|The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey|
|"Oh my God, it's full of young boys!"|
"This book, and all of the articles contained herein, is dedicated to anyone who has in any way proclaimed themselves 'different from the rest' and has had the courage to stand up against the forces of sameness which prevade our world. You have always been my inspiration."
--- Opening quote from Eric Corley in The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey. Mind you, this is from the same asshole who has a hard-on for Cuba's Fidel Castro. A brutal dictator who routinely imprisoned, and killed, people for showing "individualness."
Ahhh... Yes. Welcome to $2600 Magazine's latest cash cow. A $40 book which contains nothing but files stolen from BBSs around the world and articles written by other people. It's like they are not even trying to hide the blatant profiteering going on anymore. The entire book has the look and feel as if it was slapped together over a weekend. (Bonus points if you can find the censored swear words.)
Because most of the articles in this book were stolen from other people, we'll provide a good portion of the text for free.
Now, be a good little sheep and get that wallet out! NAMBLA isn't cheap!
Notes / Miscellaneous
- The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey Amazon.com entry.
- The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey Wiley Publications info.
- The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey, Collector's Edition Wiley Publications info. $100 for this "limited edition" crap!
- The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey Google Books
- GeekDad Interview: Emmanuel Goldstein by John Baichtal
- Best of $2600 Magazine Anthology by Cory Doctorow
- Review of "The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey" Book
- Book Review: "The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey" From Ryan at hideaway.net
- Mini Book Review of "The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey" by Mouser
- A Hacker Bible is Born by Nick Barron
- Science That Became Fiction in $2600 Anthology by Annalee Newitz
- Off The Hook - May 28, 2008 Includes an interview with Carol Long from Wiley Publications on what went on to create this book.
- Off The Hook - February 11, 2008 Another interview with Carol Long from Wiley Publications on the "special edition" version of this book.
- Best of $2600 - The Pirate Bay Torrent
- Dear Hacker - The Pirate Bay Torrent
The Best of $2600: A Hacker Odyssey
About the Author
Emmanuel Goldstein (email@example.com) has been publishing $2600 Magazine, The Hacker Quarterly, since 1984. He traces his hacker roots to his high school days in the late '70s, when he first played with a distant computer over high-speed, 300-baud phone lines. It didn't take long for him to get into trouble by figuring out how to access something he wasn't supposed to access. He continued playing with various machines in his college days at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. This resulted in an FBI raid as he once again gained access to something he really shouldn't have. It was in the midst of all of this excitement that he cofounded $2600 Magazine, an outlet for hacker stories and tutorials from all over the world. The rapid growth and success of the magazine was both shocking and scary to Goldstein, who to this day has never taken a course in computers. Since 1988, he has also hosted Off The Hook, a hacker-themed technology talk show on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City. In addition to making the hacker documentary Freedom Downtime ($30), Goldstein hosts the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conferences in New York City every two years, drawing thousands of hackers from all over the world.
You can contact $2600 online at www.2600.com or by writing to $2600 Magazine, P.O. Box 752, Middle Island, NY, 11953.
This is far and away the toughest part of the book to write. How do I sum up in words what so many people have meant over so many years? I'll undoubtedly forget someone, they'll notice, words will be exchanged, and new enemies for life will be formed. It's a painful yet necessary part of the process.
From the beginning there have been people who have been there to encourage me in various endeavors, $2600 included. And there have also been those who have actively sought to discourage me and painstakingly point out the many errors of my ways. I would like to thank each of these groups equally. The former gave me the positive reinforcement that helped convince me that this was all worth it and that it would eventually have a beneficial and lasting effect. The latter gave me the obstinacy and unmitigated wrath to prove them wrong. A positive outlook fueled by anger is really all you need to succeed in this world.
On to specifics. First, I must thank three people who helped me wade through well more than 1,000 articles to sort out the ones that would eventually appear here: Tony Fannin, Mike McTeague, and Kevin Reilly. It was a mountain of material, but I managed to scale it successfully thanks to their help. The many people at Wiley who dealt with our rather unconventional way of piecing together a book deserve particular thanks, especially Carol Long and Maureen Spears. The hard work of my agent, Cameron McClure, made this all come together with remarkable speed and clarity.
My cofounder, Dave Ruderman, deserves special gratitude for coming up with the name "$2600" - which I initially hated - way back in 1983. Those late nights of plotting and scheming are among my most favorite memories on this planet. My good friend Dave Buchwald defies any sort of description. He's done everything from office management to cover design and is somehow able to come up with new skills overnight like some sort of power computer. We've also been blessed with some truly talented layout artists over the years - Ben Sherman, Scott Skinner, Terrence McGuckin, and Mark Silverberg - all of whom I'm honored to call my friends. And without Mary Nixdorf, our office manager, $2600 would last about a day. Her incredible dedication and attention to detail make the whole enterprise function smoothly - a feat that people to this day tell me is impossible. Our previous office managers (Pete Kang and Fran Westbrook) also got us through some vital periods of our growth. People like Mike Castleman, Carl Shapiro, Mike Kaegler, Ed Cummings, Rob Nixdorf, Nick Jarecki, Kevin Mitnick, and Mark Abene have always been there to offer encouragement, expertise, and words of advice for all sorts of projects over the years, no matter how crazy they may have actually been.
And some of our projects have been pretty bizarre. And, speaking of bizarre, the magazine covers, T-shirt art, web site work, and various designs for the HOPE conferences, put together by such artists as Frederic Guimont, Holly Kaufman Spruch, Kiratoy, Kerry Zero, Tish Valter, and Affra Gibbs, have been nothing short of eye-opening in every regard.
Oh, yes, the HOPE conferences - how could I forget? Since 1994, we've been holding hacker conferences in New York City called Hackers On Planet Earth, which have drawn thousands of people from all over the globe to the historic Hotel Pennsylvania. And this has all been made possible by a phenomena volunteer effort, which would take many more pages than I have to adequately acknowledge. Nothing symbolizes the power of the hacker community more than seeing hundreds of people come together to pull off a feat like this every couple of years, a feat which is, of course, impossible. Having these conferences is indeed a real motivation to keep doing what we ve been doing. It's one thing to sit back and write stuff from some remote location; it's quite another to actually meet the audience and hear their stories and realize that it all actually matters.
And none of this would have ever been possible (for me, at least) without the creative inspiration that I got from working at a magical place called WUSB, the noncommercial radio station at the college I went to: the State University of New York at Stony Brook. My fondest memories of the station include cohosting the eclectic program The Voice of Long Island with my good friend Mike Yuhas back in the early '80s. That place (both the college and the station) taught me so much about diversity and imagination. I was able to steer all of the creative energy from there to the various projects that I became involved in after graduation. I can honestly say that none of this would have ever happened were it not for that initial inspiration. This also led to my involvement with another magical place: WBAI-FM in New York City, a full-power noncommercial station that reaches four states, accepts no corporate money and basically exists to challenge the status quo. (Do I even have to point out how impossible this is as well?) They gave us an outlet for the hacker perspective on technology and Off The Hook was thus born. That radio show gave hackers a voice and served as a valuable staging ground for everything from the "Free Kevin" movement to our defense against the Motion Picture Association of America when they decided to sue us. Particular thanks must go to past program director Andrew Phillips, who recognized this need before even I did.
Three of my very best friends in the world - Walter, Naftali, and Huey have given me the spirit I needed when I needed it the most. Inspiration also came from family, especially Patricia O'Flanagan, who taught me to think for myself, and Monica Clare, who always makes me remember the value of the small things in life. There are many other relatives who I must also thank for just letting me do my thing without trying too hard to stop me.
Thanks must also go to Mike Tsvitis who printed our magazine for decades and truly helped us achieve levels of excellence we had only dreamed about.
The international community of hackers continues to inspire me every day. Nothing is cooler than going to some far off remote land and discovering that there are people there who are asking the same questions, performing the same experiments, and generally engaging in the same level of mischief as those of us back home; it's just further proof that hacking is a distinct part of the human genome.
And of course, none of any of this would have happened were it not for the many people who have written for $2600 over the years. Even if your work doesn't appear in these pages - for that matter, even if your work hasn't been published in the magazine itself - know that your interest, feedback, and willingness to actually put pen to paper and come up with something different and engaging is the driving force for everything that we've been doing since 1984. I cannot thank all of you enough.
And finally of course, a special thank you to God for not striking me down with a bolt of lightning despite the many requests s/he must get on a daily basis. Respect.
The question we get asked more than any other at $2600 is how in the world did we pull this off? meaning, I suppose, how did we manage to not only put out a magazine for nearly a quarter century that was written by hackers but also to get the mainstream public to take an interest in our subject matter?
Well, it certainly wasn't easy. I guess the first thing to make clear and probably the one fact that both those who love us and those who hate us can agree upon is that it was never supposed to get this big. When we first started out in 1984, we never envisioned it going beyond a few dozen people tied together in a closely knit circle of conspiracy and mischief. Those first issues were three sheets of paper with loose leaf holes punched in the sides stuffed into envelopes. In late 1983, we sent messages to a bunch of bulletin board systems (BBSes) that had hacker content on them. In these messages, we invited people to send in self-addressed stamped envelopes and in return they would get a free copy of the premiere edition of our new hacker magazine. I'll never forget the thrill I got from seeing the first responses come in the mail.
As for content, we had grown into an interesting group of storytellers and educators by way of the BBSes. Basically, by logging onto one of these systems, we would be able to find other people who seemed able to string together a sentence or two and either tell an interesting tale of a hacker adventure or explain to someone exactly how a particular computer or phone system worked. This is how the core staff developed. And we always knew there would be more people out there to add to the mix.
For me, this was a natural expression of my various interests fueled by all sorts of inspirations. Computers had fascinated me ever since I first encountered one in my senior year of high school back in 1977. I never was a programmer, and to this day I have never taken any sort of computer course. That would have taken all of the fun out of it. No, for me the computer was the ultimate toy, a device that could spit back all sorts of responses and which had almost endless potential. My main interests, though, were writing and media. I came from a family of writers and my major in college was English, plus I had worked in some capacity on every high school and college publication I encountered. Then there was my involvement in radio. I was lucky enough to stumble upon WUSB at Stony Brook University, a freeform noncommercial radio station where I was encouraged to be creative and alternative in all sorts of different ways. So when you added all of these elements together, the volatile mix that was to become $2600 seemed almost inevitable.
When we mailed that first issue, we didn't know what to expect. Arrest and imprisonment was one possibility that crossed our minds. There was, after all, an investigation underway into some of the people involved in the magazine before we had ever published our first issue something to do with logging onto computers that didn't belong to them using other people's names. Back then, having a computer was something reserved for very few people. There was no Internet to explore. Apart from the BBSes, the only way to learn about real systems that actually did something was to figure out a way to get connected to them and absorb as much as you could. It was never about being malicious or destructive, although even then we had our hands full fighting that misconception, which was fueled by the mass media. We were a diverse bunch of curious folk, exploring a new universe and sharing our findings with anyone who cared to listen. We were dangerous.
Strange things started to happen after we sent out the first $2600 in mid January of 1984. People started to send in checks for an entire year! Our magazine became the talk of the BBS world and, we would later learn, numerous corporate boardrooms and government agencies. It seemed such a simple idea and yet nobody else was doing it. There had been a newsletter before $2600 known as TAP, which had started publishing back in the '70s with the help of Abbie Hoffman and a bunch of Yippies. It was a fun publication but it came out sporadically and eventually stopped altogether in the early '80s. What people saw in $2600 was something previously unheard of in this community: consistency. Every month at the same time we released a new issue. And not only was it consistent, but it actually looked somewhat professional, thanks to my recently acquired job as a typesetter for an unsuspecting local newspaper. It really felt as if everything had come together at just the right time for $2600 to be born.
After the first year, when people started to actually renew their subscriptions, we knew we were on to something. The word continued to spread, more writers came out of the woodwork, and the media followed our every move with rapt attention. While technology was booming, it was still very early in the whole computer revolution. We were seen as pioneers, and I quickly became a "computer expert" even though I had never taken a course and wasn't particularly technical. It didn't seem to matter. Any time something happened involving computers or telephones, it was assumed the staff of $2600 knew all about it that is, if we weren't in fact accused of being responsible for it in the first place!
We expanded from six pages (three double-sided sheets of paper) to eight pages (two really big sheets folded in half) and kept that format until 1987 when we decided to try something new entirely. We became a magazine in the true sense of the word with a color cover and staples and a total of 24 pages. But the workload and expense for this kind of a format quickly began to exceed our resources, so we switched to a quarterly format in 1988 with 48 pages. Shortly after that final format change, we got on the radar of magazine distributors and began to see $2600 show up at newsstands and bookstores! That's when I realized I must have been dreaming, because this was never supposed to happen.
A good deal of the reaction and attention that has surrounded $2600 has occurred because of the almost mystical aura surrounding the world of computer hacking. So why all the fascination with hackers anyway? To understand this you simply have to study the American spirit. Despite what much of the world may think today, Americans cherish individuality and innovation and they simply adore a rebellious spirit. The hacker world could not be defined more accurately than with these words. How many movies have been made where the protagonist breaks the rules and fights a system that doesn't care and doesn't understand? Are we not always cheering for the individual and hoping that they find the truth and blow the whistle? We have only to look at some of our greatest heroes Benjamin Franklin, Nikola Tesla, Martin Luther King, Jr. to see that individual thought and a steadfastness of purpose are prized attributes that can often lead to great things. There was a bit of a hacker in all of these great minds.
Of course, Alexander Graham Bell was another of those people that we all look up to, both inside and outside the hacker community. The Bell System was one of the first massive networks to capture the imagination of a type of hacker referred to as a phone phreak. This was what people played with before computers came along, and I have to admit, it's always fascinated me more than most other things. Relatively few people today even know what it used to be like when there was just one telephone network. We were lucky with our timing of $2600 in that it started publishing at the precise time when the Bell System was splitting apart. So we were there to explain how it all worked and also explore all of the new systems that were coming into being at the time. And, as those in charge seemed incapable of designing easy-to-understand methods of making phone calls through alternative companies, we became by default the experts on how to place a simple telephone call and, by extension, how to save money.
This ties in to something else the hacker community has always endorsed: free communications. Back before my time, the early phone phreaks were going around whistling a special frequency into the telephone. The long-distance phone network, upon hearing that particular tone, would then enter a mode where the caller could input all sorts of other tones and route phone calls all over the world. In addition to regular phone numbers, the caller would then be able to access all sorts of internal numbers as well, things that only operators should be able to do. The trick was that the system assumed the caller was an operator, which basically opened an almost unlimited number of doors. This was called blue boxing. Some people used it to avoid expensive long-distance charges. Others used it to map out the system and figure out how it all tied together. And the special frequency that started this whole process? Why, 2600 hertz of course!
I actually didn't like the name "2600" at first. I wanted something stupid like "American Technological Journal." I'm forever indebted to those who worked hard to change my mind. "2600" summed it all up. It was all about reaching out and grabbing technology, making it do what you wanted to do, and communicating with people all around the globe. Not to mention the fact that in any alphabetical list of publications, we would always be first. It was a match made in heaven.
Of course, running the magazine itself has been anything but heaven. When you deal with material that is to put it mildly controversial, you wind up with an impressive number of powerful people who want to see you go down in flames. Our very existence has embarrassed almost every major corporation at some point, resulted in numerous emergency board meetings, and made some people's jobs a bit harder. None of that was our intent, although that's little comfort to those affected. What we've always been primarily interested in doing is simply getting the information out there and watching it grow into something productive. Phone companies have learned not to leave sensitive billing information on computers with default passwords that anyone can access. Credit agencies now actually work to protect all of that data they keep on every one of us. And the people who design secure systems, many of them our readers and sometimes writers, know how to think like hackers, which makes their creations innovative and flexible. I believe we've contributed quite a bit of good to the world of technology and things are better now than they would have been had we never come on the scene. Of course, that doesn't mean there haven't been numerous attempts to put us out of other people's misery. But when someone believes firmly in freedom of speech and full disclosure, it's kind of impossible to shut him up.
What has amazed me the most in the decades that followed is that the interest level has never subsided. Over the years, more and more people have become entranced not only with the technology itself but also with its social implications and overall importance to the future of humanity. It may sound a bit heavy handed but all of this the development of the Internet, computers being used as printing presses, the prevalence of low-cost or free telecommunications all around the world, the sharing of information and resources is having a profound impact on the human race in ways that no one from our forefathers to Aristotle could ever have predicted. Somehow we wound up right in the middle of all the turmoil. And just like it felt back in the early days when everything just sort of came together at a particular moment, this feels like the right people are in the right place at the right time to test the system, develop new tools, and keep freedom of speech alive.
The 1980s: In the Beginning
Stories and Adventures
One of the true joys of the hacker world is the wealth of firsthand accounts that get shared throughout the community. Everyone has a story and many hackers have a whole treasure trove of them. This is what comes from being an inquisitive bunch with a tendency to probe and explore, all the while asking entirely too many questions. The rest of the world simply wasn't prepared for this sort of thing, a fact that hackers used to their advantage time and again.
In the hacker world, you can have adventures and obtain information on a whole variety of levels, using such methods as social engineering, trashing, or simply communicating and meeting up with each other. All of these methods continue to work to this day. Back in the 1980s, excitement via a keyboard was a fairly new concept but it was catching on pretty fast as personal computers started to become commonplace. It seemed incredible (and still does to me) that you could simply stick your telephone into an acoustic modem, type a few letters on a keyboard, and somehow be communicating with someone in an entirely different part of the country or even another part of the globe. Of course, hackers had already been having all sorts of adventures on telephones for years before this, whether it was through boxing, teleconferencing, or just randomly calling people. And there were also the occasional "real-life" adventures, something hackers were certainly not averse to, contrary to the usual stereotypes of pasty-faced teenagers who feared going outside and interacting with the world. The point is that whenever you got a bunch of bored, curious, and daring individuals together, it didn't really matter what the setting was. On the screen, over the phone, or in real life, there was fun to be had and plenty to be learned in the process.
Tales from the Distant Past
Something that is true in any community of forward thinkers is the desire to learn about the past. In our early years, most of those stories had to do with telephonerelated material from years and decades past. The two examples that follow rewind to the middle of the 20th century when phones and communications were radically different than what they had become in the 1980s. While the technology may have become obsolete, the interest in how telephones shaped our world remained strong regardless of the era.
- A Story of Eavesdropping - Listening to conversations during World War 2
- The First Atomic Bomb: A True Tale - Story of Enrico Fermi and an asleep operator
Numbers That Led to Trouble
Having access to telephones and the increasing variety of new uses for them invariably led to all sorts of fun for the average phone phreak. (It was quite common in the hacker world to append a "ph" to any word with an "f" if it had anything at all to do with phones, such as "phreak," "phriend," or "phraud." Sometimes the exact opposite was true, which resulted in the word "fone" popping up every now and then.) Of course, fun in the hacker world usually translated to trouble in the real world, which pretty much summed up where hackers fit in societywise. Our innocence and adventure was always seen as evil and threatening to the uninitiated who couldn't seem to understand what motivated these strange individuals to go and play with phones for hours on end. As a result of our hard work, we would share whatever strange phone numbers we were able to discover with anyone who was interested in hearing about them. Because there weren't as many methods of communication as there are today and because there were significantly less phone numbers floating around, discoveries like the ones that follow seemed to mean a lot more. And then, of course, there was one of the all-time favorite phone phreak pastimes: running a teleconference. The unparalleled pleasure of hooking several dozen of your closest friends together and going on a telephonic voyage around the world was something so few people could even conceive of in the 1980s. And yet, everyone in the hacker community had some sort of encounter with teleconferences back then. Some were even rumored to have spent most of the decade connected to one.
- The Scariest Number in the World - Fake story about the president's bomb shelter, by Mr. French
- The Truth Behind Those 9999 Numbers - Info on the 800-957-999 number, by Mark Bluebox
- A True Saga of Teleconferencing - Story on telephone conferences and a bust, by Electric Moon
Mischief and Ingenuity
While we like to say that hacking is all about education, that's really only partially true. People often got involved in this little world for no other reason than the fact that it was incredibly fun. Apart from simply impressing those around you with your seemingly superhuman abilities by making pay phones ring back or figuring out someone's phone number without their telling you (which actually was a big deal back then), you got to meet some really interesting people and explore technologies that most folks didn't even know existed. So invariably anyone who was drawn into the hacker culture wound up learning an awful lot whether they wanted to or not. But it was mostly the fun of playing with some incredible new toys that got them involved in the first place. And in the end, hackers were able to apply their knowledge to all sorts of practical applications such as in our first story below. Or, as in the case of our trashing adventure, they figured out another way to quench their thirst for knowledge, this time by invading an often ignored part of the "real world." And throughout it all, new bits of information and all sorts of theories were constantly making the rounds concerning the latest discoveries.
- A Phone Phreak Scores - Social engineering and phreaking story
- Trashing Alaska Style - Central office trashing story in Alaska, by The GCI Guy
- An American Express Phone Story - Phreaking story, by Chester Holmes
The Last Days of Ma Bell
Sometimes fate has a way of putting you in the right place at precisely the right time. How else could you possibly describe having the opportunity to publish a newsletter on telephones from a hacker perspective right at the exact moment when the phone company as we knew it was coming to an end? It really wasn't planned this way. We just happened to be there and nobody else was doing what we wanted to do. So what we have as a result of this is a unique time capsule that captures not only the technology of the day but the spirit that guided us in our first few years and that more or less defined the tone of the magazine from then on.
First, some history. Divestiture is what they called what was happening to good old Ma Bell. Prior to January 1984, the Bell System encapsulated the whole phone network. Your telephone, the wire connecting it to your wall, the wire connecting it to the telephone pole, the telephone pole itself, the connection all the way back to the central office, the central office itself, and everything long-distance related all of that was part of one single enormous system. That hugeness and the lack of any real competition was in no small part what fueled the spirit of the early phone phreaks and inspired them to figure the whole thing out and eventually to defeat it. After all, monopolies were always by default the enemies of free-thinking individuals and you couldn't get much more monopolistic than Ma Bell.
So what happened after January of 1984 (which also happened to be the very month of our first issue)? Basically, everything started to change the technology, the equipment, and, most of all, the playing field. For the first time ever, competition to the phone company was introduced nationwide. Granted, it didn't happen overnight and it wasn't exactly a smooth transition. But that's what made it all so very interesting. And as we already had some familiarity with how it all worked, we found that people began to turn to us to get advice on how to make the right decisions. Oh, the irony.
With divestiture came seven new phone companies, each assigned a geographic region. They were called Regional Bell Operating Companies or RBOCs. (We all referred to them as Baby Bells.) Under these companies were the local phone companies, often labeled by state and previously a part of the one massive Bell conglomerate. We were still many years away from seeing competition on the local level. But the long-distance network was another matter entirely. New companies started to materialize and older ones that had only existed in limited areas began to rapidly expand. Names like MCI, Sprint, Allnet, and Skyline started to become well known. Equal access (the ability to choose your own default long-distance company) became available in some parts of the country and, for the rest, these oddities known as 950 numbers and equal access carrier codes became new tools in the long-distance world.
Of course, for people like us it meant that we had a whole new playground to mess around in. For most consumers, it was a total nightmare of confusion and complication. Many longed for the simpler days when one company did it all. But there was obviously no going back. Divestiture changed it all forever. And we were incredibly lucky to have come in at a time where we could still play with and write about the last days of the original Bell System.
This chapter is divided into two sections, each of which I believe sheds some light on unique and important elements of the Bell System in a distinctly hacker view. First, we look at the "boxing" culture, something that drove the phone company crazy over the course of decades. Then we look at the actual infrastructure of the network, again through the eyes of hackers. So much of it is now gone or radically changed, which to me makes this glimpse all the more fascinating and necessary.
- AHOY! - January 1984 editorial
The World of Boxes
Every phone phreak had at least a passing familiarity with those magical devices known as "boxes." They were all color coded, some for historical reasons and some simply to use up an available color. But they each did something different and vital in the phreak world. The blue box was the king as it was the one that could send out those magical multifrequency (MF) tones that could route calls internally on the Bell network. With one of these you were a part of the machine and you could literally reach anywhere in the world including internal operators and forbidden countries. The silver box was little more than a modified touch-tone pad with the extra column of tones activated. (Every touch-tone pad is actually a 4x4 grid, not a 4x3 grid.) Those four extra tones had some magical abilities, both in the Bell System and on the mysterious AUTOVON (the military phone network). Red boxes were at the bottom of the totem pole. All they did was beep a certain frequency a set number of times to mimic a pay phone that had just ingested a coin. Yes, all it took to make a free phone call at a pay phone was a series of repeating beeps.
New boxes were always being invented and there were scores of other points of interest in the phone network. The following represents a mere scratching of the surface.
- But How Does It Work? - How the phone works, by BIOC Agent 003 (Donald Burgio)
- The Theory of Blue Boxing - How blue boxing works, by BIOC Agent 003
- An Overview of AUTOVON and Silver Boxes - Info on the DoD AUTOVON system and the extended DTMF tones
- Introducing the Clear Box! - The clear box, for post-pay phones, by Mr. French
- Hardwiring Your Way In - Info on what is now called "beige boxing," by Dr. Williams
- How Pay Phones Really Work - Detailed info on how payphones work, by The Infidel
The Phone Company Infrastructure
In order to truly appreciate what the Bell System was, it's essential to have some understanding of how the whole thing was put together. There were so many aspects to the massive operation from pay phones to central offices to the computer systems that ran it all. There was also a lot of diversity in the network since it was right at this time that the conversion from mechanical to electronic was in full swing. Ancient step offices still operated side-by-side with modern #5 ESS switches. Rings sounded different depending on where you were calling. Some people had incredibly modern service while others barely had a dial tone. Some even managed to avoid the Bell monopoly well before the divestiture by having what was known as an independent phone company to serve them. As you'll read, that didn't always work out for the best.
- The Early Phreak Days - Story of phreaking in the 1960s, by Jim Wood
- Vital Ingredients: Switching Centers and Operations - Description of the different central office classifications, by BIOC Agent 003
- The Simple Pleasures of a Step Office - Story of dialing on/to a step-by-step office, by Mr. French
- How To Get Into a C.O. - Getting a tour of a central office, by The Kid & Co.
- A Friend in High Places - Story of telecommunication fun, by Mr. French
- The Woes of Having a Small-Time Rural Phone Company - Problems with independent phone companies, by Mr. French
- Surveying the COSMOS - Info on Bellcore's Computer System for Main Frame Operations (COSMOS), by The Fire Monger
- An Interesting Diversion - How diverters work, by Lord Phreaker
- Competition: It's the Next Best Thing to Being There - Fall 1989 editorial
New Toys to Play With
The fact of the matter is that hackers simply love toys. Especially the kind that wind up controlling vast telecommunications networks, the kind that reach across the planet in ways most people could never imagine or appreciate, and the kind that you're really not supposed to be playing with in the first place.
Hackers always had a fascination for that sort of thing, for decades before the 1980s and right up until the present day. It will likely always be the case. But there was something really special about the decade of the '80s with regards to telecommunications toys, something that you had to live through in order to appreciate it fully.
Within those few years, everything exploded. There were suddenly all sorts of new telephone companies to explore and play with. Making a simple phone call became a cross between an ordeal and an adventure. Systems were popping up that were the ancestors of today's voicemail. We even found some early voice recognition systems. Faxes, pagers, teleconferences, cellular phones...in this decade it all came upon us so quickly. And with every discovery that a hacker or phone phreak made, there was an eager audience of readers waiting to figure out what it all meant.
Now obviously the world of computers was also expanding and evolving at an incredible rate. But the world of telephony and the changes it was going through at the time often gets glossed over. To me, both of these worlds along with the various others associated with hacker discoveries and adventures are utterly fascinating and revealing of where we've come as a culture, both hacker and human. But I've always had a soft spot for anything that could be done using a mere telephone because to me, that simple instrument was always the invitation to go and do more, to learn, to explore, to create mischief and mayhem. And it was weirder than anything I had ever witnessed to see the entire world appear to magically become aware of the full potential of these devices over the course of a few short years.
So what were all of these new toys? We can only scratch the surface in this chapter. Some were physical in nature, others were found on our phone lines, still others were merely conceptual in nature, for instance, the idea of being able to route your own phone calls over the long-distance network of your choice. In a nation where only a few years earlier, you couldn't even own a phone or put an extension into your house without permission from the phone company (yes, the one and only phone company), this meant all sorts of possibilities and new ways of doing things that hackers naturally played around with more than anyone else. Of course, there was much debate over whether or not we were in better shape as a result of the Bell System breakup and that is something that is also explored in this chapter. I think the growing pains naturally caused a lot of complaining, but almost everyone understood that the technological advances would far outweigh the confusion and chaos, which, to be honest, most of us got a real kick out of anyway. Other toys previously only enjoyed by large corporations (such as cellular phones and teleconferences) could now be accessed by normal everyday people, albeit at a significant price. But I find it intriguing to look back at how new and different it was back then to even have the access in the first place and at how incredibly expensive and clumsy that new access looks from our vantage point today.
Wherever there was some kind of a technological advance and there was a new one practically every day in the telecommunications world of the 1980s you could count on hackers being there to be the first ones on the block to find a way of playing around with it, mostly in ways not originally intended by those who had created it in the first place. Today, many of those mischief makers who were messing with phone lines, figuring out ways to monitor calls over radio waves, or simply letting the world know through our pages what didn't work and what new services were a rip-off those people are now the ones making the new systems and creating new toys for the next generation of hackers. The sense of wonder and discovery you'll see here is the thread that unites young and old in the hacker community and it's what makes us who we are.
- Alternate Long Distance - A Guide to MCI - First of a persistent series how the companies work and a guide to MCI, by Manny Golddigger
- IBM's Audio Distribution System Sure Can Be Fun! - Info on the IBM ADS, by Manny Golddigger
- The Dark and Tragic Side of the Great Break-Up - Smaller companies may give poorer service, by Mr. French
- 2600 Writer Indicted
- Exploring Caves in TRAVELNET - Exploring the General Motor's TRAVELNET computer network / phone extender
- How To Run a Successful Teleconference - Alliance Teleconferencing overview, by The Shadow
- Divestiture: What Happened? - Info on the AT&T breakup, by Manny Golddigger
- Cellular Telephones - How They Work - How IMTS cellular phones work, by Bruce Alston
- Phone News - January 1987 phone news
- Telecom Informer - February 1987 phreaking news, by Dan Foley
- Getting the Most Out of Equal Access - Overview of the AT&T breakup and PIC codes, by The Hobbit (Al Walker)
- Telecom Informer - April 1987 phreaking news, by Dan Foley
- Paging for Free - Free voice paging, by Bernie S. (Ed Cummings)
- Cellular Phone Fraud and Where It's Headed - Overview of cellular phone cloning, by Bernie S.
- How Phone Phreaks Are Caught - How code abusers are caught, by No Severence
- Telecom Informer - October 1987 phone news, by Golddigger
- Scanning For Calls - Monitoring cordless phones, by Mr. Upsetter (Jason Hillyard)
The Early Days of the Net
While the timing of our first issues could not have been more fortuitous with respect to the evolving phone world, the timing was pretty damn good in the computer world as well. In fact, I don't think we could have started at a more pivotal period. Computers had most definitely begun to make real inroads into our everyday lives. And there was little question among the few who cared at that point that various sprawling computer networks had existed for some time. But personal computers were still a rare exception and many years away from being the rule. And something on the order of the Internet remained little more than a dream. However, by the end of the decade, all of that had changed.
War Games had come out less than a year before our first issue and for me it had hit very close to home. To this day it's one of the few films that actually seemed to understand the true hacker spirit. Those magical moments when Matthew Broderick managed to get inside that computer system, or when he figured out how to make the free call from the pay phone, or when he was apprehended by the feds all of us who found ourselves messing around with phones and computers at the time felt like we were living that story because in many cases we were. That thrill and that fear is something that never really leaves you. And those of us who experienced it at that relatively early stage of the game were really quite privileged, even though it sure didn't feel like it at the time.
In a big way, the Internet would be the death knell for the kind of hacking most popular in the 1980s. Back then, the most attractive targets were the big packet switched networks like Telenet and Tymnet. These systems allowed you to connect to computers all over the world once you dialed into a local node. Unlike the Internet, it was geared primarily toward businesses and institutions. So if you wanted to play around with it, you pretty much had to break in. We couldn't get accounts as individuals and we sure couldn't quell our curiosity. Nor could we effectively explain this to most people. But as computers got cheaper and access became much easier, this reasoning was harder to justify. The playing field of hacking was about to change in a very dramatic way.
And it wasn't just the hacking that was profoundly altered by the arrival of the Internet. The way people communicated would also be forever changed. In the '80s, most of our electronic communications was done via single-line BBS's, which connected at speeds of 300 or 1200 baud. (Basically, that was slow enough so you could actually read the text as it came across your screen or hardcopy terminal.) If someone else was using the BBS you were calling, you would have to wait sometimes for many hours until the busy signal turned into a ring and you could connect. And once you finally got on, it would take forever to read files or e-mail. Oh, and about that e-mail...more times than not it could only be from other users of the same system. You would have to make multiple calls to collect your mail from other places. But with the Internet, it suddenly became possible to get e-mail from people on other systems in all parts of the world. There was no longer a need to wait for busy signals to go away. Communication became orders of magnitude easier. And a whole lot more people got involved. For some that would mean the end of the magic. But for most of us it simply meant the rules had changed. If there's one thing the hacker spirit is known for, it's adapting to an ever-changing environment.
Other Networks and Systems
Today it's all about the Internet. But before that massive wave covered our landscape, we had a number of other toys to play with and their potential alone was inspiring to us. At the magazine, we were most intimately familiar with GTE Telenet, so much so that I actually wound up getting indicted for using it without permission. But that's another story. It meant a lot to us because of the amazing things it allowed us to do, like instantly send e-mail to someone in another part of the country. In the 1980s, that simply wasn't something the average person could do and we thought it was something they should have been able to do. It was also very inspirational to be able to find all of these computers that were hooked up to their network without having to scan entire telephone exchanges looking for them. After all, every computer was interesting to us in those days. They all represented new worlds and opportunities for learning. And the first thing we learned in most cases was that the security for these systems was laughable. In the early days of $2600, we spent a good deal of time pointing out the various security flaws in the networks and computer operating systems, the most popular of which were made by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) as outlined in our examples below. At times we went beyond that and pointed to something really specific, like the New York City public school grading system, an expose that was widely covered in the mass media. And apart from all of that, there were massive amounts of new toys to play with as the landscape continued to change. Something as simple as a fax machine or a new consumer service for modem users like PC Pursuit was enough to captivate our attention for huge amounts of time.
- Hacking on Telenet - Telenet overview, by Manny Golddigger
- The Trouble With Telemail - Security holes in GTE Telemail, by Manny Golddigger (Similar Article)
- Interesting Things to Do on a DEC-20 - Hacking info for DEC-20, by The Knights of Shadow (Additional Info)
- RSTS For Beginners - Info on RSTS/E on DEC PDPs, by The Marauder (Similar Article)
- Stumbling Into Control on a VMS - VMS hacking tutorial, by The Mole
- Grade "A" Hacking - University Applications Processing Center (UAPC) information, by The Plague
- Our Wishes For '86 And Beyond - Editorial on telco improvments, by Manny Golddigger
- Hacking PC Pursuit - Using PCP outdials on Telenet, by The Cheshire Catalyst (Robert Osband, N4SCY)
- FAX: A New Hobby - FAX machine info and receiving RF faxes, by Bernie S. (Edward Cummings, DOB: 02/26/1962, N3KOW)
The Beginnings of the Internet
Today we take it all for granted. But in the mid '80s, nobody really knew how, or even if, all of these networks would come together. Just look at the complex and seemingly insane method of addressing an e-mail in the articles explaining the potential. I doubt very many of us would have the talent or patience to do that today. Mail delivery on the networks used to take days and often didn't go through at all. But for me the most interesting revelation here is the definition of abuse of the network: "chain letters, mass mailings, commercial use of the network...." On that level at least, it was all so much simpler then.
- ARPANET Hopping: America's Newest Pastime - Overview of ARPANET and related commands, by Manny Golddigger
- Mastering the Networks - Info on some of the larger computer networks and their email syntax, by John Anderson
- Worldnet: Getting Closer Every Day - Overview of early ARPAnet, BITNET, and UUCP networks, by Hank@Taunivm.Bitnet (Hank Nussbacher)
- Morris Found Guilty - Outcome of the Robert Morris Internet worm trial.
Where would we be without the corporate world? I dare say we would have had a fairly short life span were it not for the endless material fed to us from "companies without a clue." Having a magazine like $2600 to tear apart their various products and services must have been corporate America's worst nightmare. But at the same time we got some of our most enthusiastic responses from people within these very same institutions. It was no different than all of our other interactions with the mainstream. Deep down they were cheering us on because everyone wanted to see the individual stand up to the monolithic entities and win. But on the surface everyone also had to follow the rules and pay the rent. This is why from the beginning we found ourselves being fed all sorts of leaked information from behind the corporate (and government) walls. Being thought of as worthy of receiving top secret information has always been a real badge of honor for us.
Most of the various examples in this chapter have little to do with insider knowledge. Rather, this was simply a bunch of hackers looking at developments in the world of high tech with a critical eye. And there was much to criticize. For as the world changed around us, all sorts of new products were being introduced. More times than not, the people introducing them had less of an idea of what they were doing than the people in the hacker community. While this in itself was nothing new, for the first time we had the means to spread our message to the general public. And that's what we tried to do in those early years. From what we heard through our various insider sources, this caused quite a stir back at their assorted headquarters.
The phone companies were obviously one of our favorite targets. Since Ma Bell had been broken up, there was a whole flurry of new companies springing up with various offerings to the public. Equal access was the term for the altruistic concept of the freedom to choose your long-distance carrier. Of course, it never quite worked out as planned or promised. The new companies oftentimes resorted to sleazy practices to get more customers. We caught several of them doing just that and let the world know. As everyone in the country was going through the shell shock of the Bell breakup, these stories were of great interest to the average person. What's more, it showed how valuable a resource hackers were in telling consumers when and how they were getting ripped off. One of the best examples of this was with our own local phone company, New York Telephone. In ways that nobody else had been able to, we explained how they were charging people (and businesses) for absolutely nothing by imposing a touch-tone fee. In actuality, there was no equipment or service that had to be paid for. Customers were in effect simply paying not to have their touch tones disabled by the central office. The icing on the cake was the fact that only the newer switches even had the ability to disable touch tones in the first place; older switches were unable to differentiate the difference, which pretty much proved that it was a standard part of the switch. Of course, our local company wasn't the only one doing this but they had the misfortune of being our phone company so we had to start with them. It took years before that battle was eventually won. But we made some powerful enemies along the way.
As mentioned, there were also new companies springing up trying to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the breakup of the Bell System. Alternate Operator Services were a new concept that caused a degree of pandemonium in the telecommunications world. People thought they were giving their calling card number to their normal phone company, but in actuality a totally different company was processing it and charging them many times more than what they were expecting. It was amazing how much they were able to get away with using such a slimy business practice. Not only were we there to expose this sort of thing, but we also were able to provide proof of the symbiotic relationships between these sleazebags and more mainstream companies like MCI.
Oh, the fun we had with MCI. They really made it so easy though. Like when they introduced this new product called MCI Mail. This was their vision of electronic communications. For a dollar you could send a letter electronically to one of their subscribers. A dollar! Fortunately, a number of us had already experienced true electronic communication (albeit it without authorization) so we knew this was a load of crap. But it served to show how corporate America envisioned how things should unfold. Charging people for every e-mail sent was their dream, which fortunately never became reality. It's pretty amazing, however, to see how even we were enthused by the prospect of using their service as a "free word processor" or figuring out ways of exchanging messages without incurring a fee. These were the early and clumsy days of email, and nobody really knew how it would all turn out. But our instincts told us that MCI's vision sure wasn't it.
Nor did we have many nice things to say about Pronto, one of the earliest home banking systems run by the old Chemical Bank. To be fair, nobody else had really gotten it right at that stage either. But the mere thought of paying a bill electronically only to have some bank employee somewhere physically write out a check and drop it in the mail as part of that "electronic" process was as hilarious to us then as it is now. Clearly their ideas needed work.
It's fun to look back at these days and see all of the companies that never made it: ICN, Skyline, Allnet, NTS, People Express. They each had business plans and modes of operation that rubbed hackers the wrong way, whether it was because they seemed intent on cheating people or because their systems were just set up so badly. We were pretty ruthless in tearing them to pieces and I doubt any of us feel any lasting guilt over that. After all, imagine where we'd be now if these organizations had been successful in implementing their bad ideas?
- MCI Mail: The Adventure Continues - Overview of the MCI Mail computer network, by Emmanuel Golddigger
- Wrath of God Strikes 2600 - They really are the dumbest people on the planet
- Banking From Your Terminal - A Look at PRONTO - Chemical Bank's PRONTO banking system, by Orson Buggy
- Pursuit For People - Info on PC Pursuit, by Paul G. Estev
- People Express To Be Hacked To Pieces - Hacking the People Express touch-tone system, by Paul G. Estev
- MCI: The Phone Company with a Lot of Explaining to Do - MCI troubles and being switched to their service without notice, by Emmanuel Golddigger
- $2600 A Hacking Victim
- Allnet: A Horror Story - Allnet scam, by Mike Yuhas
- ICN - More Than a Bargain - Info on Independent Communication Network phone service, by John Freeman and Emmanuel Golddigger
- 2600 Exposes New York Telephone - Unfair telephone company touch-tone charges
- Telco's Response - Telco response to Touch-Tone fee, by Bruce Reisman
One of the unfortunate realities of the hacker world has been its ongoing brushes with various forms of law enforcement. In fact, at this point it's likely that all forms of law enforcement have taken a keen interest in the activities of hackers at one point or another. And while it still seems like overkill to those actually involved in that world, back in the 1980s it was a real surprise to see them pay such close attention - and more than a little scary.
Since it was all so new at the time, nobody really knew what was going on or what was going to happen next. Hackers and phone phreaks were just out playing with the latest toys by either war dialing with their phones to find interesting phone numbers, connecting all sorts of people together through illicitly obtained long-distance codes and teleconferencing systems, or learning the ins and outs of the growing amount of computers that were reachable over the phone lines. It shocked the hell out of them to see the authorities swoop in as if they were some sort of terrorist group. But swoop in they did, time and time again. And, more often than not, they hardly understood what it was they were looking for. Every raid that took place invariably yielded at least one humorous anecdote relating to the investigators' overall cluelessness. Add the mass media into the fray with their misperceptions, misquoting, and hunger for headlines, and the carnival atmosphere was complete.
Our very first issue in January of 1984 had what was probably our biggest bombshell ever with regards to hacker raids and prosecutions. In that debut edition we printed an "interview" with an FBI agent who was discussing an ongoing case against hackers. What he didn't realize was that he was talking to a hacker magazine. Somehow he was under the impression that he was conversing with an IBM system administrator and he was very generous with details of the investigation. Our printing his words pretty much derailed the entire case and wound up changing certain people's career paths. Most importantly, it exposed one of our own as an informant responsible for the prosecution of many in the community. We couldn't have asked for a better cover story.
The following year our flagship BBS was targeted by prosecutors in New Jersey who took the Keystone Cops routine to a new level. They accused us of 'changing the positions of satellites" by running a hacker-oriented bulletin board system. When the laughing stopped, we began to realize just how serious this ignorance could become if allowed to run unchecked. We convinced the ACLU to take on the case and we got the media to start paying real attention. A few months later, they had no choice but to quietly return our system. But we learned something important through all of that. We realized that it was absolutely vital that the legal rights of computer users be taken as seriously as those in the physical world. Why should electronic speech be any different from non-electronic speech? And so the drive began in earnest to educate lawmakers and those in the legal community so that such overzealousness not be allowed to continue. We had no idea of the many challenges that would lie ahead...
When our BBS was returned, we decided to take a stand right then and there to allow users to say whatever they wanted in private mail and not to hold ourselves accountable for its contents. Up until then system operators were held responsible for anything on their BBS, public or private. But what if private really meant private? What if even the people running the system couldn't access the private communications of their users? It was an intriguing challenge to the way things had been running and it was a fight that was being undertaken on a growing number of fronts as the potential of the computer revolution became apparent.
Of course, the hacker world and the technological world were far bigger than what we were directly involved with at $2600. We touched upon the battles happening on other fronts and reported whenever another BBS (invariably run on an Apple IIe or equivalent) was raided by the authorities for one reason or another. We stood with them by occasionally reprinting material that had been taken away by the authorities. The intent was to spread forbidden knowledge even further once it had been suppressed. In one of these excerpts, it's both humorous and revealing to us now to see the author bemoaning the fact that in 1985 things just weren't the same as they used to be in the good old days. At least that philosophy never seems to change.
It all got a lot more ominous as the decade drew to a close with the involvement of the Secret Service in hacker cases and the first reports of people actually being imprisoned for their misdeeds on computers. In 1989 we first reported on someone named Kevin Mitnick who seemed to be getting an undue amount of attention and prosecution. (We even managed to repeat some of the Mitnick myths in that initial story.) The level of paranoia among law enforcement and, by extension, the general public, seemed to grow exponentially with the increasing influence of computers and high tech in our everyday lives. While this world was getting more fascinating by the day, it also clearly was getting more dangerous.
Raids Involving 2600
- FBI Goes After ADS Hackers - Tactics and sources of an FBI raid involving IBM's Audio Distribution System (ADS)
- Seized! $2600 bulletin board (Private Sector) is implicated in raid on Jersey hackers, by Paul G. Estev
- The Threat To Us All - Editorial on BBS raids
- Moving Satellites... What Was Really Going On? - Info on "hackers moving satellites" and other hacker myths, by Paul G. Estev
- How Can Sysops Protect Themselves? - How to protect your BBS from raids, by Manny Golddigger
- Private Sector Returning - Return of $2600's Private Sector BBS, by Manny Golddigger
Other Hacker-Related Raids
- Sherwood Forest Shut Down by Secret Service - Sherwood Forest II & III BBSes raided for posting credit card numbers
- The Summer Games of '87 - Editorial
- Important News - December 1987 editorial
- Hackers in Jail - Editorial (Kevin Mitnick hacked NORAD!?)
The Hacker Philosophy
One thing that has to be said about $2600 is that we've always had a rather unique perspective on the world. It doesn't matter if you love us or hate us. There just isn't anyone else out there standing up for the things we believe in at least, not in the way that we do it.
I've often wondered exactly why that is. It could be that we're just so out of touch with reality that our viewpoints and values are simply flat-out wrong. I know a lot of people are convinced of this and always have been. It could also be that the subject matter is so complex and intimidating to most of the public that nobody else has been compelled to come forward and speak out on something, which they may not fully understand in the first place. There's also the whole propaganda angle - you know, people are sheep following the mass media, we're the voice of the enlightened few, etc., etc. Or the old standby: Maybe nobody really cares what hackers say and think.
Whatever. It doesn't really matter to me why we've been on our own in the publishing world from the beginning. What I get out of all this is that we're a voice that is needed. That rings true with the massive amounts of feedback we've gotten over the years. When an opinion or a statement evokes such a strong reaction, there's a pretty good chance it's fulfilling a need. History will be the judge as to whether or not that was a good thing.
Looking at the various philosophies we've espoused over the years has proven to be a fascinating history lesson in itself. In our first few years, we tried to share that hacker perspective with the world and met with varying degrees of success. Some people got it right away and others treated us like the second coming of Satan. The important thing is we got their attention and helped to make this whole thing of ours into a conversation piece.
Some of what you'll see here is incredibly dated with references to Reagan, the Soviets, and a BBS culture that has long since faded into obscurity. But I think that makes the whole thing even more relevant. What we believed in, what we stood up for, what we fought against it transcended the political scene, global events, the technology of the day. We talked about freedom: freedom to explore, to be an individual, to spread information through whatever means were available. And all of that carries on to the present day and will continue into the indefinite future. It's part of who we are, not as hackers but as humans.
Our first opinion pieces were filled with early warnings about such things as surveillance and increased FBI attention to anyone who may have at one time associated with anyone suspicious. I can only wonder what our reaction would have been if we knew then what the world would be like in the 21st century. From a technological view we would of course have been thrilled with all of the advances. But I doubt we would be too overjoyed to see how we've become infatuated with the idea of monitoring each other for suspicious behavior or how we are subjected to all manner of searches or scans when entering everything from offices to schools or how lie detectors and drug tests have become a routine part of so many employment opportunities. This all didn't happen overnight. Such changes need time to develop and take root in a society. I think we saw the warning signs right from the start.
Of course one thing has remained constant throughout: the demonization of hackers by the mass media and government. The fear and suspicion that people were met with when they demonstrated more knowledge of technology than those who were allowed to use it was what convinced us that we were really on to something. It's fascinating to practically see the battle lines being drawn as the various camps started to form.
Back then, mostly everyone in the hacker community knew about the various cases going on, from the 414s to Telemail to the Private Sector. The particular details of those cases aren't important here. Rather, an understanding of the mood of the day is what matters. And that mood was one of anticipation coupled with a degree of fear. We all knew we were on the threshold of some amazing developments that could even alter the future of mankind if we let our imaginations run free for a while. But we also knew that those who wanted us put out of their misery were people with a lot of power. The future could have gone a number of different ways.
One of the really interesting pieces here deals with the self-reflection that inevitably came when someone found themselves at the center of an investigation for doing something unauthorized with a computer. In addition, you get to see how those around such a person dealt with the situation. There's something inspiring here and also something incredibly sad as you realize how many inquisitive minds may have been quashed for no good reason.
There's also a rather controversial bit in here where a writer took a more sensationalist approach to what hackers were all about, invoking such fables as strict organization in the hacker ranks, actual trials of people who offended them, and a notion of such unmitigated power amongst us that anyone in their right mind would have no choice but to be mortally afraid of us. It was such nonsense that we felt compelled to preface the piece with our own disassociation from it. We naturally got a ton of responses, one of which we've also included here. Ironically, in dispelling the myth of hackers being super organized, this piece put forth the opinion that most hackers had a very limited amount of intelligence to begin with. This spawned still more outraged responses. Such was the hacker world of the 1980s.
The section ends with tributes to Abbie Hoffman and one of our own writers, both of whom passed well before their time.
- The Constitution of a Hacker - A look into the hacker mind, by Manny Golddigger
- "Look Out, He's Got a Computer!" - Newspaper story of computer hackers, by Manny Golddigger
- Getting Caught: Hacker's View - Story of a raided hacker
- A Time for Reflection - A look back over the year, by Paul G. Estev
- Galactic Hacker Party - Hacker con in Amsterdam
- A Hacker Survey - Survey of hackers, by Manny Golddigger
- An Interpretation of Computer Hacking - An interpretation of computer hacking by a complete fraud, by Captain Zap (Ian Murphy)
- A Reader's Reply To Captain Zap - Reader replies to Captain Zap's drivel, by Rancid Grapefruit (Bruce Fancher)
- Remember... - Summer 1989 editorial tribute to Abbie Hoffman and David Flory.
The 1990s: The World Discovers Hackers
Pop Culture and the Hacker World
I suppose it was inevitable. A lot of us even saw it coming. From the very beginning, there was this overt fascination with the hacker mindset. We saw it in the eyes of the reporters who wanted to know just what kinds of powers we actually had. The fear that others showed - mostly from afar while they were busy passing laws or implementing draconian policies - was one step removed from actual respect. The intense curiosity coupled with the unbridled panic came together to create yet another example of popular culture. And there was nothing we could do about it.
The 1990s was the decade when hackers were truly discovered in the mainstream. Oh sure, there was a smattering of books and movies in the 1980s, but that was merely a prelude of what was hurtling down Hollywood Boulevard and Madison Avenue. In the course of a couple of years, it was as if a new life form had been discovered, and everyone had to have a piece of the story whether it was to dissect us or to attack us. Being a hacker in the 1990s was like being a member of a British pop band in the 1960s - there was just this crazed aura that surrounded you that you couldn't shake no matter how hard you tried. Not that we tried all that hard.
It really was a ton of fun, no denying that. Every couple of months it seemed there would be a new flick or hardcover coming out that either dealt with our world peripherally or was about some of us specifically. What this did to our egos was not a pretty thing. But, cool as the whole mess was, none of us really benefited from any of the publicity. In fact, it's safe to say that all of the attention on the hacker world made things a whole lot harder on us for a couple of reasons. The first being that everyone from congress to parents to corporate tycoons felt it was high time that the "real life" shenanigans being portrayed as entertainment in movie theaters and bookstores be brought to a screeching halt by whatever means necessary. Hackers were out there stealing identities and killing people (The Net), terrorizing innocent scientists via modem (Takedown), and programming robots to change the programs aired on our beloved television stations (Hackers). Clearly these delinquents were out of control, even if none of those things had ever actually happened. Think of the children.
And of course, the second reason why being a hacker turned into a real pain in the ass in the 1990s was due to all of the "wannabes" that came flooding out of the woodwork once they saw the way hackers were portrayed in the mass media. People who could barely turn a computer on were swaggering around their communities proclaiming themselves as hackers and the very same mass media that had helped to create these monsters gave them additional strength by focusing more attention on their half-witted attempts to be cool. But what these unenlightened newbies really wound up doing was feeding into the media definition of hackers by creating their own little cults of personality, mostly being motivated by profit and greed, and making ridiculous claims and boasts.
MTV arguably was the worst offender in 1999, broadcasting a nonsensical tale of "true" hackers without ever bothering to check any of their subjects' claims, nearly all of which were made up on the spot. It didn't matter to them - all they cared about was the demographic. With ominous music playing, they quoted a 19-year-old bragging about how he had "been to the end of the Internet and back - over the course of my years, I've done everything possible" without ever pursuing it any deeper than that! (Where exactly is the end of the Internet anyway?) This was almost typical of the type of journalist integrity we were facing. Yes, hacking in the '90s was no picnic for those few who were trying to avoid the limelight.
Pain in the ass that all of the attention was, we still felt obligated to take it seriously and even share the thrill of seeing at least part of our world being represented everywhere from the big screen to the boob tube to the pages of bestsellers. We even tried to help them get the story right with varying degrees of success. I had a hand as technical adviser for the movie Hackers and it turned out to be a real blast. And, despite the constant crap I got for it, I think overall the film came out pretty well. It was also fun to see so many little elements of what was then a fairly small and tight hacker community in New York City actually getting played out in a major Hollywood release. After all, the writer of the screenplay had been coming to the New York City 2600 meetings and - as we did with almost everyone - we told him stories, showed him cool stuff, and answered his questions. So you wound up seeing things in the movie like the flare gun incident, the meetings on late night subway cars, the weird personalities, even some of the names taken right out of our pages (yes, mine was one of them and I was totally cool with it). We had to at least try to help them get it right and capture the spirit. Plus, I'll always be able to say I helped Angelina Jolie learn how to use a Mac.
We also focused on the books that were coming out about the hacker community, dealing with everyone from the Legion of Doom to the Masters of Deception to Kevin Mitnick. In fact, the decade began with a Mitnick story and ended with another completely different one. By then, there were no less than four books out at the same time relating the now famous tale.
But what was most amazing was that we wound up getting steered in a totally different direction when in 1998 we got a hold of an internal copy of the screenplay (don't ask) for a new movie called Takedown. To put it mildly, we thought it was treating the hacker community and Mitnick in particular in a very unfair manner. So we decided to speak up about it. And that would lead to the making of our own film....
- When Hackers Ride Horses: A Review of Cyberpunk - Review of Katie Hafner/John Markoff's Cyberpunk, by The Devil's Advocate
- Pure Cyberfiction, Says Mitnick - Interesting reply to the above book from Kevin Mitnick
- Assorted Videos from Commonwealth Films - Software piracy video reviews, by Emmanuel Golddigger
- West Side Hacker: Masters of Deception - Book review of Joshua Quittner & Michelle Slatalla's Masters of Deception, by Scott Skinner
- Movie Reviews: The Net and Hackers - Movie reviews of The Net and Hackers, by Emmanuel Golddigger and Thee Joker (Jason)
- Cashing in on Mitnick: The Fugitive Game - Oh the irony!!! Book reviews of Jonathan Littman's The Fugitive Game and Tsutomu Shimomura's Takedown, by Scott Skinner
- Lies - Summer 1998 editorial
- The Hacker Video - Video of Dutch hackers entering U.S. military computer systems, by Manny Golddigger (Video: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
- Progress - Fall 1998 editorial, by Manny Golddigger
The media would continue to demonize hackers throughout the decade so we weren't really surprised by any of the nonsense they printed. But we still felt the need to constantly remind people that this sort of thing needed to be responded to. After all, when stories circulate that imply that there are 250,000 of us trying to break into the Pentagon, it can make life more than a little tense, especially if your friends and family already suspect you of having computer superpowers. And when President Clinton decided to chime in on the subject, we knew we were going to have a tough time ahead. Also included in this section is an instructional article on how to handle the media, which hopefully a lot of people (hacker and non-hacker alike) were able to take advantage of.
- Guided Perceptions - Summer 1996 editorial, by Manny Golddigger
- The Big Time - Spring 1999 editorial, by Manny Golddigger
- Hack the Media - Fighting today's media con artists, by Jim Nieken
A Critical Eye
One thing that we've always tried to do throughout the history of the magazine is to constantly take a critical look at ourselves and our culture. An important thing to remember is that the perspective that we print in our pages is ours, not necessarily those of others in the hacker community. But we like to think that we share certain common values, such as spreading information freely and not being destructive. So we felt the need to speak up when it appeared the hacker community might be getting overrun by those people who really only wanted to call themselves hackers because they had just seen a cool movie or TV show, or had read about us in a book (the latter not being all too likely based on the mentality of some of these individuals). You don't just become a hacker by saying you re one nor can you just get all of the answers from somebody. Being a hacker is a state of mind and this is what the media could never understand. Don't get me wrong though - we had lots of really cool people learn about our world after being exposed to it through some mass appeal outlet and it's gotten us all sorts of friends for life. We've always walked a fine line of expecting a level of intelligence and maturity in the hacker community while at the same time being open to new and possibly somewhat naive and misguided people. Another major threat we faced in the 1990s was shrapnel from the whole dot com boom where suddenly everyone seemed to be making obscene amounts of money. Surprisingly, that's not always a good thing and it certainly took its toll on our unique environment in ways we weren't expecting.
- Crime Waves - Spring 1994 editorial, by Manny Golddigger
- The Victor Spoiled - Winter 1998 editorial
The '90s also brought something entirely new to the American hacker scene: hacker conventions. Today they're quite common and obscenely huge. But back then, the only place where something of that magnitude (1,000 or more hackers in one place) was pulled off was in the Netherlands at either the Galactic Hacker Party in 1989 or Hacking at the End of the Universe in 1993. It was those two events that helped to inspire us to make it happen somehow in the States. And we did. In 1994, as part of the $2600 tenth anniversary, we held the first massive hacker conference in American history with something like 1,500 attendees. Right in the middle of New York City. And so, the HOPE tradition was begun.
- Hacking at the End of the Universe - Fall 1993 editorial (HEU Press Release)
- Hackers on Planet Earth - Summer 1994 HOPE editorial, by Manny Golddigger
- Opening Doors - Fall 1994 editorial
The Computer Revolution
Intimately tied to the "discovery" of the hacker scene was the almost frightening evolution in the world of computers. The "Net" was still in its infancy as the decade began and by the time those ten years had passed, it was a very different animal indeed. While a significant number of people were connected in 1990, nobody had ever heard of the World Wide Web. By 1999, nobody hadn't heard of it, and the amount of connectivity in our everyday lives (e-mail addresses, web sites, high-speed "always on" connections) was simply staggering. In the early days, you could get any Internet domain you wanted for no cost. An Internet where people bought and sold things, including names of sites, just didn't exist. But it sure didn't last long.
By extension, computers themselves were undergoing rapid transformations. If you had a 286 at the start of the '90s, you were one of the lucky ones. Portable computers weighed a ton. Having a 40-meg hard drive was impressive. Speed, memory, graphic capabilities...you get the picture. Things changed fast and they changed a lot.
This meant a lot of things to the hacker world. There was suddenly so much more to play with. Of course, a lot of the hackers from the '80s were now the programmers or designers of the 1990s. The Net itself, though an offshoot of the military, was largely managed with the hacker ethic - avoidance of any sort of social hierarchy whenever possible, disdain for the profit motive, strict adherence to the principles of free speech in public forums, and an almost religious devotion to UNIX. Had it played out differently - if the mainstream had somehow gotten there first or if the phone companies had been running the show from the start - I think the Net would have resembled one gigantic AOL. So its very existence was seen as something of a triumph for the hackers, as many of them were actively involved in building something truly substantive that would inevitably be discovered by the masses.
The Net was of course the major development of the decade. Some might argue that it was the major development of the last few centuries but there's no need to debate that here. Throughout the '90s, if it involved computers in any way, it likely was undergoing rapid change of one sort or another. And hackers were always trying to stay one step ahead, whether by using the latest hardware or figuring out how to defeat the most recent copy protection or security limitations. But now, for the first time, it was possible to do a good amount of hacking without leaving your home, telephonically or otherwise. Unless of course, you wanted to be one of the first to go portable.
- On the Road Again: Portable Hacking - Guide to portable computers and mobile hacking, by The Masked Avocado
- Things that Happen - 2600.com is started
- Killing a File - Throughly remove a file from a computer, by THX1138
- Quantum Hacking - Info on quantum computer hacking and the OpenQubit project, by skwp (PDF) (Code: OpenQubit-0.2.0.tar.gz)
Viruses and Trojans
You didn't need the Internet to be able to spread computer viruses. But it definitely helped. Generally, this sort of behavior was looked down upon in hacker circles as being destructive and childish. And yet, there was a certain fascination with figuring out how it all worked as well as coming up with theoretical ways of efficiently spreading a virus or a trojan. Of course, misinformation was abundant and companies that claimed to protect users from viruses benefited more than anyone. We tried to instill common sense into our pages concerning ways to avoid becoming a victim. But it sure was fun to see the mass panic whenever the media announced a new virus, which was scheduled to hit and cause all kinds of mayhem. One of the more fun and creative pieces of mischief ever put out was, of course, Back Orifice, released publicly and brazenly by members of the Cult of the Dead Cow and discussed at length in our pages.
- Gulf War Printer Virus - Info on that stupid "Gulf War Printer Virus" April Fool's hoax, by Anonymous
- Virus Scanners Exposed - How virus scanners work and ways to bypass them, by Dr. Delam
- Back Orifice Tutorial - How to use and install Back Orifice, by skwp (Yan Pritzker)
- Sobering Facts - Fall 1997 editorial
Having all of these computers linked together on the Internet would, of course, prove to be no end of trouble and mischief. Obtaining global access at increasingly cheap rates made exploring even easier than it was for the privileged few who had packet switched network access back in the '80s. And the growing visibility of the hacker world brought significantly more people into the scene who spent every waking hour trying to figure out ways into all manner of machines. The mere concept of computers belonging to the Pentagon being just as accessible as a public access UNIX system was a bit more than a lot of us could handle. And I'm sure people inside the military had their fair share of culture shock, too. But seeing how the whole thing tied together was indeed fascinating.
Another bit of fun that we all started to become aware of courtesy of the Internet was the phenomenon of spam, which naturally led to all sorts of theories and debates on how to fight it. We also can't forget the emergence of Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which linked people from all over the world together in real time chats, both privately and in massive channels. Many people got addicted to this and remain so to this day. And also included in this section is an article on the early days of Internet radio.
- News Items - Summer 1997 news stories
- Consequences of .GOV/.MIL Hacking - What happens when you hack .gov/.mil sites, by Chocolate Phoetus
- Internet Peering - Info and politics on "behind-the-scenes" Internet linking, by The Prophet (Babu Mengelepouti)
- Internet Radio Stations - Running a Internet "radio" station, by -theJestre- (Chris Marland)
The 1990s brought another issue to the forefront of the hacker world: encryption. Since we were well aware of how fragile and insecure private communications were, we knew it was a damn good idea to be able to encrypt your data so that only you and the people you authorized could read it. The Clinton administration agreed that this was a good idea, so much so that they tried to gain total control over the use of encryption in America with the introduction of the Clipper and Capstone chips. It was considered a big step in the direction of criminalizing non-approved encryption schemes. Plus, the proposed system was classified so it was impossible to examine it for security issues like back doors. This controversy alone probably did more to galvanize the encryption community, much of which was also tied to the hacker community. While a lot of the technical aspects soared over many of our readers' heads, it's somehow very comforting to know that there are people out there keeping an eye on this sort of thing in an open and transparent manner.
- Toward More Secrets - Info on today's cryptography, by Seraf (Dominick LaTrappe)
- Fortezza: The Next Clipper? - Sensational overview of a new encryption protocol, by Seraf
Learning to Hack Other Things
I often think it's a bit unfair how the word "computer" has somehow attached itself to the word "hacker" as if the two are vital parts of the same concept. While true on some occasions - perhaps even quite a lot of occasions - I think it's more than a little limiting to always have the two together. I like to tell people I'm a hacker (provided they're not the kind who will freak out and run away or start shouting for a cop) but they usually inject the computer part on their own. And while admittedly I do like to play with computers and have developed a real talent for finding unusual bugs and ways to make things stop working, I hardly consider myself an expert and am constantly astounded at how little I actually know and how little I care about what I don't know. Not that you need to be a computer expert in order to be a computer hacker. My point is that I don't want to limit myself to just one piece of hardware, especially when it's not something I consider my field of expertise.
I think there are a lot of people out there who have no interest at all in computers but are true hackers. The fact of the matter is there are so many things in the world to hack. A lot of it is hardware - digital, electronic, mechanical - and a lot of it is purely conceptual. The important thing is to be able to say you have the mind of a hacker. That means always thinking outside the box, questioning what others assume to be true, trying to do something in another way just to see what happens, not listening to those who tell you to stick to the rules for no reason other than they're the rules, and invariably getting into deep trouble at some point.
There are many contributions in these pages from those "other" hackers known as phone phreaks. I think the only reason we don't use the phrase "phone hacker" is because "phone phreak" looks and sounds so much cooler. But the hacker world involves much more than phones and computers and that's what I'd like to focus on in this section.
While technical knowledge is always an advantage when it comes to hacking, it isn't essential to being a hacker in the first place. The reason so many hackers are technical is because the technical world lends itself to the practice of hacking. An inquisitive person who asks hundreds of questions all in a row to someone is liable to wind up getting ignored or seriously injured. But computers and phones don't lose patience like that. You can keep going until your fingers fall off and these electronic beings won't ever get mad at you, unless of course a human programs them to.
The amount of hackable things out there is virtually unlimited. Any decent explorer has to have a bit of the hacker spirit or else he'd just be doing what everybody else does and not discovering anything new. A good journalist must always doubt what he's told and think of ways around limitations to find a decent story. The hacker spirit is a part of the human spirit and always has been. It's simply become so much more noticeable now due to the explosion of new toys to play with and create using our developing technology, which itself is another byproduct of the hacker mindset.
New Technology of the Day
Since we never wanted to stay focused on the same things for too long, our writers have always been in search of new bits of technology to play with and discover insecurities and vulnerabilities for. Here we have a hodgepodge of items that came into focus in the 1990s and which were attacked with a full dose of hacker zeal. The push button locks that are detailed here were actually around well before this period but had never before been systematically defeated in such a manner. Traffic devices such as E-ZPass and traffic lights that were changeable by certain types of vehicles were new to most people, hence the intense interest expressed in them by our readers. While extremely common today, such items as cable modems and ATMs were fairly new back then and so there was a great amount of curiosity in figuring out exactly how they worked. Also, since there were substantially fewer manufacturers of these new toys, tricks that were printed in our pages would be applicable to a somewhat high percentage of them throughout the world.
- Simplex Locks: An Illusion of Security - Infamous article on the poor security of Simplex locks - which everyone knew already, by Scott Skinner and Emmanuel Golddigger
- The Chrome Box - Box to active the 3M Opticom systems, by Remote Control
- Hacking LED Signs - How to hack those scrolling LED signs, by Bernie S.
- The E-ZPass System - Overview of the E-ZPass toll pass system, by Big Brother
- Descrambling Cable - Cable scrambling and the infamous Radio Shack descrambler, by Dr. Clayton Phorester
- Cable Modem Security Holes - Monitoring cable modem traffic, by Sciri
- ATM Tricks - Diebold ATM tricks, by Helen Gone
New consumer gadgets were all the rage in the '90s. Back then, having a pager was a real status symbol and was the equivalent of today's cellular phone, although far less people overall had pagers back then. Learning how the network actually worked, comparing and theorizing about features, and figuring out ways to listen in on other pagers was of major interest to so many of us back then. With this knowledge you could grab all sorts of secret information, literally out of thin air. And of course, there were always the random little surprises like the electronic greeting cards that seemed to come out of nowhere and gave the hacker community something else fun to play with and use for purposes other than what they were intended. To the non-hackers of the world, it looked like we were just wasting our time on nothing. And that made it all the more fun.
- A Gift From Hallmark - Red box from a Hallmark talking card, by Bernie S.
- Pager Major - Shoulder-surfing a pager terminal password, by Danny Burstein
- An Intro to Paging Networks and POCSAG/FLEX Interception - Monitoring pager networks, by Black Axe
- Distributor Update - Winter 1997-1998 editorial
Another major community of hackers lies in the radio world. People who play with radio, learn how to communicate across vast distances, assemble and configure equipment to make it do incredible things; these are all hacker qualities. And of course, so is figuring out how to listen to signals that are coming over the airwaves, despite any restrictions that may be in the way. Radio hackers have a long history of monitoring everyone from law enforcement to ham radio to shortwave to fast food drive-thrus. And, of course, the act of just "listening in" is also of great interest to hackers everywhere. This is why a lot of them turn into really good private eyes.
- How To Listen In - Very detailed overview of common surveillance hardware, by Q (Alan Hoffman)
- Trunking Communications Monitoring - Monitoring information for trunked radio communications, by TELEgodzilla
- Fast-Food Phun - Harassing fast food drive-thru operators, by VaxBuster (Info)
- Become a Radio Ninja - Radio hacking and how to get your ham license, by Javaman (Adam O'Donnell)
Miscellaneous Things to Play With
This ought to give you a decent idea of how much stuff there is out there to hack. Whether it's figuring out how credit cards work, looking at an envelope and learning the entire postal system, "unshredding" documents, or just hacking stuff you never really thought could be hacked, it's all a part of the same basic culture. And like any bit of knowledge that gets spread around, it could be used for good or for evil. There are those who believe that the mere possibility that some information could be used in a harmful way is reason enough to restrict access to it. This mentality is everything the hacker world is fighting against and this fierce opposition is possibly the one ideal that holds us all together. Look carefully at each of these examples and see how hard you have to struggle to find the good applications that can come from the knowledge contained in each.
- An Algorithm for Credit Cards - Code for credit card checksum verification, by Crazed Luddite and Murdering Thug (Code: cc.c)
- USPS Hacking - Postal bar code hacking, by The Devil's Advocate
- Unshredding the Evidence - How to unshred paper evidence, by Datum Fluvius
More Hacker Stories and Adventures
If technology had stopped dead in its tracks before the '90s even began, I would still have had a hard time getting the number of interesting hacker tales down to a manageable number. That's one of the biggest joys of being in this unique culture. It's just as much fun to figure out how an ancient phone system works or to break the security on an obsolete mainframe as it is to play around with the most modern equipment.
We all had our hands full during this decade. Learning the intricacies of a particular voicemail system was still a challenge and fun to share amongst your peers but it no longer was a feat that everyone was affected by because there would be a totally new system out in a couple of weeks. Now that more and more people had their own computers, a good deal of time was spent figuring out ways to maximize their potential. It was still very much hacking but it had become a bit more insular. This didn't prevent hackers from reaching out, however. With more and more people getting drawn into the hacker world every day thanks to all of the increased media and mass culture attention, there was anything but a shortage of "exploratory missions" into remote systems owned by everyone from universities to banks to governments. We now had the Internet popping up in more and more places and for many the temptation was far too great to resist. Add to that the fact that so many new entities were going online without having done an iota of study on securing their systems and well, it was a hacker's paradise.
This collection of stories has a little bit of everything. We'll hear how hackers get started and how they find the hacker mindset even without an abundance of technology. There are also perspectives from different angles such as the military, the academic community, inside the federal government, and someone who wound up being the target of a hacking attack. A very unfortunate part of the '90s was that more and more hackers were winding up in prison for one offense or another. But that didn't stop them from applying their curiosity and observation to their new and unpleasant environment and sharing the results with us and hence the entire world. This desire to share experiences has always been one of the most valuable contributions hackers have to offer. How else would the rest of us have ever known what it was really like in that kind of a strange and forbidding place? The utter irony of such a punishment instead turning into a source of still more exploration was not lost on us. It was also pretty damn inspiring.
In this section you'll also see some legends from the past along with instructive narratives on how mischief is caused in all sorts of places from the workplace to the phone lines. Getting around barriers and eventually controlling them completely is a recurring theme of hackers, and that is portrayed here quite literally using the actual gates that guard apartment complexes in one of our stories. What you will gain from this collection of tales is the realization that nearly everything under the sun can be interesteing to people with a hacker mindset.
The best thing about hacker stories is that, unlike the technology itself, they never get old. The spirit of adventure, discovery, and rebellion lives on long after the tools have given way to something else.
- Birth of a Low-Tech Hacker - Story of an older hacker in India, by The Roving Eye
- The View of a Fed - Story from a government computer security man, by The Fed
- Letter From Prison - Letter from a whiny hacker in prison and brute-forcing Spring card codes
- Growth of a Low-Tech Hacker - Hacking in a low-technology atmosphere, by The Roving Eye
- A Study of Hackers - Article about hackers and settup up a honeypot, by Dr. Williams
- The Ghost Board - Hidden bulletin board systems, by Autolycus
- Day of the Hacker - How a BBS was hacked, by Mr. Galaxy (Patrick Harvey)
- War Dialing - War dialing story and an autodialer script for Qmodem, by VOM (Code: qmodem autodial)
- Military Madness - The true story of my experiences as a paid hacker for the military
- Confessions of a Beige Boxer - Funny story, by RedBoxChiliPepper (Brad Carter, MySpace)
- Downsizing Insurance - How to avoid being fired, by Hans Gegen
- Adventures With Neighborhood Gates - How security gates in gated communities work, by jaundice
The Changing of the Telephone
The world of phones continued its radical transformation throughout this period as was foretold by divestiture. What we wound up with was a real playground of brand-new telephony-related devices, each of which was itself transforming before our eyes. Cell phones, for instance, had become more prevalent but their days suddenly became numbered with the advent of digital cellular. As pay phones became deregulated, it was now possible to have different long-distance companies handling your calls. But then came those monsters known as Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephones (COCOTs), which got a lot of people angry and confused due to their astronomical and sneakily imposed charges. And as overall phone rates continued to decline and cell phone use of one sort of another increased, the major phone companies started to realize that pay phones just weren't the money makers they used to be.
Meanwhile the technology involved in actually making calls was rapidly changing as well. Digital switching became the norm as the last of the electromechanical phone switches was retired. That to me was the saddest part of the whole transformation. No more would we hear those deep baritone rings or be able to tell what equipment was being used just by the sounds we heard on the line. It all started to sound exactly the same, whether you were calling New York City or Nome, Alaska. I had hoped that with all of the supposed competition in the telephone arena that there would be a huge variety of sounds and features. But alas, standardization dictated that it all be uniform. Sane I suppose, but not nearly as much fun as the chaos I was hoping for.
Features like Caller ID slowly began to take over our telephonic experiences. It may seem strange today but there were real privacy concerns when we first started to hear of the possibility of called parties actually knowing who was calling them. I'll bet most people today can't fathom what it was like to never know who was on the line until they answered the phone. For me, that was all part of the fun. You see, telephones simply didn't ring as much as they do today. Calls cost more and you didn't always have a phone within reach in order to constantly update people on your every waking thought. So when the phone in your house rang (and in the '90s there was still a good chance that it was an old-fashioned Bell telephone with a mechanical ringer, perhaps even a rotary dial as well), it somehow meant much more than it does today. It was an event. You ran to answer it, not knowing who it was until you heard the voice on the other end. And, if they hung up before you got there, it could really cast a shadow on your entire day because there was no way of knowing who it was. Naturally, this system made it a whole lot easier to make prank calls as well. Once the first Caller ID boxes and *69 features were implemented, it really changed the entire tone of the phone culture. And it was only through the efforts of various consumer groups that the ability to still make anonymous calls was somewhat preserved through the *67 or "all call block" feature. The phone companies nearly succeeded in making it impossible to dial anonymously. From their point of view it would make little sense for a consumer to pay all this money for a Caller ID box plus the monthly service fee if people didn't send their numbers in the first place. Plus, in those early days, Caller ID only worked in very small regions and the idea of it working interstate or even nationwide seemed very remote. We all know how quickly that changed once it started to catch on.
While most phone phreaks would probably resist the temptation to refer to the '90s as the decade that boxing died, it's really hard to argue that it wasn't the decade where boxing was given a terminal disease. Quite simply, digital switching used out-of-band signaling, which meant that all of those magical tones that blue boxes could make were no longer sent by the phone company on the same audio path as your voice. Therefore, there was nothing to be accomplished by generating them. Other boxing techniques like silver and black also had their days numbered by the advancing technology. Red boxing, on the other hand, continued to thrive for a bit longer as phone companies were slow to change the absurdly simple method for collecting coins at pay phones. But even with the inevitable death of the boxing culture, hackers continued to be interested in how it all worked.
The 1990s was the decade where wireless communications really took off. As our first article demonstrates, people had been using mobile phones of one sort or another for quite some time and the security was truly laughable. In this example the phone calls were being transmitted over a VHF marine frequency. But the security was equally amusing with cordless phones used inside one's home or analog cellular phones, which broadcast conversations in the clear on the 800-megahertz frequency spectrum. The cellular industry and federal government, rather than mandate effective security for such calls, had instead chosen to simply make scanners that could tune into the cellular frequencies illegal. It was seen as the typical manner in which the clueless and greedy dealt with security issues, not by addressing the technical aspects but by covering their asses with meaningless legislation. But it was all a moot point; the days of analog cell service would start to become numbered by the end of the decade. The new GSM standard (new for the States at least) used encryption while transmitting so eavesdropping was nowhere near as simple. Other types of monitoring, however, were in the process of being developed....
- Listening In via VHF - Monitoring marine wireless phone conversations, by Mr. Upsetter
- Cellular Phone Biopsy - Detailed cellular phone memory operations, by Kingpin (Joe Grand)
- GSM Comes to North America - Detailed overview of the GSM cellular phone system, by Phiber Optik (Mark Abene)
- News Items - Spring 1998 news
- An Overview of Cellemetry - Wireless telemetry technology designed to monitor, control, and track anything that is worth being monitored, controlled, and tracked, by Jinx (Johnny)
Boxes of the World
While boxing was indeed in its dying days in the 1990s, it was by no means dead. For those who really knew what they were doing, it was possible to find distant locations where certain magic tones would still have an effect. For that and historical reasons, our tutorial on boxes was among the more popular articles we've printed. But without a doubt one of the most significant articles that has ever graced our pages has got to be the tutorial on how to convert a Radio Shack tone dialer into a red box. This one piece may have caused more overall mayhem than anything else we've printed, spreading by word of mouth well beyond the confines of our readership. Basically, the conversion allowed a common piece of hardware to be converted into a device that easily allowed free phone calls at pay phones all over the country. It was a combination of coincidence and incredible technical agility that made this conversion possible. And it drove all of the phone companies bonkers because there was absolutely nothing they could do about it, other than to change the entire method with which they collected coins. Stopgap measures were introduced, such as imposing limits on how many "coins" could be deposited for a phone call (not really the best idea for a phone company). Some Radio Shacks even began to interrogate any kid who tried to buy a tone dialer, demanding to know what they were really going to use it for. As the decade came to an end, red boxing too was finally on the way out. But what a fun ride it was.
- Converting a Tone Dialer into a Red Box - The infamous Radio Shack tone dialer into a red box conversion article, by Noah Clayton (Scan: Page 1, Page 2) (Additional Information)
- True Colors - Overview of the phone phreak "color" boxes, by BillSF (Bill Squire)
- Why Redboxing Doesn't Work - Death of Automated Coin Toll Service (ACTS), by The Prophet
Evolution of the Network
The phone network of 1999 was quite different from the one of 1990. Digital switching predominated. Services like Caller ID were in full swing after initial mixed reviews. Devices known as COCOTs continued to sweep the land and replace the familiar pay phones of the Bell companies. As witnessed in the COCOT tutorial, there was quite a bit of outrage at some of their practices early in the decade. This brings up an interesting point concerning the hacker perspective. As I've pointed out throughout our existence, the values we put forth in $2600 represent but one interpretation. We don't pretend to speak for everyone in the hacker world. We certainly had a lot of issues with some of the suggestions put forth in that article, such as physically destroying or stealing pay phones. But we still felt it was an informative piece and we hoped that those reading it would apply their own set of values to what they learned from it and that hopefully those values would be similar to the ones we espoused. There would be more harm in suppressing the dialog just because we didn't approve of elements of it.
Phone companies continued to experience growing pains and implement stupid policies, and we were there to point out as many as we could, both in our pages and on our new radio program on WBAI (Off The Hook, which still airs on that station to this day). We also tried to explain as much as possible just how it all tied together, why things worked the way they did, how they used to work, and what the future might hold.
- An Introduction to COCOTs - Information on Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone (COCOT) pay phones, by The Plague (Similar Article)
- Caller ID: The Facts - Information on caller ID, by Jake "The Snake"
- Tidbits - Fall 1991 news bits
- U.S. Phone Companies Face Built-In Privacy Hole - Security hole in a switches Busy Line Verification (BLV) function
- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Phone System: Phreaking in the Nineties - Modern phone systems and phreaking, by BillSF
- Voice Mail Hacking - Hacking voice mail boxes, by Night Ranger (G. Batson)
- Toll Fraud: What the Big Boys Are Nervous About - Overview of the Toll Fraud Prevention Committee (TFPC), by Count Zero (John Lester)
- News Items - Summer 1997 news bits
- Naming Exchanges - How old phone exchanges were named, by Jeff Vorzimmer
- News Items - Spring 1998 news bits
- Where Long Distance Charges Come From - Detailed tabulation of where long distance phone charges come from, by The Prophet (Babu Mengelepouti)
Hackers and the Law
Apart from all of the gatherings, growth, and awareness by the masses of the world of hackers, there was a much more serious and truly historic aspect to it all. That involved actual individuals who were being targeted by the authorities with unprecedented vigor. This in turn would lead to a reaction against this sort of thing and more of an awareness of the threat facing everyone.
The BBS raids of the 1980s had evolved along with the technology and had become more sophisticated and far-reaching in scope. Now it was about more than a few computers tying together kids in a loosely organized group. With the Internet came the perception of a true global threat at the hands of hackers and the authorities reacted accordingly. Massive sweeps of the nation affected hacker and non-hacker alike. People began to see the parallels between what was happening in the hacker world and what was going on in the real world. The growing perception was that those in charge simply wanted any excuse to get a foot in the door and chip away at our remaining rights. Some of it was sheer paranoia but much was firmly rooted in reality and past experience of what the authorities were capable of. Here, on the threshold of a technological and communications revolution, the rules were clearly on the verge of changing. And that could either be a great thing for the individual or the beginning of the end.
I don't think any of us really knew how chaotic a decade it was going to be. We expected more of the same but what we got instead was a real intensifying of the effort to stamp out the kinds of people who were at the heart of $2600's existence. Clearly, it didn't work. But the price that was paid by those targeted was almost too high to be imagined. And those cases that we found ourselves close to would serve to strengthen our resolve and belief that these were the last people on earth who should be treated like criminals.
We were lucky. We had a voice and could let the world know when something unfair was happening. And I think that's what may have made the biggest difference of all. Had we not been able to let people know about the Mitnick case, or what was happening to Bernie S., or the facts about Operation Sun Devil while it was all still unfolding, the people running these investigations would have had virtual carte blanche in determining how they would all end. We certainly couldn't count on the mass media to do this for us so we did it ourselves - in the form of our magazine, through our increasingly popular radio show, and by eventually making a documentary about some of the injustices that were going on.
While printing articles about computers and phones is at the very heart of what we do, I think what is documented in this section may be proof of our overall importance in the bigger picture. That was manifested in our reaching out to the non-hacker world and helping them to see things from our perspective. I've been in enough organizations and movements over the years to have learned that you don't get very far from only speaking to the people who already are part of what you're doing. By getting $2600 onto mainstream bookstands and broadcasting our show at 50,000 watts out of New York City, we were reaching people who normally would never have heard of us. And that changed history.
Operation Sun Devil and the EFF
One of the biggest and most far-reaching investigations into the hacker world became public in early 1990. Initially, Operation Sun Devil seemed like just another massive raid on hackers, perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm and sound bites from those running it. The seriousness of what was actually happening soon became painfully clear. An electronic newsletter was targeted, private email was being spied upon, wild allegations were made and later disproved, and innocent people paid a heavy price. The chilling effect this had on the hacker community has remained to the present day. Because even when it was proven that the government had overstepped its boundaries and victimized people, it didn't seem to matter. Massive amounts of debt were incurred by those who had to defend themselves, despite the fact that the charges were found to have no merit. Others would be imprisoned, despite the fact that the allegations against them had been proven false in a related case.
But this time something a little different happened. In their enthusiasm, the Secret Service had really overstepped the boundary and harassed a completely innocent (and well known) game designer named Steve Jackson. This part of the story managed to hit home with a lot of people and, before you knew it, we were organizing and communicating online in an effective manner. Through a public UNIX system in California known as The Well, we helped spread the story to even more people. The mass media actually picked up on it. I think that's when I first saw the power of the Net in action. Emails came pouring in, scores of people wanted to know what they could do, and the word spread throughout the globe. Among those who expressed a desire to help were Lotus founder Mitch Kapor and former Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. They saw these events as a reason to start a new group that would help protect people from this kind of injustice. And so, the seeds for the Electronic Frontier Foundation were planted.
- For Your Protection - Spring 1990 editorial
- A Bittersweet Victory - Summer 1990 editorial
- What is the EFF? - Info on the Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Negative Feedback - Different option on the Craig Neidorf trial
- Facts and Rumors - News bits from the Atlanta LOD trial
- EFF Lawsuit - Spring 1991
- News Update - Steve Jackson declared innocent.
The Secret Service and 2600 Meetings
In 1992, a truly bizarre incident occurred at our monthly Washington D.C. public gathering. In short, the United States Secret Service orchestrated an illegal search and seizure episode against our attendees who were doing nothing other than hanging out in a food court (Actually, they were fucking with the mall's PBX system). They tried to cover this up by having mall security do their dirty work but it didn't take long for that house of cards to fall apart. Again, using the power of the Net and our other methods of communication, we were able to get lots of attention on this incident, including a front page Washington Post story and the support of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, who helped us pursue charges against the Secret Service. But the problem with going after a major government entity that has virtually unlimited power is the intimidation factor. Basically, we had a bunch of innocent kids who had their bags searched and their names taken down by government agents without cause. And, while a good number of them wanted justice, the pressures of family and friends plus the desire to get on with your life without further heartache takes the wind out of your sails. Plus, let's face it - a few of these kids were involved in things that could come back to haunt them. Just a bit of mischief involving computers or phones, nothing really major. But enough to really get slammed if the wrong people got pissed off. And the Secret Service were definitely the wrong people to piss off, as we would learn a few years later. I'm happy we were at least able to tell the story, if not ultimately achieve justice for those unfairly targeted. It turned out to be a really important part of our history.
- Hackers in a World of Malls - Info on the Secret Service bust
- Lawsuit Filed Against Secret Service - Legal action taken on behalf of the DC2600 meeting incident.
- Meeting Mania - More November 1992 DC2600 meeting info
- More Meeting Advice - $2600 meeting advice, by The Judicator of D.C.
If there could be said to be a period in our existence where the shit really hit the fan, well, look no further than here. No fewer than three cases which made international headlines and affected people very close to us played out in the space of a couple of years in the mid 1990s.
We saw the first use of wiretapping in a hacker case involving $2600 writer and Off The Hook cohost Phiber Optik. It was further indication of the increasing treatment of hackers like organized crime figures. In fact, at one point Phiber shared a courtroom with the World Trade Center bombers. His prison term was one of the saddest periods we ever went through but we managed to keep him in touch with the rest of the community through the magazine and our radio show where he would often call in live from behind bars.
Then there was the infamous Kevin Mitnick case, which played out in several stages from living on the run to capture to the incarceration that lasted five whole years. It was this case that really gave us the spirit to get angry and speak louder than we ever did before. The Free Kevin movement was started, protests were held worldwide, web pages got hacked "for justice," and we found ourselves in the movie making business all of a sudden. We devoted a lot of time and coverage to this which annoyed some of our readers, but we really had no choice. Despite the fact that Kevin had violated security restrictions on a number of occasions, I never really thought that was enough to condemn him to whatever penalty the prosecution decided to dole out. The fact remained he had never caused damage to anything other than egos and despite having had ample opportunity, he never once profited as a result of his incursions. From our very first issue, we've taken the stand that prison time is a ridiculous way of addressing the issue of hackers. I think Kevin's case proved that more than any other. The system literally didn't know how to handle him so they wound up doing stupid things like sticking him in solitary confinement for eight months because they were afraid of what he could do from a prison phone, denying him a bail hearing - let alone bail itself, and of course the whole deal with holding him without trial for over four years.
And as if all that wasn't enough, another one of our writers who went by the name of Bernie S. was imprisoned simply for having common electronic parts and gadgets that theoretically could have been used to commit a crime. This was enough to get him locked up twice by the Secret Service and have him held with some of the most dangerous people in prison. And, as it turned out, it was all because of a vendetta the Secret Service had against him because he had embarrassed them on television.
So the '90s were a very busy time in the Getting Outraged Department. But I want to think that we did some good by being around and by not shutting up about the injustices we were made aware of. After all, in order for history to be remembered, somebody has to write it down.
- Here We Go Again - More bitching about the Secret Service and "hacker" arrests
- Hackers in Jail, Part Two - Winter 1993-1994 editorial
- The World vs. Kevin Mitnick - Spring 1995 editorial
- Our Financial State - Begging for more money
- The Bernie S. Saga - Summer 1995 editorial
- News Items - Summer 1995 news bits on the start of the Mitnick trial.
- No More Secrets - Fall 1995 editorial
- Caught in the Web - Spring 1996 editorial
- Fallout - Fall 1996 editorial
- Enough is Enough - Spring 1997 editorial
- Mitnick Update - Kevin Mitnick news update
- A Culmination of Efforts - Summer 1999 editorial
New Legal Threats
We learned a lot more about the law than we ever wanted to in the 1990s. The Clinton administration and Congress seemed to declare war on hackers, who clearly didn't fit into their neat little plan of how technology and communications should be regulated. The Digital Telephony Bill (known to us now as CALEA) set the stage for increased monitoring and selective prosecution. Shockingly, it was helped along by the caving to intense pressure of a trusted civil liberties group (CALEA is abused by Israeli intelligence services, most lawyers in the ACLU are Jews) Then there was the Clipper and Capstone chip initiative, which almost killed encryption in this country. It was easy to lose track of all of the bad legislation coming down the pike, most of which would be detrimental to free thinkers and dissidents in one way or another. Some battles were won and some were lost. We did our best to keep track of them all but, not being lawyers or civil libertarians, we know there's a lot we missed. We printed a number of articles focusing on legal issues and reasons why we should all be concerned. Many in the hacker community chose to close their eyes to all of this, hoping that they just wouldn't be affected by the negativity if they didn't know about it. As the decade came to an end, we noticed a change in the way people were starting to deal with these and other issues. More and more were bypassing the traditional channels of communication and simply putting their message out there on their own terms. Blogs, web sites, audio, video - the power of the Net was finally translating into a sense of empowerment for those people who didn't have a voice in the mainstream. People were speaking and more people were listening. The independent media movement was on the Internet as the world approached a new millennium.
- Congress Takes a Holiday - Golddigger testifies before Congress, and promptly fucks it up
- Not Much Good News Here - Laws on "phone hackers" and seizing their equipment, Clipper Chip info
- Inspiration - Winter 1994-1995 editorial
- Digital Telephony Passes - Info and sensationalism on the Digital Telephony Bill
- News Items - Summer 1995 news bits
- The Neverending Story - Summer 1997 editorial
- Progress - Fall 1998 editorial
- Violence, Vandals, Victims - Winter 1999 editorial
2000 and Beyond: A Changing Landscape
I used to think that chapter divisions were artificial and that they detracted somewhat from the flow when telling a story. But fate dictated otherwise with regards to the tale of $2600. Not only did a brand new adventure begin literally on the day that an old one ended, but the dividing line of the year 2000, Y2K, and the conclusion of the Mitnick saga really added a symmetry that I would have thoroughly disbelieved - had I not been there when it all happened.
The year 2000 was indeed the Year of the Lawsuit on the Hacker Calendar. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Sure, we had gotten our share of lawsuit threats in the past. Actually, we got a bit more than our share but that was perfectly OK. We lived for this kind of a thing. Whenever we had gotten a letter from some angry attorney threatening us with all sorts of unspecified harm if we didn't immediately comply with whatever demands they felt like making, we usually diffused the situation in our own unique style by printing the entire diatribe in the magazine, letterhead and all. The ensuing bad publicity nearly always resulted in nothing else ever being heard on the subject. But we always learned a bit more with each instance. We found out that people were in fact reading our magazine and that sometimes our words really pissed off some pretty powerful entities. Cool.
Many people have told us over the years that the way we dealt with these situations was the way they always wished they could have. (And some of these folks were actually inside the very same companies that were threatening us!) Obviously, a mere individual had little chance of getting the same level of attention that we could get by challenging these threats. In spite of all the talk of the communications revolution and the digitization of speech, there was still something special about printing ink on paper. The threats, the reactions, the resolutions, it all seemed to somehow count for more when it was in a physical form. And I think that's why we always seemed to wind up front and center in these battles.
What happened in 2000 went beyond what we had grown accustomed to. It really shocked the hell out of us because it wasn't the sort of thing anyone at $2600 figured would be what finally got us hauled in front of a judge. We printed so many controversial articles over the years, after all. When we posted the code on our web site to a computer program that was simply designed to allow DVDs to be played on Linux machines, it honestly didn't seem that exciting. Oh, but it most definitely was.
The Motion Picture Association of America and all of the major studios that they represented saw the release of this code as a threat to their future control of the DVD industry. To explain briefly, in order for a standard commercial DVD to be played, it first has to be decrypted. Only "licensed" DVD players were supposedly allowed to do this. Unfortunately (for the MPAA and friends), the encryption key (CSS) that was supposed to be kept secret wasn't very well protected. Its release allowed programs (such as DeCSS) to successfully perform the decryption. And in so doing, it became possible to play a DVD on any machine, in any part of the world (bypassing the artificial region codes that prevented discs from one country from playing in the machines of a different country), and in a manner chosen by the consumer (such as being able to skip over normally "locked" advertisements that viewers had been forced to play in full). None of this ever had anything to do with copying DVDs, despite that misconception constantly being reported during our trial. The simple fact is that you don't even need to decrypt a DVD in order to copy it. The ultimate proof that this case wasn't really about piracy came outside the federal courthouse in New York City where, during our trial, street vendors were openly selling illegal copies of movies a block away! No, this was a case about controlling the technology itself and not allowing consumers the ability to manipulate things in a way that suited them. This is what really bothered the industry.
We were literally hand-picked out of the thousands of other web sites that had mirrored the DeCSS code. By taking a hacker magazine to court, the MPAA figured the decision would already be made in the judge's eyes. It was an astute move on their part. And, though we lost the case and ultimately the appeal, we felt we had opened up a lot of eyes in the process. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made this court case possible, was now on the radar of everyone concerned with consumer rights and free speech. There would certainly be more cases. (We had planned on appealing all the way to the Supreme Court but it became rather clear that they would not have ruled in our favor and such a precedent-setting decision could have been harmful to the overall cause.)
Suing $2600 seemed to be in vogue as this new chapter in the hacker world continued to unfold. We literally seemed to be getting threatening letters every few weeks. In one instance we noticed that Verizon had registered all sorts of sites that contained critical statements towards them (verizonsucks.com, verizonblows.com, etc.) so we thought it would be funny to register one that they had missed verizonREALLYsucks.com. We quickly got a threatening letter from them, which we naturally published, then we went and registered VerizonShouldSpendMoreTimeFixingItsNetworkAndLessMoneyOnLawyers.com (taking full advantage of the recently increased domain length limit). This got all sorts of publicity and an eventual public statement from Verizon saying that they recognized the free speech aspect of this and would pursue no action against us. It was heartening, to say the least.
We also found ourselves in court in Detroit at the request of the Ford Motor Company who took umbrage at our registering a web site that poked fun at General Motors and then redirected itself over to Ford. It was as if corporate America had decided to save paper and skip over the threatening letters entirely. They simply sued us with no warning. This case was really absurd because the entire nature of the Internet allows for sites to be pointed at all sorts of other places. Not only was it ridiculous to claim damages when someone you didn't like redirected a web site to you, but it was also a trivial manner to disable this at the receiving end. We beat Ford on this one and hopefully sent a message to anyone else planning on wasting time in court. Free speech would be defended on all levels.
In short, this was a very interesting period in history. Litigation was flying all over the place, not just with us but with all sorts of people and companies as everyone tried to figure out where the digital world was going. There were other DMCA cases, the Recording Industry of America was taking on Napster, and words like "BitTorrent" and "peer to peer" became front page news almost overnight. Meanwhile there were all kinds of other battles going on in the free speech arena that seemed pretty earth shattering in nature. In the end, I think we wound up stronger as a result and with a whole lot more resolve. For that, I must sincerely thank our detractors.
Here then is a sampling of some of the fun as it unfolded, including one of many alternative ways we tried to spread the DeCSS code: in actual English language words.
- The Next Chapter - Spring 2000 editorial
- Madness - Summer 2000 editorial
- DeCSS in Words - DeCSS is protected speech but the Pledge of Allegiance is not - figure that one out!
- A Taste of Freedom - Letter from Kevin Mitnick, by Kevin Mitnick (Scan: Page 1, Page 2) (Picture 1, Picture 2)
- A Summer of Trials - Fall 2000 editorial
- Signs of Hope - Spring 2001 editorial
- 2001-2002 - Winter 2001-2002 editorial
- Positivity - Winter 2002-2003 editorial
Still More Hacker Stories
As more forms of technology come into being, the sheer number of tales having to do with their exploitation rises exponentially. Tying them all together is that sense of rebellion and inquisitiveness that continues to live in every hacker. We've seen a lot of change in the last quarter century but the hacker spirit today is essentially the same as it was in the early years.
In this particular compilation, certain common themes tended to stand out. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we could fill a book just by throwing together all of the stories having to do with schools. Think about it. Most hackers are young and attending some sort of an educational institution, ranging from grade school to grad school. In those places, the people running things are very keen on maintaining control of everything from the curriculum to discipline. You introduce someone with a hacker mentality into such a scenario and you can well imagine the antics that result. As computers have gone from the exception to the rule in every classroom, those people with the ability to manipulate them have gained a particular foothold in the hierarchy of threats to good order. So many tales of paranoia have come our way from schools around the world where students are threatened with expulsion for something as innocent as figuring out how to send a message from one computer to another. You could literally try to burn the school down and not be seen in as threatening a light as if you were a suspected hacker. People in power react in very irrational ways when they see that power being threatened by something they don't understand.
But a place of education is just one of many arenas for good hacker material. For some, the military is an extension of school but with a lot more yelling and running. Inside this institution can be found a number of hackers also sending us stories. They range from figuring out creative methods of getting out of the military to discovering ways around some of the same computer restrictions found in the classroom. We always find it inspirational to see an individual emerging from any institution where such individuality is frowned upon, looked at with suspicion, or punished severely.
I can only await with anticipation the arrival of stories of technologies that have yet to be invented. One day we'll be publishing tales of robot hacking and space-based exploits. While the technology will be almost unrecognizable in the decades ahead, the mischief and analytical thoroughness of the hacker mind will be as familiar as it's ever been.
Most of the school stories we're sharing here are of the instructional variety rather than the experiences of persecution. (Most of the latter steadily flow into our letters department whereas the focus here is on the more thorough articles.) Suffice to say that the people who figured these things out were likely subjected to a good deal of persecution as a result (or would have been if they had been found out).
There are generally one of two themes found in a typical school narrative. Either the story is about figuring out ways of getting around an obnoxious restriction, such as a filter to the Internet or the blocking of a useful program, or it's about a fantastically stupid policy on the part of the school that winds up hurting the students. The latter case is documented in several of our stories with regards to the safeguarding of student privacy, something schools could certainly use a lesson on from the hackers of the world.
- Examining Student Databases - Security checking university student databases, by Screamer Chaotix
- CampusWide Wide Open - Very good article on the CampusWide ID card, by Acidus (Billy Hoffman)
- The University of Insecurity - Security problems when using easy-to-guess student IDs, by chiLL p3ngu1n
- Fun with School ID Numbers - Create your own barcodes to alter a school or other ID card, by gLoBuS
- FirstClass Hacking - Overview and security holes in the FirstClass classroom software program, by Cristian
Military and War Zones
Our readership spans the globe as well as all levels of society. We constantly get mail from people in the military and not just the U.S. military. Curiosity exists anywhere there are bright and observant people. And, perhaps surprisingly, there is a fair degree of rebelliousness in the military environment. We also hear from people in war-torn parts of the world who share our desire and passion for technology. One such story is reproduced here, in tribute to its author who sadly has since passed away.
- A Hacker Goes to Iraq - Computer info from Iraq, by Chris McKinstry
- Getting Busted - Military Style - Overview of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, by TC
- Consequences - Fall 2001 editorial
- Backdoor Exits from the U.S. Military - How to get beaten by a girl, by Bac
- Circumventing the DoD's SmartFilter - How to defeat firewall filtering rules on the Department of Defense's computer network, by Comspec - Sigma Nu
We could have a whole lot of other categories of various hacker stories but I think you can get a good sense of what's out there by simply glancing at a handful or two of some of the more interesting ones we ve received since 2000. Whether it's finding an exploit in an online gambling site, noticing a problem with a televised lottery drawing, witnessing the shocking lack of support at a typical help desk, or feeling the effects of the latest online virus, there are firsthand accounts here that will stick with you for some time. In this collection we also have a look at some memories of the past and fears of a possible future. There are stories of pain as well, specifically of infidelity uncovered by accident on a computer and, as seen in our first tale, what the effects of being caught can be when doing something bad.
- The Making of a Pseudo Felon - Hacking story of a person caught scanning for "codes," by Brent Ranney
- A Word of Warning from a Caught Uncapper - Story of a caught cable modem uncapper, by Kris Olson
- Infidelity in the Information Age - Story on how deleted info really isn't, by atoma
- Strange Love: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Anna Kournikova Virus - Overview of the Anna Kournikova Windows virus, by 6M AL
- A Look Back - Story of old hacker days, by dufu
- A Glimpse at the Future of Computing - Ramblings, by Phocks (Joshua Birtles)
- ParadisePoker.com Blackjack Cracked - Neat trick to exploit Internet poker, by JackAceHole
- Observing the Lottery - Tracking lottery numbers and a "bug" in the ping-pong ball method, by CeeJay
- An ISP Story - Story about trying to help someone who is having their account compromised by unspecified MSN exploits, by Witchlight
A New Era of Telephony
I don't think anyone could have thought in their wildest dreams that the telephonic landscape would look the way it does now, a quarter century after the Bell breakup. Well, maybe some of us in our dreams might have. But I doubt the phone phreaks of the '80s actually thought the day would come so soon when making free and legal phone calls all around the world would be a reality. And yet, here we are in the twentyfirst century where it's never been easier.
Would there have even been a phone phreak culture if affordable phone calls were this easy from the beginning? Absolutely. Because while making the phone calls was a big part of it, understanding how the vast network tied together was always what it was really about. The communication angle was a fringe benefit of understanding the system. It was that knowledge and the passion that went with it which inspired so much in the way of new designs and alternate ways of utilizing telephony.
Telephones have always meant something special to me. Ever since I was a kid, the mere thought of a phone was something so intriguing to me that I knew I'd never rest until I thoroughly examined and experimented with the system behind it. Even then, people seemed to take the whole thing for granted. And even today, I cannot. The very idea of this form of communication actually being possible seems unbelievable at times, even with a rudimentary knowledge of how voices get passed down wires and through the sky for great distances. I think that sense of wonder is what keeps phone phreaks involved. When it becomes just another tool, there's no reason or desire to want to know more about it.
So much has changed with regard to how we deal with phone calls. In those early days for me, that sound of the ringing phone was a really big deal. Calls were expensive so it didn't happen all that frequently. And you never knew who was on the other end before picking up. The mere notion of Caller ID hadn't been introduced at that point. Plus you couldn't own your own phone and very few people had more than one in their house. Touch tone phones were a rarity; everyone used the circular rotary dials, each one of which seemed to have its own unique sound when rotating. Not to mention the actual rings, which came from a real bell in the phone. When you heard that sound, you dropped everything to find out who was calling. A phone could ring forever if the calling party didn't hang up. There were virtually no answering machines for consumers so a ringing phone had to be dealt with one way or another. Wireless phones of any sort were unheard of. The instruments were rugged; you could literally drop them out of a window and they would still be usable. The telephone landscape was about as unlike the present as it could possibly be.
Yes, it's gotten a whole lot different today. Phones of all shapes and sizes are everywhere. Making phone calls has gotten both overly easy and absurdly complicated at the same time. Sure, you can place calls from anywhere to anywhere with relative ease. But what company do you want as your regional carrier? Do you want to use your local cable company for local calls? Perhaps a VoIP solution for long distance? It's all great fun for those of us who like to play with configurations. For those who don't, it's nonstop confusion. And that doesn't even take into account those people who can't afford the initial investment of a phone line or computer. For them, ironically enough, the cost of using cash in a payphone hasn't come down at all.
The inequities remain and have widened in many areas. I can only hope that the rapid technological advancements in this field will soon be used to help close that gap. There is a certain magic in being able to communicate globally with our fellow humans. That ability can do much towards realizing our common goals, fostering peace, and all that nice stuff that seems to fly in the face of the status quo. Overall, the changes we re seeing now have been positive and it's great to see the abilities that once were only in the hands of a few phone phreaks (without authorization to boot) making its way to the general public in the form of complex phone systems, alternate call routing, and new and creative uses of telephony. It's almost as if the phone phreak bug has spread everywhere through the wires.
History and Background
As always, to understand how the system works, you need to develop knowledge and appreciation for the history and implementation in other environments. We've printed so many articles that cover various aspects of each of these. Obviously, as soon as they get published, something changes to make at least some of the information out of date. But despite this, I find myself going back to such articles for purposes of reference and perspective. Here we can see for ourselves how those really old payphones once worked. Seeing how the phone system was put together in a place like Afghanistan gave us valuable insight, as did seeing all of the things that didn't work quite right inside our own system.
- Hacking the Three Holed Payphone - Old pay phone hacks and information, by Munzenfernsprechermann
- Idiocy in the Telcos - Confusion with today's phone companies, by The Cheshire Catalyst
- The Afghan Phone System - The phone system in Afghanistan, by Iconoclast
From our very first days, we've been told by various "experts" that phreaking is dead. But it's never true. Sure, some forms of phreaking become outdated and no longer work. I think I can probably say with assurance that red boxing has finally breathed its last. (No doubt, I will soon hear of exceptions after this is published.) Like the phone network itself, phreaking adapts and changes. The concept of backspoofing described here certainly demonstrates this, along with the various methods of manipulating features like ANI and Caller ID. And of course, the explosion of the telecommunications world has brought forth a plethora of new companies offering all sorts of different services. Back in the early days, there was little more than the Bell System. So with every new company and new technology, there are more possibilities for exploitation and exploration. In that sense, phreaking has never been more of a force than it is today.
- Basics on Answering Machine Hacking - More information on hacking answering machines, by horrid (Code: 2digits.txt, 3digits.txt)
- Feeding the Frenzy - Fall 2003 editorial
- ANI and Caller ID Spoofing - How to fake your Calling Party Number (CPN) parameter, by Lucky225 (Jered Morgan)
- Verizon's Call Intercept - Overview and loopholes in Verizon's call intecept, by decoder (William Quinn)
- Backspoofing 101 - Detailed overview of "backspoofing" caller ID CNAM information, by Natas
- Getting More from T-Mobile - Overview of customer accounts on T-Mobile, by Psycho
- How to Track Any U.K. GSM Mobile Phone - How to track cellular phones on the U.K. GSM system, by Jonathan Pamplin (Similar Article)
Where we are today is most certainly a fascinating place in history. But it's sure not going to stay the way it is for very long. Things change so fast in the telecommunications world that we could probably add on new chapters every few months and still have plenty to talk about. I guess that's why it's good that we have a magazine in order to do precisely that. In this section we focus on some of what is today considered new and will no doubt soon be thought of as ancient. As always, our writers try to consider the potential risks in the development of any technology. The potential for surveillance and the lack of real security in certain Voice over IP technologies are both addressed here in addition to yet another way of making phone calls in future years.
- The Future of Enhanced 911 - Cellular E911, by Wumpus Hunter
- A New Era of Telecommunications Surveillance - Overview of telecommunications surveillance, by The Prophet
- Vonage Broadband Security Risk - Vonage VoIP service security, by Kevin T. Blakley
- VoIP Cellphones: The Call of the Future - Different technologies being used to implement Voice over IP calling for cellphones, by Toni-Sama
One style of article that really exploded in the past few years focuses on various retail outlets. Many people ask why this is. Simply put, everyone uses computers now. Everyone. It used to be just stores like Radio Shack that were technology based. But now they are all online in one capacity or another. In this section you'll see how the mind of a hacker works in everyday situations. Whether it's a department store, a grocery store, a video store, or a hotel, you can rest assured that whoever is in charge knows less about how their systems work than a typical $2600 reader who walks in off the street.
We always tread a fine line on this kind of subject matter. It's one thing to understand how to exploit a late-fee system that allows you to never return videos, or how to find an easy way into a major retailer that stores its customers' credit card info online, or how to use a store terminal to access secret stuff behind the corporate firewall. But it's another thing entirely to use this knowledge for personal gain or to screw anyone over. There are many who can't see the difference. After all, why would we even print the information in the first place if we weren't giving our tacit endorsement of following through with the actual act?
This gets to the point of what $2600 is about and has always been about. We exist to publish information and to encourage curiosity and exploration. Now, granted, information can be used for good or for evil. This is true of a lot of things. If I actually were to lay awake at night worrying about each and every article we printed and how it might possibly be used to cause harm or damage, it's fairly obvious we would never print much of anything at all. That simply cannot be a part of the equation, not if we want to fulfill the mission of spreading information and knowledge.
It may not be as apparent but information of all sorts can be used for both good and evil. If a newspaper prints the upcoming schedule of the President, they are performing a public service but also providing valuable information for a potential assassin. Exposing a cover-up, such as Watergate or Iran/Contra, might make for very interesting reading but it could also be very bad for the morale of the country. We can even convince ourselves that printing pictures of bridges or locations of government buildings might serve as tools for terrorists. But the fact remains that the people who are really intent on getting the information for nefarious purposes are likely to find a means of getting it. The ones who lose when journalists are overly cautious are, without exception, the general public.
Now, what possible advantage is there to the populace in seeing articles like the ones that follow in the first place? It varies by individual and there are likely quite a few who would garner no benefit at all. But for those who are interested in maintaining their own privacy, knowing that a particular chain store has little to no security when it comes to safeguarding customer data may be enough to get them to go somewhere else instead and keep their private info private. For a consumer seeking help from one of these companies, it's always nice to know when you re being lied to and such information from an insider could wind up saving them lots of time and aggravation. And of course, we cannot discount the value of the retailers themselves being held up to analysis and critique and hopefully actually learning something about how to do a better job in the future.
But just as we don't print the information with the intent of causing people harm, neither do we print it in order to help make things more secure. The only agenda here is to gather the info and see what's out there. Where it goes from there isn't really up to us. We certainly promote responsible behavior and we condemn instances of maliciousness. But if we ever start to hold back on releasing information because it's too hot or sensitive, I think we will have lost our way.
With all that said, here's a look at just some of the chaos we've exposed in the post-2000 world of retail.
- Best Buy Insecurities - How to access the Internet via computers at Best Buy, by WInt3rmut3
- Outsmarting Blockbuster - Social engineering Blockbuster, by Maniac_Dan (Dan McAloon)
- Home Depot's Lousy Security - Huge security hole with Home Depot gift cards, by Glutton (Minneapolis, Minnesota, DOB: 10/12)
- Secrets of Dell - Secrets of Dell tech support, by Deamtime
- Fun with 802.11b at Kroger's - Using the wireless network at Kroger's, by Kairi Nakatsuki
- Fun at Circuit City - Harrass old ladies at Circuit City, by ccsucks
- Fun with Radio Shack - Info on Radio Shack Internet kiosks, by Cunning Linguist (Jeff Strauss)
- Paranoia vs. Sanity - Winter 2003-2004 editorial
- Target: For Credit Card Fraud - Former employee of Target discloses a whole host of problems with the stores' networks, by Anonymous
- Hacking Retail Hardware - Hacking point-of-sale terminals, by dual_parallel (Mike)
- Fun Facts About Wal-Mart - Wal-Mart customer terminals and pharmacy computers, by A.W.M.
- Retail Hardware Revisited - Kmart rules, by dual_parallel
- Hacking the Hilton - Using the high-speed Internet connection at Hilton Hotels, by Estragon (Similar Article)
- Cracked Security at the Clarion Hotel - Story on keystroke loggers on the computers at a Clarion hotel, by Gauss VanSant
- Electronic Application Technology - Bugs in computer employment application forms, by clorox
- Hacking Soda Machines - Debug menus on soda machines, by MeGaBiTe1 (Similar Article)
- Hacking on Vacation - Disney World ticket, computer, network information, by Eric
- PayPal Hurts - Article about how PayPal transaction reversals can cost recipients a lot of dough, by Estragon
- Hacking Answers by Gateway - How to get help from Gateway with pirated software, by Franz Kafka
Toys of the 21st Century
In the end, it's all about having fun. That's the ultimate driving force behind just about everything we've covered in these pages. I've defended the practice of hacking on ideological grounds for many years but the real reason the majority of hackers get involved in the first place is simply because it's a total thrill. Most people get this. Some don't.
We live in a world full of toys. The boundaries between reality and fantasy have been blurred quite a bit lately so that we don't always see where the fun stops and the crime begins. It may be OK to play a game on your own computer but you could get expelled for doing it at school. Or you can run a program over a network but if you use it on your own machine you could be in violation of some new law. Corporations tell us we're not allowed to figure out how things work even after we've bought them and they have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to back them up. Ownership of every one and zero in every bit of data in computer software, music, and video is jealously guarded by those companies who want to make it all accountable - at precisely the time when the rest of the world is discovering how shareable everything actually is. I can't say I'm completely without sympathy. People deserve to be paid for the work they do. And I believe most consumers see this. But the old rules just aren't working anymore. This isn't a fight that can be won without embracing the technology that's making all of the changes. And that is what the powers that be have yet to understand.
The most fundamental change I think we can all strive for is to realize that playing with toys and having a blast while doing it are good things. How often are we told exactly the opposite, whether it's by our parents, our teachers, our bosses, or our legislators? The mentality is that playing with things is a waste of time, not at all constructive, and potentially even damaging. Nothing could be further from the truth. A stimulated mind is a productive mind and the people who spend time doing things they enjoy are likely to become far more creative and imaginative. I can't count the number of times I've seen this unfold in the hacker world. Brilliance that nobody else can understand or appreciate, kids dropping out of school because they're not getting anywhere and are even being punished for the ways they express themselves, people winding up in prison without ever having harmed anyone simply because society can't comprehend how they might be able to fit in. I often hear it said that we're "a nation of laws" whatever the hell that means. To me, it says that we're so caught up in our petty rules and regulations that we lose sight of the actual individuals who are the vital ingredient of a worthy nation.
So many people want to get involved in the hacker world for the simple reason that it's the kind of world everyone feels a need to be a part of, whether on the surface or way deep down. We all yearn for adventure and challenges, all the while flirting with danger. But here's a secret. It's not always fun and games. In fact, once you actually realize you re a part of the hacker community, you're struck by the fact that there aren't a whole lot of car chases and rollerblade activity. Instead, figure on a lot of nights spent poring over anything from computer code to hardware to manuals to, quite literally, garbage. This is the part of the hacker experience that doesn't draw so many people. But it's what distinguishes the real deal from the wannabes. You see, anyone can have fun and play games. And as I said, that's not a bad thing. But you always need to be doing more and, as far as hackers go, that means figuring out new ways to exploit systems, find bugs, notice the security holes, think outside the box. Most people who want to "become a hacker" aren't really all that into the cerebral stuff. They just want the payoff. It's understandable, particularly when they've just gotten out of the latest action adventure that had a hacker in it and they want to become that character. But it's not reality. What we always have to tell people is that you can't just "become a hacker" by having a mentor or getting someone to vouch for you. It has to be inside of you from the start. I'm not talking about technical expertise or the ability to memorize things. Quite simply, it's the spirit that you need to have. The spirit that will make you question everything, try all sorts of possibilities, and do what almost everyone else considers to be a waste of time - for no other reason than to satisfy your curiosity. In so doing, you will be the person best equipped to figure out how to find the next really cool piece of equipment to play with - or even design.
One thing which has really taken off in the 21st century is wireless technology. Of course, we've had wireless devices for many decades. But the playing field is constantly changing. Wireless Internet, for instance, simply wasn't possible a mere decade ago. And now it's everywhere, along with all of the controversy, security issues, and benefits that go with it. All of these are explored here, along with an extensive guide written by the author of Kismet, the most powerful and versatile program designed to find and interpret wireless data signals. But of course, wireless technology also encompasses cellular phones, RFID, satellite technology, and even pirate radio. There are so many interesting things going through the airwaves at any given time in any part of the world. This section will give you a small taste of some of the newer examples.
- The Comprehensive Guide to 802.11b Wireless Networks - Good overview of WiFi networks, by Dragorn (Michael Kershaw) (Alternate)
- Getting to Know Your Neighbors - Wireless network hacking, by Shiv Polarity
- Hacking the "Captivate" Network - Hacking Captive screens, by Darlok
- An Old Trick for a New Dog - WiFi and MITM - Overview of WiFi Man-in-the-Middle attacks, by uberpenguin (Matt Britt)
- Unlocking the Power of WAP - How to configure WAP on your phone, by Josh D.
- RFID: Radio Freak-me-out Identification - Sensational piece on RFID technology by people who obviously never heard of binoculars, by Kn1ghtl0rd
- Challenges - Spring 2007 editorial
- XM - The Flawed Future of Radio - Horribly inaccurate overview of XM radio, by Acidus
- Harnessing the Airwaves - Introduction and overview of low-power "pirate" radio, by Mark12085 (Mark)
- Scanning the Skies - Overview of satellite receiving technology and receiving free analog video channels, by GutBomb (Jason Merrill)
Most of the world tends to think of hackers as people who spend all of their time at home staring at computer screens. Granted, there is a lot of that. But it would be wrong to assume there's not a good deal more. Basically, when you get into the hacker mindset, the potential exists to hack just about anything. Here we have a few examples ranging from ATMs to electronic signs to automobiles to locks. In fact, lock picking has been around forever and is probably the best example of "real-world" hacking that's out there. It looks glamorous but requires a lot of patience, skill, and time. As with any hack, those who possess the desire and invest the time are the ones who ultimately achieve their goals.
- NCR ATMs - Aurum Ex Machina - Info on NCR ATM computers, by Acidus (Code: NCR-ATM.pdf)
- Hacking Electronic Message Centers - Hacking electronic signs, by Mr. Glenn Frog
- Hacking a Mercedes Benz with a Universal Remote - Use an universal IR remote control for access, by TOneZ2600 (Corey Friedman)
- Remote Secrets Revealed - Programming Toyota car remote controls, by The AntiLuddite
- Impromptu Lock Picks - Make lockpicks out of household items, by L. Gallion
In addition to the actual devices that exist in the real world, there are also much bigger entities known as institutions. Basically, we re talking about hacking an entire idea or way of life for many. These are things that people are taught not to question, like elections or censorship or Google. They have become synonymous with normalcy and it could threaten the perceived natural order of things if too many questions were asked or too many experiments performed. Of course, this is of great interest to hackers, which is why you'll see those subjects covered here. We also have a very in-depth analysis of a major metropolitan transportation system drawn entirely from observation through hacker eyes as well as a detailed explanation of how lotteries actually work, which is certainly not something the people in charge were too keen on having spread around.
- How to Hack the Lottery - Overview of lottery number theory, by StankDawg (David Blake)
- New York City's MTA Exposed! - Very detailed overview of NYC's Transit Authority fare collection system, by Redbird (Joseph Battaglia, K2BAT)
- Hacking Google AdWords - Overview and loop holes in Google's advertising program, by StankDawg
- The Not-So-Great Firewall of China - Defeating Internet censorship in China, by Tokachu
- Hacking an Election - Former employee of Elections Manitoba, gives a good description of how provincial elections work in Canada, by Dagfari (Dave Alexander)
- Using Hacker Skills to Change History - by Rop Gonggrijp
Open Your Mind
As we come to our last section, it's only appropriate that it encompass subject matter that really defies a single categorization. Here we have everything from hacking the human genome to the creation of a new hacker language (God help us). Brain implants, biometrics, and, of course, hacking people themselves through the fine art of social engineering. You can apply the concept of hacking just about anywhere and over the years at $2600 we've seen so many new and imaginative applications. Why do I get the feeling that this is only the beginning?
- A Brief Intro to Biometrics - Info on Biometric physical security systems, by Cxi~
- Poor Man's 3D - How to make cheap 3D glasses for use in WinAmp, by diabolik
- A History of "31337SP34K" - History of idiot speak, by StankDawg
- Honeypots: Building the Better Hacker - Overview of computer honeypots, by Bland Inquisitor (Alternate)
- Hacking the Genome - DNA and genetic modifications, by Professor L (Similar Information)
- The Real Electronic Brain Implantation Enhancement - Info on brain implants, by Shawn Frederick
- Social Engineering and Pretexts - Store detective and private investigator gives anecdotal advice and stories about social engineering, by Poacher
- The More Things Change... - Winter 2007-2008 editorial
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