himself. This was no time to cry over spilled milk. He had to get
Deszip out of the machine quickly, before anyone noticed he was there.
But as Phoenix began typing in commands, his screen appeared to freeze
up. He checked. It wasn't his computer. Something was wrong at the
other end. He was still logged into Spaf's machine. The connection
hadn't been killed. But when he typed commands, the computer in West
Lafayette, Indiana, didn't respond. Spaf's machine just sat there,
deaf and dumb.
Phoenix stared at his computer, trying to figure out what was
happening. Why wouldn't Spaf's machine answer? There were two
possibilities. Either the network--the connection between the first
machine he penetrated at Purdue and Spaf's own machine--had gone down
accidentally. Or someone had pulled the plug.
Why pull the plug? If they knew he was in there, why not just kick him
out of the machine? Better still, why not kick him out of Purdue all
together? Maybe they wanted to keep him on-line to trace which machine
he was coming from, eventually winding backwards from system to
system, following his trail.
Phoenix was in a dilemma. If the connection had crashed by accident,
he wanted to stay put and wait for the network to come back up again.
The FTP hole in Spaf's machine was an incredible piece of luck.
Chances were that someone would find
evidence of his break-in after he left and plug it. On the
other hand, he didn't want the people at Purdue tracing his
He waited a few more minutes, trying to hedge his bets. Feeling nervy
as the extended silence emanating from Spaf's machine wore on, Phoenix
decided to jump. With the lost treasures of Aladdin's cave fading in
his mind's eye like a mirage, Phoenix killed his connection.
Electron and Phoenix talked on the phone, moodily contemplating their
losses. It was a blow, but Electron reminded himself that getting
Deszip was never going to be easy. At least they had the passphrase to
unlock the encrypted Deszip taken from Dartmouth.
Soon, however, they discovered a problem. There had to be one,
Electron thought. They couldn't just have something go off without a
hitch for a change. That would be too easy. The problem this time was
that when they went searching for their copy from Dartmouth, which had
been stored several months before, it had vanished. The Dartmouth
system admin must have deleted it.
It was maddening. The frustration was unbearable. Each time they had
Deszip just within their grasp, it slipped away and
disappeared. Yet each time they lost their grip, it only deepened
their desire to capture the elusive prize. Deszip was fast becoming an
all-consuming obsession for Phoenix and Electron.
Their one last hope was the second copy of the encrypted Dartmouth
Deszip file they had given to Gandalf, but that hope did not burn
brightly. After all, if the Australians' copy had been deleted, there
was every likelihood that the Brit's copy had suffered the same fate.
Gandalf's copy hadn't been stored on his own computer. He had put it
on some dark corner of a machine in Britain.
Electron and Phoenix logged onto Altos and waited for Pad or Gandalf
to show up.
Phoenix typed .s for a list of who was on-line. He saw that Pad was
No Chan User
was so paranoid about being busted and because he believed operators
monitored his connections if they knew it was Electron logging in.
They seemed to take great joy in sniffing the password to his own
account on Altos. Then, when he had logged off, they logged in and
changed his password so he couldn't get back under the name Electron.
Nothing was more annoying. Phoenix typed, `Hey, Pad. How's it going?'
Pad wrote back, `Feeny! Heya.'
`Do you and Gand still have that encrypted copy of Deszip we gave you
a few months ago?'
`Encrypted copy ... hmm. Thinking.' Pad paused. He and Gandalf hacked
dozens of computer systems regularly. Sometimes it was difficult to
recall just where they had stored things.
`Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't know. It was on a system on
JANET,' Pad said. Britain's Joint Academic Network was the equivalent
of Australia's AARNET, an early Internet based largely on a backbone
of universities and research centres.
`I can't remember which system it was on,' Pad continued.
If the Brits couldn't recall the institution, let alone the machine
where they had hidden Deszip, it was time to give up
all hope. JANET comprised hundreds, maybe thousands, of machines. It
was far too big a place to randomly hunt around for a file which
Gandalf would no doubt have tried to disguise in the first place.
`But the file was encrypted, and you didn't have the password,' Pad
wrote. `How come you want it?'
`Because we found the password. ' That was the
etiquette on Altos. If you wanted to suggest an action, you put it in
`Gr8!' Pad answered.
That was Pad and Gandalf's on-line style. The number eight was the
British hackers' hallmark, since their group was called 8lgm, and they
used it instead of letters. Words like `great', `mate' and `later'
became `gr8', `m8' and `l8r'.
When people logged into Altos they could name a `place' of origin for
others to see. Of course, if you were logging from a country which had
laws against hacking, you wouldn't give your real country. You'd just
pick a place at random. Some people logged in from places like
Argentina, or Israel. Pad and Gandalf logged in from 8lgm.
`I'll try to find Gandalf and ask him if he knows where we stashed the
copy,' Pad wrote to Phoenix.
While Phoenix and Electron waited on-line for Pad to return, Par
showed up on-line and joined their conversation. Par didn't know who
Guest 0 was, but Guest certainly knew who Par was. Time hadn't healed
Electron's old wounds when it came to Par. Electron didn't really
admit to himself the bad blood was still there over Theorem. He told
himself that he couldn't be bothered with Par, that Par was just a
phreaker, not a real hacker, that Par was lame.
Phoenix typed, `Hey, Par. How's it going?'
`Feenster!' Par replied. `What's happening?'
`Lots and lots.'
Par turned his attention to the mystery Guest 0. He didn't want to
discuss private things with someone who might be a security guy
hanging around the chat channel like a bad smell.
`Guest, do you have a name?' Par asked.
`Yeah. It's "Guest--#0".'
`You got any other names?'
There was a long pause.
Electron typed, `I guess not.'
`Any other names besides dickhead that is?'
Electron sent a `whisper'--a private message--to Phoenix telling him
not to tell Par his identity.
`OK. Sure,' Phoenix whispered back. To show he would play along with
whatever Electron had in mind, Phoenix added a sideways smiley face at
the end: `:-)'.
Par didn't know Electron and Phoenix were whispering to each other. He
was still waiting to find out the identity of Guest. `Well, speak up,
Guest. Figured out who you are yet?'
Electron knew Par was on the run at the time. Indeed, Par had been on
the run from the US Secret Service for more than six months by the
beginning of 1990. He also knew Par was highly paranoid.
Electron took aim and fired.
`Hey, Par. You should eat more. You're looking underFED these days.'
Par was suddenly silent. Electron sat at his computer, quietly
laughing to himself, halfway across the world from Par. Well, he
thought, that ought to freak out Par a bit. Nothing like a subtle hint
at law enforcement to drive him nuts.
`Did you see THAT?' Par whispered to Phoenix. `UnderFED. What did he
private message on to Electron. He knew it would make him laugh.
Par was clearly worried. `Who the fuck are you?' he whispered to
Electron but Guest 0 didn't answer.
With growing anxiety, Par whispered to Phoenix, `Who IS this guy? Do
you know him?'
Phoenix didn't answer.
`Because, well, it's weird. Didn't you see? FED was in caps. What the
fuck does that mean? Is he a fed? Is he trying to give me a message
from the feds?'
Sitting at his terminal, on the other side of Melbourne from Electron,
Phoenix was also laughing. He liked Par, but the American was an easy
target. Par had become so paranoid since he went on the run across the
US, and Electron knew just the right buttons to push.
`I don't know,' Phoenix whispered to Par. `I'm sure he's not really a
`UnderFED. Hmm. Maybe he knows something. Maybe it's some kind of
warning. Shit, maybe the Secret Service knows where I am.'
`You think?' Phoenix whispered to Par. `It might be a warning of some
kind?' It was too funny.
`Can you check his originating NUA?' Par wanted to know what network
address the mystery guest was coming from. It might give him a clue as
to the stranger's identity.
Phoenix could barely contain himself. He kept forwarding the private
messages on to Electron. Par was clearly becoming more agitated.
`I wish he would just tell me WHO he was,' Par whispered. `Shit. It is
very fucking weird. UnderFED. It's spinning me out.'
Then Par logged off.
Electron typed, `I guess Par had to go. ' Then, chuckling to
himself, he waited for news on Gandalf's Deszip copy.
If Pad and Gandalf hadn't kept their copy of Deszip, the Australians
would be back to square one, beginning with a hunt for a system which
even had Deszip. It was a daunting task and by the time Pad and
Gandalf finally logged back into Altos, Phoenix and Electron had
become quite anxious.
`How did you go?' Phoenix asked. `Do you still have Deszip?'
`Well, at first I thought I had forgotten which system I left it on
Electron jumped in, `And then?'
`Good news?' Phoenix exclaimed.
`Well, no. Not exactly,' Gandalf said. `The account is dead.'
Electron felt like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on him.
`Dead? Dead how?' he asked.
`Dead like someone changed the password. Not sure why. I'll have to
re-hack the system to get to the file.'
`Fuck, this Deszip is frustrating,' Electron wrote.
`This is getting ridiculous,' Phoenix added.
`I don't even know if the copy is still in there,' Gandalf replied. `I
hid it, but who knows? Been a few months. Admins might have deleted
`Nah, It'll be easy. It's a Sequent. Just have to hang around until
the ops go home.'
If an op was logged on and saw Gandalf hunting around, he or she might
kick Gandalf off and investigate the file which so interested the
hacker. Then they would lose Deszip all over again.
`I hope we get it,' Pad chipped in. `Would be gr8!'
`Gr8 indeed. Feen, you've got the key to the encryption?' Gandalf
the key itself.
Phoenix wasn't sure what to do. He wanted to give the British hackers
the key, but he was torn. He needed Pad and Gandalf's help to get the
copy of Deszip, if it was still around. But he knew Electron was
watching the conversation, and Electron was always so paranoid. He
disliked giving out any information, let alone giving it over Altos,
where the conversations were possibly logged by security people.
`Should I give him the key?' Phoenix whispered to Electron.
Gandalf was waiting. To fend him off, Phoenix said, `It's 9 chars.'
Chars was short for characters. On Altos the rule was to abbreviate
where ever possible.
`What is the first char?'
`Yeah. Tell him,' Electron whispered to Phoenix.
`Well, the key is ...'
`You're going to spew when you find out, Gand,' Electron interrupted.
`Yes ... go on,' Gandalf said. `I am listening.'
`You won't believe it. The key is ... Dartmouth.'
`WHAT???? WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' Gandalf exclaimed.
`No!!! IT's NOT TRUE! Bollox! You are KIDDING?'
The British hacker was thumping himself on the head. The name of the
frigging university! What a stupid password!
Phoenix gave an on-line chuckle. `Hehe. Yeah. So hard to guess. We
could have had Deszip for all these months ...'
`Jesus. I hope it's still on that JANET system,' Gandalf said. Now
that he actually had the password, finding the file became even more
`Pray. Pray. Pray,' Phoenix said. `Yeah, you should have seen the
`You've seen it? You saw Deszip's source code?'
`No,' Phoenix answered. `When I went back to the BEAR machine to check
if Deszip was still there, the program was gone. But the licence
agreement and other stuff was there. Should have read the licence ...
truly amazing. It basically went on and on about how the people who
wrote it didn't want people like us to get a hold of it. Hehe.'
Electron was growing impatient. `Yeah. So, Gand, when you gonna go
check that JANET system?'
`Now. Fingers crossed, m8! See ya l8r ...' Then he was gone.
The waiting was driving Electron nuts. He kept thinking about Deszip,
about how he could have had it months and months ago. That program was
such a prize. He was salivating at the thought of getting it after all
this time pursuing it around the globe, chasing its trail from system
to system, never quite getting close enough to grab it.
When Gandalf showed up again, Pad, Phoenix and Electron were all over
him in an instant.
`WE FUCKING GOT IT GUYS!!!!!' Gandalf exclaimed.
`Good job m8!' Pad said.
`YES!' Electron added. `Have you decrypted it yet?'
`Not yet. Crypt isn't on that machine. We can either copy Crypt onto
that machine or copy the file onto another computer which already has
Crypt on it,' Gandalf said.
`Let's move it. Quick ... quick ... this damn thing has a habit of
disappearing,' Electron said.
`Yeah, this is the last copy ... the only one I got.'
`OK. Think ... think ... where can we copy it to?' Electron said.
`Texas!' Gandalf wanted to copy it to a computer at the University of
Texas at Austin, home of the LOD hacker Erik Bloodaxe.
Irrepressible, Gandalf came on like a steam roller if he liked
you--and cut you down in a flash if he didn't. His rough-and-tumble
working-class humour particularly appealed to Electron. Gandalf seemed
able to zero in on the things which worried you most--something so
deep or serious it was often unsaid. Then he would blurt it out in
such crass, blunt terms you couldn't help laughing. It was his way of
being in your face in the friendliest possible manner.
`Yeah! Blame everything on Erik!' Phoenix joked. `No, seriously. That
place is crawling with security now, all after Erik. They are into
Phoenix had heard all about the security purge at the university from
Erik. The Australian called Erik all the time, mostly by charging the
calls to stolen AT&T cards. Erik hadn't been raided by the Secret
Service yet, but he had been tipped off and was expecting a visit any
`Oh, phuck off!' Gandalf shot back. `Come on! I need a site NOW!'
`Thinking ...' Phoenix said. `Gotta be some place with room--how big
hurry up! How about a university?'
`Princeton, Yale could do either of those.' Electron suggested. `What
about MIT--you hacked an account there recently, Gand?'
All four hackers racked their minds for a safe haven. The world was
conversation in Germany about whether to hide their treasure in
Austin, Texas; Princeton, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; or New
`We only need somewhere to stash it for a little while, until we can
download it,' Gandalf said. `Got to be some machine where we've got
root. And it's got to have anon FTP.'
Anon FTP, or anonymous file transfer protocol, on a host machine would
allow Gandalf to shoot the file from his JANET machine across the
Internet into the host. Most importantly, Gandalf could do so without
an account on the target machine. He could simply login as
`anonymous', a method of access which had more limitations than simply
logging in with a normal account. He would, however, still be able to
upload the file.
`OK. OK, I have an idea,' Phoenix said. `Lemme go check
The physical location of a site didn't matter. His head was spinning
and it was the only place he could think of. But he didn't try to
connect to Happy, the machine he often used which Erik had told him
about. He headed to one of the other university computers, called
connect for minutes on end. The lines were congested. He logged back
into Altos and told Pad and Electron. Gandalf was nowhere to be seen.
`Damn,' Electron said. Then, `OK, I might have an idea.'
`No, wait!' Phoenix cut in. `I just thought of a site! And I have root
too! But it's on NASA ...'
`Oh that's OK. I'm sure they won't mind a bit. '
`I'll go make sure it's still OK. Back in a bit,' Phoenix typed.
Phoenix jumped out of Altos and headed toward NASA. He telnetted into
a NASA computer called CSAB at the Langley Research Center in Hampton,
Virginia. He had been in and out of NASA quite a few times and had
recently made himself a root account on CSAB. First, he had to check
the account was still alive, then he had to make sure the system
administrator wasn't logged in.
Whizzing past the official warning sign about unauthorised access in
US government computers on the login screen, Phoenix typed in his user
name and password.
It worked. He was in. And he had root privileges.
He quickly looked around on the system. The administrator was on-line.
was there, along with the other two, waiting for him.
`Well?' Electron asked.
`OK. All right. The NASA machine will work. It has anon FTP. And I
still have root. We'll use that.'
Gandalf jumped in. `Hang on--does it have Crypt?'
`Argh! Forget to check. I think it must.'
`Better check it, m8!'
Phoenix felt exasperated, rushing around trying to find sites that
worked. He logged out of Altos and coursed his way back into the NASA
machine. The admin was still logged on, but Phoenix was running out of
time. He had to find out if the computer had Crypt on it. It did.
Phoenix rushed back to Altos. `Back again. We're in business.'
`Yes!' Electron said, but he quickly jumped in with a word of warning.
`Don't say the exact machine at NASA or the account out loud. Whisper
it to Gandalf. I think the ops are listening in on my connection.'
`Well,' Phoenix typed slowly, `there's only one problem. The admin is
`Arghhh!' Electron shouted.
`Just do it,' Pad said. `No time to worry.'
Phoenix whispered the Internet IP address of the NASA machine to
`OK, m8, I'll anon FTP it to NASA. I'll come back here and tell you
the new filename. Then you go in and decrypt it and uncompress the
file. W8 for me here.'
Ten minutes later, Gandalf returned. `Mission accomplished. The file
`Now, go go Pheeny!' Electron said.
`Gand, whisper the filename to me,' Phoenix said.
`The file's called "d" and it's in the pub directory,' Gandalf
`OK, folks. Here we go!' Phoenix said as he logged off.
Phoenix dashed to the NASA computer, logged in and looked for the file
named `d'. He couldn't find it. He couldn't even find the pub
directory. He began hunting around the rest of the file system. Where
was the damn thing?
Uh oh. Phoenix noticed the system administrator, Sharon Beskenis, was
still logged in. She was connected from Phoebe, another NASA machine.
There was only one other user besides himself logged into the CSAB
machine, someone called Carrie. As if that wasn't bad enough, Phoenix
realised his username stood out a like a sore thumb. If the admin
looked at who was on-line she would see herself, Carrie and a user
called `friend', an account he had created for himself. How many
legitimate accounts on NASA computers had that name?
Worse, Phoenix noticed that he had forgotten to cover his login trail.
`Friend' was telnetting into the NASA computer from the University of
Texas. No, no, he thought, that would definitely have to go. He
disconnected from NASA, bounced back to the university and then logged
in to NASA again. Good grief. Now the damn NASA machine showed two
people logged in as `friend'. The computer hadn't properly killed his
previous login. Stress.
Phoenix tried frantically to clear out his first login by killing its
process number. The NASA computer responded that there was no such
process number. Increasingly nervous, Phoenix figured he must have
typed in the wrong number. Unhinged, he grabbed one of the other
process numbers and killed that.
Christ! That was the admin's process number. Phoenix had just
disconnected Sharon from her own machine. Things were not going well.
Now he was under serious pressure. He didn't dare logout, because
Sharon would no doubt find his `friend' account, kill it and close up
the security hole he had originally used to get in. Even if she didn't
find Deszip on her own machine, he might not be able to get back in
again to retrieve it.
After another frenzied minute hunting around the machine, Phoenix
finally unearthed Gandalf's copy of Deszip. Now, the moment of truth.
He tried the passphrase. It worked! All he had to do