last name?" McElroy snaps.
Ignore her. Try to look shocked.
"Oh god, oh god," Kevin mumbles, faking distress.
Finally, Spradley takes out one of Kevin's fake work I D's and waves
it close. Kevin cranes forward.
"Steve, what's your last name?" McElroy snaps again.
"Holland," Kevin replies confidently.
Spradley tells Kevin they're narcotics cops, and they pulled him over
because he was driving recklessly. But Kevin says they were following
"No," Spradley insists, "we started following you because you were
"Then what were you doing at my mailbox?"
"Why do you have a pair of binoculars?" McElroy changes the sub-
ject. "Are you some kind of Peeping Tom?"
Spradley fires another question. "Why isn't the van registered under
Kevin is cuffed to a bench in a narrow holding cell with a long window
in the central Burbank police station. Anyone else would be terrified in
his situation, but Kevin is calm and shows no fear as he waits out the
last minutes before what must certainly be his capture. He's done all he
can do. Now it's a question of staying cool and hoping for a little luck.
"How much money do you have on you?" Spradley asks.
Kevin pulls five twenty-dollar bills out of his wallet.
"Why do you have a hundred bucks?" Spradley asks. "Out picking
"No," Kevin replies. "I just have a hundred dollars."
"Where do you work?" Spradley asks.
"RCA," says Kevin, remembering the card they showed him.
The cops take Kevin's prints at Parker Center, running them through
the National Crime Information Center computers and local systems
for a criminal record. Meanwhile, the company and address Kevin gave
Spradley don't check out.
A uniformed cop peers through the lens as Kevin stands behind the
rack of black plastic booking numbers. The hacker grins, pleased with
himself, his arms hanging easily at his sides, his sport collar open and
platinum hair flopped in a fashionable part.
''I'll take an eight-by-ten and two wallet-sized," Kevin quips.
A couple of minutes later, one arm cuffed to a bench, Kevin asks if
he can call his lawyer. The cops will be logging the call, of course, so he
phones the 800 extender number he's memorized for just such occa-
sions, and then dials Eric's answering machine. It's the theme music
from Eric's favorite TV show, America's MostWanted, and it adds just the
right measure of humor to his otherwise ordinary message. "I can't get
to the phone right now, but if you ..."
A cop stands next to Kevin, listening.
"Hello this is ..." Kevin tries to remember his alias. "Steve. I've been
arrested at Parker Center. They might be holding me on suspicion of
stealing my van. Thought you should know. See what you can do out
A little after four in the morning, Terry Atchley arrives at Parker
Center, careful to stay out of view of the suspect cuffed in a holding cell.
They still figure the Yellow Pages man is probably a Pac Bell employee,
and the last thing anyone wants is for the suspect to recognize Atchley,
a coworker. Still, when they bring the man out, Atchley sneaks a good
look at the punk blond, bespectacled young man. He's certain he's never
set eyes on him before.
A couple of hours later, Spradley reluctantly realizes that his suspect
will walk. The computers came back with nothing. Sure, he's got the
marked twenties, his story doesn't wash, and he jerked them around on
his wild ride. But there's no real hard crime. Besides, there could be an
advantage in letting him go. Spradley has been careful to mask his ques-
tions in the guise of a narcotics investigation, and he doubts the man
knows why he's been followed. If they still hope to capture the Yellow
Pages mastermind that ignorance might prove invaluable.
As he walks out of Parker Center that early-September morning with
Spradley and McElroy, Terry Atchley just wants to hurry home to take
a nice hot shower before heading off for work. He says his goodbyes,
starts up his gray Chevy Celebrity, and then sees the suspect walking
alone. But by the time Atchley swings his Chevy out of the parking lot
he's lost him. He swears at himself for blowing the opportunity, and
circles the area for several minutes, hoping to get lucky.
He finds him over a mile from Parker Center, carrying the black bag
the cops returned, the one with his police scanner, flashlight, and plug
spinner. The suspect walks toward the Union 76 station on Alameda
near the bustling Hollywood freeway, opens a phone booth door, and
dials. Atchley wants to get closer, but he'd have to turn right in front of
the booth, too much of a risk. He loops around and approaches the sta-
tion from a one-way alley along the freeway. Just a twenty-second de-
tour, he figures. But the one-way street turns out to be longer than he
thought. The knot tightens in his stomach as the odometer passes one
mile. Atchley guns it on the way back, then slows as he approaches the
The phone booth is empty.
evin hops out of the cab and
walks about a half mile to the Sherman Oaks Galleria in the Valley. Eric
is casually sipping a Coke on the top level of the crowded mall when he
spots Kevin down by the mirrored elevator. A few minutes later Kevin
returns his look, then approaches and passes him. Eric lags behind, and
they drift with the teenagers and parents past the chain stores. Seeing
nothing suspicious, Eric walks to the bank of phones next to the multi-
plex and leaves Kevin a voice mail, "Follow me to my car."
Kevin waits a minute or so, dials his voice mail, and picks up the
message. Down in the garage, Eric unlocks the passenger door of his
Porsche and starts the engine. "Duck down," Eric whispers to Kevin as
he slips into the car.
Eric guns it out of the underground garage, checking his rearview
mirror for a tail. Just to be certain, he jumps onto the rot freeway and
winds it up to a hundred, darting in and out of traffic. Everything looks
clean, so he heads into the hills of Encino and stops at Dupar's, a coffee
shop in Studio City. Over coffee and pie, Kevin tells the strange story of
the surveillance, the amusing chase and capture, and the long police in-
terrogation. Kevin sees no irony in having phoned Eric in his moment
of need. He wanted someone's help to make sure he wasn't still being
followed. Ron wasn't around, so he called Eric.
"I don't understand why they let me go," Kevin wonders. It's a good
question. Although he'd given the cops a fake name, he couldn't dis-
guise his fingerprints.
Why hadn't the cops' computers revealed his true identity?
Terry Atchley sits in his cubicle at rora Wilshire, shuffles the few notes
he's written on the case, and muses about that morning a few days ago,
and the turn he wished he hadn't made. Instinct had told Atchley to fol-
low the blond guy from Parker Center. If only he had maintained his po-
sition he might have seen the car that picked him up, might have had
something to go on, a clue. He's stumped because Starr has been telling
them it's an inside job, that the mastermind is a dirty Pac Bell employee,
a scenario that doesn't match the guy they grabbed a few days ago. But
what if Starr was wrong, or simply lying? The idea comes to Atchley out
of the blue. On a hunch he calls Pac Bell security in Oakland and asks
about the hacker case. A thick sheaf of papers with a big eight-by-ten
photo arrives the next day in an overnight pouch. No platinum blond
hair, but that face, Atchley knows that face.
On September r 8,ten days after the Burbank chase, Spradley and the
FBI fugitive hunter pay a visit to Atchley's office. Before anyone has a
chance to speak Spradley pulls out a blowup of the mug shot taken the
night he'd had the blond in custody. Special Agent Beasely just about
falls out of his seat. It's Kevin Poulsen, and he slipped right through
their hands. That night when Spradley had Poulsen in custody and ran
his prints he was told by the fingerprint department that the suspect
had no criminal record. He didn't-in LosAngeles City and County. But
Spradley wasn't told that the network was down and Poulsen's prints
were never run on the federal and state systems in Sacramento. The
FBI's most wanted hacker was saved by a computer glitch.
Long after Beasely and Spradley leave, Atchley keeps poring over the
file, remembering how close he had been. It's staring him right in the
face. The pay phone. Poulsen must have called a cab or a friend. Atchley
checks his file for the time he followed Poulsen, and pulls up the gas sta-
tion pay phone record on his computer. He's lucky this time. On the
morning of September 8 there were hardly any calls made from the 76
station. He finds one call to a cab company and another to what Atchley
recognizes as a Beverly Hills prefix. That's all he needs. Atchley enters
the number onto another Pac Bell system and surveys the billing infor-
mation: Eric Heinz, 999 Doheny, apartment 801. Atchley runs the call
detail for the apartment, and sure enough, finds a call to a Cosmos dial-
He remembers one of the things Poulsen had said to Spradley. Some-
body would vouch for him, some body by the name of Eric.
The following evening Kevin runs his Cosmos tap search and finds two
Hikamin DNR units attached to Eric's line. Eric is partying at the Holly-
wood club X-Poseur when he gets the page from Kevin. He phones back
immediately. Kevin announces he's calling from a pay phone.
"You been dialing anything interesting lately, Eric7" Kevin asks.
"Quite a bit," Eric replies. The past week he'd called the computers of
TRW Credit, the Department of Motor Vehicles, even Pac Bell's Cos-
"Two of your lines have DNR taps on them."
That night, after the club closes, Eric reluctantly goes into "secure
mode." He packs all of his diskettes, proprietary manuals, and handwrit-
ten notes, loads them into his car, and parks a couple of blocks away. He
returns to his apartment and deletes everything sensitive on his com-
puter. Then, he runs Norton Utilities to wipe his disk clean. Satisfied
that he's safe for the moment, he downs a couple of beers. In the morn-
ing, he'll phone Kevin and Ron and enlist their help to move out the
bulk of his computers and electronic equipment. But for now, Eric turns
his attention to a little unfinished business, the Australian girl he
picked up at X-Poseur.
Spradley and his partner, Megan McElroy, arrive in an undercover car
outside Doheny Towers. The tall, white art deco style building with
white canvas awnings and a circle drive resembles an elegant hotel
more than an apartment complex. The Rainbow and the rock clubs the
Roxie and the Whiskey are all within walking distance, however un-
likely walking may be in Hollywood. Half a block down from the prici-
est section of the Strip, perched on the hill, Doheny Towers is clearly the
address of a somebody.
The guard buzzes in Spradley and McElroy and the detectives take
in the gold elevators, marble floors, plush sofas, French antiques, and
chandelier. They flash their badges and slip Poulsen's eight-by-ten mug
shot to the Filipino guard, who has worked at the posh complex for
nearly eight years.
Last night, says the guard, nodding. He's a regular. Comes late,
alone, usually at about midnight, staying for an hour or so. Always
leaves alone too. Unlike most guests, he never asks to have his car
parked, he just buzzes to be let in. He wears black clothes, a leather
jacket, black boots. Sometimes glasses, sometimes not. His name is al-
ways different. He signed in once as Tom Cruise, another time as Magic
Eric, on the other hand, the guard could write a book about. The first
night he met him he said he worked for the phone company. Strapped
around his waist hung a heavy leather belt stuffed with screwdrivers
and other telephone tools, a red butt set clipped to one side. A laminated
Pac Bell card dangled from his neck, and in his arms, spiked climbing
boots. Several hours later, Eric showed up at the front entrance, waiting
to be buzzed in, dirty and sweaty, as if he'd been to work.
But on other evenings, the guard told Spradley and McElroy, Eric
dressed sleekly in a club suit or even a tuxedo. He told the guard all
about his favorite club, the Rainbow, and a few hours later the guard
could see the attraction. Sometime before dawn Eric returned in his
Porsche with at least one new beautiful young woman. On the after-
noon shift, girls would pump the guard for information. "Is he in the
movie business?" they'd ask. "Is he a casting director? Does he really
have big bucks?"
The guard would shrug his shoulders. Maybe, he thought to himself.
Or maybe he's just a telephone man with the right hair, right car, and a
The building manager across the street volunteers a vacant apartment
with a clear view of Doheny Towers and the entrance to the under-
ground parking lot. The guard tapes up Poulsen's mug shot under the
Doheny Towers security desk next to the eight video cameras surveying
the entrance, the parking lot, and the exits. Detective Spradley briefs his
commanding officer on Kevin Poulsen's computer and phone intru-
sions and is given the green light to run the investigation as he sees fit-
to use the entire division if need be. Kevin Poulsen, after all, is the FBI's
most wanted computer hacker.
The vacant apartment becomes the command post, manned around
the clock by the detective and two or three cops or FBI agents. Atchley
supplies the detective, the FBI, and others working the case with cellu-
lar phones to complement their handheld radios. On the streets of Los
Angeles, the detective has about thirty-five LAPD officers at his dis-
posal, plus an eight-man FBI squad and the Pac Bell investigator. The
goal is simple: get Eric Heinz to lead them to Kevin Poulsen.
On the first evening, the black Porsche growls from the under-
ground parking lot, cuts right, and guns down Doheny, heading west
away from the Strip. The late-model American undercover cars struggle
to keep up, but traveling on side streets at speeds of sixty to seventy, the
Porsche loses them in about a mile. On the second evening, the Porsche
heads into the winding hills of Laurel Canyon above Hollywood, snak-
ing through the hills. Undercover cars wait at the back side for Heinz
and his Porsche to emerge. He doesn't.
Spradley tries a new approach. He staggers the surveillance cars at
strategic points through the Hollywood hills. Six are positioned over
Laurel Canyon, one up on Lookout Mountain, another up on Mulhol-
land Drive, a couple on the back side near Ventura Boulevard, three in
each direction on Sunset Boulevard-cars strung out as far as ten miles
away. But the carefully woven web can't trap the black car. Eric thun-
ders up Laurel Canyon, turns off onto one of the streets where an under-
cover car waits, and promptly disappears into the labyrinth of curving
It's hard to know when Eric realizes he's being tailed. He drives so fast
all the time that he may have lost the cops once, even twice before he
even knew he was being followed. But the late-model blue Thunderbird
catches his eye. Something about the way it just flipped on its head-
lights as Eric approaches Sunset Boulevard. Still, he doesn't make much
of it, and is about to turn into the Rainbow parking lot and toss his key
to the valet when suddenly two more sets of headlights appear in his
He changes his mind and continues down Sunset a few blocks be-
fore pulling over abruptly. A minute later, when he eases back into
traffic, he spots the Thunderbird at a stop sign on a cross street. No
reason to take chances, Eric thinks. Laurel Canyon is the next street.
He hangs a left, floors it, and in a few minutes no one is in his rearview
Fifteen minutes later, Eric parks behind Denny's ready to congratu-
late himself on having lost them when the blue Thunderbird slowly
cruises by. As if on cue, one of Eric's girlfriends drives into the lot, a Lan-
come girl at Bullock's makeup counter. Eric tells her about his suspi-
cions and asks her to help to see ifhe's being tailed. He leaves voice mail
messages for Kevin and Ron telling them about the Thunderbird, and
then the Lancome girl trails Eric over Laurel Canyon in her car. Neither
of them spot a tail, and Eric invites her to share a hotel bed with him for
The following afternoon, Eric leaves messages for Kevin and Ron
saying he's all right, and then heads for the Investigator's office on Wil-
shire. He tells the Investigator about his predicament, picks up a pay-
check for a few wiretaps, and borrows a cellular phone. The more Eric
thinks about it, the less certain he is that he was being followed. Maybe
the guy in the Thunderbird thought he was a chick? It's happened to
Eric before. So Eric heads back to Doheny, carefully checking for a tail.
He's only going to grab some clothes. But once inside, he figures why
not take a nap?
Midnight approaches and the Porsche roars out of Doheny Towers, up
the hill, and right on the Strip. Ericpulls over suddenly, across from the
Coconut Teaser restaurant, and wafches the surveillance scatter like so
many pigeons. He knows it's not his imagination and decides to have
some fun. He does his typical zigzag maneuvers, and in no time he cuts
back and is following his pursuers, picking up their license plates. He
pulls onto his favorite boulevard, Laurel Canyon, glances over at the ad-
jacent car, and spies a man in a windbreaker with slicked back hair and
a cigarette hanging from his lip. A cop, he figures. Eric scratches down
the car's license plate on a scrap of paper and floors it.
The Porsche's speedometer bounces over eighty. Signs for Holly-
wood and Mt. Olympus streets blur and the hills dry out as the road nar-
rows. The houses crowd closer, stone fences and palms inches from the
road, yellow and black directional signs leading the Porsche through
the tight corners. Halfway up the canyon, well before Mulholland and
the mansions of Jack Nicholson and other legends of the screen, Eric
hangs a skidding left at Stanley Hills and takes an anonymous side
street. This time somebody is watching. The airborne helicopter's ob-
server peers through his nightscope and sees the Porsche veer toward
the curb and then fade from view. The suspect seems to be under a tree.
Then, the car appears to move, without headlights.
Eric hears the heavy whir of the chopper's blades overhead. In the
dark he searches for what he needs. He's driving slowly now, and when
he swoops down a private driveway to several houses and into a covered
garage, it's as if he's driving home, except for his dead headlights. He
slides quietly out of the car, and begins walking. They've lost me, he
thinks, when he spots the flying machine a fair distance off, moving in
a straight line at a good clip.
, The blades thud closer, and he knows by the distinctive sound that
it's a Bell copter. Suddenly, the contraption spins into a circle. The
blades seem to beat above his head. He has to be fast. He runs well, amaz-
inglywell for someone missing the better part of aleg. He spots a pickup
truck, crawls under, and slides to the front. The engine block is still
Eric has discussed this very scenario before with Kevin. Normally,
the chopper's infrared heat sensors would pick up the heat given off by
a human body. But what if you hid under a warm car engine7Might that
shield him from the high-tech eyes in the sky7He flips open his cellular
phone and dials the voice mail box. It doesn't take long. Kevin is never
far from a phone. Eric can still hear the chopper circling when his
"Hello," he whispers.
"What's going on?" Kevin asks.
"I think we did it this time."
Kevin flips on his scanner and finds the LAPD's tactical frequency.
Curled up under a warm engine in the Hollywood hills, Eric listens with
Kevin on his cell phone for over half an hour, hearing little nuggets,
such as the police in the copter asking if they're looking for a 9 I I or 944
"They're really doing it!" Kevin exclaims, thrilled by the car chase
and the show of force. He warns Eric it's time to go into "secure mode,"
time to move everything out of his apartment and only make calls from
pay phones. Eric reads Kevin the license plates he wrote down so he can
run them through the DMV's computer.
Eric lies under the pickup until the pulse of the chopper's blades has
faded away, and says goodbye to Kevin. He calls a few friends and a
woman he plans on sleeping with later that night. His last call takes
only a few seconds. The cab pulls up, and the man with one leg slides
out from under the engine block and off into the night.
Kevin runs the plate numbers Eric gave him. The first two come back
"no record found," which often means the FBI. The third comes back to
the Pac Bell motor pool.
Kevin phones the LosAngeles Pac Bell motor pool office to social en-
gineer some answers. ''I'm calling from Pac Bell claims," Kevin lies. "I've
got an accident report here involving a company employee, and we'd
like to know who was driving."
"All right, what's the license7"
"2 HLX 600,"Kevin replies.
The Pac Bell motor pool man hits a few keys, and breaks into laugh-
ter. It seems the man responsible for the accident is in the same division
as Kevin's department.
"This is one of your guys. This is a 6DAA, the security department.
Yeah, that's one of your guys all right."
The motor pool man reads Kevin the address, and Kevin is about to
hang up. "Hold on, I'll give you the guy's name. Let's see, uh, Atchley."
Kevin can't resist. He knows Atchley as the security man who
searched his house when he was seventeen. "Oh yeah, Terry Atchley."
"Oh, you know him?" asks a surprised motor pool man.
"Yeah, that's one of our guys."
By the day after the copter chase, Kevin has located 453.350 megahertz,
the frequency on which the vice squad is broadcasting its surveillance
of Eric Heinz.
"Let's go see what they look like," Kevin suggests to his associates. So
what if just a couple of weeks ago Kevin was interrogated, finger-
printed, and escaped capture only by his nerves and a computer snafu?
He's eager for another opportunity to size up the enemy, to see who's
following Eric, and very likely searching for him.
The three hackers meet near Doheny Towers and pile into Ron's old
Toyota, Kevin listening in back with his Bear Cat scanner. The trio
cruises Sunset, and they spot the surveillance team up a residential
street on the hilly side of the bustling avenue.
"Why don't we take a closer look?" Kevin suggests. It's a radical
move, but neither Ron nor Eric protests. On the next pass, Ron hangs a
left up the street and Kevin, before he ducks out of view, catches a
glimpse of a bunch of guys sitting around their cars drinking coffee
from Styrofoam cups. Ten feet at the most. That's all that separates
Kevin from the cops. After driving up a few blocks, Kevin boldly sug-
gests another pass by, and when they loop around, Ron narrates what he
sees. He can't believe how obvious the cops are. One is even sitting on
the hood of his car.
Later that afternoon, Kevin and Ron opt to help Eric move out his
computers and electronic gear. Kevin feels obligated. He knows there's
a good chance his recent arrest caused Eric's predicament, and despite
their differences, he just can't let him move by himself.
Kevin listens to the surveillance, checking the FBI's frequencies,
and then about half an hour after the transmissions stop, the hacker
slips in through a back entrance, makes his way upstairs into the heav-
ily mirrored, chandeliered hallway, and is actually talking with Eric in
apartment 801. Kevin sees nothing irrational about walking right into
a building under surveillance. He's brought along his Bear Cat scanner
and he's watching them at least as professionally as they're watching
He rides the elevator a couple of times, and walks right past the
guard, who has been briefed to phone LAPD if he spots the platinum
blond whose mug shot is taped under the desk. If Kevin is nervous he
doesn't show it. He even jokes to Eric. "You think you've got problems.
I just found out that next week I'm going to be on Unsolved Mysteries."
SEPTEMBER 5, 1990
TIMOTHY J. ROGAN
COSGROVE & MEURER PRODUCTIONS
4303 WEST VERDUGO AVENUE
BURBANK, CALIFORNIA 91505
I am writing toyou regarding an upcoming segment of "Unsolved
Mysteries" which you havealready produced. Apparentlytitled
"DarkDante," it issaidtoinclude a dramatization ofallegations
that the San Jose U. S. Attorney's office has madeagainst me. . . .
Criminal cases involving suspected unauthorized computer access,
or "hacking," arefrequently subject towild, unsubstantiated, and
often bizarre claims by prosecutors and investigators. In thelastfive
years hacking suspects havebeen accused oj, among other things:
breaking into classified NSA computers, causing theJanuary crash
ofATETT's switching network, shifting the position oforbiting satel-
lites, and "threatening thesafety ofresidents throughout the South-
east" by publishing proprietary details ofBell South's emergency
9 I I system. Mostof thesefanciful accusations havenotbeen backed
up byformal charges and none ofthemhaseverresulted in a convic-
tion. In thelattercase, in which a Missouri man was accused ofcon-
spiring tosteal an eighty-thousand-dollar secret document on the
workings ofthe 9 I I system, federal prosecutors wererecently forced
todrop allcharges when thedefense proved that notonlywas the
document quite harmless, but it was actually available to the gen-
eralpublicfrom Bell South for a ten-dollarfee.
These outrageous claims allowprosecutors towin absurdly high
bailrequirementsfor suspects oreven nobailat all. Further, they
will often generate press coveragefor what may otherwise bea de-
cidedly unnewsworthy case.
. .. What I've read about the segment you'veproduced is thatyou in-
tendonshowing a Kevin Poulsen look-alike actually doing what the
prosecutor hasaccused meof ... Even afterI am eventually cleared
of these ludicrous accusations involving national security, Ferdinand
Marcos, etc., the images of"Kevin Poulsen" huddled overa computer
stealing militarysecrets whilecackling evilly will remain in the
mindsofyourfourteen-million viewers . . . My life and my career
will beirrevocably damaged.
From a legal standpoint, ifyou portray mecommitting crimes thatI
am innocent ofyou will beguilty ofslander . . . as well as ''false light
invasion ofprivacy," i.e. placing me before thepublic in afalse and
offensive light. . . Don't count on my conviction onthese charges
either. Themore sensationalistic charges will beearlycasualties
whenI come totrial, ifnotsooner. Indeed, unlikelihoods and inconsis-
tencies in thegovernment's claims are already beginning to emerge.
A New York Times article quoted several computer security experts
as expressing skepticism overtheclaim thatI broke into a classified
computer system. . . .
Of course, I havenotactually seen your report. . . . Perhaps your
piece isan objective, oreven skeptical look at thegovernment's case,
rather than a mindless parroting ofits allegations. Maybeyour
dramatization does notactout the indictment, but rather exposes the
absurdity ofits claims. If this is thecase then I canonly apologizefor
what wouldbea presumptuous letter. However, thisseems unlikely.
Finally, I havenotused thepen-name "DarkDante" since I was six-
teen. I humbly offer "DarkDeception" or "Defamatory Dramatiza-
tion" as more generally descriptive titles.
Kevin L. Poulsen
cc: New York Times
Peninsula Times Tribune.
Though the fugitive left no return address, there is one tantalizing clue,
a u.s. mail postmark from Waco, Texas. The first thought that goes
through the mind of Timothy Rogan, a polite, reserved young producer
with Unsolved Mysteries, is how Poulsen got his name. The second is
whether he can read the detailed demand for retraction, which includes
footnotes ranging from a legal citation to articles in the New York Times
and Time magazine, without smudging his fingerprints all over it.
Rogan isn't totally surprised by the letter. There had been publicity
in the local papers up north when they'd done some shooting in Palo
Alto and Menlo Park. Rogan and his staff had been in touch with Poul-
sen's parents and childhood friends and talked with employees of SRI.
Word was bound to have gotten back to Poulsen, though Poulsen's
knowledge of the impending broadcast, scheduled five weeks away, is
intimidating, especially considering that he's the FBI's most wanted
hacker. Rogan remembers when the FBI had first contacted the top-
rated, NBC show and suggested they profile the fugitive hacker. Who
cares about the phone company, he thought, as long as our calls get
through? Where's the victim in the story? Rogan wondered. It was only
when the government told him what Poulsen was capable of that he
saw the appeal.
The letter and envelope, which he would turn over to the FBI-who
would promptly consider the relevance of the Waco, Texas, postmark
and examine the documents for fingerprints-is the first public state-
ment by the hacker in the year he has been underground. The footnotes
and legal citations make Rogan wonder whether Poulsen consulted an
attorney. NBC doesn't have to worry only about slander, it seems. Sim-
ply by invading the hacker's privacy, the network might be liable.
But the letter of an accused man says most about its writer, and
Kevin's letter is most revealing for what it does not say. The letter he re-
searched with hacked access codes to Lexis and Nexis and sent through
a remailer in Waco, Texas, is silent about the facts of his documented
wiretaps, his break-ins to countless Pac Bell central offices, and his
knowledge of FBI and spy wiretaps. Kevin is in control of this game.
When the government finally lives up to its past offer to grant him bail
if he self-surrenders in court, Kevin will face down his accusers, prove
the absurdity of their claims in a court of law, confident that his latest
crimes will never be discovered.
The Watchman, the one who has the power to watch and listen to
scores of intimate secrets, seems to have an intense wish to keep his
own life and alleged criminal exploits private. But then Kevin doesn't
believe he invades the privacy of others. He wiretaps to expand his tech-
nical knowledge and defend himself against his enemies. If he wiretaps
a friend or two in the process and uncovers a few dozen spy taps, those
are unfortunate minor casualties. Kevin has no problem distinguishing
his grossly exaggerated Northern California activities from his more se-
rious Southern California deeds. He sees nothing ironic about arguing
his innocence in Northern California. He was innocent. Then.
Kevin has a point about the government's unimpressive record on
prosecuting computer crimes. Ignorant of the technical subtleties of
computer hacking, the government's indictments and attempted prose-
cutions resemble a hapless comedy. The Hacker Crackdown has turned
into a public relations disaster. The Secret Service raided a maker of fan-
tasy role-playing games called Steve Jackson Games and seized a manu-
script and delayed the publication of a science fiction book, mistaking
it for a manual on digital crime. In general, the government's cases have
lacked hard evidence, and when it has seized upon something, like the
Bell South or r emergency document referred to in Kevin's letter, it
often has proved to be a red herring.
Hackers know better than almost anyone that the government has
no idea how to prosecute computer crime. The bloodless, anonymous,
and often victimless nature of hacking leaves few traces. Computers
seized are often wiped clean, and phone records, even when they aren't
altered, hardly excite a jury. The government appears outmatched, lack-
ing the know-how, technology, and laws to fight what it perceives as a
Kevin has thrown down the gauntlet in his letter, publicly challeng-
ing what he terms the government's "ludicrous accusations involving
national security, Ferdinand Marcos," and the stealing of "military se-
crets." Kevin believes the government is fighting with press releases as
much as it is with indictments and convictions. The fight against the
mob died out years ago. The Red menace has faded. In the ensuing vac-
uum, hackers have become the latest threat to American society, and
Kevin Poulsen is falling into the government's crosshairs at exactly the
"I guess I could knock out Channel Four," Kevin proposes to his fellow
Kevin has asked for their advice about the impending Unsolved Mys-
teries broadcast, and though his idea is a bit extreme, both Eric and Ron
know it's possible. Kevin knows where the junction points are for the
transmitter towers up in the hills. Cut the right cable at the right time
and Unsolved Mysteries won't be broadcast in LosAngeles.
"Sure." Eric laughs. " If you want to guarantee a repeat appearance
on every segment of Unsolved Mysteries."
The secretary takes the call at the discreet Tudor-style Burbank offices
of NBC's Unsolved Mysteries a little after three on October 10, 1990, a few
hours before the scheduled broadcast of the Dark Dante episode. She re-
ceives hundreds of calls every day, and would likely have forgotten that
particular one, except that after she rattles off the number she thinks it
odd. The caller doesn't leave a tip or make an inquiry. All the man wants
is the toll-free number for that night's show, the same number that he
could get on his television screen later that night when it airs.
Hours before the broadcast, Kevin scouts out a small kitchenette unit at
a Super 8 Motel northeast of Los Angeles to hide out for a couple of
weeks after the Unsolved Mysteries episode airs. He decides to have some-
one else check in for him under a phony ID. Kevin realizes that the
show might air Ron's photograph as one of his known hacking associ-
ates, so he asks Eric to check in for him and pay two weeks' rent in ad-
vance. It's not a question of trust. Kevin just figures that Eric won't turn
him in when it would be so obvious.
That afternoon, Kevin parks his van away from his apartment in
case it's mentioned on the broadcast, and returns in his Fiero to his
stripped-down apartment, already emptied of anything that might be
sensitive. That evening, right on schedule, the show begins, and after a
few minutes he hears a promotional blurb, "Coming up next, 'Dark
Dante." He walks into the apartment complex's utility closet and lashes
the breakers into the off position with thick phone cables, killing power
to the whole building.
Richard Beasely of the FBI, sitting in the Unsolved Mysteriestelecommu-
nications center in Sherman Oaks, seems pleased with the advance
screening of the Kevin Poulsen episode he's just seen. The time is about
a quarter past four on October 10. In approximately an hour and fifteen
minutes, at roughly 5 P.M. Pacific time, NBC will begin broadcasting the
episode, beaming the top-rated show, according to Kevin Poulsen's let-
ter, into the consciousness of 14 million viewers.
David Rajter, the show's phone center manager, is surprised at how
tight-lipped Agent Beasely is. Usually, in the minutes before a broadcast
about an FBI fugitive, the agent would open up to him and tell him
little intriguing tidbits of the case to pass the time. But this guy won't
say a word.
Rajter is hoping for a good batch of tips that night. The Sherman
Oaks telecommunications center, which keeps its exact location secret
as a security precaution, has thirty operators on duty to take the calls,
raising red cards when they've received what seems a valid tip. Beasely
is on hand to monitor the best of the tips and, if a caller seems to have
particularly valid information, he's prepared to take over the call him-
On schedule, NBC plays the show's eerie theme music followed by
a quick preview of that night's episodes. The first segment that after-
noon is about a mob hit, "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Rajter
sneaks glances at the bloody mafia murder, while he continues to try to
strike up a conversation with Beasely.
Then, in a matter of seconds, everything changes. "I'm dead!" calls
out an operator, peeling off her headset. "Me, too!" another cries, and
then like an angry flock of blue jays the voices squawk. "I'm dead! I'm
dead! I'm dead!" Rajter looks at his watch: 5:10 P.M. Every phone line in
the thirty-operator telecommunications center is dead.
He's worried about this scenario before. Much of Unsolved Mysteries'
appeal is based on the premise that viewers can help solve crimes, and
indeed, the FBI long ago realized that the show often reaps results. But
without operators to take tips the show might as well not have aired as
far as the FBI is concerned. It's a little like performing for an empty
Rajter phones MCI to report the emergency. Ten minutes pass, and
still nothing. Every line in the center dead, without dial tone, as if thirty
cords had been yanked at once. Another five minutes, and still nothing.
The Dark Dante episode will air any minute. "Is this Kevin Poulsen?"
Rajter nervously probes agent Beasely.The FBI agent says nothing, but
Rajter can tell by the look on his face that he too is waiting for word to
come back that this has been the work of his nemesis.
Kevin drives off in his Fiero, a tiny black-and-white television plugged
into his car lighter, the reception cutting in and out. For a moment he
sees the image of Unsolved Mysteries' host, Robert Stack, and then his
own, and though the picture is fuzzy, the voices are clear. He stops at a
pay phone at a Van Nuys car wash and pages Eric, asking if they aired
the photo of him as a blond. Surprisingly, they didn't.
Kevin returns to his Super 8 room in Canoga Park with a couple of
weeks' worth of groceries he picked up at Hughes Market and the stray
cat that showed up on his doorstep a few months before. Eric arrives a
little later with a care package: a scanner, antenna, and tape recorder to
monitor law enforcement frequencies, and, of course, a VCR and a tape
of that evening's show. They watch the tape together perched on the
edge of the bed, Kevin's nameless cat clawing Eric's boots.
"W ANTED" flashes across the motel TV screen, followed by
Robert Stack striding through what Kevin suspects is the PBX in NBC's
"Inside the labyrinth of a telephone company's huge computer sys-
tem one feels a sense of insignificance," Stack booms in his imposing
voice, looking impressive in a detective's mackintosh. "It seems impos-
sible that any single person could jam up these sophisticated works. Yet
think of it. All the interactive computers across the country are linked
by telephone lines. Both private citizens and classified government op-
erations can be vulnerable to a computer genius run amok."
Tentative plucks of a harp playas Kevin's face engulfs the screen. A
voice-over picks up the narrative, gently telling of the death of Kevin's
mother and his painfully shy childhood. An actor resembling Kevin be-
gins tapping away on a computer in a darkened room, as the narrator
quickly describes how Dark Dante began to explore the Arpanet. "He
liked the idea of having power," notes Sean Randol thoughtfully on-
screen, her blond curls cut short. "He wanted to have power over the
people he saw as being beneath him."
Wearing a suit and tie, Von Brauch, the bullnecked Pac Bell investi-
gator, is shown rummaging through Kevin's locker. "We found a stor-
age locker that contained pieces of electronic equipment, a printout of
the unpublished number of the Soviet embassy in San Francisco," Von
Brauch tells the camera. "That's not the type of material that one would
buy at a swap meet."
Sitting in his motel room, Kevin grimaces as Von Brauch mischarac-
terizes the capabilities of the old telecommunications junk that filled
his Menlo Park apartment, and wonders why the TV producers moved
things into his "room" that weren't there before. He groans at the photos
of him picking the lock of a telecommunications trailer and sitting be-
fore a phone company terminal. But he enjoys the dramatization of him
breaking into a central office. He looks cool.
To the FBI it's all proof of a dangerous conspiracy. FBI Supervisory
Special Agent William E. Smith, a black man with a red tie and a blue
suit, asserts that Poulsen's secret clearance and cracking of a U.S. mili-
tary computer spells trouble. "Kevin Poulsen had allegedly infiltrated
U'S. military computer transmissions, obtaining classified Army infor-
mation," the voice-over continues. "Authorities also believe he ob-
tained classified information about the FBI investigation of over-
thrown Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos ... his possession of the
unlisted Soviet number led the FBI to believe that Kevin Poulsen might
be engaging in espionage."
Now, 14 million people think I'm a spy, Kevin thinks. The voice-
over summarizes the indictment against Poulsen, Lottor, and Gilligan.
Snippets of newspaper headlines flash on the screen: "HACKER'S RAMPAGE
ALLEGED," "COMPUTER ACE INDICTED," and finally, photos of Kevin, as the
voice-over gives his physical description for the audience. "Kevin Poul-
sen is twenty-five years old and five foot eight inches tall, with a slim
build. He has used the surnames "Drake," "Locke," and "Cooper" as well
as the aliases "Walter Kovaks" and "Tohn Anderson." The FBI's informa-
tion on Poulsen is that he may be living in the LosAngeles area and driv-
ing a white late-seventies van. He is an expert in the computer operat-
ing system called Unix and may be working in that field."
The camera returns to Stack, his eyes hard and remote. "One can
only speculate at what motivated Kevin Poulsen. Those who knew him
before he fled agree that he is an unusually talented and bright young
man, possibly a genius. But now he is a wanted man, facing up to thirty-
seven years in prison. If you have any information about Kevin Poulsen,
please contact the FBI at our toll-free number. 1-800-876-5353."
How could Kevin not laugh at the melodrama? The stone faced G-men
droning on in Bureau-speak about the next great new danger to na-
tional security, and, of course, that wonderfully evocative phrase, "a
computer genius run amok."
Humor aside, there are some very odd things about the broadcast.
The show claims Kevin was "accessing sensitive government and mili-
tary computers" for more than a year, when as far as Kevin knows, he
never cracked a government or military computer. "It's a frame job,"
Kevin tells Eric, who isn't sure what to think of the broadcast. "I had
nothing to do with the military."
Still, Kevin realizes it could have been worse. They could have aired
his new platinum blond booking photo and publicized details about his
suspected associates. To Kevin's relief, NBC largely ignored this new in-
formation, and his letter too, broadcasting instead only old photos. All
in all, Kevin and Eric agree that the night was more or less a success.
And though Kevin mocked most of the broadcast, he found the scenes
of his television double sleuthing about a real, modern central office
surprisingly hip. It had taken a federal indictment and a year under-
ground, but Kevin had finally become a television star.
"Play it again," Kevin insists, and Eric dutifully rewinds the tape.
Four more rewinds later, at about midnight, Eric heads over to the Rain-
bow, where he meets Grant Straus, and they talk excitedly about the
show. "It's strange," Eric confides to his friend. "I'm the only person in
America who knows where this dangerous fugitive is hiding out."
he strange calls to LAPD division
headquarters only make Spradley and company more dedicated in their
search for Kevin Poulsen. One anonymous caller tells the cop who an-
swers the phone that he knows all about the surveillance at Doheny
Towers. He casually mentions a Hollywood coffee shop where the
officers met before setting up the evening's surveillance, the blue
Oldsmobile and red Pontiac that couldn't keep up, and the officers' ra-
dio call signs. Before hanging up, the caller adds a personal message-
"Say hi to Bill and Megan for me"-using Spradley's and McElroy's first
names. Other calls are less friendly. Threats that the officers' credit will
be ruined, and not so subtle warnings of the electronic havoc that will
follow if the investigation doesn't stop.
To Spradley, the failure of physical surveillance reflects what
they're up against. FBI agents sent to interview Poulsen's parents and
friends have uncovered precious little. Even if Spradley could find Eric,
he knows it's unlikely he would lead them to Poulsen. By now Poulsen
must know he's the target of a full-fledged manhunt. Spradley doesn't
think for a minute that Poulsen would be so foolish or bold as to make
physical contact with Eric or Austin or even distant friends. If he' s really
the cyberfugitive that the feds make him out to be, he knows this is the
time to be invisible, to hide in the world of electrons that he under-
Spradley and Atchley switch the focus of their investigation to elec-
tronic terrain. Spradley is amazed at the volume of traps and traces
Atchley places on lines-twenty-five to thirty at a time, all without a
single court order. Though no one raises the question, some might won-
der why, with the parallel FBI investigation of Poulsen, Pac Bellisn't re-
quired to get court orders for the surveillance. Nevertheless, draped on
the lines of Poulsen's parents, friends, and associates, the traps bring in
the numbers of voice mail boxes, pagers, and pay phones. That's where
Spradley comes in. Each time a pay phone number is caught calling a
suspicious, trapped number, Atchley alerts Spradley, who promptly
sends out an unmarked car to put the phone under surveillance. Van
Nuys seems to be the prime location.
Atchley combs through thousands of calls looking for patterns. Be-
sides traps and traces, he does number searches, checking every person
who ever called anyone who might possibly have a tangential connec-
tion to Poulsen, Eric,or Austin. The work is tedious and exhausting, and
even when Atchley finds a pay phone that may have been used by Poul-
sen he never knows whether the call to a voice mail box had actually
been made from that particular phone or had simply been made to ap-
pear as if that phone had been used .
Kevin has packed carefully for his two weeks in the Topanga Canyon
Super 8 next to a Midas muffler shop. He's brought Stephen King's The
Dark Half, and for digital entertainment, he made a special purchase of
the Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers II. He's got a couple weeks'
worth of clean clothes, plenty of Top Ramen dried noodles, Kraft maca-
roni and cheese, and canned food, and more than enough New York
Seltzer iced coffee to stay wired. His cat will provide companionship.
Kevin vows not to venture outside or touch a computer for a week. He
looks on it as an act of discipline, proof of his commitment.
He hangs the DO NOT DISTURB sign outside room 205, and each morn-
ing when the determined maid phones asking to clean, Kevin rolls over
and says no. When he rises a few hours later the room is still dark from
the shades. Cats aren't allowed and Kevin can't think of a good reason to
open the shades, so he keeps them drawn day after day, held down by
thumbtacks. His only view is through the tiny peephole in the door. Lo-
cated just off a busy intersection, his second-floor motel room hums
with the continuous stream of cars and trucks. From his bed, his world
is four paces over the green carpet to the windowless kitchenette, three
to the TV, and three to the bathroom with the plastic drinking cups. He
hooks up his video game to the motel's color TV and soon excels at Su-
per Mario Brothers I I.
But Kevin is working too. Twenty-four hours a day, he tape-records
the vice squad's surveillance, the police scanner crackling with field op-
erations like the daytime soaps. Often vice is just following some ran-
dom hooker, running plates and bantering back and forth in cop lingo.
Kevin listens as the hookers enter a hotel room, responding to an ad he
knows was placed by the LAPD. The operation seems geared toward de-
veloping dossiers on the major escort services, and at one point, Detec-
tive Spradley himself comes on the air and describes the girl his team is
supposed to tail. "She's got blond hair, but it's not really natural blond,"
Kevin passes his days and nights keeping a log of the transmissions
of the investigators following Eric. He tracks the key players in a steno
book, noting their call signs and what they say. There's no doubt that
the investigation is being run by LAPD vice-with Spradley and McEl-
roy the main players. One afternoon, while playing his video game,
Kevin hears street names that sound vaguely familiar. He dials Ameri-
can Voice Retrieval without the slightest worry that a trap on a mailbox
might reveal his location. As always, he dials a random box and then
skips over to the box he actually wants to leave a message in. There's
nothing to trace.
Ever since the initial surveillance at Doheny Towers, Ron has tired of
Kevin's incessant round-the-clock pages. Often Kevin simply hears a co-
incidence, a nearby surveillance operation that invariably is centered
on a hooker, not a hacker. So Ron is perhaps understandably irritated
one afternoon when he receives yet another "*99" emergency message
on his pager. He dials his voice mail and listens to Kevin's message,
something about, "If you live on ... you've got some problems. Turn on
your radio." Ron hasn't lived in the Woodland Hills apartment long
enough to know the streets outside his apartment. He flips on his radio
just in case.
"I've got this entrance blocked over here on ..." snaps one cop over
the radio. "I'm over here on Oxnard," replies another.
At that instant, Ron looks out his apartment window and sees a car
exiting the parking lot.
"Is that him?" asks one of the cops. "No,"says another.
Ron turns up his radio, and learns to his amazement that between
the LAP D, Terry Atchley of Pac Bell, and the FBI, all four exits to his
complex are surrounded. How could they find his apartment so fast?
He'd rented it only weeks ago under a false identity. But then he remem-
bers the call he'd made to Eric at Doheny Towers before Kevin had
learned traps had been placed on Eric's line.
Ron sits tight and waits, hoping they'll leave when their shift is up.
He thinks of a friend's place where he might be able to hide out for a few
days, and then tries to sort through the puzzle. First they tried to use
Eric to lead them to Kevin, and now him. How long before they'll be on
"Listen, we have to get in there and clean," says an irritated Super 8 mo-
tel manager early one morning on the phone, a few days before Kevin's
two weeks in hiding are up.
Kevin quickly gathers his stuff and cat and leaves before the maid ar-
rives, driving a few miles before checking into a Vagabond Inn. Kevin is
stubborn. He has to finish his two weeks. A couple of days later, he parks
down the street from his apartment and tunes in the vice and FBI
frequencies. After a slow drive by, he returns to his apartment, sees
nothing amiss, and then proceeds with his security plan. He brings a
snake toilet plunger to the building manager's apartment. The manager
had admired it a few weeks ago, and Kevin figures it will make a good
pretext for stopping by. He offers it to the man, notices nothing unusual
about his demeanor, and then quickly retreats to a safe distance in his
car. After several hours of monitoring vice and FBI frequencies, Kevin
is satisfied that all's clear. He can return home, blond hair and all.
A week later, after listening to his scanner long enough to be sure that
the coast is clear, Ron returns with a truck to clean out his apartment,
none too happy about having to forfeit his last month's rent and secu-
rity deposit. He's finding that the life of an underground hacker has its
financial and emotional costs. It's a pain to worry constantly about
where he makes every phone call and who might be following him. As
he carts his furniture and belongings down to the truck, he keeps his po-
lice radio on, just in case. So far, all he's heard is routine surveillance, in-
terrupted by another random hooker case code named "Lollipop."
His pager buzzes and he looks down to see the familiar "*99" emer-
gency code. A few minutes later, he's got Kevin on the phone. "They've
got him under surveillance in Beverly Hills," Kevin says matter-of-
"What do you mean?"
"Lollipop," Kevin says flatly. "That's Eric's plate."
Amazed, Austin realizes that Kevin is right. Eric stored his Porsche
with a friend and has been driving a Mazda RX7 with the amusing li-
cense plate LOLLI POP. Security precautions and countersurveillance
aside, the cops seem to be moving fast. Kevin, of course, had warned Eric
about the traps on his line and voice mail and made him promise that
when he moved into his new apartment he wouldn't call any number
he'd called in the past. The precaution wasn't idle. Since Atchley had
Eric's phone bills, it was likely that he'd put traps on every number Eric
Eric is angry when Kevin gives him the bad news. He's tired of being
watched like a caged animal and chased all over Hollywood, forced to
abandon one apartment after another, all simply because he's the clos-
est the cops and feds have gotten to Kevin. A couple of days later, after
the LAPD tires of watching the empty apartment, Eric returns in the
middle of the night and loads up the last of his furniture. The night be-
fore Eric leaves town he meets a blond named Shannon at a Hollywood
party and enjoys his last one-night stand in Los Angeles at a hotel. The
next day he loads up his Porsche and begins the long haul to Texas. It
doesn't take long. At 3 A.M. the next morning out on an empty desert
freeway, Eric hits 160 miles per hour. He's free.
he Unsolved Mysteries episode con-
vinces Kevin that it's time to take extra precautions. He isn't about to
make the same mistake twice. No storage locker slipups, no apartment
stuffed with computers and telephone memorabilia they won't under-
stand. No, this time he'll do it right. If hacking and phones really are his
life, then like other people with a calling, he needs a place to hack. If he
were an artist it might be a warehouse studio, filled with air and soft
light, and ifhe were a writer, it might be a lonely cottage, looking out on
the sea. But he's a hacker. Kevin wants four walls, a place to plug in his
computers, and as many phone lines as he can swipe.
Kevin finds what he's looking for near the 101 freeway in North
Hollywood, at the corner of Van Nuys and Victory. Peep shows and
pawnshops crowd the district. Graffiti-strewn bus benches advertise le-
gal services for one-hour bankruptcy, evictions, and divorce. Steel bars
line the windows. Down the street at Tommy's World Famous Ham-
burger, the Mexican gangs hang out, and anybody with any sense
knows that Victory and Van Nuys isn't a smart place to be alone at
The eight-floor building towers over the neighborhood, a 1960s
statement in angled concrete and glass. He parks in the back lot, by the
bank on the ground floor, the worn facade of the adjacent building col-
ored with faded murals advertising diapers, soap, and sanitary napkins.
Even if Kevin arrives late at night, all he has to do is sprint from the
car to the locked metal gate near the bank door. From there it's only
twenty feet to the elevator, up to the fourth floor, past the line of worn
brown doors with missing placards to the end of the blue-carpeted hall.
Next door is a small travel agency, and down the hall, a detective or low-
rent lawyer. Most of the offices have been empty for months, a fact
Kevin finds all the more attractive since his digs are about ten feet from
the floor's phone closet.
With his radio prize money, Kevin has bought a Sun workstation with
two terminals, an IBM XT, a fax machine, and a laser printer. He hangs
a framed sign he swiped from a central office, "PACIFIC BELL, A NEW BEGIN-
On a white board above his computers, Kevin pens simple instruc-
tions with a black felt pen marker on how to make an untraceable
phone call. He still makes his calls through a trunk test set, changing
the route index, bouncing the calls back and forth between random
trunks to disguise their origin. But in the shadow of increased surveil-
lance, Kevin is further bolstering his defenses.
Kevin makes a late-night visit to his local central office, and con-
nects a pair of phone lines from the ESS computer to the frame, cleverly
hiding the new line that will run to his office among the spaghetti of
wires. Every fifteen minutes, the raw output from the ESS computer at
the central office refreshes his Sun's screen with an updated list of traps
and traces. Before Kevin or Ron make any calls, by phone or computer,
they check the on-screen list.
But Kevin wants a real-time connection to the switch. He wires his
Sun workstation into all five of his office's phone lines, and attaches re-
lay switches to each line. He hacks out a program that continuously
searches the ESS computer for the trace command. The millisecond a
Pac Bell technician keys the trace command the Sun anticipates the
electronic pursuit, the relay switches snap, and the phone lines go dead.
At most, they'll locate one of thousands of anonymous trunks.
Encryption is Kevin's last defense. Scrambling his files so that if all
else fails, if they trace one of his calls, capture his number, and raid his
office, they'll find only random ASCII characters and digits, the 128
character computer alphabet. Encryption transforms files into a non-
recognizable form-ciphertext-by scrambling them with an encryp-
tion algorithm. But first Kevin needs to create a key, his ten-character
password, to begin the encryption and later to reconstitute his ci-
phertext into plaintext. It can't be a common name because that would
be too easy to crack, but he isn't willing to have a completely random
key. Then, he might have trouble remembering it, and write it down,
which would defeat the whole purpose.
So Kevin thinks about letters that mean something only to him, and
comes up with the keys he strikes on his test trunk to make an untrace-
able call and the extra letters on a sixteen-button phone. Though it's not
random, to anyone but Kevin KPfofipOST is pretty unique. For encryp-
tion, Kevin uses Sun's and IBM's versions of DES, the Defense Encryp-
tion Standard, a fifty-six-key technique used by federal agencies and
thought to be virtually uncrackable. But Kevin doesn't take any
chances. He knows his pseudo-random key makes his files less secure.
He encrypts his files twice, three times, and occasionally five times.
When he wants to read a file, it's a guessing game. He just keeps decrypt-
ing over and over again, until the curtain of ciphertext on his screen lifts
and reveals intelligible words and numbers.
Ron surveys his Hollywood apartment and smiles. In the few short
hours he's been gone his bathroom has been transformed into a beauty
salon. Spread around the sink are five spray bottles, two bottles of
mousse, two blow dryers, and a couple of wood-handled brushes.
Eric had phoned from Dallas and asked if he could stay at Ron's
apartment for a couple of days, and now, after spending the night with
his girlfriend, Ron is back surveying the wreckage for the first time. Ever
since Eric left for Texas things have been surprisingly quiet. For
months, nothing much has happened. Kevin and Ron have picked up
no tails, found no security memos on-line, and where once they could
count on regularly following LAPD's surveillance, they've found them-
selves pushed off the airwaves.
In short, life in Los Angeles has become dull without Eric. He's been
back for a couple of brief visits, and a few weeks ago the three of them
had actually met down at the Rainbow on a busy weekend night. Eric
had gotten the two of them in for free, and Ron was amazed at how re-
laxed they all were. There seemed precious little of the jangled nerves
from the days when nobody trusted one another. Watching Eric do his
club thing, smiling casually at the scantily clad girls who paraded by,
Ron couldn't help but think that maybe Eric wasn't such a bad guy after
Eric was in a chatty mood, and once they'd firmly established that
the investigation had ground to a standstill, he began holding forth. He
sipped on a vodka cranberry and spoke in reverential terms about
Texas, a new frontier for hacking. He told of a state wide open, central
offices without locked fences, without locked doors. Southern sex, he
boasted, wasn't bad either. In L.A. everybody already knew his act, and
even for Eric,things had gradually slowed. But when he moved to Texas,
he was pleasantly surprised by the strong rock scene and the bustling,
upscale stripper trade. It was like being the new guy in town. He'd al-
ready bedded several strippers, a Playboy lingerie model, and even had a
regular thing with a schoolteacher.
"You should move down there too," Eric suggested to Kevin in a
friendly tone. "We could check out COs together." Kevin was noncom-
mittal and quiet, and while they didn't stay long enough to order drinks,
the meeting had a friendliness that surprised Ron. The three of them
had actually all met together for once without worrying about who
might be being tailed or pressed to rat out the others.
The next day Ron returns to his apartment, and immediately notices a
scanner tuned to a North Hollywood police frequency. "Yeah,"Eric ex-
plains nonchalantly, "I've been listening to this police frequency all day
expecting to hear something on a stolen car."
Eric tells the story matter-of-factly, as if recounting the dry details of
an ordinary day. He'd gone out to the Valley to test-drive a 944 Turbo he
fancied and taken it for a spin. After a few minutes, with evening setting
in, he asked the seller in the seat next to him if he could see it in the
light. The man said sure and they pulled to the side of the road, under
some streetlamps. They circled the car together, and then suddenly Eric
jumped back in and floored it.
"He was standing there stunned," Eric says with a smile, perhaps
sensing the irony of his crime. Ron and Kevin had hacked their Porsches
through computers and phone lines, while Eric, partial to less technical
solutions, had simply driven his latest conquest right out from under its
Before Ron can ask any questions, Eric returns to the bathroom
to take his evening shower and freshen up. Ron is listening to the
Van Nuys frequency for any mention of a stolen Porsche when Kevin
"Why is there a Porsche down there with Eric's plate?" asks Kevin.
Ron is impressed by Kevin's powers of observation. Sure enough,
Eric had simply taken the plate from his old Porsche and placed it on his
new white Porsche.
Ron smiles. "Just ask Eric."
"Meet me at the Rainbow at about 2 A.M.," Eric suggests.
Kevin knows what that means. Maybe he'll go along with his plan,
or maybe he'll go along with whatever turns up at the Rainbow.
Later that evening when Kevin pulls up outside the club's teeming
parking lot at the designated hour, he's thinking how Eric has always
claimed his obsession with sex is an addiction that he'd like to kick.
Kevin has never taken the claim seriously. How could he? The idea of
Eric not scamming women was about as likely as Kevin quitting tap-
ping phones. Then, Kevin sees the ordinary-looking girl Eric has on his
The three of them walk together toward Eric's car, Kevin making
cryptic remarks about his plan for later that evening. Eric, however,
remains undecided. Kevin tells Eric where he's parked, returns to
his car, and waits. Eric pulls up behind, tells the girl he'll just be a
minute and steps into Kevin's Fiero. Eric wants to know how sure a
thing it is, how confident Kevin is that it will work out. Then he leaves
Kevin, returns to his car, and talks with the girl awhile, asking similar
questions. How sure a thing it is, how confident she is that it will work
A few minutes later, Eric returns to Kevin's car, a serious look on his
face. "Well, I don't know. She's being pretty convincing."
Kevin pauses a minute and then makes his pitch. "Look, Eric, go
back to your car, turn on the interior light, and take a good long look at
her." Then, like a good friend, Kevin reaches in his wallet. "Here's ten
dollars. You can call her a cab."
Eric pockets the ten, and Kevin watches as he opens the car door and
leaves it ajar so the interior light stays on. Eric and the girl talk a few
Eric walks back and holds out his palm. "A cab will cost twenty."
After all the months of car chases, traced numbers, and close calls, it has
finally come down to rora Wilshire Boulevard, security headquarters
for Pacific Bell. It's not exactly the sort of place you'd expect a wanted
FBI fugitive to plan a late-night burglary. But then, Kevin is unlike any
fugitive the FBI has ever encountered. He'd told Eric that it was time to
go to the source and find out what Pac Bell,LAPD, and the feds had on
them. Why operate in the dark, stupidly running from some unknown
entity, if you have the power, and more importantly, the nerve to inves-
tigate the investigators?
This time the stakes are higher. They aren't talking about an un-
manned central office.A guard sits in the front lobby of the high-rise on
the busy boulevard, a video camera trained on the door. The risks aren't
simply capture and whatever the feds might piece together about their
past activities but the additional federal charge of obstruction of justice.
Tonight, it won't do simply to pick the lock or use one of Kevin's Pac Bell
Eric boosts Kevin up a wall alongside the building and tosses him a
backpack with a scanner, flashlight, and lock picks. Kevin yanks him
up, and they thread their way down a narrow passage to the rear of the
building. Climbing up on on Eric's shoulders, Kevin grabs for one of the
rails of the fire escape ladder hanging from a balcony. A flock of pigeons
scatters suddenly, and he slips and then regains his grip. Once firmly up
he takes a look at the door.
"EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY. OPENING DOOR WILL SOUND ALARM."
Kevin whispers down to Eric what's written on the door. They both
know that Pac Bell often posts such warnings when they don't want to
pay for an alarm.
Eric shrugs. "Go ahead if you want to take the chance."
Kevin mulls it over, and then decides to check around first. He trav-
erses the terrace and spots a video camera pointed toward the knot of
freeways and off-ramps. The second door he finds has no sign and is un-
locked. He returns to the balcony and reaches down a hand for Eric,
who's been passing the time listening to a Bear Cat scanner tuned to the
LAPD's frequency. So far, it's been quiet.
The door opens into what appears to be a cafeteria, and they waste
little time in finding the stairs. On the sixth floor, they tiptoe to the
office. Kevin has known of the office since he was a teenager, finding it
when he'd bring up a security agent's number in Cosmos or read a Pac
Bell security memo on-line. Before coming over tonight, just to be sure,
he'd checked it again in Pac Bell's directory.
Eric drops to his knees with a screwdriver and a flashlight, a bit
fuzzy from the vodka. A couple of minutes later, the door swings open
to a large room with partitions. Kevin hits all the light switches. Flash-
lights aren't a good idea when burglarizing an office building with a
wall of glass. He wants it to look like they're working.
"Which is Atchley's desk?" Eric wonders out loud.
Kevin doesn't hesitate. He picks up a phone and dials Atchley's ex-
tension, and listens to it ring more than a hundred feet away. A minute
later, he picks the lock on the desk, slowly pulls open the drawer, and
there staring up at him like a bad dream is an eight-by-ten mug shot of
"Oh my god!"exclaims Eric.
Till then, they hadn't really known for certain just how large a target
Kevin might be. Everything had been circumstantial, bits and pieces
here and there. But the celebrity-sized photo is clear. Atchley wants to
remind himself of Kevin's face every time he reaches for a pencil.
Kevin thinks it's kind of funny, this Pac Bell security man obsessed
with his capture. Now that he's found his desk, he can return the favor
and investigate the investigator. He finds catalogs of spy equipment and
high-tech surveillance. Invisible powder to spread on equipment that
later could be viewed under blue light to see if hands had been where
they shouldn't. Video cameras and recording equipment. Secret phone
company radio frequencies to carry out surveillance.
Eric is impressed by the stacks of manuals on the company's inves-
tigative procedures. Books with block diagrams discussing how to wire-
tap phones legally and set up DNRs, written in such a manner that Eric
figures any idiot could understand. But it's the files they've come after.
The Kevin Poulsen file. Files with Ron's and Eric's phony names, phone
bills, DNR printouts and scraps of paper with the Investigator's name.
They stay until the sun rises, Kevin making trips back and forth to the
copy machine, only leaving when they hear the groan of a delivery
truck arriving outside.
At Ron's apartment, Kevin holds up a stack of copied documents at least
five inches thick. "Youwouldn't believe the stuff we found." In his hand
are the phone bills of virtually every person Ron or Eric has called in the
last year: Austin's girlfriend, his girlfriend's grandparent, Eric's girl-
friend Frecia, the Investigator, his secretary, even Henry Spiegel. Poring
over the bills, they're impressed at Atchley's thoroughness. The Pac Bell
investigator had apparently run everyone who had ever phoned these
disparate individuals through a database to see if the billing might by
chance come back to a Kevin, any Kevin at all, on the faint hope that he
hadn't changed his first name.
Amid the phone bills are DNRs on Eric's lines and Ron's voice mail
numbers and random hand-scrawled notes about the vice investigation
and the FBI. The whole picture is coming into focus, and as far as Ron is
concerned it isn't good. The next morning he tells Eric to gather up his
beauty products and leave. First the stolen car, now the break-in to Pac
Bell's security office.It's all getting to be a little too much. After months
of calm, Ron suddenly has two wanted criminals hanging out in his
apartment and a freshly swiped Porsche sitting down in the parking lot.
But Kevin is just getting warmed up. The following evening he's
back at the Rainbow, trying to persuade Eric to leave that night's catch
for another night of traipsing around Pac Bell security headquarters.
Kevin pleads, reminding Eric that they both stand to gain, and that the
window of opportunity is likely to end after the weekend. The first
break-in had been on a Friday, and Kevin knows that once Monday ar-
rives, Atchley will find signs of the burglary.
None of these arguments sway Eric, his arm firmly wrapped around
the slim waist of a young, attractive stranger. Besides,what more could
they possibly find? They know Atchley has it in for Poulsen, that he's
stuck DNRs on every line imaginable, and that the vice squad and the
feds have been chasing them all over town. This isn't just a routine visit
to the nearby central office.Kevin is talking about scouring the office of
Pac Bell security two nights in a row.
"I need a boost to get in," Kevin pleads on the phone later that night
to Ron. Dismayed that Eric turned him down for some anonymous girl,
Kevin is counting on his old friend to help him out. They drive sepa-
rately, parking on a side street with a view of the building, and Ron is
secretly happy when Kevin tells him that he can climb up alone with
the rope he's brought and won't need a boost after all.
He hands Ron a radio and asks him to listen to the police scanner
and radio him in the building if anything sounds amiss. Ron sits in his
dark car while Kevin clambers up the wall. Watching him disappear,
Ron knows that he isn't ready to do what Kevin has asked. Without Eric,
Kevin will take chances, and Austin knows that the odds are that he'd
be in for a long wait, several hours at least, stretching past dawn, at least
until Kevin might have a greater chance of getting caught. After about
ten minutes, Ron flips off the radio and drives away.
erry Atchley keeps chipping
away, doing traps and traces, checking phone numbers. Finally, he spots
something interesting, calls to Eric's voice mail from a private investi-
gator's office on Wilshire Boulevard.
Detective Spradley pays the Investigator a visit and asks him to
make one more call to Eric's voice mail. The Investigator isn't happy
about the hacker carelessly leading the cops to his business. When Eric
returns his voice mail he tells him matter-of-factly that the police are
looking for him. "They want you to call here and talk to them," he says.
"Tuesday, four P.M. They'll be at my office."
Eric knows damn well Atchley will be tracing the call, but he's
still gotta know what they're offering. He calls through three different
800 numbers and then dials the Investigator's number. The conversa-
tion is barely audible, but Eric already knows their script. "We know
you're involved with Kevin Poulsen, and that you've been breaking into
Pac Bell computers," Spradley stiffly informs him as Atchley tries to
trace the call. "We're going to proceed with criminal prosecution
Eric interrupts the cop and gets to the point. "Poulsen knows your
every move," he says in his toneless voice. "He knew where you were
when you were tailing me. He even knew your first names."
"I'm sure we can work out some kind of deal," Spradley softens. "The
guy we want is Poulsen."
Atchley traces Eric's If-Haul truck to the apartment of one of his friends,
but it's Special Agent Beaselywho does all the interviewing when they
drive out to the address in the Valley. Atchley sizes him up as a musi-
cian type, hair dyed black, full leathers. The guy knows Poulsen, and
claims to have even seen him recently late at night at a Hughes Market
in Van Nuys.
Atchley and Beasely both make trips to the Hughes Market, bring-
ing along Poulsen's blond LAPD mug shot. A couple of boxboys say
they recognize Poulsen, but add that he hasn't been in for a few weeks.
The phone investigator and G-man leave the mug shot and their phone
and pager numbers. It's a lead, all right, but neither man is too optimis-
tic. Eric left town months ago, and they figure that if for some reason
Poulsen hasn't already left, he's too clever to shop at the same market
But shortly before midnight on April 9, Brian Bridges,the Van Nuys
night manager, sees the man in the mug shot enter the store. Bridges
wasn't on duty a month or so ago, when Atchley and Beasely had
dropped off the photo. He only knows that the man in the photo is
wanted, and that if he comes in they're supposed to call the numbers.
The man is neatly dressed, wearing a black leather jacket, Levi's and
round wire-rim glasses, but it's the dried-out, platinum blond hair that
catches Bridges'seye. He runs to the upstairs windowed officethat over-
looks the aisles. "He's in the store," he whispers to another employee,
alerting her to call the FBI. Bridges follows the man's movements,
while the woman dials the Bureau's numbers. When no one answers,
she tries 9II, but the skeptical 9II operator wants to know what the
man is wanted for. Incredulous, Bridges watches the man collect his
change and calmly walk out the door with his groceries. He grabs the
phone in frustration and shouts angrily, "He's driving away now!"
The last few weeks have raised the hopes of the authorities. Eric has de-
cided to help the FBI catch Kevin and has been in regular phone contact
with Terry Atchley and the FBI, passing on whatever information he
has. Bob Gilligan, too, has decided to betray his old friend. Kevin's
onetime boss at SRI, who led Kevin back into phones and computers
when the hacker had a chance to go straight, has agreed to plead guilty
to the conspiracy charge in the indictment. Gilligan's deal is simple. The
government will drop all the counts in the indictment except for the
conspiracy charge and accept a plea that will likely result in a $25,000
fine and no jail time. In return Gilligan will help the government appre-
hend the "fugitive defendant Poulsen."
But on the evening of April ro, Kevin is unaware of how his old
friends have turned against him. Alone at his office, programming,
Kevin's scanner is tuned to 800 megahertz, Pac Bell's frequency, when
his arch-enemy, Pac Bell security investigator Terry Atchley, comes on
"Have I gotten any calls?" Kevin hears Atchley quietly ask his boss.
"Did those new number searches come in?"
Kevin keeps listening to the conversation and then suddenly real-
izes what's so odd. There's none of the ordinary background noise of a
car engine or traffic. It sounds as if Atchley is just parked somewhere,
waiting for something to happen.
Atchley sits in his gray Chevy Celebrity in an unlit corner of the lot with
a clear view of the entrance. He's decided to stake out Hughes Market,
and though the boxboys say the night owl usually doesn't shop till mid-
night, Atchley arrives at 9 P.M., hoping to see the Pontiac Fiero with the
busted headlight they spotted Poulsen driving off in the night before.
He figures on staying past four in the morning, a seven-hour stint, not
so long that he won't be able to grab a couple of hours' sleep before go-
ing to the office. He's got a cell phone, a police radio, coffee, and plenty
of cigarettes. He'd like to read something to pass the time, but that isn't
what surveillance is about. He has to sit there, looking, doing nothing,
letting his tired eyes scan the area.
Ten minutes before midnight, a black Pontiac Fiero swings into the
lot, and Atchley watches one headlight blink shut and the other stay
open. Out steps the man Atchley saw seven months before at the Union
station pay phone. Atchley considers paging Beasely, but there isn't
time. He hops out and runs anxiously to the corner of the building,
about ten feet from the Fiero. He wonders if the night manager has done
as he instructed, paging Beasely and phoning LAPD.
Suddenly, an excited security guard runs out the front, yelling, "We
got him! We got him!"
"Get Bridges!" Atchley shouts back, worried that everything is hap-
pening too fast. Atchley had hoped to arrest Poulsen in front of the mar-
ket, but a couple of Hughes boxboys took the law into their hands, tack-
ling Kevin as he picked up a few cans of soup. A minute later the guard
runs back, breathing heavily. "We've got him in a storeroom in the
His arms are cuffed and he seems extremely surprised. He looks
quizzically at the Pac Bell security man. "Who are you?"
"Get off it, Kevin!"Atchley shoots back. ''I'm the guy whose desk you
sat in front of."
Atchley replaces the security guard's cuffs with his own and pats
down Kevin for weapons. "You know me better than that," Kevin says.
"I know," agrees the phone investigator.
"So how did you know I'd be here?"
Atchley isn't going to tell him, but he also can't resist snapping back
with a smart reply. Kevin asks again, and Atchley plops him down on a
milk crate. The last thing he's going to do is give Kevin the satisfaction
of knowing how he'd finally been caught. But as the hacker continues
to try to strike up a conversation with the investigator, Atchley begins
to wonder when Beasely and LAPD will show. He isn't a cop and he'd
appreciate some professional assistance.
"My contacts are bothering me," Kevin complains.
Atchley ignores him for a few minutes, but the hacker persists. "Can
I take them out?"
The hacker asks again. Maybe this isn't another one of his tricks,
Atchley thinks. Maybe there is something wrong with his contacts.
"You could go out to my car, get a black bag out of the front seat,"
Kevin continues. "It's got my contacts case. Search it if you like."
"Watch him," Atchley instructs the boxboys, and takes the key from
Kevin and trots out to the car. He isn't gone for more than a couple of
Back in the storage room, Atchley uncuffs Kevin and takes the
glasses out of the case and hands them over. Atchley watches his hands.
Kevin pops each contact into his palm, and then Atchley lets him put
the contacts in the case. His movements are slow and deliberate. Then,
the hacker puts his round, wire-rim glasses on. Finally, Atchley puts the
case back in the black canvas bag.
At about I A.M., roughly an hour after the capture, Special Agent
Beasely arrives at the storeroom. "Thought you'd never catch me,"
Kevin greets the G-man.
A few minutes later, Atchley's beeper buzzes.
"Uh, your beeper went off,"Kevin observes, standing up and taking
a step. Atchley, busy with his beeper, doesn't notice. Or hear the slight
"What did you just drop in that trash can, Kevin?" Agent Beasely
Kevin says nothing, and the agent walks over and calmly fishes his
wallet out of the can. "What do you have in this wallet that you didn't
want us to see, Kevin?"
Deep inside the wallet, the agent pulls out a folded list of what ap-
pear to be four car licenses. "Whose licenses are these Kevin?"
"I don't know," replies the hacker.
Atchley takes a closer look at the license numbers of his work ve-
hicles, personal vehicles-even his wife's car. His mouth tightens.
"Oh, he knows whose plates these are," Atchley says.
A few minutes later, Beasely and his partner move off to talk for a
minute. Atchley squats down in front of the hacker, his face inches
away. He takes the cigarette out slowly and chews the words.
"Listen to me, you motherfucker," Kevin claims the phone investi-
gator warned him. "If you ever fuck with me or my family, next time
there won't be enough of you left to put in jail."
Atchley refuses to confirm or deny that any such conversation took
Led out into the crowded parking lot, amid the circus of flashing
lights and squawking police radios, Kevin chats amiably with Beasely
and another agent. Bridges, the Hughes night manager, is surprised by
the scene. This mysterious guy in black, who a moment ago had been
wanted by the FBI, now seems to be engaged in shoptalk, casually dis-
cussing the particulars of his police scanner and the other gizmos the
Bureau found in his black bag. Later, when the last of the police and the
FBI leave, Bridges and the boxboys return to their routine, all thinking
the same thought. Somehow, somewhere, the FBI would find a way to
use the hacker.
Kevin Poulsen relaxes in the back of the car on the drive down to the Los
Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center, listening to music on the Sony
Walkman Beasely has given him, and realizing with growing con-
fidence that all is not lost. He encrypted his computers twice, three
times, sometimes five times, just to be sure, and while the FBI may have
finally captured him, they still don't have his data or his secrets. He's
prepared for this too. In America, even the most wanted criminals are
allowed at least one phone call.
Debbie Poulsen is upset when the stepbrother she loves calls and
tells her the inevitable has happened. But she does as she's told. She gets
a pen and a piece of paper and writes down the strange elliptical mes-
sage. She doesn't understand it, but that's the way Kevin wants it.
Ron arrives the next afternoon as usual at the office,expecting to see
Kevin. He rewinds the voice-activated tape recorder they left hooked up
to the scanner. It doesn't take long. He catches a reference to "6Y64
Adam," Lieutenant Spradley's call sign, and then, over the crackle of the
radio static, hears the simple message, "Your boy has been taken."
Ron calls his voice mail and hears a young woman's voice. He isn't
sure who it is, but combined with the vice recording there's little doubt
in his mind that Kevin has been arrested. "This message is for Ron
Austin. I was captured last night at Hughes Market," says the woman,
sounding as if she's reading a script. "Do what you can." It's the rest of
the truncated message that confuses Ron, something about the authori-
ties having found Kevin's address and arresting him with his credit and
ATM cards and a grand total of forty-four dollars cash .
In the glasses case Kevin asked Atchley to retrieve from his black bag of
tricks, tucked away in a hidden compartment, Special Agent Beasely
finds a tool inspired by Kevin's idol, the legendary Houdini, a tiny hand-
Then, he finds a clue.
"I've got this orange parking stub," Beasely tells Atchley on the
phone a few days after the bust. "I can't figure out where it's from."
Atchley gladly accepts the invitation to do a little gumshoe work.
"Van Nuys Parking," says the stub, which seems like a clue, except that
after a dozen or so phone calls Atchley discovers eight parking lots by
that name in Van Nuys, California. By checking the serial number on
the stub, though, Atchley gradually eliminates one lot after another, un-
til about a day later he finds himself standing in the actual lot, near the
corner of Victory and Van Nuys.
Where would he have set up shop? Atchley wonders. Clutching his
mug shot of Poulsen, Atchley canvases the neighborhood. The shoe re-
pairman has seen him, and so have plenty of other local shopkeepers.
Returning to the parking lot, mug shot in hand, Atchley spies the adja-
cent office building. Fidelity Federal Bank occupies the first floor. It fits,
Atchley thinks. Who would ever look for a hacker in a bank building?
A couple of minutes later, Atchley finds the building manager. Sure
enough, he too recognizes the man in the photo. He rented a suite on
the fourth floor.
The Bureau moves in for surveillance, and Atchley, too, joins in the
waiting, spending a few more afternoons and nights in his Chevy,
smoking and sipping coffee. But from the outset they fear they might be
too late. When the manager first showed Atchley the office, the investi-
gator found no computers, no modems, no proprietary Pac Bell manu-
als, none of the evidence the government needed to build a solid case
against Kevin Poulsen. All that remained of the headquarters for the na-
tion's most wanted hacker was some ordinary used furniture, and in the
middle of the floor, as if to leave a message, a Pac Bell phone bill.
wo months after Kevin's capture,
on June 21, 1991, Eric was summoned from the bed he was sharing with
a model and arrested by county sheriffs at his Dallas apartment. ByOc-
tober, the federal government had obtained his release from a Texas jail,
and he was back in Los Angeles, working as a paid informant for the
FBI. The G-men paid him several hundred dollars a week in cash and
covered his thirteen-hundred-dollar-a-month rent at Oakwood Apart-
ments at 3636 South Sepulveda. The FBI supplied Eric with a cellular
phone, a lineman's test set useful for wiretapping, a computer, a mo-
dem, and a thin, flat tape recorder to plant on his body. They also gave
him back his SAS wiretapping manuals. But Eric Heinz had to earn his
government pay. His assignment was to find Kevin Poulsen's comput-
ers, for without them the government didn't have a case against the
That fall, Eric phoned Ron and they met at Norm's, the famous
greasy spoon in West L.A. As Ron approached the restaurant, he heard
what sounded like the static of encrypted FBI transmissions on his
scanner, but he relaxed when he found Eric already seated, his own
scanner on the table. After moving to another restaurant, the static
faded, and Ron figured it had just been a coincidence. Eric eased into his
pitch. He was looking for a new crime partner.
Ron ignored the invitation for a moment, and the two reminisced
about their days on the run. When Eric finally mentioned Kevin's com-
puters, Ron realized that he'd been waiting, indeed hoping he'd ask.
He'd been worrying about the cache of computers, encrypted files, and
manuals ever since he'd boxed them up that April day. On the drive over
to the locker, Ron didn't pick up a bit of surveillance on his scanner. Eric
rummaged through Kevin's things for an hour or so, and then an-
nounced that it was too much to go through all at once. The next day he
asked if he could borrow Ron's laptop, and they arranged to meet later
at a nearby Taco Bellon Sepulveda.
As Ron turned the corner toward the restaurant, he spied Eric across
the street, exiting a tanning salon. How fitting, Ron mused, as Eric
waved back. Hacking had always seemed just a sideline for Eric, a way
to scam a buck and be cool.
At the restaurant, Ron opened his laptop, but the Hollywood man
seemed more interested in a burrito, leaving Ron at one of the outdoor
tables next to the parking lot as he slipped in to order.
Ron first heard a car door opening, and then a barrage of discordant
sounds. Cars careened in from every direction, bounced over curbs, and
squealed to within inches of the tables. Somebody shoved him and
grabbed his hair, but what he remembered most was the muzzle of a
gun pressed against his head.
It wasn't until his court hearing a few days later, when his attorney
showed him some documents referencing secretly tape-recorded con-
versations, that Ron realized he had been set up by his friend.
Ron soon agreed to plead guilty to computer fraud, wiretapping, and
other charges, but he got his revenge. While out on bail, he pieced to-
gether Eric's crimes from the hacker's garbage, built a dossier, and
handed a copy to the FBI. When the government confronted Eric, the
hacker fled and planned an even larger crime. Those bank codes he had
found with Kevin came in handy. Not long after going underground,
Eric hacked into the computers of Heller Financial, in Glendale, and
fraudulently transferred $150,000 to a local bank, phoning in a bomb
threat to distract attention from his activities. But before he could with-
draw the money, the bank was onto his scheme and froze the account.
Soon he had Ron to worry about too. Within a couple of weeks, Ron
spotted Eric's car parked in front of a stripper's apartment, phoned the
FBI, and assisted in capturing the fugitive. There was no doubt who
won this hacker showdown. Ron's plea required that he volunteer sev-
eral hundred hours of community service; Eric was sentenced to forty-
one months in jail.
Several months after Kevin's capture, a stranger showed up unan-
nounced at Rob Crowe's door on the third floor ofthe San Jose U.S. at-
torneys' office. He introduced himself as Scott Harper, an FBI foreign
counterintelligence agent. Without skipping a beat, he informed the
prosecutor that he was working on the Poulsen case, understood that
classified information was involved, and needed a complete review of
the evidence and the charges.
Crowe grumbled that he was fed up with the FBI and rattled off his
complaints. The FBI's misinformation had led Crowe to bring the bo-
gus Masnet Army network charge, and Crowe had wasted months try-
ing to build an espionage charge against Poulsen, partly because the
FBI couldn't get a straight story from the military.
But Harper was no ordinary FBI agent. Harper knew the people in
power. He could get answers from the military in a day that would have
taken Crowe weeks. Suddenly John Dyon, the FBI 's head of Internal Se-
curity, was calling Rob Crowe and offering his assistance. The reason
was simple. Scott Harper was known among a very tight knit group of
top FBI and CIA agents as a first-rate counterintelligence agent. He'd
worked some of the biggest cases in the last decade, including the John
Walker spy case.
Accompanied by an attorney from the Justice Department's Internal
Security section, Harper set off cross-country, interviewing nearly a
dozen SRI employees, and everybody he could find with knowledge of
the Caber Dragon air tasking order. At Fort Bragg,North Carolina, Dave
Borchert, head of the SRI field office,told Harper that Poulsen had been
on the Caber Dragon 88 exercise. He even remembered him acting sus-
piciously one night at the base. And he was ready to testify in court.
But there were still a couple of significant hurdles. It wasn't merely
that a computer hacker had never before been charged with espionage.
As far as they could determine, no one had ever before been charged
with espionage merely for obtaining classified information.
The FBI set about decrypting Kevin Poulsen's computer files. Officially,
the government would not comment on the attempt. The reason for se-
crecy was simple. Publicly, the government had maintained for many
years that it was impossible to crack the Defense Encryption Standard.
A Department of Energy Cray supercomputer was used by the Na-
tional Security Agency to perform a "brute force" attack on Kevin's en-
crypted files, blasting every possible key at the computer, one after an-
other, a task that consumed several months at an estimated cost of
hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though Kevin's key was not random,
by encrypting his files several times, he had increased the difficulty of
cracking the code.
Several months after the computers were seized in the fall of 1991,
Rob Crowe was informed that the NSA had successfully decoded
Kevin's files. Kevin had meticulously kept files documenting his activi-
ties, everything from the wiretaps he had discovered to the dossiers he
kept on his enemies. The government printed out nearly ten thousand
pages of material. There was evidence Kevin had examined the credit
records of the law enforcement agents pursuing him, and his file for Bill
Spradley, the LAPD vice detective who pursued him for turning on the
Yellow Pages ads, was titled "Dickhead."
On December 4,1992, a superseding indictment was filed in the North-
ern District Court in United States of America v. Kevin Poulsen and Mark
Lottor. Gone were Crowe's 1989 charges that Poulsen had accessed the
Masnet Army network or stolen an FBI wiretap printout related to an
investigation of Ferdinand Marcos. There was no longer any claim that
Poulsen had wiretapped Pac Bell security employees. Trimmed of the
major technical mistakes and exaggerations of the first indictment, the
superseding indictment nevertheless included one serious new blow,
"Count Twelve: (18 U.S.C S 793 (e)-Gathering of Defense Informa-
tion)." Kevin was alleged to have had unauthorized "control over a
document and instrument relating to the national defense, namely, a
computer magnetic tape containing a United States Air Force air task-
ing order classified 'Secret." Scott Harper's efforts had been successful.
Kevin LeePoulsen had just become the first computer hacker in history
to be charged with espionage.
On April 21, 1993, the second shoe dropped. David Schindler, a LosAn-
geles assistant U.S. attorney, filed an additional indictment against
Kevin based on the crimes he had committed in Southern California
while running from his original charges. Schindler issued a press re-
lease announcing that the Unsolved Mysteries hacker had been indicted
on nineteen counts of computer fraud, wiretapping, money laundering,
and obstruction of justice.
Kevin and his unnamed coconspirators were charged with fraudu-
lently winning two Porsches, $22,000 in cash, and at least two trips to
Hawaii. Schindler's indictment alleged that Kevin had hacked into Pac
Bell's computers and learned of "a court ordered wiretap of telephone
service provided to Splash restaurant and Ronald Lorenzo." Still an-
other count charged that Poulsen's hacking had revealed FBI front
businesses and telephone numbers.
But the government attempted to keep the full extent of Kevin's
crimes secret. The indictment was silent about Kevin's discovery of doz-
ens of consulate wiretaps and wiretaps near the Concord Naval Weap-
ons Station, and his extraordinary ability to wiretap remotely by com-
puter with Pac Bell's SAS. But even without charging Kevin for these
serious national security violations, the government estimated that if
convicted of all counts, the hacker would face $4.75 million dollars in
fines and a maximum of one hundred years' imprisonment.
Being forced to fight two indictments in two separate jurisdictions
against two separate assistant u.s. attorneys was only the beginning of
Kevin's legal problems. In the spring of 1993, the government threat-
ened to hamstring his defense by informing Paul Meltzer, Kevin's
Northern California counsel, that because of the espionage charge, the
entire defense team would be required to undergo fifteen-year back-
ground checks. Meltzer thought about complying, but found the idea
repugnant. What would happen if Kevin's defense team simply refused
to comply with the order?
Nothing. "We got and saw and did everything without the rigmarole
of the Classified Information Procedures Act," said Meltzer.
For Kevin and his attorneys, the espionage charge dictated every-
thing. A guilty plea was impossible for two reasons. First because the es-
pionage charge carried a penalty of from fourteen to eighteen years, and
second because Kevin believed he was innocent. Once Kevin realized
the federal guidelines were going to figure prominently in his cases he
dove into them like Pac Bellmanuals. "He read them cover to cover with
total comprehension," recalled Meltzer. "He was well versed in the law
and not just of computer fraud and access devices, but general law."
Kevin would prepare notes and graphs in triplicate for his attorneys,
showing things like the differences in grand jury testimony by wit-
Kevin was also getting lots of practice with the federal guidelines on
his Los Angeles case. On June 14, 1994, Assistant U.S. Attorney David
Schindler issued a press release that the Unsolved Mysteries hacker had
pled guilty to seven counts including computer fraud, interception of
wire communications, mail fraud, money laundering, and obstruction
of justice. Poulsen, the government said, faced up to forty years' impris-
onment and a fine of $1,750,000.
In the fall of 1994, Kevin's attorneys prepared for trial in the Northern
District of California. He had already spent three and a half years in jail,
easily the longest prison term ever for a computer hacker. A successful
defense motion to suppress the evidence seized in the Menlo Park
locker search had been reversed by the Ninth Circuit. A lot was on the
line. An espionage conviction could easily keep Kevin imprisoned until
he was in his forties.
His attorneys focused on debunking the espionage charge, dispatch-
ing a detective to interview the SRI managers who had directed Kevin
to modify the program that had used the air tasking orders. Meltzer be-
lieved he could prove that Kevin's job required that he handle the mili-
As trial approached, Meltzer had hundreds of exhibits ready and
twenty witnesses from SRI and other entities. But just days before the
trial was set to start, Rob Crowe contacted Meltzer and offered to dis-
miss the espionage charge if Kevin would plead guilty to several felo-
nies that would amount to a sentence of roughly two years. Why did
Crowe dismiss the espionage charge? Crowe later said it was a combina-
tion of factors, ranging from the successful Los Angeles prosecution to
the five years that had passed since the 1989 Northern California indict-
ment. Meltzer implied that the government was no longer confident
that it could successfully prosecute Poulsen for espionage. But the end
was still not in sight for Kevin. He still hadn't been sentenced in Los
On February 9,1995, Kevin wrote to his sentencing judge in the LosAn-
geles case, admitting that he had used his considerable talents to "break
the law" and must now "live with the consequences."
The letter did not impress Judge Manuel Real. On April 10 Judge
Real exceeded the assistant U. S. attorney's recommendation and sen-
tenced Kevin to a term of fifty-one months. "I think there are matters
that have not been considered by the Sentencing Guidelines here," the
judge explained, seeming to speak to the uncharged crimes the govern-
ment was unwilling to discuss "in that there was a very fair-at least,
very potential danger to law enforcement, not only in this country but
also in other countries, where this man had hacked into information on
foreign intelligence security matters."
Judge Real was also concerned that the government "had to change
their whole operations." A source within the Justice Department re-
vealed that the FBI's secret communications "tech center in Los An-
geles had to be moved. Poulsen had the address. The San Francisco
center was moved too." The centers were the equivalent of Q's super
gizmo workshop in the James Bond movies. FBI agents would go there
when their cars needed to be modified for electronic surveillance or
they needed to have a wire fitted on their body. Federal wiretaps were
also often monitored from the secret locations-the San Francisco cen-
ter was disguised in what appeared to be a dilapidated building.
The political stakes in keeping secret the scope of Poulsen's intrusions
were high. As the hacker's case was being played out in the courts, the
FBI was waging a public battle to expand its wiretapping powers in the
digital age. In the early 1990S, the FBI had begun lobbying for new, in-
creased capabilities to monitor digital telephone and computer com-
munications. The Bureau wanted to install software directly inside
phone company switches to expand its eavesdropping powers. After
one congressional rebuff, the proposal became law with the passing of
the Digital Telephony Act in 1994. But when the Bureau's true plans be-
came known, they sparked a public outcry. The FBI announced that it
needed the extraordinary power potentially to wiretap 2 percent of the
phones in major metropolitan areas.
Kevin's command of Pac Bell's computers seemed to dramatize the
potential danger in placing that power in phone company software. If
the FBI was proposing moving the entire wiretapping process directly
onto the switch, what would stop hackers like Kevin from eavesdrop-
ping on the FBI and its targets?
From 1989 to 1991, Kevin had access to nearly every federal and na-
tional security wiretap in California. He had this extraordinary ability
because he could hack the computers of Pac Bell,considered by hackers
to be among the most secure in the telecommunications industry. Pac
Bell, through its spokesman, "special" investigator Kurt Von Brauch,
confidently explained that the vulnerabilities Kevin had exploited had
been closed. Physical security at the company's hundreds of buildings
had been tightened, the number of dial-up lines had been greatly re-
duced, and a product called "Secure ID" was being used to restrict un-
authorized access. Pac Bell employees had to use a tiny card that con-
tained a unique algorithm synchronized with a computer. Every thirty
seconds the card would create a new random number, and if the num-
ber didn't match up with the computer, the holder was denied access.
But despite these improvements, other present and former Pac Bell
employees told another story. In an age of fierce telecommunications
competition, Pac Bell's security budget had been cut, and the number of
investigators reduced. Kevin himself noted that he had seen no evi-
dence that Pac Bell had improved the physical security at its buildings.
And there was something else that Kevin had told me years ago. He had
stolen a manual to Secure ID and hinted that for him the miracle card
Pac Bell was counting on to protect its systems was no more than a
difficult password, hardly a challenge for an elite hacker.
Underneath all this, there was the possibility that Kevin may have
stumbled onto some dirty secrets. According to Mark Lottor and others
who had direct knowledge of Kevin's activities, some of the federal
wiretaps Kevin uncovered may not have been authorized by court or-
der. The FBI declined all comment on Kevin Poulsen and wiretapping
in general; Kevin, too, was elusive on the ticklish subject. "I learned
some interesting things, but I tended to put my interest in the technical
over the social," he told me during a jail visit. "I can't confirm or deny
what I did or didn't know, whether I discovered interesting taps. We
live in a country where the army used a Uz spy plane to watch Martin
Luther King,where Nixon was tapping the phones of his rivals. Nothing
could shock me."
But we do know this: Kevin learned firsthand that phone companies
can wiretap the first two minutes of anyone's phone call without court
authorization, a fact that Pac Bell acknowledges. And simply by the
force of his hacking, Kevin proved that the communications infrastruc-
ture that we rely upon for banking, commerce, and even national secu-
rity is far more vulnerable than we imagine.
I visited Kevin on several occasions while he was in Santa Clara County
Jail and in the federal penitentiary in Pleasanton, California. I also
talked to him for hundreds of hours by telephone.
Upon his release on June 4 of 1996, after more than five years in
prison, I met Kevin at his parents' home in North Hollywood and spent
an evening talking to him and visiting many of the sites of his crimes.
We drove past the rundown Hollywood office where he pulled off his
Porsche radio scam, and walked outside the Sunset central officewhere
he discovered the SAS wiretapping system and sabotaged Eric. Finally,
we visited the hotel room where he hid out after the Unsolved Mysteries
show, and I watched as he deftly picked a door lock and revealed the
kitchen where he had prepared meals.
After a decade of hacking and half a decade in jail, was he truly ready
to quit? There was no doubt in my mind that Kevin was still angry. He
wouldn't talk about the countless county and federal jails he'd been
shuttled between, the weeks he'd spent in solitary confinement, the
years he'd spent preparing his defense, playing Ping-Pong and chess,
chain smoking, and reading books. But he made certain I understood
that he wanted to bring a RI C0 racketeering suit against Pac Bell for
what he called the false charges brought against him.
There were signs that he was renewing old acquaintances. Just be-
fore Kevin's release, the government dismissed its nearly six-year-old
indictment against Mark Lottor, stating that he was the "least culpable
of the three defendants." Kevin's former roommate put up a World
Wide Web page for Kevin on his site, entitled, "The Switchroom,"
protesting the "bullshit charges" that kept him in jail for five years. It
was a far cry from his repentant letter to Judge Real. He quoted the
nineteenth-century Russian aristocratic anarchist Bakunin, who be-
lieved that through "anarchism, collectivism and atheism" and the
overthrow of existing states and institutions, men would achieve com-
plete freedom: "Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me
such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the
bootmaker; concerning houses, canals or railroads, I consult that of the
architect or engineer."
After five hard years in jail, Kevin continued his battle against the
system. As part of Kevin's three-year probation, Judge Real had ordered
that he not have any access to computers. Despite the nature of his
crimes, it seemed an unrealistic condition in an age when nearly every
job requires some computer use and you need a computer to find a li-
brary book. In the years Kevin had been in jail, the Internet had leaped
from obscurity to a general tool that promised one day to be as ubiqui-
tous and useful as the telephone. Networking had gone mainstream,
and Kevin was being ordered to stay on the sidelines and watch the
revolution pass him by. Since computer programming was Kevin's only
marketable skill, the government also seemed to be making it all but
impossible for him to pay back the over $70,000 he owed in restitution
to the radio stations and the court. Nevertheless, his probation officer
ordered that his parents put their home computer in storage and sug-
gested that Kevin start with a job at McDonald's.
Kevin enrolled at Pierce Community College and planned to study
English literature with an eye toward eventually earning a degree in
computer science. This didn't please his probation officer,who asked to
meet with him to clarify matters. Barely a week had passed since
Kevin's release and already he was in a tussle with the federal govern-
ment. His probation officer told him he couldn't attend school full-time
and would have to begin working immediately. Furious, Kevin wrote a
letter to his probation officer, saying, "Youended the meeting on a cau-
tionary note, warning me that there were outside agencies that would
like to see me back in prison as quickly as possible. I asked if it was pos-
sible that such an agency had contacted your office, and you acknowl-
edged that it was possible."
Kevin took his fight to the media, and on August 18, 1996, Keith
Stone of the Los Angeles DailyNews wrote a front-page article about the
hacker and the government's harsh probation terms. Kevin described
himself as a hacker who had performed a public service "by spying on
the government and phone company" in a time when these institutions
wielded tremendous, unchecked powers. The article was picked up by
the Associated Press, and even the Philadelphia Inquirer did a front-page
piece on Kevin's predicament, headlining the story, "A Hacking King
Without a Realm." Kevin played up the irony of the government's pro-
hibitions, telling the Inquirerthat he asks librarians to look up books for
him, and was considering applying for one of the few jobs open to him,
a boot salesman in a western clothing store. In the media rush, Kevin
was invited to talk on a Los Angeles radio talk show. The first caller
shouted, "Have I won, have I won?"
It was Ron Austin, playing an inside joke.
Having investigated Kevin's exploits for several years and talked to him
for three, I took his public statements with a grain of salt. I found Kevin
to be be polite, friendly, and manipulative. Over the years I came to en-
joy his ample sense of humor and respect his reputation for investigat-
ing those who got too close to him. He was as clever with people as he
was with computers, but I wasn't convinced that he was hacking for the
On collect calls from jails all over the state, Kevin lectured me for
hours on end about the importance of the hacker ethic, the ideal that he
said had dictated his every act. Kevin had the power to come closer to
that ideal than anyone who had ever hacked, but he seemed to have bro-
ken his own code. Drawn to the seductive power of Pac Bell's comput-
ers, Kevin became an old-fashioned master burglar and then threw his
lot in with Eric, a hardened criminal. Kevin had hacked for profit,
pimped electronically, and eavesdropped on his friends. He had thrown
away numerous chances for redemption, especially his once promising
jobs with SRI and Sun Microsystems. Even the first Northern California
indictment was a warning, an opportunity to go straight, for there was
a good chance that if Kevin had immediately given himself up the
charges would have amounted to no more than probation or a few
months in jail. Looking back on the first thirty years of Kevin's life, I and
many others who knew him were struck by the waste of intellect, if not
genius. Who knows what Kevin might have achieved iflike Steve Jobs
or Steve Wozniak or other hackers he'd learned to apply his obsession
to legal ends.
Kevin talked of the service he and his kind provided for society but
appeared oblivious to how his own actions jeopardized privacy and na-
tional security. Today, the federal government is continuing its public
fight against hackers, rightly arguing that public safety and national se-
curity must be preserved. But some hackers also honestly believe they
provide a service for society. For instance, hackers recently risked pun-
ishment to make a political statement, tarring the Justice Department's
World Wide Web site with graffiti to protest the government's contro-
versial efforts to ban obscenity on the Net. Freedom of speech was at is-
sue. Were they dangerous criminals deserving of several years in jail or
unruly protesters who spat on opposition placards in a virtual Hyde
Kevin is correct that hackers have the potential for good as well as
evil, and this is certainly a time when contrasting views might be
beneficial to society. The explosive growth of the Internet, the passing
of the Digital Telephony Act, and government attempts to control en-
cryption should all be viewed with caution by those who believe that
privacy and freedom are essential to democracy.
I would like to believe that there are hackers who might perform the
checks and balances that Kevin talked of, but his criminal and personal
motives clouded whatever good intentions he may have once had.
Kevin knew he was a danger to national security, and that his most se-
rious crimes had taken place after he moved to LosAngeles. When I met
with him in his hometown, I asked him about the espionage taps he'd
discovered on consulates and near the Concord Naval Weapons Station.
Kevin only smiled. There were things he could never discuss.
As a condition of his plea in Southern California, Kevin had agreed
to be polygraphed by the government in perpetuity. Neither the FBI
nor the U.S. attorney's office would comment on what seemed an ex-
traordinary demand. Nor was there any policy about what might hap-
pen if he failed the test. But when I asked him whether he was worried
about the prospect of indefinite polygraphs the hacker played it cool.
Kevin had never failed a polygraph, and he saw no reason why he would
fail one in the future. I had to agree, and not only because I doubted
Kevin would ever talk about the national security aspects of his case
that might get him in trouble.
If anybody could beat a polygraph, it would be Kevin Poulsen.
AUTHOR'S NOT E
first began following Kevin
Poulsen's electronic exploits in January of r990, shortly after he became
a fugitive from the FBI. Three years later, as Kevin awaited trial on
charges of espionage that could keep him in jail for more than a decade,
I wrote an article about him for the LosAngeles Times Magazine titled
"The Last Hacker."
In early 1994,I set out to write this book and began by spending sev-
eral weeks in Los Angeles and on the San Francisco Peninsula re-
searching Poulsen's story. Angry about my Los Angeles Times article, the
hacker initially refused to talk to me, but I interviewed his childhood
friends, his mother, his teachers, and many of his coworkers at his for-
mer workplace, SRI International, in Menlo Parle Ron Austin, Kevin's
longtime friend and fellow hacker, was generous with his time and
knowledge, and met me often in Los Angeles, on a few occasions actu-
ally pointing out the scenes of some of their celebrated crimes. In April
of 1994, Poulsen's other main confederate, Justin Petersen, then a
wanted fugitive, phoned me in the middle of the night from a pay
phone and began to tell his story. A few weeks later, another fugitive
called, the soon to be legendary Kevin Mitnick.
In August of 1994, Kevin Poulsen finally broke his silence and
phoned me from the Metropolitan Detention Center in LosAngeles and
gradually revealed his story. The warden refused to let me visit him, but
Kevin called me several times a week, often talking until his evening
meal, when I'd hear his jailers shout just before the phones would sud-
denly go dead. He had a good memory for details and dialogue and
helped bring to life some of his most spectacular escapades.
Then Kevin Mitnick's world suddenly came crashing down. In Feb-
ruary of 1995, the hacker was tracked down by the security expert
Tsutomu Shim omura, and I jumped a red-eye for Raleigh, North Caro-
lina, the scene of the arrest. When I returned home a few days later, my
editor at Little, Brown, Roger Donald, agreed with my suggestion that I
write a Mitnick book first. Six months later, I finished TheFugitive Game:
Online with Kevin Mitnick-TheInside Story oftheGreat Cyberchase. I took
a short break and returned to my Poulsen manuscript. Bythen, Poulsen
had been moved to a federal camp near my home in the San Francisco
BayArea. I trekked out to the penitentiary several times and we sipped
Cokes I bought from the vending machine and talked for hours at a
time. I had already interviewed the other main characters in the story at
length; the government prosecutors, Robert Crowe and David Schin-
dler; Kurt Von Brauch, the Oakland Pac Bell investigator who first built
a case against the hacker; BillSpradley, the LAPD detective who chased
Poulsen around Los Angeles; and Terry Atchley, the Los Angeles Pac
Bell investigator who captured Poulsen.
This is a journalistic work. I've tried to offer my perspective on the
social phenomenon of hacking and the underlying legal and privacy is-
sues, but at heart this is a true story of three young men on the edge of
technology and the law. I interviewed Kevin Poulsen for hundreds of
hours and spent dozens of hours talking to Ron Austin and Justin Pe-
tersen. I visited many of the places described in this book, interviewed
over a hundred people, and reviewed thousands of pages of court filings,
grand jury transcripts, and miscellaneous documents. The dialogue in
the book is based on interviews, court or police transcripts, and movie,
television, or radio broadcasts. I was fortunate to have had the opportu-
nity to interview both the hackers and the pursuers thoroughly enough
to sort out the points where individual memories conflicted.
Thank you to my good friend Rusty Weston, who encouraged me to
write this story in the present tense and proved a gifted book editor. My
friend Deborah Radcliff, an able journalist and writer, helped edit too.
RogerDonald, with his broad sense of the story, sparked me to blend the
narrative with the action. My agent, Kris Dahl of KM, secured an excel-
lent publisher and generously read early drafts. Finally, my father
shared his usual good advice.
Writing two books in three years was both challenging and exhila-
rating. I had some tremendously exciting times on the trail of a good
story, and I won't forget the collect calls from jail, the late-night conver-
sations with fugitives, and the mysterious trips around Hollywood.
I'd like to thank Kevin Poulsen and all the others who made this book
Mill Valley, California