systems walks free', an indignant Guardian announced. `Computer Genius
is cleared of hacking conspiracy', said the Evening Standard. `Hacking
"addict" acquitted', sniffed The Times. Overpowering them all was the
Daily Telegraph's page one: `Teenage computer addict who hacked White
House system is cleared'.
Then came the media king-hit. Someone had leaked another story and it
looked bad. The report, in the Mail on Sunday, said that the three
hackers had broken into a Cray computer at the European Centre for
Medium Range Weather Forecasting at Bracknell. This computer, likes
dozens of others, would normally have been relegated to the long list
of unmentioned victims except for one thing. The US military used
weather data from the centre for planning its attack on Iraq in the
Gulf War. The media report claimed that the attack had slowed down the
Cray's calculations, thus endangering the whole Desert Storm
operation. The paper announced the hackers had been `inadvertently
jeopardising--almost fatally--the international effort against Saddam
Hussein' and had put `thousands of servicemen's lives at risk'.9
Further, the paper alleged that the US State Department was so
incensed about British hackers' repeated break-ins disrupting Pentagon
defence planning that it had complained to Prime Minister John Major.
The White House put the matter more bluntly than the State Department:
Stop your hackers or we will cut off European access to our satellite
which provides trans-Atlantic data and voice telecommunications.
Someone in Britain seemed to be listening, for less than twelve months
later, authorities had arrested all three hackers.
Pad thought the allegations were rubbish. He had been inside a VAX
machine at the weather centre for a couple of hours one night, but he
had never touched a Cray there. He had certainly never done anything
to slow the machine down. No cracking programs, no scanners, nothing
which might account for the delay described in the report. Even if he
had been responsible, he found it hard to believe the Western allies'
victory in the Gulf War was determined by one computer in Berkshire.
All of which gave him cause to wonder why the media was running this
story now, after Wandii's acquittal but before he and Gandalf were
sentenced. Sour grapes, perhaps?
For days, columnists, editorial and letter writers across Britain
pontificated on the meaning of the Wandii's verdict and the validity
of an addiction to hacking as a defence. Some urged computer owners to
take responsibility for securing their own systems. Others called for
tougher hacking laws. A few echoed the view of The Times, which
declared in an editorial, `a persistent car thief of [the hacker's]
age would almost certainly have received a custodial sentence. Both
crimes suggest disrespect for other people's property ... the jurors
may have failed to appreciate the seriousness of this kind of
The debate flew forward, changing and growing, and expanding beyond
Britain's borders. In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post asked,
`Is [this] case evidence of a new social phenomenon, with immature and
susceptible minds being damaged through prolonged exposure to personal
computers?' The paper described public fear that Wandii's case would
result in `the green light for an army of computer-literate hooligans
to pillage the world's databases at will, pleading insanity when
By April Fool's Day 1991, more than two weeks after the end of the
court case, Wandii had his own syndrome named after him, courtesy of
And while Wandii, his mother and his team of lawyers celebrated their
victory quietly, the media reported that the Scotland Yard detectives
commiserated over their defeat, which was considerably more serious
than simply losing the Wandii case. The Computer Crimes Unit was being
`reorganised'. Two experienced officers from the five-man unit were
being moved out of the group. The official line was that the
`rotations' were normal Scotland Yard procedure. The unofficial word
was that the Wandii case had been a fiasco, wasting time and money,
and the debacle was not to be repeated.
In the north, a dark cloud gathered over Pad and Gandalf as their
judgment day approached. The Wandii case verdict might have been cause
for celebration among some in the computer underground, but it brought
little joy for the other two 8lgm hackers.
For Pad and Gandalf, who had already pleaded guilty, Wandii's
acquittal was a disaster.
On 12 May 1993, two months after Wandii's acquittal, Boris Kayser
stood up at the Bar table to put forward Electron's case at the
Australian hacker's plea and sentencing hearing. As he began to speak,
a hush fell over the Victorian County Court.
A tall, burly man with a booming voice, an imperious courtroom
demeanour and his traditional black robes flowing behind him in an
echo of his often emphatic gesticulations, Kayser was larger than
life. A master showman, he knew how to play an audience of courtroom
journalists sitting behind him as much as to the judge in front of
Electron had already stood in the dock and pleaded guilty to fourteen
interrupted the long process of the court clerk reading out each
charge and asking whether Electron would plead guilty or not guilty.
With an impatient wave of his hand, Kayser asked the judge to dispense
with such formalities since his client would plead guilty to all the
agreed charges at once. The interjection was more of an announcement
than a question.
The formalities of a plea having been summarily dealt with, the
question now at hand was sentencing. Electron wondered if he would be
sent to prison. Despite lobbying from Electron's lawyers, the DPP's
office had refused to recommend a non-custodial sentence. The best
deal Electron's lawyers had been able to arrange in exchange for
turning Crown witness was for the DPP to remain silent on the issue of
prison. The judge would make up his mind without input from the DPP.
Electron fiddled nervously with his father's wedding ring, which he
wore on his right hand. After his father's death, Electron's sister
had begun taking things from the family home. Electron didn't care
much because there were only two things he really wanted: that ring
and some of his father's paintings.
Kayser called a handful of witnesses to support the case for a light
sentence. Electron's grandmother from Queensland. The family friend
who had driven Electron to the hospital the day his father died.
Electron's psychiatrist, the eminent Lester Walton. Walton in
particular highlighted the difference between the two possible paths
forward: prison, which would certainly traumatise an already mentally
unstable young man, or freedom, which offered Electron a good chance
of eventually establishing a normal life.
When Kayser began summarising the case for a non-custodial sentence,
Electron could hear the pack of journalists off to his side
frantically scribbling notes. He wanted to look at them, but he was
afraid the judge would see his ponytail, carefully tucked into his
neatly ironed white shirt, if he turned sideways,
`Your Honour,' Kayser glanced backward slightly, toward the court
reporters, as he warmed up, `my client lived in an artificial world of
Scratch, scribble. Electron could almost predict, within half a
second, when the journalists' pencils and pens would reach a crescendo
of activity. The ebb and flow of Boris's boom was timed in the style
of a TV newsreader.
Kayser said his client was addicted to the computer the way an
alcoholic was obsessed with the bottle. More scratching, and lots of
it. This client, Kayser thundered, had never sought to damage any
system, steal money or make a profit. He was not malicious in the
least, he was merely playing a game.
`I think,' Electron's barrister concluded passionately, but slowly
enough for every journalist to get it down on paper, `that he should
have been called Little Jack Horner, who put in his thumb, pulled out
a plumb and said, "What a good boy am I!"'
Now came the wait. The judge retired to his chambers to weigh up the
pre-sentence report, Electron's family situation, the fact that he had
turned Crown witness, his offences--everything. Electron had given a
nine-page written statement against Phoenix to the prosecution. If the
Phoenix case went to trial, Electron would be put on the stand to back
up that statement.
In the month before Electron returned to court to hear his sentence,
he thought about how he could have fought the case. Some of the
charges were dubious.
In one case, he had been charged with illegally accessing public
information through a public account. He had accessed the anonymous
FTP server at the University of Helsinki to copy information about
DES. His first point of access had been through a hacked Melbourne
Beat that charge, Electron's lawyer had told him, and there's plenty
more where that came from. The DPP had good pickings and could make up
a new charge for another site. Still, Electron reasoned some of the
Crown's evidence would not have stood up under cross-examination.
When reporters from Australia and overseas called NASA headquarters
for comment on the hacker-induced network shutdown, the agency
responded that it had no idea what they were talking about. There had
been no NASA network shutdown. A spokesman made inquiries and, he
assured the media, NASA was puzzled by the report. Sharon Beskenis's
statement didn't seem so watertight after all. She was not, it turned
out, even a NASA employee but a contractor from Lockheed.
During that month-long wait, Electron had trouble living down Kayser's
nursery-rhyme rendition in the courtroom. When he rang friends, they
would open the conversation saying, `Oh, is that Little Jack Horner?'
They had all seen the nightly news, featuring Kayser and his client.
Kayser had looked grave leaving court, while Electron, wearing John
Lennon-style glasses with dark lenses and with his shoulder-length
curls pulled tightly back in a ponytail, had tried to smile at the
camera crews. But his small, fine features and smattering of freckles
disappeared under the harsh camera lights, so much so that the black,
round spectacles seemed almost to float on a blank, white surface.
The week after Electron pleaded guilty in Australia, Pad and Gandalf
sat side by side in London's Southwark dock one last time.
For a day and a half, beginning on 20 May 1993, the two hackers
listened to their lawyers argue their defence. Yes, our clients hacked
computers, they told the judge, but the offences were nowhere near as
serious as the prosecution wants to paint them. The lawyers were
fighting hard for one thing: to keep Pad and Gandalf out of prison.
Some of the hearing was tough going for the two hackers, but not just
because of any sense of foreboding caused by the judge's imminent
decision. The problem was that Gandalf made Pad laugh, and it didn't
look at all good to laugh in the middle of your sentencing hearing.
Sitting next to Gandalf for hours on end, while lawyers from both
sides butchered the technical aspects of computer hacking which the
8lgm hackers had spent years learning, did it. Pad had only to give
Gandalf a quick sidelong glance and he quickly found himself
swallowing and clearing his throat to keep from bursting into
laughter. Gandalf's irrepressible irreverence was written all over his
The stern-faced Judge Harris could send them to jail, but he still
of the courtroom, the judge was--and would always be--out of the loop.
None of them had any idea what was really going on inside the heads of
the two hackers. None of them could ever understand what hacking was
all about--the thrill of stalking a quarry or of using your wits to
outsmart so-called experts; the pleasure of finally penetrating a
much-desired machine and knowing that system is yours; the deep
anti-establishment streak which served as a well-centred ballast
against the most violent storms washing in from the outside world; and
the camaraderie of the international hacking community on Altos.
The lawyers could talk about it, could put experts on the stand and
psychological reports in the hands of the judge, but none of them
would ever really comprehend because they had never experienced it.
The rest of the courtroom was out of the loop, and Pad and Gandalf
stared out from the dock as if looking through a two-way mirror from a
secret, sealed room.
Pad's big worry had been this third charge--the one which he faced
alone. At his plea hearing, he had admitted to causing damage to a
system owned by what was, in 1990, called the Polytechnic of Central
London. He hadn't damaged the machine by, say, erasing files, but the
other side had claimed that the damages totalled about [sterling]250
anything near that amount. He had a reasonable idea of how long it
would take someone to clean up his intrusions. But if the prosecution
could convince a judge to accept that figure, the hacker might be
looking at a long prison term.
Pad had already braced himself for the possibility of prison. His
lawyer warned him before the sentencing date that there was a
reasonable likelihood the two 8lgm hackers would be sent down. After
the Wandii case, the public pressure to `correct' a `wrong' decision
by the Wandii jury was enormous. The police had described Wandii's
acquittal as `a licence to hack'--and The Times, had run the
statement.12 It was likely the judge, who had presided over Wandii's
trial, would want to send a loud and clear message to the hacking
Pad thought that perhaps, if he and Gandalf had pleaded not guilty
alongside Wandii, they would have been acquitted. But there was no way
Pad would have subjected himself to the kind of public humiliation
Wandii went through during the `addicted to computers' evidence. The
media appeared to want to paint the three hackers as pallid, scrawny,
socially inept, geeky geniuses, and to a large degree Wandii's lawyers
had worked off this desire. Pad didn't mind being viewed as highly
intelligent, but he wasn't a geek. He had a casual girlfriend. He went
out dancing with friends or to hear bands in Manchester's thriving
alternative music scene. He worked out his upper body with weights at
home. Shy--yes. A geek--no.
Could Pad have made a case for being addicted to hacking? Yes,
although he never believed that he had been. Completely enthralled,
entirely entranced? Maybe. Suffering from a passing obsession?
Perhaps. But addicted? No, he didn't think so. Besides, who knew for
sure if a defence of addiction could have saved him from the
prosecution's claim anyway?
Exactly where the quarter of a million pound claim came from in the
first place was a mystery to Pad. The police had just said it to him,
as if it was fact, in the police interview. Pad hadn't seen any proof,
but that hadn't stopped him from spending a great deal of time feeling
very stressed about how the judge would view the matter.
The only answer seemed to be some good, independent technical advice.
At the request of both Pad and Gandalf's lawyers, Dr Peter Mills, of
Manchester University, and Dr Russell Lloyd, of London Business
School, had examined a large amount of technical evidence presented in
the prosecution's papers. In an independent report running to more
than 23 pages, the experts stated that the hackers had caused less
havoc than the prosecution alleged. In addition, Pad's solicitor asked
Dr Mills to specifically review, in a separate report, the evidence
supporting the prosecution's large damage claim.
Dr Mills stated that one of the police expert witnesses, a British
Telecom employee, had said that Digital recommended a full rebuild of
the system at the earliest possible opportunity--and at considerable
cost. However, the BT expert had not stated that the cost was
[sterling]250000 nor even mentioned if the cost quote which had been
given had actually been accepted.
In fact, Dr Mills concluded that there was no supporting evidence at
all for the quarter of a million pound claim. Not only that, but any
test of reason based on the evidence provided by the prosecution
showed the claim to be completely ridiculous.
In a separate report, Dr Mills' stated that:
i) The machine concerned was a Vax 6320, this is quite a powerful
`mainframe' system and could support several hundreds of users.
ii) That a full dump of files takes 6 tapes, however since the type of
tape is not specified this gives no real indication of the size of the
filesystem. A tape could vary from 0.2 Gigabytes to 2.5 Gigabytes.
iii) The machine was down for three days.
With this brief information it is difficult to give an accurate cost
for restoring the machine, however an over estimate would be:
i) Time spent in restoring the system, 10 man days at [sterling]300
per day; [sterling]3000.
ii) Lost time by users, 30 man days at [sterling]300 per day;
The total cost in my opinion is unlikely to be higher than
[sterling]12000 and this itself is probably a rather high estimate. I
certainly cannot see how a figure of [sterling]250000 could be
It looked to Pad that the prosecution's claim was not for damage at
all. It was for properly securing the system--an entirely rebuilt
system. It seemed to him that the police were trying to put the cost
of securing the polytechnic's entire computer network onto the
shoulders of one hacker--and to call it damages. In fact, Pad
discovered, the polytechnic had never actually even spent the
Pad was hopeful, but he was also angry. All along, the police had been
threatening him with this huge damage bill. He had tossed and turned
in his bed at night worrying about it. And, in the end, the figure put
forward for so long as fact was nothing but an outrageous claim based
on not a single shred of solid evidence.
Using Dr Mills's report, Pad's barrister, Mukhtar Hussain, QC,
negotiated privately with the prosecution barrister, who finally
relented and agreed to reduce the damage estimate to [sterling]15000.
It was, in Pad's view, still far too high, but it was much better than
[sterling]250000. He was in no mind to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Judge Harris accepted the revised damage estimate.
The prosecution may have lost ground on the damage bill, but it wasn't
giving up the fight. These two hackers, James Richardson told the
court and journalists during the two-day sentencing hearing, had
hacked into some 10000 computer systems around the world. They were
inside machines or networks in at least fifteen countries. Russia.
India. France. Norway. Germany. The US. Canada. Belgium. Sweden.
Italy. Taiwan. Singapore. Iceland. Australia. Officers on the case
said the list of the hackers' targets `read like an atlas', Richardson
told the court.
Pad listened to the list. It sounded about right. What didn't sound
right were the allegations that he or Gandalf had crashed Sweden's
telephone network by running an X.25 scanner over its packet network.
The crash had forced a Swedish government minister to apologise on
television. The police said the minister did not identify the true
cause of the problem--the British hackers--in his public apology.
Pad had no idea what they were talking about. He hadn't done anything
like that to the Swedish phone system, and as far as he knew, neither
Something else didn't sound right. Richardson told the court that in
total, the two hackers had racked up at least [sterling]25000 in phone
bills for unsuspecting legitimate customers, and caused `damage' to
systems which was very conservatively estimated at almost
Where were these guys getting these numbers from? Pad marvelled at
their cheek. He had been through the evidence with a fine-toothed
comb, yet he had not seen one single bill showing what a site had
actually paid to repair `damage' caused by the hackers. The figures
tossed around by the police and the prosecution weren't real bills;
they weren't cast in iron.
Finally, on Friday 21 May, after all the evidence had been presented,
the judge adjourned the court to consider sentencing. When he returned
to the bench fifteen minutes later, Pad knew what was going to happen
from the judge's face. To the hacker, the expression said: I am going
to give you everything that Wandii should have got.
Judge Harris echoed The Times's sentiments when he told the two
defendants, `If your passion had been cars rather than computers, we
would have called your conduct delinquent, and I don't shrink from the
analogy of describing what you were doing as intellectual joyriding.
`Hacking is not harmless. Computers now form a central role in our
lives. Some, providing emergency services, depend on their computers
to deliver those services.'13
Hackers needed to be given a clear signal that computer crime `will
not and cannot be tolerated', the judge said, adding that he had
thought long and hard before handing down sentence. He accepted that
neither hacker had intended to cause damage, but it was imperative to
protect society's computer systems and he would be failing in his
public duty if he didn't sentence the two hackers to a prison term of
Judge Harris told the hackers that he had chosen a custodial sentence,
`both to penalise you for what you have done and for the losses
caused, and to deter others who might be similarly tempted'.
This was the show trial, not Wandii's case, Pad thought as the court
officers led him and Gandalf out of the dock, down to the prisoner's
lift behind the courtroom and into a jail cell.