Suelette dreyfus julian assange



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lower-case letters. It might also add a `1' at the end. In short, the

program would create new guesses by permutating, shuffling, reversing

and recombining basic information such as a user's name into new

`words'.


`It's 24000 words. Too damn big,' Electron said. Paring down a

dictionary was a game of trade-offs. The fewer words in a cracking

dictionary, the less time it was likely to take a computer to break

the encrypted passwords. A smaller dictionary, however, also meant

fewer guesses and so a reduced chance of cracking the password of any

given account.

`Hmm. Mine's 24328. We better pare it down together.'

`Yeah. OK. Pick a letter.'

`C. Let's start with the Cs.'

`Why C?'


`C. For my grandmother's cat, Cocoa.'

`Yeah. OK. Here goes. Cab, Cabal. Cabala. Cabbala.' Electron paused.

`What the fuck is a Cabbala?'

`Dunno. Yeah. I've got those. Not Cabbala. OK, Cabaret. Cabbage. Fuck,

I hate cabbage. Who'd pick Cabbage as their password?'

`A Pom,' Electron answered.

`Yeah,' Phoenix laughed before continuing.

Phoenix sometimes stopped to think about Force's warning, but usually

he just pushed it to one side when it crept, unwelcomed, into his

thoughts. Still, it worried him. Force took it seriously enough. Not

only had he stopped associating with Electron, he appeared to have

gone very, very quiet.

In fact, Force had found a new love: music. He was writing and

performing his own songs. By early 1990 he seemed so busy with his

music that he had essentially put The Realm on ice. Its members took

to congregating on a machine owned by another Realm member, Nom, for a

month or so.

Somehow, however, Phoenix knew that wasn't all of the story. A hacker

didn't pick up and walk away from hacking just like that. Especially

not Force. Force had been obsessed with hacking. It just didn't make

sense. There had to be something more. Phoenix comforted himself with

the knowledge that he had followed Force's advice and had stayed away

from Electron. Well, for a while anyway.

He had backed right off, watched and waited, but nothing happened.

Electron was as active in the underground as ever but he hadn't been

busted. Nothing had changed. Maybe Force's information had been wrong.

Surely the feds would have busted Electron by now if they were going

to do anything. So Phoenix began to rebuild his relationship with

Electron. It was just too tempting. Phoenix was determined not to let

Force's ego impede his own progress.

By January 1990, Electron was hacking almost all the time. The only

time he wasn't hacking was when he was sleeping, and even then he

often dreamed of hacking. He and Phoenix were sailing past all the

other Melbourne hackers. Electron had grown beyond Powerspike's

expertise just as Phoenix had accelerated past Force. They were moving

away from X.25 networks and into the embryonic Internet, which was

just as illegal since the universities guarded computer

accounts--Internet access--very closely.

Even Nom, with his growing expertise in the Unix operating system

which formed the basis of many new Internet sites, wasn't up to

Electron's standard. He didn't have the same level of commitment to

hacking, the same obsession necessary to be a truly cutting-edge

hacker. In many ways, the relationship between Nom and Phoenix

mirrored the relationship between Electron and Powerspike: the support

act to the main band.

Electron didn't consider Phoenix a close friend, but he was a kindred

spirit. In fact he didn't trust Phoenix, who had a big mouth, a big

ego and a tight friendship with Force--all strikes against him. But

Phoenix was intelligent and he wanted to learn. Most of all, he had

the obsession. Phoenix contributed to a flow of information which

stimulated Electron intellectually, even if more information flowed

toward Phoenix than from him.

Within a month, Phoenix and Electron were in regular contact, and

during the summer holidays they were talking on the phone--voice--all

the time, sometimes three or four times a day. Hack then talk. Compare

notes. Hack some more. Check in again, ask a few questions. Then back

to hacking.

The actual hacking was generally a solo act. For a social animal like

Phoenix, it was a lonely pursuit. While many hackers revelled in the

intense isolation, some, such as Phoenix, also needed to check in with

fellow humanity once in a while. Not just any humanity--those who

understood and shared in the obsession.

`Caboodle. Caboose, `Electron went on, `Cabriolet. What the hell is a

Cabriolet? Do you know?'

`Yeah,' Phoenix answered, then rushed on. `OK. Cacao. Cache. Cachet

...'


`Tell us. What is it?' Electron cut Phoenix off.

`Cachinnation. Cachou ...'

`Do you know?' Electron asked again, slightly irritated. As usual,

Phoenix was claiming to know things he probably didn't.

`Hmm? Uh, yeah,' Phoenix answered weakly. `Cackle. Cacophony ...'

Electron knew that particular Phoenix `yeah'--the one which said `yes'

but meant `no, and I don't want to own up to it either so let's drop

it'.


Electron made it a habit not to believe most of the things Phoenix

told him. Unless there was some solid proof, Electron figured it was

just hot air. He didn't actually like Phoenix much as a person, and

found talking to him difficult at times. He preferred the company of

his fellow hacker Powerspike.

Powerspike was both bright and creative. Electron clicked with him.

They often joked about the other's bad taste in music. Powerspike

liked heavy metal, and Electron liked indie music. They shared a

healthy disrespect for authority. Not just the authority of places

they hacked into, like the US Naval Research Laboratories or NASA, but

the authority of The Realm. When it came to politics, they both leaned

to the left. However, their interest tended more toward

anarchy--opposing symbols of the military-industrial complex--than to

joining a political party.

After their expulsion from The Realm, Electron had been a little

isolated for a time. The tragedy of his personal life had contributed

to the isolation. At the age of eight, he had seen his mother die of

lung cancer. He hadn't witnessed the worst parts of her dying over two

years, as she had spent some time in a German cancer clinic hoping for

a reprieve. She had, however, come home to die, and Electron had

watched her fade away.

When the phone call from hospital came one night, Electron could tell

what had happened from the serious tones of the adults. He burst into

tears. He could hear his father answering questions on the phone. Yes,

the boy had taken it hard. No, his sister seemed to be OK. Two years

younger than Electron, she was too young to understand.

Electron had never been particularly close to his sister. He viewed

her as an unfeeling, shallow person--someone who simply skimmed along

the surface of life. But after their mother's death, their father

began to favour Electron's sister, perhaps because of her resemblance

to his late wife. This drove a deeper, more subtle wedge between

brother and sister.

Electron's father, a painter who taught art at a local high school,

was profoundly affected by his wife's death. Despite some barriers of

social class and money, theirs had been a marriage of great affection

and love and they made a happy home. Electron's father's paintings

hung on almost every wall in the house, but after his wife's death he

put down his brushes and never took them up again. He didn't talk

about it. Once, Electron asked him why he didn't paint any more. He

looked away and told Electron that he had `lost the motivation'.

Electron's grandmother moved into the home to help her son care for

his two children, but she developed Alzheimer's disease. The children

ended up caring for her. As a teenager, Electron thought it was

maddening caring for someone who couldn't even remember your name.

Eventually, she moved into a nursing home.

In August 1989, Electron's father arrived home from the doctor's

office. He had been mildly ill for some time, but refused to take time

off work to visit a doctor. He was proud of having taken only one

day's sick leave in the last five years. Finally, in the holidays, he

had seen a doctor who had conducted numerous tests. The results had

come in.

Electron's father had bowel cancer and the disease had spread. It

could not be cured. He had two years to live at the most.

Electron was nineteen years old at the time, and his early love of the

computer, and particularly the modem, had already turned into a

passion. Several years earlier his father, keen to encourage his

fascination with the new machines, used to bring one of the school's

Apple IIes home over weekends and holidays. Electron spent hours at

the borrowed machine. When he wasn't playing on the computer, he read,

plucking one of his father's spy novels from the over-crowded

bookcases, or his own favourite book, The Lord of The Rings.

Computer programming had, however, captured the imagination of the

young Electron years before he used his first computer. At the age of

eleven he was using books to write simple programs on paper--mostly

games--despite the fact that he had never actually touched a keyboard.

His school may have had a few computers, but its administrators had

little understanding of what to do with them. In year 9, Electron had

met with the school's career counsellor, hoping to learn about career

options working with computers.

`I think maybe I'd like to do a course in computer programming ...'

His voice trailed off, hesitantly.

`Why would you want to do that?' she said. `Can't you think of

anything better than that?'

`Uhm ...' Electron was at a loss. He didn't know what to do. That was

why he had come to her. He cast around for something which seemed a

more mainstream career option but which might also let him work on

computers. `Well, accounting maybe?'

`Oh yes, that's much better,' she said.

`You can probably even get into a university, and study accounting

there. I'm sure you will enjoy it,' she added, smiling as she closed

his file.

The borrowed computers were, in Electron's opinion, one of the few

good things about school. He did reasonably well at school, but only

because it didn't take much effort. Teachers consistently told his

father that Electron was underachieving and that he distracted the

other students in class. For the most part, the criticism was just

low-level noise. Occasionally, however, Electron had more serious

run-ins with his teachers. Some thought he was gifted. Others thought

the freckle-faced, Irish-looking boy who helped his friends set fire

to textbooks at the back of the class was nothing but a smart alec.

When he was sixteen, Electron bought his own computer. He used it to

crack software protection, just as Par had done. The Apple was soon

replaced by a more powerful Amiga with a 20 megabyte IBM compatible

sidecar. The computers lived, in succession, on one of the two desks

in his bedroom. The second desk, for his school work, was usually

piled high with untouched assignments.

The most striking aspect of Electron's room was the ream after ream of

dot matrix computer print-out which littered the floor. Standing at

almost any point in the simply furnished room, someone could reach out

and grab at least one pile of print-outs, most of which contained

either usernames and passwords or printed computer program code. In

between the piles of print-outs, were T-shirts, jeans, sneakers and

books on the floor. It was impossible to walk across Electron's room

without stepping on something.

The turning point for Electron was the purchase of a second-hand 300

baud modem in 1986. Overnight, the modem transformed Electron's love

of the computer into an obsession. During the semester immediately

before the modem's arrival, Electron's report card showed six As and

one B. The following semester he earned six Bs and only one A.

Electron had moved onto bigger and better things than school. He

quickly became a regular user of underground BBSes and began hacking.

He was enthralled by an article he discovered describing how several

hackers claimed to have moved a satellite around in space simply by

hacking computers. From that moment on, Electron decided he wanted to

hack--to find out if the article was true.

Before he graduated from school in 1987, Electron had hacked NASA, an

achievement which saw him dancing around the dining room table in the

middle of the night chanting, `I got into NASA! I got into NASA!' He

hadn't moved any satellites, but getting into the space agency was as

thrilling as flying to the moon.

By 1989, he had been hacking regularly for years, much to the chagrin

of his sister, who claimed her social life suffered because the

family's sole phone line was always tied up by the modem.

For Phoenix, Electron was a partner in hacking, and to a lesser degree

a mentor. Electron had a lot to offer, by that time even more than The

Realm.


`Cactus, Cad, Cadaver, Caddis, Cadence, Cadet, Caesura. What the fuck

is a Caesura?' Phoenix kept ploughing through the Cs.

`Dunno. Kill that,' Electron answered, distracted.

`Caesura. Well, fuck. I know I'd wanna use that as a password.'

Phoenix laughed. `What the hell kind of word is Caduceus?'

`A dead one. Kill all those. Who makes up these dictionaries?'

Electron said.

`Yeah.'


`Caisson, Calabash. Kill those. Kill, kill, kill,' Electron said

gleefully.

`Hang on. How come I don't have Calabash in my list?' Phoenix feigned

indignation.

Electron laughed.

`Hey,' Phoenix said, `we should put in words like "Qwerty" and

"ABCDEF" and "ASDFGH".'

`Did that already.' Electron had already put together a list of other

common passwords, such as the `words' made when a user typed the six

letters in the first alphabet row on a keyboard.

Phoenix started on the list again. `OK the COs. Commend, Comment,

Commerce, Commercial, Commercialism, Commercially. Kill those last

three.'

`Huh? Why kill Commercial?'



`Let's just kill all the words with more than eight characters,'

Phoenix said.

`No. That's not a good idea.'

`How come? The computer's only going to read the first eight

characters and encrypt those. So we should kill all the rest.'

Sometimes Phoenix just didn't get it. But Electron didn't rub it in.

He kept it low-key, so as not to bruise Phoenix's ego. Often Electron

sensed Phoenix sought approval from the older hacker, but it was a

subtle, perhaps even unconscious search.

`Nah,' Electron began, `See, someone might use the whole word,

Commerce or Commercial. The first eight letters of these words are not

the same. The eighth character in Commerce is "e", but in Commercial

it's "i".'

There was a short silence.

`Yeah,' Electron went on, `but you could kill all the words

like Commercially, and Commercialism, that come after Commercial.

See?'

`Yeah. OK. I see,' Phoenix said.



`But don't just kill every word longer than eight characters,'

Electron added.

`Hmm. OK. Yeah, all right.' Phoenix seemed a bit out of sorts. `Hey,'

he brightened a bit, `it's been a whole ten minutes since my machine

crashed.'

`Yeah?' Electron tried to sound interested.

`Yeah. You know,' Phoenix changed the subject to his favourite topic,

`what we really need is Deszip. Gotta get that.' Deszip was a computer

program which could be used for password cracking.

`And Zardoz. We need Zardoz,' Electron added. Zardoz was a restricted

electronic publication detailing computer security holes.

`Yeah. Gotta try to get into Spaf's machine. Spaf'll have it for

sure.' Eugene Spafford, Associate Professor of Computer Science at

Purdue University in the US, was one of the best known computer

security experts on the Internet in 1990.

`Yeah.'


And so began their hunt for the holy grail.
[ ]

Deszip and Zardoz glittered side by side as the most coveted prizes in

the world of the international Unix hacker.

Cracking passwords took time and computer resources. Even a moderately

powerful university machine would grunt and groan under the weight of

the calculations if it was asked to do. But the Deszip program could

change that, lifting the load until it was, by comparison,

feather-light. It worked at breathtaking speed and a hacker using

Deszip could crack encrypted passwords up to 25 times faster.

Zardoz, a worldwide security mailing list, was also precious, but for

a different reason. Although the mailing list's formal name was

Security Digest, everyone in the underground simply called it Zardoz,

after the computer from which the mailouts originated. Zardoz also

happened to be the name of a science fiction cult film starring Sean

Connery. Run by Neil Gorsuch, the Zardoz mailing list contained

articles, or postings, from various members of the computer security

industry. The postings discussed newly discovered bugs--problems with

a computer system which could be exploited to break into or gain root

access on a machine. The beauty of the bugs outlined in Zardoz was

that they worked on any computer system using the programs or

operating systems it described. Any university, any military system,

any research institute which ran the software documented in Zardoz was

vulnerable. Zardoz was a giant key ring, full of pass keys made to fit

virtually every lock.

True, system administrators who read a particular Zardoz posting might

take steps to close up that security hole. But as the hacking

community knew well, it was a long time between a Zardoz posting and a

shortage of systems with that hole. Often a bug worked on many

computers for months--sometimes years--after being announced on

Zardoz.


Why? Many admins had never heard of the bug when it was first

announced. Zardoz was an exclusive club, and most admins simply

weren't members. You couldn't just walk in off the street and sign up

for Zardoz. You had to be vetted by peers in the computer security

industry. You had to administer a legitimate computer system,

preferably with a large institution such as a university or a research

body such as CSIRO. Figuratively speaking, the established members of

the Zardoz mailing list peered down their noses at you and determined

if you were worthy of inclusion in Club Zardoz. Only they decided if

you were trustworthy enough to share in the great security secrets of

the world's computer systems.

In 1989, the white hats, as hackers called the professional security

gurus, were highly paranoid about Zardoz getting into the wrong hands.

So much so, in fact, that many postings to Zardoz were fine examples

of the art of obliqueness. A computer security expert would hint at a

new bug in his posting without actually coming out and explaining it

in what is commonly referred to as a `cookbook' explanation.

This led to a raging debate within the comp-sec industry. In one

corner, the cookbook purists said that bulletins such as Zardoz were

only going to be helpful if people were frank with each other. They

wanted people posting to Zardoz to provide detailed, step-by-step

explanations on how to exploit a particular security hole. Hackers

would always find out about bugs one way or another and the best way

to keep them out of your system was to secure it properly in the first

place. They wanted full disclosure.

In the other corner, the hard-line, command-and-control computer

security types argued that posting an announcement to Zardoz posed the

gravest of security risks. What if Zardoz fell into the wrong hands?

Why, any sixteen-year-old hacker would have step-by-step directions

showing how to break into thousands of individual computers! If you

had to reveal a security flaw--and the jury was still out in their

minds as to whether that was such a good idea--it should be done only

in the most oblique terms.

What the hard-liners failed to understand was that world-class hackers

like Electron could read the most oblique, carefully crafted Zardoz

postings and, within a matter of days if not hours, work out exactly

how to exploit the security hole hinted at in the text. After which

they could just as easily have written a cookbook version of the

security bug.

Most good hackers had come across one or two issues of Zardoz in their

travels, often while rummaging though the system administrator's mail

on a prestigious institution's computer. But no-one from the elite of

the Altos underground had a full archive of all the back issues. The

hacker who possessed that would have details of every major security

hole discovered by the world's best computer security minds since at

least 1988.

Like Zardoz, Deszip was well guarded. It was written by computer

security expert Dr Matthew Bishop, who worked at NASA's Research

Institute for Advanced Computer Science before taking up a teaching

position at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in New Hampshire. The

United States government deemed Deszip's very fast encryption

algorithms to be so important, they were classified as armaments. It

was illegal to export them from the US.

Of course, few hackers in 1990 had the sophistication to use weapons

such as Zardoz and Deszip properly. Indeed, few even knew they

existed. But Electron and Phoenix knew, along with a tiny handful of

others, including Pad and Gandalf from Britain. Congregating on Altos

in Germany, they worked with a select group of others carefully

targeting sites likely to contain parts of their holy grail. They were

methodical and highly strategic, piecing information together with

exquisite, almost forensic, skill. While the common rabble of other

hackers were thumping their heads against walls in brute-force attacks

on random machines, these hackers spent their time hunting for

strategic pressure points--the Achilles' heels of the computer

security community.

They had developed an informal hit list of machines, most of which


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