belonged to high-level computer security gurus. Finding one or two
early issues of Zardoz, Electron had combed through their postings
looking not just on the surface--for the security bugs--but also
paying careful attention to the names and addresses of the people
writing articles. Authors who appeared frequently in Zardoz, or had
something intelligent to say, went on the hit list. It was those
people who were most likely to keep copies of Deszip or an archive of
Zardoz on their machines.
Electron had searched across the world for information about Deszip
and DES (Data Encryption Standard), the original encryption program
later used in Deszip. He hunted through computers at the University of
New York, the US Naval Research Laboratories in Washington DC,
Helsinki University of Technology, Rutgers University in New Jersey,
Melbourne University and Tampere University in Finland, but the search
bore little fruit. He found a copy of CDES, a public domain encryption
program which used the DES algorithm, but not Deszip. CDES could be
used to encrypt files but not to crack passwords.
The two Australian hackers had, however, enjoyed a small taste of
Deszip. In 1989 they had broken into a computer at Dartmouth College
called Bear. They discovered Deszip carefully tucked away in a corner
of Bear and had spirited a copy of the program away to a safer machine
at another institution.
It turned out to be a hollow victory. That copy of Deszip had been
encrypted with Crypt, a program based on the German Enigma machine
used in World War II. Without the passphrase--the key to unlock the
encryption--it was impossible to read Deszip. All they could do was
stare, frustrated, at the file name Deszip labelling a treasure just
out of reach.
Undaunted, the hackers decided to keep the encrypted file just in case
they ever came across the passphrase somewhere--in an email letter,
for example--in one of the dozens of new computers they now hacked
regularly. Relabelling the encrypted Deszip file with a more innocuous
name, they stored the copy in a dark corner of another machine.
Thinking it wise to buy a little insurance as well, they gave a second
copy of the encrypted Deszip to Gandalf, who stored it on a machine in
the UK in case the Australians' copy disappeared unexpectedly.
In January 1990, Electron turned his attention to getting Zardoz.
After carefully reviewing an old copy of Zardoz, he had discovered a
system admin in Melbourne on the list. The subscriber could well have
the entire Zardoz archive on his machine, and that machine was so
close--less than half an hour's drive from Electron's home. All
Electron had to do was to break into the CSIRO.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or
CSIRO, is a government owned and operated research body with many
offices around Australia. Electron only wanted to get into one: the
Division of Information Technology at 55 Barry Street, Carlton, just
around the corner from the University of Melbourne.
Rummaging through a Melbourne University computer, Electron had
already found one copy of the Zardoz archive, belonging to a system
admin. He gathered it up and quietly began downloading it to his
computer, but as his machine slowly siphoned off the Zardoz copy, his
link to the university abruptly went dead. The admin had discovered
the hacker and quickly killed the connection. All of which left
Electron back at square one--until he found another copy of Zardoz on
the CSIRO machine.
It was nearly 3 a.m. on 1 February 1990, but Electron wasn't tired.
His head was buzzing. He had just successfully penetrated an account
called Worsley on the CSIRO computer called
DITMELA, using the sendmail bug. Electron assumed
DITMELA stood for Division of Information Technology, Melbourne,
Electron began sifting through Andrew Worsley's directories that day.
He knew Zardoz was in there somewhere, since he had seen it before.
After probing the computer, experimenting with different security
holes hoping one would let him inside, Electron managed to slip in
unnoticed. It was mid-afternoon, a bad time to hack a computer since
someone at work would likely spot the intruder before long. So
Electron told himself this was just a reconnaissance mission. Find out
if Zardoz was on the machine, then get out of there fast and come back
later--preferably in the middle of the night--to pull Zardoz out.
When he found a complete collection of Zardoz in Worsley's directory,
Electron was tempted to try a grab and run. The problem was that, with
his slow modem, he couldn't run very quickly. Downloading Zardoz would
take several hours. Quashing his overwhelming desire to reach out and
grab Zardoz then and there, he slipped out of the machine noiselessly.
Early next morning, an excited and impatient Electron crept back into
DITMELA and headed straight for Worsley's directory. Zardoz was still
there. And a sweet irony. Electron was using a security bug he had
found on an early issue of Zardoz to break into the computer which
would surrender the entire archive to him.
Getting Zardoz out of the CSIRO machine was going to be a little
difficult. It was a big archive and at 300 baud--30 characters per
second--Electron's modem would take five hours to siphon off an entire
copy. Using the CAT command, Electron made copies of all the Zardoz
issues and bundled them up into one 500 k file. He called the new file
.t and stored it in the temporary directory on DITMELA.
Then he considered what to do next. He would mail the Zardoz bundle to
another account outside the CSIRO computer, for safe-keeping. But
after that he had to make a choice: try to download the thing himself
or hang up, call Phoenix and ask him to download it.
Using his 2400 baud modem, Phoenix would be able to download the
Zardoz bundle eight times faster than Electron could. On the other
hand, Electron didn't particularly want to give Phoenix access to the
CSIRO machine. They had both been targeting the machine, but he hadn't
told Phoenix that he had actually managed to get in. It wasn't that he
planned on withholding Zardoz when he got it. Quite the contrary,
Electron wanted Phoenix to read the security file so they could bounce
ideas off each other. When it came to accounts, however, Phoenix had a
way of messing things up. He talked too much. He was simply not
While Electron considered his decision, his fingers kept working at
the keyboard. He typed quickly, mailing copies of the Zardoz bundle to
two hacked student accounts at Melbourne University. With the
passwords to both accounts, he could get in whenever he wanted and he
wasn't taking any chances with this precious cargo. Two accounts were
safer than one--a main account and a back-up in case someone changed
the password on the first one.
Then, as the DITMELA machine was still in the process of mailing the
Zardoz bundle off to the back-up sites, Electron's connection suddenly
The CSIRO machine had hung up on him, which probably meant one thing.
a system administrator doing on a computer at this hour? The admin was
supposed to be asleep! That's why Electron logged on when he did. He
had seen Zardoz on the CSIRO machine the day before but he had been so
patient refusing to touch it because the risk of discovery was too
great. And now this.
The only hope was to call Phoenix and get him to login to the
Melbourne Uni accounts to see if the mail had arrived safely. If so,
he could download it with his faster modem before the CSIRO admin had
time to warn the Melbourne Uni admin, who would change the passwords.
Electron got on the phone to Phoenix. They had long since stopped
caring about what time of day they rang each other. 10 p.m. 2 a.m.
4.15 a.m. 6.45 a.m.
`Yeah.' Electron greeted Phoenix in the usual way.
`Yup,' Phoenix responded.
Electron told Phoenix what happened and gave him the two accounts at
Melbourne University where he had mailed the Zardoz bundle.
Phoenix hung up and rang back a few minutes later. Both accounts were
dead. Someone from Melbourne University had gone in and changed the
passwords within 30 minutes of Electron being booted off the CSIRO
computer. Both hackers were disturbed by the implications of this
event. It meant someone--in fact probably several people--were onto
them. But their desperation to get Zardoz overcame their fear.
Electron had one more account on the CSIRO computer. He didn't want to
give it to Phoenix, but he didn't have a choice. Still, the whole
venture was filled with uncertainty. Who knew if the Zardoz bundle was
still there? Surely an admin who bothered to kick Electron out would
move Zardoz to somewhere inaccessible. There was, however, a single
When Electron read off the password and username, he told Phoenix to
of trying to download it to his own computer. It would be much
quicker, and the CSIRO admin wouldn't dare break into someone else's
computers to delete the copied file. Choosing overseas sites would
make it even harder for the admin to reach the admins of those
machines and warn them in time. Then, once Zardoz was safely tucked
away in a few back-up sites, Phoenix could download it over the
Internet from one of those with less risk of being booted off the
machine halfway through the process.
Sitting at his home in Kelvin Grove, Thornbury, just two suburbs north
of the CSIRO machine, Ian Mathieson watched the hacker break into his
computer again. Awoken by a phone call at 2.30 a.m. telling him there
was a suspected hacker in his computer, Mathieson immediately logged
in to his work system, DITMELA, via his home computer and modem. The
call, from David Hornsby of the Melbourne University Computer Science
Department, was no false alarm.
After watching the unknown hacker, who had logged in through a
Melbourne University machine terminal server, for about twenty
minutes, Mathieson booted the hacker off his system. Afterwards he
noticed that the DITMELA computer was still trying to execute a
command issued by the hacker. He looked a little closer, and
discovered DITMELA was trying to deliver mail to two Melbourne
The mail, however, hadn't been completely delivered. It was still
sitting in the mail spool, a temporary holding pen for undelivered
mail. Curious as to what the hacker would want so much from his
system, Mathieson moved the file into a subdirectory to look at it. He
was horrified to find the entire Zardoz archive, and he knew exactly
what it meant. These were no ordinary hackers--they were precision
fliers. Fortunately, Mathieson
consoled himself, he had stopped the mail before it had been sent out
and secured it.
Unfortunately, however, Mathieson had missed Electron's original
file--the bundle of Zardoz copies. When Electron had mailed the file,
he had copied it, leaving the original intact. They were still sitting
on DITMELA under the unassuming name .t. Mailing a file didn't delete
it--the computer only sent a copy of the original. Mathieson was an
intelligent man, a medical doctor with a master's degree in computer
science, but he had forgotten to check the temporary directory, one of
the few places a hacker could store files on a Unix system if he
didn't have root privileges.
At exactly 3.30 a.m. Phoenix logged into DITMELA from the University
of Texas. He quickly looked in the temporary directory. The .t file
was there, just as Electron had said it would be. The hacker quickly
began transferring it back to the University of Texas.
He was feeling good. It looked like the Australians were going to get
the entire Zardoz collection after all. Everything was going extremely
well--until the transfer suddenly died. Phoenix had forgotten to check
that there was enough disk space available on the University of Texas
account to download the sizeable Zardoz bundle. Now, as he was logged
into a very hot machine, a machine where the admin could well be
watching his every move, he discovered there wasn't enough room for
the Zardoz file.
Aware that every second spent on-line to DITMELA posed a serious risk,
Phoenix logged off the CSIRO machine immediately. Still connected to
the Texas computer, he fiddled around with it, deleting other files
and making enough room to pull the whole 500 k Zardoz file across.
At 3.37 a.m. Phoenix entered DITMELA again. This time, he vowed,
nothing would go wrong. He started up the file transfer and waited.
Less than ten minutes later, he logged off the CSIRO computer and
nervously checked the University of Texas system. It was there.
Zardoz, in all its glory. And it was his! Phoenix was ecstatic.
He wasn't done yet and there was no time for complacency. Swiftly, he
began compressing and encrypting Zardoz. He
compressed it because a smaller file was less obvious on the Texas
machine and was faster to send to a back-up machine. He encrypted it
so no-one nosing around the file would be able to see what was in it.
He wasn't just worried about system admins; the Texas system was
riddled with hackers, in part because it was home to his friend,
Legion of Doom hacker Erik Bloodaxe, a
student at the university.
After Phoenix was satisfied Zardoz was safe, he rang Electron just
before 4 a.m. with the good news. By 8.15, Phoenix had downloaded
Zardoz from the Texas computer onto his own machine. By 1.15 p.m.,
Electron had downloaded it from Phoenix's machine to his own.
Zardoz had been a difficult conquest, but Deszip would prove to be
even more so. While dozens of security experts possessed complete
Zardoz archives, far fewer people had Deszip. And, at least
officially, all of them were in the US.
The US government banned the export of cryptography algorithms. To
send a copy of Deszip, or DES or indeed any other encryption program
outside the US was a crime. It was illegal because the US State
Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls considered any
encryption program to be a weapon. ITAR, the International Traffic in
Arms Regulations stemming from the US Arms Export Control Act 1977,
restricted publication of and trad in `defense articles'. It didn't
matter whether you flew to Europe with a disk in your pocket, or you
sent the material over the Internet. If you violated ITAR, you faced
the prospect of prison.
Occasionally, American computer programmers discreetly slipped copies
of encryption programs to specialists in their field outside the US.
Once the program was outside the US, it was fair game--there was
nothing US authorities could do about someone in Norway sending Deszip
to a colleague in Australia. But even so, the comp-sec and
cryptography communities outside the US still held programs such as
Deszip very tightly within their own inner sanctums.
All of which meant that Electron and Phoenix would almost certainly
have to target a site in the US. Electron continued to compile a hit
list, based on the Zardoz mailing list, which he gave to Phoenix. The
two hackers then began searching the growing Internet for computers
belonging to the targets.
It was an impressive hit list. Matthew Bishop, author of Deszip.
Russell Brand, of the Lawrence Livermore National Labs, a research
laboratory funded by the US Department of Energy. Dan Farmer, an
author of the computer program COPS, a popular security-testing
program which included a password cracking program. There were others.
And, at the top of the list, Eugene Spafford, or Spaf, as the hackers
By 1990, the computer underground viewed Spaf not just as security
guru, but also as an anti-hacker zealot. Spaf was based at Purdue
University, a hotbed of computer security experts. Bishop had earned
his PhD at Purdue and Dan Farmer was still there. Spaf was also one of
the founders of usenet, the Internet newsgroups service. While working
as a computer scientist at the university, he had made a name for
himself by, among other things, writing a technical analysis of the
RTM worm. The worm, authored by Cornell University student Robert T.
Morris Jr in 1988, proved to be a boon for Spaf's career.
Prior to the RTM worm, Spaf had been working in software engineering.
After the worm, he became a computer ethicist and a very public
spokesman for the conservatives in the computer security industry.
Spaf went on tour across the US, lecturing the public and the media on
worms, viruses and the ethics of hacking. During the Morris case,
hacking became a hot topic in the United States, and Spaf fed the
flames. When Judge Howard G. Munson refused to sentence Morris to
prison, instead ordering him to complete 400 hours community service,
pay a $10000 fine and submit to three years probation, Spaf publicly
railed against the decision. The media reported that he had called on
the computer industry to boycott any company which chose to employ
Robert T. Morris Jr.
Targeting Spaf therefore served a dual purpose for the Australian
hackers. He was undoubtedly a repository of treasures such as Deszip,
and he was also a tall poppy.
One night, Electron and Phoenix decided to break into Spaf's machine
at Purdue to steal a copy of Deszip. Phoenix would do the actual
hacking, since he had the fast modem, but he would talk to Electron
simultaneously on the other phone line. Electron would guide him at
each step. That way, when Phoenix hit a snag, he wouldn't have to
retreat to regroup and risk discovery.
Both hackers had managed to break into another computer at Purdue,
called Medusa. But Spaf had a separate machine, Uther, which was
connected to Medusa.
Phoenix poked and prodded at Uther, trying to open a hole wide enough
for him to crawl through. At Electron's suggestion, he tried to use
the CHFN bug. The CHFN command lets users change the information
provided--such as their name, work address or office phone
number--when someone `fingers' their accounts. The bug had appeared in
one of the Zardoz files and Phoenix and Electron had already used it
to break into several other machines.
Electron wanted to use the CHFN bug because, if the attack was
successful, Phoenix would be able to make a root account for himself
on Spaf's machine. That would be the ultimate slap in the face to a
high-profile computer security guru.
But things weren't going well for Phoenix. The frustrated Australian
hacker kept telling Electron that the bug should work, but it
wouldn't, and he couldn't figure out why. The problem, Electron
finally concluded, was that Spaf's machine was a Sequent. The CHFN bug
depended on a particular Unix password file structure, but Sequents
used a different structure. It didn't help that Phoenix didn't know
that much about Sequents--they were one of Gandalf's specialties.
After a few exasperating hours struggling to make the CHFN bug work,
Phoenix gave up and turned to another security flaw suggested by
Electron: the FTP bug. Phoenix ran through the bug in his mind.
Normally, someone used FTP, or file transfer protocol, to transfer
files over a network, such as the Internet, from one computer to
another. FTPing to another machine was a bit like telnetting, but the
user didn't need a password to login and the commands he could execute
once in the other computer were usually very limited.
If it worked, the FTP bug would allow Phoenix to slip in an extra
command during the FTP login process. That command would force Spaf's
machine to allow Phoenix to login as anyone he wanted--and what he
wanted was to login as someone who had root privileges. The `root'
account might be a little obvious
if anyone was watching, and it didn't always have remote
access anyway. So he chose `daemon', another commonly root-privileged
It was a shot in the dark. Phoenix was fairly sure Spaf would have
secured his machine against such an obvious attack, but Electron urged
him to give it a try anyway. The FTP bug had been announced throughout
the computer security community long ago, appearing in an early issue
of Zardoz. Phoenix hesitated, but he had run out of ideas, and time.
FTP -i uther.purdue.edu
quote user anonymous
quote cd ~daemon
quote pass anything
The few seconds it took for his commands to course from his suburban
home in Melbourne and race deep into the Midwest felt like a lifetime.
He wanted Spaf's machine, wanted Deszip, and wanted this attack to
work. If he could just get Deszip, he felt the Australians would be
Spaf's machine opened its door as politely as a doorman at the Ritz
Carlton. Phoenix smiled at his computer. He was in.
It was like being in Aladdin's cave. Phoenix just sat there, stunned
at the bounty which lay before him. It was his, all his. Spaf had
megabytes of security files in his directories. Source code for the
RTM Internet worm. Source code for the WANK worm. Everything. Phoenix
wanted to plunge his hands in each treasure chest and scoop out greedy
handfuls, but he resisted the urge. He had a more important--a more
strategic--mission to accomplish first.
He prowled through the directories, hunting everywhere for Deszip.
Like a burglar scouring the house for the family silver, he pawed
through directory after directory. Surely, Spaf had to have Deszip. If
anyone besides Matthew Bishop was going to have a copy, he would. And
finally, there it was. Deszip. Just waiting for Phoenix.
Then Phoenix noticed something else. Another file. Curiosity got the
better of him and he zoomed in to have a quick look. This one
contained a passphrase--the passphrase. The phrase the Australians
needed to decrypt the original copy of Deszip they had stolen from the
Bear computer at Dartmouth three months earlier. Phoenix couldn't
believe the passphrase. It was so simple, so obvious. But he caught