was uncompress Deszip and get it out of there. He typed, `uncompress
deszip.tar.z', but he didn't like how the NASA computer answered his
Something was wrong, terribly wrong. The file appeared to be partially
destroyed. It was too painful a possibility to contemplate. Even if
only a small part of the main Deszip program had been damaged, none of
it would be useable.
Rubbing sweat from his palms, Phoenix hoped that maybe the file had
just been damaged as he attempted to uncompress it. He had kept the
original, so he went back to that and tried decrypting and
uncompressing it again. The NASA computer gave him the same ugly
response. Urgently, he tried yet again, but this time attempted to
uncompress the file in a different way. Same problem.
Phoenix was at his wits' end. This was too much. The most he could
hope was that the file had somehow become corrupted in the transfer
from Gandalf's JANET machine. He logged out of NASA and returned to
Altos. The other three were waiting impatiently for him.
Electron, still logged in as the mystery Guest, leaped in. `Did it
`No. Decrypted OK, but the file was corrupted when I tried to
`Arghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!' Gandalf exclaimed.
`Fuckfuckfuck,' Electron wrote. `Doomed to fail.'
`Sigh Sigh Sigh,' Pad typed.
Gandalf and Electron quizzed Phoenix in detail about each command he
had used, but in the end there seemed only one hope. Move a copy of
the decryption program to the JANET computer in the UK and try
decrypting and uncompressing Deszip there.
Phoenix gave Gandalf a copy of Crypt and the British hacker went to
work on the JANET computer. A little later he rendezvoused on Altos
Phoenix was beside himself by this stage. `Gand! Work???'
`And And And???' Electron was practically jumping out of his seat at
`Tried to uncompress it. It was taking a LONG time. Kept
going--expanded to 8 megabytes.'
`Oh NO. Bad Bad Bad,' Phoenix moaned. `Should only be 3 meg. If it's
making a million files, it's fucked.'
`Christ,' Pad typed. `Too painful.'
`I got the makefile--licensing agreement text etc., but the Deszip
program itself was corrupted,' Gandalf concluded.
`I don't understand what is wrong with it. ' Phoenix wrote.
`AgonyAgonyAgony,' Electron groaned. `It'll never never never work.'
`Can we get a copy anywhere else?' Gandalf asked.
`That FTP bug has been fixed at Purdue,' Pad answered. `Can't use that
to get in again.'
Disappointment permeated the atmosphere on Altos.
There were, of course, other possible repositories for Deszip. Phoenix
and Electron had already penetrated a computer at Lawrence Livermore
National Labs in California. They had procured root on the gamm5
machine and planned to use it as a launchpad for penetrating security
expert Russell Brand's computer at LLNL, called Wuthel. They were sure
Brand had Deszip on his computer.
It would require a good deal of effort, and possibly another
roller-coaster ride of desire, expectation and possible
disappointment. For now, the four hackers resolved to sign off,
licking their wounds at their defeat in the quest for Deszip.
`Well, I'm off. See you l8r,' Pad said.
`Yeah, me too,' Electron added.
`Yeah, OK. L8r, m8s!' Gandalf said.
Then, just for fun, he added in typical Gandalf style, `See you in
Read about it
Just another incredible scene
There's no doubt about it
-- from `Read About It', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight
Pad had an important warning for the Australian hackers: the computer
1990, not long after Phoenix and Electron had captured Zardoz and just
missed out on Deszip. Pad didn't scream or shout the warning, that
wasn't his style. But Electron took in the import of the warning loud
`Feen, they know you did over Spaf's machine,' Pad told Phoenix. `They
know it's been you in other systems also. They've got your handle.'
Eugene Spafford was the kind of computer security expert who loses a
lot of face when a hacker gets into his machine, and a wounded bull is
a dangerous enemy.
The security people had been able to connect and link up a series of
break-ins with the hacker who called himself Phoenix because his style
was so distinctive. For example, whenever he was creating a root
shell--root access--for himself, he would always save it in the same
filename and in the same location on the
computer. In some instances, he even created accounts called `Phoenix'
for himself. It was this consistency of style which had made things so
much easier for admins to trace his movements.
In his typical understated fashion, Pad suggested a change of style.
And maybe, he added, it wasn't such a bad idea for the Australians to
tone down their activities a bit. The undercurrent of the message was
enforcement, who were supposed to be "dealing with it",' Pad said.
`Do they know my real name?' Phoenix asked, worried. Electron was also
watching this conversation with some concern.
`Don't know. Got it from Shatter. He's not always reliable,
as a source. He didn't trust his fellow British hacker but Shatter had
some good, if mysterious, connections. An enigmatic figure who seemed
to keep one foot in the computer underworld and the other in the
upright computer security industry, Shatter leaked information to Pad
and Gandalf, and occasionally to the Australians.
While the two British hackers sometimes discounted Shatter's advice,
they also took the time to talk to him. Once, Electron had intercepted
email showing Pengo had turned to Shatter for advice about his
situation after the raid in Germany. With some spare time prior to his
trial, Pengo asked Shatter whether it was safe to travel to the US on
a summer holiday in 1989. Shatter asked for Pengo's birthdate and
other details. Then he returned with an unequivocal answer: Under no
circumstances was Pengo to travel to the US.
Subsequently, it was reported that officials in the US Justice
Department had been examining ways to secretly coax Pengo onto
American soil, where they could seize him. They would then force him
to face trial in their own courts.
Had Shatter known this? Or had he just told Pengo not to go to the US
because it was good commonsense? No-one was quite sure, but people
took note of what Shatter told them.
`Shatter definitely got the info right about Spaf's machine. 100%
right,' Pad continued. `He knew exactly how you hacked it. I couldn't
believe it. Be careful if you're still hacking m8, especially on the
Inet.' The `Inet' was shorthand for the Internet.
The Altos hackers went quiet.
`It's not just you,' Pad tried to reassure the Australians. `Two
security people from the US are coming to the UK to try and find out
something about someone named Gandalf. Oh, and Gand's mate, who might
be called Patrick.'
Pad had indeed based his handle on the name Patrick, or Paddy, but
that wasn't his real name. No intelligent hacker would use his real
name for his handle. Paddy was the name of one of his favourite
university lecturers, an Irishman who laughed a good deal. Like Par's
name, Pad's handle had coincidentally echoed a second meaning when the
British hacker moved into exploring X.25 networks. An X.25 PAD is a
packet assembler disassembler, the interface between the X.25 network
and a modem or terminal server. Similarly, Gandalf, while being first
and foremost the wizard from The Lord of The Rings, also happened to
be a terminal server brand name.
Despite the gravity of the news that the security community was
closing the net around them, none of the hackers lost their wicked
sense of humour.
`You know,' Pad went on, `Spaf was out of the country when his machine
`Was he? Where?' asked Gandalf, who had just joined the conversation.
Electron couldn't resist. `Where was Spaf, Gandalf asks as he hears a
knock on his door ...'
`Haha,' Gandalf laughed.
` ' Electron went on, hamming it up.
`Oh! Hello there, Mr Spafford,' Gandalf typed, playing along.
`Hello, I'm Gene and I'm mean!'
Alone in their separate homes on different corners of the globe, the
four hackers chuckled to themselves.
`Hello, and is this the man called Patrick?' Pad jumped in.
`Well, Mr Spafford, it seems you're a right fucking idiot for not
patching your FTP!' Gandalf proclaimed.
`Not to mention the CHFN bug--saved by a Sequent! Or you'd be very
fucking embarrassed,' Phoenix added.
Phoenix was laughing too, but he was a little nervous about Pad's
warning and he turned the conversation back to a serious note.
`So, Pad, what else did Shatter tell you?' Phoenix asked
`Not much. Except that some of the security investigations might be
partly because of UCB.'
UCB was the University of California at Berkeley. Phoenix had been
visiting machines at both Berkeley and LLNL so much recently that the
admins seemed to have not only noticed him, but they had pinpointed
his handle. One day he had telnetted into dewey.soe.berkeley.edu--the
Dewey machine as it was known--and had been startled to find the
following message of the day staring him in the face:
Get out of Dewey NOW!
Also, do not use any of the `soe' machines.
Phoenix did a double take when he saw this public warning. Having been
in and out of the system so many times, he just zoomed past the words
on the login screen. Then, in a delayed reaction, he realised the
login message was addressed to him.
Ignoring the warning, he proceeded to get root on the Berkeley machine
and look through Berger's files. Then he sat back, thinking about the
best way to deal with the problem. Finally, he decided to send the
admin a note saying he was leaving the system for good.
Within days, Phoenix was back in the Dewey machine, weaving in and out
of it as if nothing had happened. After all, he had broken into the
system, and managed to get root through his own wit. He had earned the
right to be in the computer. He might send the admin a note to put him
at ease, but Phoenix wasn't going to give up accessing Berkeley's
computers just because it upset Daniel Berger.
`See,' Pad continued, `I think the UCB people kept stuff on their
systems that wasn't supposed to be there. Secret things.'
Classified military material wasn't supposed to be stored
on non-classified network computers. However, Pad guessed that
sometimes researchers broke rules and took short cuts because they
were busy thinking about their research and not the security
`Some of the stuff might have been illegal,' Pad told his captive
audience. `And then they find out some of you guys have been in there
`Shit,' Phoenix said.
those secrets ...' Pad paused. `Then you can guess what happened. It
seems they really want to get whoever was inside their machines.'
There was momentary silence while the other hackers digested all that
Pad had told them. As a personality on Altos, Pad remained ever so
slightly withdrawn from the other hackers, even the Australians whom
he considered mates. This reserved quality gave his warning a certain
sobriety, which seeped into the very fabric of Altos that day.
Eventually, Electron responded to Pad's warning by typing a comment
directed at Phoenix: `I told you talking to security guys is nothing
It irritated Electron more and more that Phoenix felt compelled to
talk to white hats in the security industry. In Electron's view,
drawing attention to yourself was just a bad idea all around and he
was increasingly annoyed at watching Phoenix feed his ego. He had made
veiled references to Phoenix's bragging on Altos many times, saying
things like `I wish people wouldn't talk to security guys'.
Phoenix responded to Electron on-line somewhat piously. `Well, I will
never talk to security guys seriously again.'
Electron had heard it all before. It was like listening to an
alcoholic swear he would never touch another drink. Bidding the others
goodbye, Electron logged off. He didn't care to listen to Phoenix any
Others did, however. Hundreds of kilometres away, in a special room
Costello and Constable William Apro had been methodically capturing
each and every electronic boast as it poured from Phoenix's phone. The
two officers recorded the data transmissions passing in and out of his
computer. They then played this recording into their own modem and
computer and created a text file they could save and use as evidence
Both police officers had travelled north from Melbourne, where they
worked with the AFP's Computer Crime Unit. Settling into their
temporary desks with their PC and laptop, the officers began their
secret eavesdropping work on 1 February 1990.
It was the first time the AFP had done a datatap. They were happy to
bide their time, to methodically record Phoenix hacking into Berkeley,
into Texas, into NASA, into a dozen computers around the world. The
phone tap warrant was good for 60 days, which was more than enough
time to secrete away a mountain of damning evidence against the
egotistical Realm hacker. Time was on their side.
The officers worked the Operation Dabble job in shifts. Constable Apro
arrived at the Telecommunications Intelligence Branch of the AFP at 8
p.m. Precisely ten hours later, at 6 the next morning, Sergeant
Costello relieved Apro, who knocked off for a good sleep. Apro
returned again at 8 p.m. to begin the night shift.
They were there all the time. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a
week. Waiting and listening.
It was too funny. Erik Bloodaxe in Austin, Texas, couldn't stop
laughing. In Melbourne, Phoenix's side hurt from laughing so much.
Phoenix loved to talk on the phone. He often called Erik, sometimes
every day, and they spoke for ages. Phoenix didn't worry about cost;
he wasn't paying for it. The call would appear on some poor sod's bill
and he could sort it out with the phone company.
Sometimes Erik worried a little about whether Phoenix wasn't going to
get himself in a jam making all these international calls. Not that he
didn't like talking to the Australian; it was a hoot. Still, the
concern sat there, unsettled, in the back of his mind. A few times he
asked Phoenix about it.
`No prob. Hey, AT&T isn't an Australian company,' Phoenix would say.
`They can't do anything to me.' And Erik had let it rest at that.
For his part, Erik didn't dare call Phoenix, especially not since his
little visit from the US Secret Service. On 1 March 1990, they burst
into his home, with guns drawn, in a dawn raid. The agents searched
everywhere, tearing the student house apart, but they didn't find
anything incriminating. They did take Erik's $59 keyboard terminal
with its chintzy little 300 baud modem, but they didn't get his main
computer, because Erik knew they were coming.
The Secret Service had subpoenaed his academic records, and Erik had
heard about it before the raid. So when the Secret Service arrived,
Erik's stuff just wasn't there. It hadn't been there for a few weeks,
but for Erik, they had been hard weeks. The hacker found himself
suffering withdrawal symptoms, so he bought the cheapest home computer
and modem he could find to tide him over.
That equipment was the only computer gear the Secret Service
discovered, and they were not happy special agents. But without
evidence, their hands were tied. No charges were laid.
Still, Erik thought he was probably being watched. The last thing he
wanted was for Phoenix's number to appear on his home phone bill. So
he let Phoenix call him, which the Australian did all the time. They
often talked for hours when Erik was working nights. It was a slack
job, just changing the back-up tapes on various computers and making
sure they didn't jam. Perfect for a student. It left Erik hours of
Erik frequently reminded Phoenix that his phone was probably tapped,
but Phoenix just laughed. `Yeah, well don't worry about it, mate. What
are they going to do? Come and get me?'
After Erik put a hold on his own hacking activities, he lived
vicariously, listening to Phoenix's exploits. The Australian called
him with a technical problem or an interesting system, and then they
discussed various strategies for getting into the machine. However,
unlike Electron's talks with Phoenix, conversations with Erik weren't
only about hacking. They chatted about life, about what Australia was
like, about girls, about what was in the newspaper that day. It was
easy to talk to Erik. He had a big ego, like most hackers, but it was
inoffensive, largely couched in his self-effacing humour.
Phoenix often made Erik laugh. Like the time he got Clifford Stoll, an
astronomer, who wrote The Cuckoo's Egg. The book described his pursuit
of a German hacker who had broken into the computer system Stoll
managed at Lawrence Berkeley Labs near San Francisco. The hacker had
been part of the same hacking ring as Pengo. Stoll took a hard line on
hacking, a position which did not win him popularity in the
underground. Both Phoenix and Erik had read Stoll's book, and one day
they were sitting around chatting about it.
`You know, it's really stupid that Cliffy put his email address in his
book,' Phoenix said. `Hmm, why don't I go check?'
Sure enough, Phoenix called Erik back about a day later. `Well, I got
root on Cliffy's machine,' he began slowly, then he burst out
laughing. `And I changed the message of the day. Now it reads, "It
looks like the Cuckoo's got egg on his face"!'
It was uproariously funny. Stoll, the most famous hacker-catcher in
the world, had been japed! It was the funniest thing Erik had heard in
But it was not nearly so amusing as what Erik told Phoenix later about
suggesting a hacker had written some sort of virus or worm which was
breaking into dozens of computers.
`Listen to this,' Erik had said, reading Phoenix the lead paragraph,
`"A computer intruder has written a program that has entered dozens of
computers in a nationwide network in recent weeks, automatically
stealing electronic documents containing users' passwords and erasing
files to help conceal itself."'
Phoenix was falling off his chair he was laughing so hard. A program?
Which was automatically doing this? No. It wasn't an automated
program, it was the Australians! It was the Realm hackers! God, this
`Wait--there's more! It says, "Another rogue program shows a
widespread vulnerability". I laughed my ass off,' Erik said,
struggling to get the words out.
`A rogue program! Who wrote the article?'
`A John Markoff,' Erik answered, wiping his eyes. `I called him up.'
`You did? What did you say?' Phoenix tried to gather himself together.
`"John," I said, "You know that article you wrote on page 12 of the
Times? It's wrong! There's no rogue program attacking the Internet."
He goes, "What is it then?" "It's not a virus or a worm," I said.
Erik started laughing uncontrollably again.
`Then Markoff sounds really stunned, and he goes, "People?" And I
said, "Yeah, people." Then he said, "How do you know?" And I said,
"Because, John, I KNOW."'
Phoenix erupted in laughter again. The Times reporter obviously had
worms on his mind, since the author of the famous Internet worm,
Robert T. Morris Jr, had just been tried and convicted in the US. He
was due to be sentenced in May.
US investigators had tracked the hacker's connections, looping through
site after site in a burrowing manner which they assumed belonged to a
worm. The idea of penetrating so many sites all in such a short time
clearly baffled the investigators, who concluded it must be a program
rather than human beings launching the attacks.
`Yeah,' Erik continued, `And then Markoff said, "Can you get me to
talk to them?" And I said I'd see what I could do.'
`Yeah,' Phoenix said. `Go tell him, yes. Yeah, I gotta talk to this
idiot. I'll set him straight.'
Page one, the New York Times, 21 March 1990: `Caller Says he Broke
Computers' Barriers to Taunt the Experts', by John Markoff.
True, the article was below the crease--on the bottom half of the
page--but at least it was in column 1, the place a reader turns to
`The man identified himself only as an Australian named Dave,' the
article said. Phoenix chuckled softly. Dave Lissek was the pseudonym
he'd used. Of course, he wasn't the only one using the name Dave. When
Erik first met the Australians on Altos, he marvelled at how they all
called themselves Dave. I'm Dave, he's Dave, we're all Dave, they told
him. It was just easier that way, they said.
The article revealed that `Dave' had attacked Spaf's and Stoll's
machines, and that the Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory at Harvard
University--where Stoll now worked--had pulled its computers off the
Internet as a result of the break in. Markoff had even included the
`egg on his face' story Phoenix had described to him.
Phoenix laughed at how well he had thumbed his nose at Cliffy Stoll.
This article would show him up all right. It felt so good, seeing