hurricanes heading directly into a continental land-mass it had started
out big and ended up small. News reports followed this pattern, with a
large amount of material on its initial impact, but little or nothing
about subsequent events. Finally I obtained detailed time by velocity
weather maps from the National Reconnaissance Office, which showed the
remaining Hugo epicentre ripping through Charlotte NC (pop. 400k)
before spending itself on the Carolinas. Database searches turned up a
report by Natalie, D. & Ball, W, EIS Coordinator, North Carolina
Emergency Management, `How North Carolina Managed Hurricane Hugo' --
which was used to flesh out the scenes in Chapter 4 describing Par's
escape to New York via the Charlotte Airport.
Old Fashioned gum-shoe leg-work, calling every motel in Black Mountain
and the surrounding area, revealed that the Black Mountain Motel had
changed name, ownership and.. all its staff. Par's story was holding,
but in some ways I wished it hadn't. We were back to square one in terms
of gaining independent secondary confirmation.
Who else could have been involved? There must have been a paper-trail
outside of Washington. Perhaps the SS representation in Charlotte had
something? No. Perhaps there were records of the warrants in the
Charlotte courts? No. Perhaps NC state police attended the SS raid in
support? Maybe, but finding warm bodies who had been directly involved
proved proved futile. If it was a SS case, they had no indexable
records that they were willing to provide. What about the local
coppers? An SS raid on a fugitive computer hacker holed up at one of
the local motels was not the sort of event that would be likely to have
passed unnoticed at the Black Mountain county police office, indexable
records or not.
Neither however, were international telephone calls from strangely
accented foreign-nationals wanting to know about them. Perhaps the Reds
were no-longer under the beds, but in Black Mountain, this could be
explained away by the fact they were now hanging out in phone booths. I
waited for a new shift at the Black Mountain county police office,
hoping against hope, that the officer I had spoken to wouldn't
contaminate his replacement. Shamed, I resorted to using that most
special of US militia infiltration devices. An American accent and a
woman's touch. Suelette weaved her magic. The Black Mountain raid had
taken place. The county police had supported it. We had our
While this anecdote is a strong account, it's also representative one.
Every chapter in underground was formed from many stories like
it. They're unseen, because a book must not be true merely in details.
It must be true in feeling.
True to the visible and the invisible. A difficult combination.
1 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 1
2 The Corner Pub 45
3 The American Connection 84
4 The Fugitive 120
5 The Holy Grail 159
6 Page One, the New York Times 212
7 Judgment Day 244
8 The International Subversives 285
9 Operation Weather 323
10 Anthrax--the Outsider 364
11 The Prisoner's Dilemma 400
Afterword 427 Glossary and Abbreviations 455 Notes 460
[ Page numbers above correspond to the Random House printed edition ]
others who helped in providing documents so vital for fact
checking. Often this help invovled spending a considerable amount of
time explaining complex technical or legal matters. I want to express
my gratitude to all these people, some of whom prefer to remain
anonymous, for their willingness to dig through the files in search of
yet one more report and their patience in answering yet one more
I want to thank the members of the computer underground, past and
present, who were interviewed for this book. Most gave me
extraordinary access to their lives, for which I am very grateful.
I also want to thank Julian Assange for his tireless research efforts.
His superb technical expertise and first-rate research is evidence by
the immense number of details which are included in this book.
Three exceptional women -- Fiona Inglis, Deb Callaghan and Jennifer
Byrne -- believed in my vision for this book and helped me to bring it
to fruition. Carl Harrison-Ford's excellent editing job streamlined a
large and difficult manuscript despite the tight deadline. Thank you
also to Judy Brookes.
I am also very grateful to the following people and organisations for
their help (in no particular order): John McMahon, Ron Tencati, Kevin
Oberman, Ray Kaplan, the New York Daily News library staff, the New
York Post library staff, Bow Street Magistrates Court staff, Southwark
Court staff, the US Secret Service, the Black Mountain Police, Michael
Rosenberg, Michael Rosen, Melbourne Magistrates Court staff, D.L
Sellers & Co. staff, Victorian County Court staff, Paul Galbally, Mark
Dorset, Suburbia.net, Freeside Communications, Greg Hooper, H&S
Support Services, Peter Andrews, Kevin Thompson, Andrew Weaver,
Mukhtar Hussain, Midnight Oil, Helen Meredith, Ivan Himmelhoch,
Michael Hall, Donn Ferris, Victorian State Library staff, News Limited
library staff (Sydney), Allan Young, Ed DeHart, Annette Seeber, Arthur
Arkin, Doug Barnes, Jeremy Porter, James McNabb, Carolyn Ford, ATA,
Domini Banfield, Alistair Kelman, Ann-Maree Moodie, Jane Hutchinson,
Catherine Murphy, Norma Hawkins, N. Llewelyn, Christine Assange,
Russel Brand, Matthew Bishop, Matthew Cox, Michele Ziehlky, Andrew
James, Brendan McGrath, Warner Chappell Music Australia, News Limited,
Pearson Williams Solicitors, Tami Friedman, the Free Software
Foundation (GNU Project), and the US Department of Energy Computer
Incident Advisory Capability.
Finally, I would like to thank my family, whose unfailing support,
advice and encouragement have made this book possible.
My great aunt used to paint underwater.
Piling on the weighty diving gear used in 1939 and looking like
something out of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lucie slowly sank below
the surface, with palette, special paints and canvas
in hand. She settled on the ocean floor, arranged her weighted
painter's easel and allowed herself to become completely enveloped by
another world. Red and white striped fish darted around fields of
blue-green coral and blue-lipped giant clams. Lionfish drifted by,
gracefully waving their dangerous feathered spines. Striped green
moray eels peered at her from their rock crevice homes.
Lucie dived and painted everywhere. The Sulu Archipelago. Mexico.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Hawaii. Borneo. Sometimes she was the
first white woman seen by the Pacific villagers she lived with for
months on end.
As a child, I was entranced by her stories of the unknown world below
the ocean's surface, and the strange and wonderful cultures she met on
her journeys. I grew up in awe of her chosen task: to capture on
canvas the essence of a world utterly foreign to her own.
New technology--revolutionary for its time--had allowed her to do
this. Using a compressor, or sometimes just a hand pump connected to
air hoses running to the surface, human beings were suddenly able to
submerge themselves for long periods in an otherwise inaccessible
world. New technology allowed her to both venture into this unexplored
realm, and to document it in canvas.
I came upon the brave new world of computer communications and its
darker side, the underground, quite by accident. It struck me
somewhere in the journey that followed that my trepidations and
conflicting desires to explore this alien world were perhaps not
unlike my aunt's own desires some half a century before. Like her
journey, my own travels have only been made possible by new
technologies. And like her, I have tried to capture a small corner of
This is a book about the computer underground. It is not a book about
law enforcement agencies, and it is not written from the point of view
of the police officer. From a literary perspective, I have told this
story through the eyes of numerous computer hackers. In doing so, I
hope to provide the reader with a window into a mysterious, shrouded
and usually inaccessible realm.
Who are hackers? Why do they hack? There are no simple answers to
these questions. Each hacker is different. To that end, I have
attempted to present a collection of individual but interconnected
stories, bound by their links to the international computer
underground. These are true stories, tales of the world's best and the
brightest hackers and phreakers. There are some members of the
underground whose stories I have not covered, a few of whom would also
rank as world-class. In the end, I chose to paint detailed portraits
of a few hackers rather than attempt to compile a comprehensive but
While each hacker has a distinct story, there are common themes which
appear throughout many of the stories. Rebellion against all symbols
of authority. Dysfunctional families. Bright children suffocated by
ill-equipped teachers. Mental illness or instability. Obsession and
I have endeavoured to track what happened to each character in this
work over time: the individual's hacking adventures, the police raid
and the ensuing court case. Some of those court cases have taken years
to reach completion.
Hackers use `handles'--on-line nicknames--that serve two purposes.
They shield the hacker's identity and, importantly, they often make a
statement about how the hacker perceives himself in the underground.
Hawk, Crawler, Toucan Jones, Comhack, Dataking, Spy, Ripmax, Fractal
Insanity, Blade. These are all real handles used in Australia.
In the computer underground, a hacker's handle is his name. For this
reason, and because most hackers in this work have now put together
new lives for themselves, I have chosen to use only their handles.
Where a hacker has had more than one handle, I have used the one he
Each chapter in this book is headed with a quote from a Midnight Oil
song which expresses an important aspect of the chapter. The Oilz are
uniquely Australian. Their loud voice of protest against the
establishment--particularly the military-industrial
establishment--echoes a key theme in the underground, where music in
general plays a vital role.
The idea for using these Oilz extracts came while researching Chapter
1, which reveals the tale of the WANK worm crisis in NASA. Next to the
RTM worm, WANK is the most famous worm in the history of computer
networks. And it is the first major worm bearing a political message.
With WANK, life imitated art, since the term computer `worm' came from
John Brunner's sci-fi novel, The Shockwave Rider, about a politically
The WANK worm is also believed to be the first worm written by an
Australian, or Australians.
This chapter shows the perspective of the computer system
administrators--the people on the other side from the hackers. Lastly,
it illustrates the sophistication which one or more Australian members
of the worldwide computer underground brought to their computer
The following chapters set the scene for the dramas which unfold and
of innocence, its closing ranks in ever smaller circles until it
reached the inevitable outcome: the lone hacker. In the beginning, the
computer underground was a place, like the corner pub, open and
friendly. Now, it has become an ephemeral expanse, where hackers
occasionally bump into one another but where the original sense of
open community has been lost.
The computer underground has changed over time, largely in response to
the introduction of new computer crime laws across the globe and to
numerous police crackdowns. This work attempts to document not only an
important piece of Australian history, but also to show fundamental
shifts in the underground --to show, in essence, how the underground
has moved further underground.
Somebody's out there, somebody's waiting
Somebody's trying to tell me something
-- from `Somebody's Trying to Tell Me Something', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6,
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil
Monday, 16 October 1989
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
NASA buzzed with the excitement of a launch. Galileo was finally going
Administrators and scientists in the world's most prestigious space
agency had spent years trying to get the unmanned probe into space.
Now, on Tuesday, 17 October, if all went well, the five astronauts in
the Atlantis space shuttle would blast off from the Kennedy Space
Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with Galileo in tow. On the team's
fifth orbit, as the shuttle floated 295 kilometres above the Gulf of
Mexico, the crew would liberate the three-tonne space probe.
An hour later, as Galileo skated safely away from the shuttle, the
probe's 32500 pound booster system would fire up and NASA staff would
watch this exquisite piece of human ingenuity embark on a six-year
mission to the largest planet in the solar system. Galileo would take
a necessarily circuitous route, flying by Venus once and Earth twice
in a gravitational slingshot effort to get up enough momentum to reach
NASA's finest minds had wrestled for years with the problem of exactly
how to get the probe across the solar system. Solar power was one
option. But if Jupiter was a long way from Earth, it was even further
from the Sun--778.3 million kilometres to be exact. Galileo would need
ridiculously large solar panels to generate enough power for its
instruments at such a distance from the Sun. In the end, NASA's
engineers decided on a tried if not true earthly energy source:
Nuclear power was perfect for space, a giant void free of human life
which could play host to a bit of radioactive plutonium 238 dioxide.
The plutonium was compact for the amount of energy it gave off--and it
lasted a long time. It seemed logical enough. Pop just under 24
kilograms of plutonium in a lead box, let it heat up through its own
decay, generate electricity for the probe's instruments, and presto!
Galileo would be on its way to investigate Jupiter.
American anti-nuclear activists didn't quite see it that way. They
figured what goes up might come down. And they didn't much like the idea
of plutonium rain. NASA assured them Galileo's power pack was quite
safe. The agency spent about $50 million on tests which supposedly
proved the probe's generators were very safe. They would survive intact
in the face of any number of terrible explosions, mishaps and
accidents. NASA told journalists that the odds of a plutonium release
due to `inadvertent atmospheric re-entry' were 1 in 2 million. The
likelihood of a plutonium radiation leak as a result of a launch
disaster was a reassuring 1 in 2700.
The activists weren't having a bar of it. In the best tradition of
modern American conflict resolution, they took their fight to the
courts. The coalition of anti-nuclear and other groups believed
America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration had
underestimated the odds of a plutonium accident and they wanted a US
District Court in Washington to stop the launch. The injunction
application went in, and the stakes went up. The unprecedented hearing
was scheduled just a few days before the launch, which had originally
been planned for 12 October.
For weeks, the protesters had been out in force, demonstrating and
seizing media attention. Things had become very heated. On Saturday, 7
October, sign-wielding activists fitted themselves out with gas masks
and walked around on street corners in nearby Cape Canaveral in
protest. At 8 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, NASA started the countdown
for the Thursday blast-off. But as Atlantis's clock began ticking
toward take-off, activists from the Florida Coalition for Peace and
Justice demonstrated at the centre's tourist complex.
That these protests had already taken some of the shine off NASA's bold
space mission was the least of the agency's worries. The real headache
was that the Florida Coalition told the media it would `put people on
the launchpad in a non-violent protest'.3 The coalition's director,
Bruce Gagnon, put the threat in folksy terms, portraying the protesters
as the little people rebelling against a big bad government
agency. President Jeremy Rivkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends,
another protest group, also drove a wedge between `the people' and
`NASA's people'. He told UPI, `The astronauts volunteered for this
mission. Those around the world who may be the victims of radiation
contamination have not volunteered.'4
But the protesters weren't the only people working the media. NASA
knew how to handle the press. They simply rolled out their
superstars--the astronauts themselves. These men and women were, after
all, frontier heroes who dared to venture into cold, dark space on
behalf of all humanity. Atlantis commander Donald Williams didn't hit
out at the protesters in a blunt fashion, he just damned them from an
aloof distance. `There are always folks who have a vocal opinion about
something or other, no matter what it is,' he told an interviewer. `On
the other hand, it's easy to carry a sign. It's not so easy to go
forth and do something worthwhile.'5
NASA had another trump card in the families of the heroes. Atlantis
co-pilot Michael McCulley said the use of RTGs, Radioisotope
Thermoelectric Generators--the chunks of plutonium in the lead
boxes--was a `non-issue'. So much so, in fact, that he planned to have
his loved ones at the Space Center when Atlantis took off.
Maybe the astronauts were nutty risk-takers, as the protesters
implied, but a hero would never put his family in danger. Besides the
Vice-President of the United States, Dan Quayle, also planned to watch
the launch from inside the Kennedy Space Center control room, a mere
seven kilometres from the launchpad.
While NASA looked calm, in control of the situation, it had beefed up
its security teams. It had about 200 security guards watching the
launch site. NASA just wasn't taking any chances. The agency's
scientists had waited too long for this moment. Galileo's parade would
not be rained on by a bunch of peaceniks.
The launch was already running late as it was--almost seven years
late. Congress gave the Galileo project its stamp of approval way back
in 1977 and the probe, which had been budgeted to cost about $400
million, was scheduled to be launched in 1982. However, things began
going wrong almost from the start.
In 1979, NASA pushed the flight out to 1984 because of shuttle
development problems. Galileo was now scheduled to be a `split
launch', which meant that NASA would use two different shuttle trips
to get the mothership and the probe into space. By 1981, with costs
spiralling upwards, NASA made major changes to the project. It stopped
work on Galileo's planned three-stage booster system in favour of a
different system and pushed out the launch deadline yet again, this
time to 1985. After a federal Budget cut fight in 1981 to save
Galileo's booster development program, NASA moved the launch yet
again, to May 1986. The 1986 Challenger disaster, however, saw NASA
change Galileo's booster system for safety reasons, resulting in
yet more delays.
The best option seemed to be a two-stage, solid-fuel IUS system. There
was only one problem. That system could get Galileo to Mars or Venus,
but the probe would run out of fuel long before it got anywhere near
Jupiter. Then Roger Diehl of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a good
idea. Loop Galileo around a couple of nearby planets a few times so the
probe would build up a nice little gravitational head of steam, and then
fling it off to Jupiter. Galileo's `VEEGA'
trajectory--Venus-Earth-Earth-gravity-assist--delayed the spacecraft's
arrival at Jupiter for three extra years, but it would get there
The anti-nuclear campaigners argued that each Earth flyby increased
the mission's risk of a nuclear accident. But in NASA's view, such was
the price of a successful slingshot.
Galileo experienced other delays getting off the ground. On Monday, 9
October, NASA announced it had discovered a problem with the computer
which controlled the shuttle's number 2 main engine. True, the problem
was with Atlantis, not Galileo. But it didn't look all that good to be
having technical problems, let alone problems with engine computers,
while the anti-nuclear activists' court drama was playing in the
NASA's engineers debated the computer problem in a cross-country
teleconference. Rectifying it would delay blast-off by more than a few
hours. It would likely take days. And Galileo didn't have many of
those. Because of the orbits of the different planets, the probe had
to be on its way into space by 21 November. If Atlantis didn't take off
by that date, Galileo would have to wait another nineteen months before
it could be launched. The project was already $1 billion over its
original $400 million budget. The extra year and a half would add
another $130 million or so and there was a good chance the whole project