connection--that he accidentally connected to this machine somehow,
that it wasn't really at the address he had tried based on the DEFCON
scan of Citibank's network.
How else could it have happened? Surely Citibank wouldn't have a
computer full of credit cards which spilled its guts every time
someone rang up to say `hello'? There would be tonnes of security on a
machine like that. This machine didn't even have a password. It didn't
even need a special character command, like a secret handshake.
Freak connections happened now and then on X.25
networks. They had the same effect as a missed voice phone
connection. You dial a friend's number--and you dial it correctly--but
somehow the call gets screwed up in the tangle of wires and exchanges
and your call gets put through to another number entirely. Of course,
once something like that happens to an X.25 hacker, he immediately
tries to figure out what the hell is going on, to search every shred
of data from the machine looking for the system's real address.
Because it was an accident, he suspects he will never find the machine
Force stayed home from school for two days to keep the connection
computer. During this time, the Citibank computer woke up a few times,
dumped a bit more information, and then went back to sleep. Keeping
the connection alive meant running a small risk of discovery by an
admin at his launch point, but the rewards in this case far exceeded
It wasn't all that unusual for Force to skip school to hack. His
parents used to tell him, `You better stop it, or you'll have to wear
glasses one day'. Still, they didn't seem to worry too much, since
their son had always excelled in school without much effort. At the
start of his secondary school career he had tried to convince his
teachers he should skip year 9. Some objected. It was a hassle, but he
finally arranged it by quietly doing the coursework for year 9 while
he was in year 8.
After Force had finally disconnected from the CitiSaudi computer and
had a good sleep, he decided to check on whether he could reconnect to
the machine. At first, no-one answered, but when he tried a little
later, someone answered all right. And it was the same talkative
resident who answered the door the first time. Although it only seemed
to work at certain hours of the day, the Citibank network address was
the right one. He was in again.
As Force looked over the captures from his Citibank hack, he noticed
that the last section of the data dump didn't contain credit card
numbers like the first part. It had people's names--Middle Eastern
names--and a list of transactions. Dinner at a restaurant. A visit to
a brothel. All sorts of transactions. There was also a number which
looked like a credit limit, in come cases a very, very large limit,
for each person. A sheik and his wife appeared to have credit limits
of $1 million--each. Another name had a limit of $5 million.
There was something strange about the data, Force thought. It was not
structured in a way which suggested the Citibank machine was merely
transmitting data to another machine. It looked more like a text file
which was being dumped from a computer to a line printer.
Force sat back and considered his exquisite discovery. He decided this
was something he would share only with a very few close, trusted
friends from The Realm. He would tell Phoenix and perhaps one other
member, but no-one else.
As he looked through the data once more, Force began to feel a little
anxious. Citibank was a huge financial institution, dependent on the
complete confidence of its customers. The corporation would lose a lot
of face if news of Force's discovery got out. It might care enough to
really come after him. Then, with the sudden clarity of the lightning
strike photo which hung on his wall, a single thought filled his mind.
I am playing with fire.
`Where did you get those numbers?' Par asked Force next time they were
both on Altos.
Force hedged. Par leaped forward.
`I checked those numbers for you. They're valid,' he told Force. The
American was more than intrigued. He wanted that network address. It
was lust. Next stop, mystery machine. `So, what's the address?'
That was the one question Force didn't want to hear. He and Par had a
good relationship, sharing information comfortably if occasionally.
But that relationship only went so far. For all he knew, Par might
have a less than desirable use for the information. Force didn't know
if Par carded, but he felt sure Par had friends who might be into it.
So Force refused to tell Par where to find the mystery machine.
Par wasn't going to give up all that easily. Not that he would use the
cards for free cash, but, hey, the mystery machine seemed like a very
cool place to check out. There would be no peace for Force until Par
got what he wanted. Nothing is so tempting to a hacker as the faintest
whiff of information about a system he wants, and Par hounded Force
until the Australian hacker relented just a bit.
Finally Force told Par roughly where DEFCON had been scanning for
addresses when it stumbled upon the CitiSaudi machine. Force wasn't
handing over the street address, just the name of the suburb. DEFCON
had been accessing the Citibank network through Telenet, a large
American data network using X.25 communications protocols. The
sub-prefixes for the Citibank portion of the network were 223 and 224.
Par pestered Force some more for the rest of the numbers, but the
Australian had dug his heels in. Force was too careful a player, too
fastidious a hacker, to allow himself to get mixed up in the things
Par might get up to.
OK, thought the seventeen-year-old Par, I can do this without you. Par
estimated there were 20000 possible addresses on that network, any one
of which might be the home of the mystery machine. But he assumed the
machine would be in the low end of the network, since the lower
numbers were usually used first and the higher numbers were generally
saved for other, special network functions. His assumptions narrowed
the likely search field to about 2000 possible addresses.
Par began hand-scanning on the Citibank Global Telecommunications
Network (GTN) looking for the mystery machine. Using his knowledge of
the X.25 network, he picked a number to start with. He typed 22301,
22302, 22303. On and on, heading toward 22310000. Hour after hour,
slowly, laboriously, working his way through all the options, Par
scanned out a piece, or a range, within the network. When he got bored
with the 223 prefix, he tried out the 224 one for a bit of variety.
Bleary-eyed and exhausted after a long night at the computer, Par felt
like calling it quits. The sun had splashed through the windows of his
Salinas, California, apartment hours ago. His living room was a mess,
with empty, upturned beer cans circling his Apple IIe. Par gave up for
a while, caught some shut-eye. He had gone through the entire list of
possible addresses, knocking at all the doors, and nothing had
happened. But over the next few days he returned to scanning the
network again. He decided to be more methodical about it and do the
whole thing from scratch a second time.
He was part way through the second scan when it happened. Par's
computer connected to something. He sat up and peered toward the
screen. What was going on? He checked the address. He was sure he had
tried this one before and nothing had answered. Things were definitely
getting strange. He stared at his computer.
The screen was blank, with the cursor blinking silently at the top.
Now what? What had Force done to get the computer to sing its song?
Par tried pressing the control key and a few different letters.
Nothing. Maybe this wasn't the right address after all. He
disconnected from the machine and carefully wrote down the address,
determined to try it again later.
On his third attempt, he connected again but found the same irritating
blank screen. This time he went through the entire alphabet with the
That was the magic keystroke. The one that made CitiSaudi give up its
mysterious cache. The one that gave Par an adrenalin rush, along with
thousands and thousands of cards. Instant cash, flooding his screen.
He turned on the screen capture so he could collect all the
information flowing past and analyse it later. Par had to keep feeding
his little Apple IIe more disks to store all the data coming in
through his 1200 baud modem.
It was magnificent. Par savoured the moment, thinking about how much
he was going to enjoy telling Force. It was going to be sweet. Hey,
Aussie, you aren't the only show in town. See ya in Citibank.
An hour or so later, when the CitiSaudi data dump had finally
finished, Par was stunned at what he found in his capture. These
weren't just any old cards. These were debit cards, and they were held
by very rich Arabs. These people just plopped a few million in a bank
account and linked a small, rectangular piece of plastic to that
account. Every charge came directly out of the bank balance. One guy
listed in the data dump bought a $330,000 Mercedes Benz in
Istanbul--on his card. Par couldn't imagine being able to throw down a
bit of plastic for that. Taking that plastic out for a spin around the
block would bring a whole new meaning to the expression, `Charge it!'
When someone wins the lottery, they often feel like sharing with their
friends. Which is exactly what Par did. First, he showed his
room-mates. They thought it was very cool. But not nearly so cool as
the half dozen hackers and phreakers who happened to be on the
telephone bridge Par frequented when the master of X.25 read off a
bunch of the cards.
Par was a popular guy after that day. Par was great, a sort of Robin
Hood of the underground. Soon, everyone wanted to talk to him. Hackers
in New York. Phreakers in Virginia. And the Secret Service in San
Par didn't mean to fall in love with Theorem. It was an accident, and
he couldn't have picked a worse girl to fall for. For starters, she
lived in Switzerland. She was 23 and he was only seventeen. She also
happened to be in a relationship--and that relationship was with
Electron, one of the best Australian hackers of the late 1980s. But
Par couldn't help himself. She was irresistible, even though he had
never met her in person. Theorem was different. She was smart and
funny, but refined, as a European woman can be.
They met on Altos in 1988.
Theorem didn't hack computers. She didn't need to, since she could
connect to Altos through her old university computer account. She had
first found Altos on 23 December 1986. She remembered the date for two
reasons. First, she was amazed
at the power of Altos--that she could have a live conversation on-line
with a dozen people in different countries at the same time. Altos was
a whole new world for her. Second, that was the day she met Electron.
Electron made Theorem laugh. His sardonic, irreverent humour hit a
chord with her. Traditional Swiss society could be stifling and
closed, but Electron was a breath of fresh air. Theorem was Swiss but
she didn't always fit the mould. She hated skiing. She was six feet
tall. She liked computers.
When they met on-line, the 21-year-old Theorem was at a crossroad in
her youth. She had spent a year and a half at university studying
mathematics. Unfortunately, the studies had not gone well. The truth
be told, her second year of university was in fact the first year all
over again. A classmate had introduced her to Altos on the
university's computers. Not long after she struck up a relationship
with Electron, she dropped out of uni all together and enrolled in a
secretarial course. After that, she found a secretarial job at a
Theorem and Electron talked on Altos for hours at a time. They talked
about everything--life, family, movies, parties--but not much about
what most people on Altos talked about--hacking. Eventually, Electron
gathered up the courage to ask Theorem for her voice telephone number.
She gave it to him happily and Electron called her at home in
Lausanne. They talked. And talked. And talked. Soon they were on the
telephone all the time.
Seventeen-year-old Electron had never had a girlfriend. None of the
girls in his middle-class high school would give him the time of day
when it came to romance. Yet here was this bright, vibrant girl--a
girl who studied maths--speaking to him intimately in a melting French
accent. Best of all, she genuinely liked him. A few words from his
lips could send her into silvery peals of laughter.
When the phone bill arrived, it was $1000. Electron surreptitiously
collected it and buried it at the bottom of a drawer in his bedroom.
When he told Theorem, she offered to help pay for it. A cheque for
$700 showed up not long after. It made the task of explaining
Telecom's reminder notice to his father much easier.
The romantic relationship progressed throughout 1987 and the first
half of 1988. Electron and Theorem exchanged love letters and tender
intimacies over 16000 kilometres of computer networks, but the
long-distance relationship had some bumpy periods. Like when she had
an affair over several months with Pengo. A well-known German hacker
with links to the German hacking group called the Chaos Computer Club,
Pengo was also a friend and mentor to Electron. Pengo was, however,
only a short train ride away from Theorem. She became friends with
Pengo on Altos and eventually visited him. Things progressed from
Theorem was honest with Electron about the affair, but there was
ended, Theorem was sweet on Pengo the way a girl remains fond of her
first love regardless of how many other men she has slept with since
Theorem her dalliance. Eventually, Pengo disappeared from the scene.
Pengo had been involved with people who sold US military
secrets--taken from computers--to the KGB. Although his direct
involvement in the ongoing international computer espionage had been
limited, he began to worry about the risks. His real interest was in
hacking, not spying. The Russian connection simply enabled him to get
access to bigger and better computers. Beyond that, he felt no loyalty
to the Russians.
In the first half of 1988, he handed himself in to the German
authorities. Under West German law at the time, a citizen-spy who
surrendered himself before the state discovered the crime, and thus
averted more damage to the state, acquired immunity from prosecution.
Having already been busted in December 1986 for using a stolen NUI,
Pengo decided that turning himself in would be his best hope of taking
advantage of this legal largesse.
By the end of the year, things had become somewhat hairy for Pengo and
in March 1989 the twenty-year-old from Berlin was raided again, this
time with the four others involved in the spy ring. The story broke
and the media exposed Pengo's real name. He didn't know if he would
eventually be tried and convicted of something related to the
incident. Pengo had a few things on his mind other than the six-foot
With Pengo out of the way, the situation between Theorem and the
Australian hacker improved. Until Par came along.
Theorem and Par began innocently enough. Being one of only a few girls
in the international hacking and phreaking scene and, more
particularly, on Altos, she was treated differently. She had lots of
male friends on the German chat system, and the boys told her things
in confidence they would never tell each other. They sought out her
advice. She often felt like she wore many hats--mother, girlfriend,
psychiatrist--when she spoke with the boys on Altos.
Par had been having trouble with his on-line girlfriend, Nora, and
when he met Theorem he turned to her for a bit of support. He had
travelled from California to meet Nora in person in New York. But when
he arrived in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, without
warning, her conservative Chinese parents didn't take kindly to his
unannounced appearance. There were other frictions between Nora and
Par. The relationship had been fine on Altos and on the phone, but
things were just not clicking in person.
He already knew that virtual relationships, forged over an electronic
medium which denied the importance of physical chemistry, could
sometimes be disappointing.
Par used to hang out on a phone bridge with another Australian member
of The Realm, named Phoenix, and with a fun girl from southern
California. Tammi, a casual phreaker, had a great personality and a
hilarious sense of humour. During those endless hours chatting, she
and Phoenix seemed to be in the throes of a mutual crush. In the
phreaking underground, they were known as a bit of a virtual item. She
had even invited Phoenix to come visit her sometime. Then, one day,
for the fun of it, Tammi decided to visit Par in Monterey. Her
appearance was a shock.
Tammi had described herself to Phoenix as being a blue-eyed, blonde
California girl. Par knew that Phoenix visualised her as a
stereotypical bikini-clad, beach bunny from LA. His perception rested
on a foreigner's view of the southern California culture. The land of
milk and honey. The home of the Beach Boys and TV series like
When Tammi arrived, Par knew instantly that she and Phoenix would
never hit it off in person. Tammi did in fact have both blonde hair
and blue eyes. She had neglected to mention, however, that she weighed
about 300 pounds, had a rather homely face and a somewhat down-market
style. Par really liked Tammi, but he couldn't get the ugly phrase
`white trash' out of his thoughts. He pushed and shoved, but the
phrase was wedged in his mind. It fell to Par to tell Phoenix the
truth about Tammi.
So Par knew all about how reality could burst the foundations of a
Jersey to stay with a friend, Byteman, who was one of a group of
hackers who specialised in breaking into computer systems run by Bell
Communications Research (Bellcore). Bellcore came into existence at
the beginning of 1984 as a result of the break-up of the US telephone
monopoly known as Bell Systems. Before the break-up, Bell Systems'
paternalistic holding company, American Telephone and Telegraph
fostered the best and brightest in Bell Labs, its research arm. Over
the course of its history, Bell Labs boasted at least seven
Nobel-prize winning researchers and numerous scientific achievements.
All of which made Bellcore a good target for hackers trying to prove
Byteman used to chat with Theorem on Altos, and eventually he called
her, voice. Par must have looked pretty inconsolable, because one day
while Byteman was talking to Theorem, he suddenly said to her, `Hey,
wanna talk to a friend of mine?' Theorem said `Sure' and Byteman
handed the telephone to Par. They talked for about twenty minutes.
After that they spoke regularly both on Altos and on the phone. For
weeks after Par returned to California, Theorem tried to cheer him up
after his unfortunate experience with Nora. By mid-1988, they had
fallen utterly and passionately in love.
Electron, an occasional member of Force's Realm group, took the news
very badly. Not everyone on Altos liked Electron. He could be a little
prickly, and very cutting when he chose to be, but he was an ace
hacker, on an international scale, and everyone listened to him.
Obsessive, creative and quick off the mark, Electron had respect,
which is one reason Par felt so badly.
When Theorem told Electron the bad news in a private conversation
on-line, Electron had let fly in the public area, ripping into the
American hacker on the main chat section of Altos, in front of
Par took it on the chin and refused to fight back. What else could he
do? He knew what it was like to hurt. He felt for the guy and knew how
he would feel if he lost Theorem. And he knew that Electron must be
suffering a terrible loss of face. Everyone saw Electron and Theorem
as an item. They had been together for more than a year. So Par met
Electron's fury with grace and quiet words of consolation.
Par didn't hear much from Electron after that day. The Australian
still visited Altos, but he seemed more withdrawn, at least whenever
Par was around. After that day, Par ran into him once, on a phone
bridge with a bunch of Australian hackers.
Phoenix said on the bridge, `Hey, Electron. Par's on the bridge.'
Electron paused. `Oh, really,' he answered coolly. Then he went
Par let Electron keep his distance. After all, Par had what really
Par called Theorem almost every day. Soon they began to make plans for
her to fly to California so they could meet in person. Par tried not
to expect too much, but he found it difficult to stop savouring the
thought of finally seeing Theorem face to face. It gave him
Yeah, Par thought, things are really looking up.
The beauty of Altos was that, like Pacific Island or any other local
BBS, a hacker could take on any identity he wanted. And he could do it
on an international scale. Visiting Altos was like attending a
glittering masquerade ball. Anyone could recreate himself. A socially
inept hacker could pose as a character of romance and adventure. And a
security official could pose as a hacker.
Which is exactly what Telenet security officer Steve Mathews did on 27
October 1988. Par happened to be on-line, chatting away with his
friends and hacker colleagues. At any given moment, there were always
a few strays on Altos, a few people who weren't regulars. Naturally,