wasn't there. Instead, the quietly self-possessed Lesley Taylor
handled the matter. Paul Galbally appeared for Mendax himself. Ken Day
sat, expressionless, in the front row of the public benches. He looked
a little weary. A few rows back, Mendax's mother seemed nervous.
Electron slipped silently into the back of the room and gave Mendax a
His hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, Mendax blinked and rolled
his eyes several times as if brought from a dark space into the
bright, white-walled courtroom.
Judge Ross, a ruddy-faced and jowly man of late middle age with bushy,
grey eyebrows, seated himself in his chair. At first, he was reluctant
to take on the case for sentencing. He thought it should be returned
to one of the original judges--Judge Kimm or Judge Lewis. When he
walked into court that morning, he had not read the other judges'
Lesley Taylor summarised the punishments handed down to the other two
hackers. The judge did not look altogether pleased. Finally, he
announced he would deal with the case. `Two judges have had a crack at
it, why not a third one? He might do it properly.'
Galbally was concerned. As the morning progressed, he became
increasingly distressed; things were not going well. Judge Ross made
clear that he personally favoured a custodial sentence, albeit a
suspended one. The only thing protecting Mendax seemed to be the
principle of parity in sentencing. Prime Suspect and Trax had
committed similar crimes to Mendax, and therefore he had to be given a
Ross `registered some surprise' at Judge Lewis's disposition toward
the sentencing of Prime Suspect. In the context of parity, he told
Leslie Taylor, he was at times `quite soured by some penalties'
imposed by other judges. He quizzed her for reasons why he might be
able to step outside parity.
He told the court that he had not read the telephone intercepts in the
legal brief. In fact, he had `only read the summary of facts' and when
Taylor mentioned `International Subversive', he asked her, `What was
Then he asked her how to spell the word `phreak'.
he gave Mendax a sentence similar to Prime Suspect's--a recorded
conviction on all counts, a reparation payment of $2100 to ANU and a
three-year good behaviour bond.
There were two variations. Prime Suspect and Trax both received $500
good behaviour bonds; Judge Ross ordered a $5000 bond for Mendax.
Further, Judge Lewis had given Prime Suspect almost twelve months to
pay his $2100 reparation. Judge Ross ordered Mendax to pay within
Judge Ross told Mendax, `I repeat what I said before. I thought
initially that these were offences which justified a jail sentence, but
the mitigatory circumstances would have converted that to a suspended
sentence. The sentence given to your co-offender caused me to alter that
view, however.' He was concerned, he said, `that highly intelligent
individuals ought not to behave like this and I suspect it is only
highly intelligent individuals who can do what you did'.
The word `addiction' did not appear anywhere in the sentencing
They had a gun at my head and a knife at my back
Don't wind me up too tight
-- from `Powderworks' on Midnight Oil (also called The Blue Album) by
Anthrax didn't like working as part of a team. He always considered
other people to be the weakest link in the chain.
Although people were never to be trusted completely, he socialised
with many hackers and phreakers and worked with a few of them now and
again on particular projects. But he never formed intimate
partnerships with any of them. Even if a fellow hacker dobbed him in
to the police, the informant couldn't know the full extent of his
activities. The nature of his relationships was also determined, in
part, by his isolation. Anthrax lived in a town in rural Victoria.
Despite the fact that he never joined a hacking partnership like The
Realm, Anthrax liked people, liked to talk to them for hours at a time
on the telephone. Sometimes he received up to ten international calls
a day from his phreaker friends overseas. He would be over at a
friend's house, and the friend's mother would knock on the door of the
bedroom where the boys were hanging out, listening to new music,
at Anthrax. `Phone call for you. Someone from Denmark.' Or sometimes
it was Sweden. Finland. The US. Wherever. Though they didn't say
anything, his friends' parents thought it all a bit strange. Not many
kids in country towns got international calls trailing them around
from house to house. But then not many kids were master phreakers.
Anthrax loved the phone system and he understood its power. Many
phreakers thought it was enough to be able to call their friends
around the globe for free. Or make hacking attack phone calls without
being traced. However, real power for Anthrax lay in controlling voice
communications systems--things that moved conversations around the
world. He cruised through people's voice mailbox messages to piece
together a picture of what they were doing. He wanted to be able to
listen into telephone conversations. And he wanted to be able to
reprogram the telephone system, even take it down. That was real
power, the kind that lots of people would notice.
The desire for power grew throughout Anthrax's teenage years. He ached
to know everything, to see everything, to play with exotic systems in
foreign countries. He needed to know the purpose of every system, what
made them tick, how they fitted together. Understanding how things
worked would give him control.
His obsession with telephony and hacking began early in life. When he
was about eleven, his father had taken him to see the film War Games.
All Anthrax could think of as he left the theatre was how much he
wanted to learn how to hack. He had already developed a fascination
for computers, having received the simplest of machines, a Sinclair
ZX81 with 1 k of memory, as a birthday present from his parents.
Rummaging through outdoor markets, he found a few second-hand books on
hacking. He read Out of the Inner Circle by Bill Landreth, and Hackers
by Steven Levy.
By the time he was fourteen, Anthrax had joined a Melbourne-based
group of boys called The Force. The members swapped Commodore 64 and
Amiga games. They also wrote their own demos--short computer
programs--and delighted in cracking the copy protections on the games
and then trading them with other crackers around the world. It was
like an international penpal group. Anthrax liked the challenge
provided by cracking the protections, but few teenagers in his town
shared an interest in his unusual hobby. Joining The Force introduced
him to a whole new world of people who thought as he did.
When Anthrax first read about phreaking he wrote to one of his American
cracking contacts asking for advice on how to start. His friend sent him
a list of AT&T calling card numbers and a toll-free direct-dial number
which connected Australians with American operators. The card numbers
were all expired or cancelled, but Anthrax didn't care. What captured
his imagination was the fact that he could call an operator all the way
across the Pacific for free. Anthrax began trying to find more special
He would hang out at a pay phone near his house. It was a seedy
neighbourhood, home to the most downtrodden of all the town's
residents, but Anthrax would stand at the pay phone for hours most
evenings, oblivious to the clatter around him, hand-scanning for
toll-free numbers. He dialled 0014--the prefix for the international
toll-free numbers--followed by a random set of numbers. Then, as he
got more serious, he approached the task more methodically. He
selected a range of numbers, such as 300 to 400, for the last three
digits. Then he dialled over and over, increasing the number by one
each time he dialled. 301. 302. 303. 304. Whenever he hit a
functioning phone number, he noted it down. He never had to spend a
cent since all the 0014 numbers were free.
Anthrax found some valid numbers, but many of them had modems at the
other end. So he decided it was time to buy a modem so he could explore
further. Too young to work legally, he lied about his age and landed an
after-school job doing data entry at an escort agency. In the meantime,
he spent every available moment at the pay phone, scanning and adding
new numbers to his growing list of toll-free modem and operator-assisted
until 10 or 11 p.m. Some nights it was 3 a.m. The pay phone had a
rotary dial, making the task laborious, and sometimes he would come
home with blisters on the tips of his fingers.
A month or so after he started working, he had saved enough money for
his state school regularly, at least until year 10. Much of that was
due to his mother's influence. She believed in education and in
bettering oneself, and she wanted to give her son the opportunities
she had been denied. It was his mother, a psychiatric nurse, who
scrimped and saved for months to buy him his first real computer, a
$400 Commodore 64. And it was his mother who took out a loan to buy
the more powerful Amiga a few years later in 1989. She knew the boy
was very bright. He used to read her medical textbooks, and computers
were the future.
Anthrax had always done well in school, earning distinctions every
year from year 7 to year 10. But not in maths. Maths bored him. Still,
he had some aptitude for it. He won an award in year 6 for designing a
pendulum device which measured the height of a building using basic
trigonometry--a subject he had never studied. However, Anthrax didn't
attend school so much after year 10. The teachers kept telling him
things he already knew, or things he could learn much faster from
reading a book. If he liked a topic, he wandered off to the library to
read about it.
Things at home became increasingly complicated around that time. His
family had struggled from the moment they arrived in Australia from
England, when Anthrax was about twelve. They struggled financially,
they struggled against the roughness of a country town, and, as
Indians, Anthrax, his younger brother and their mother struggled
The town was a violent place, filled with racial hatred and ethnic
tension. The ethnics had carved out corners for themselves, but
incursions into enemy territory were common and almost always resulted
in violence. It was the kind of town where people ended up in fist
fights over a soccer game. Not an easy place for a half-Indian,
half-British boy with a violent father.
Anthrax's father, a white Englishman, came from a farming family. One
of five sons, he attended an agricultural college where he met and
married the sister of an Indian student on a scholarship. Their
marriage caused quite a stir, even making the local paper under the
headline `Farmer Marries Indian Woman'. It was not a happy marriage
and Anthrax often wondered why his father had married an Indian.
Perhaps it was a way of rebelling against his dominating father.
Perhaps he had once been in love. Or perhaps he simply wanted someone
he could dominate and control. Whatever the reason, the decision was
an unpopular one with Anthrax's grandfather and the mixed-race family
was often excluded from larger family gatherings.
When Anthrax's family moved to Australia, they had almost no money.
Eventually, the father got a job as an officer at Melbourne's
Pentridge prison, where he stayed during the week. He only received a
modest income, but he seemed to like his job. The mother began working
as a nurse. Despite their new-found financial stability, the family
was not close. The father appeared to have little respect for his wife
and sons, and Anthrax had little respect for his father.
As Anthrax entered his teenage years, his father became increasingly
abusive. On weekends, when he was home from work, he used to hit
Anthrax, sometimes throwing him on the floor and kicking him. Anthrax
tried to avoid the physical abuse but the scrawny teenager was little
match for the beefy prison officer. Anthrax and his brother were quiet
boys. It seemed to be the path of least resistance with a rough father
in a rough town. Besides, it was hard to talk back in the painful
stutter both boys shared through their early teens.
One day, when Anthrax was fifteen, he came home to find a commotion at
his house. On entering the house, Anthrax went to his parents'
bedroom. He found his mother there, and she was very upset and
emotionally distressed. He couldn't see his father anywhere, but found
him relaxing on the sofa in the lounge room, watching TV.
Disgust consumed Anthrax and he retreated into the kitchen. When his
father came in not long after to prepare some food Anthrax watched his
back with revulsion. Then he noticed a carving knife resting on the
counter. As Anthrax reached for the knife, an ambulance worker
appeared in the doorway. Anthrax put the knife down and walked away.
But he wasn't so quiet after that. He started talking back, at home and
at school, and that marked the beginning of the really big problems. In
primary school and early high school he had been beaten up now and
again. Not any more. When a fellow student hauled Anthrax up against the
wall of the locker shed and started shaking him and waving his fist,
Anthrax lost it. He saw, for a moment, his father's face instead of the
student's and began to throw punches in a frenzy that left his victim in
a terrible state.
At home, Anthrax's father learned how to bait his son. The bully
always savours a morsel of resistance from the victim, which makes
going in for the kill a little more fun. Talking back gave the father
a good excuse to get violent. Once he nearly broke his son's neck.
Another time it was his arm. He grabbed Anthrax and twisted his arm
behind his back. There was an eerie sound of cracking cartilage, and
then pain. Anthrax screamed for his father to stop. His father twisted
Anthrax's arm harder, then pressed on his neck. His mother shrieked at
her husband to let go of her son. He wouldn't.
`Look at you crying,' his father sneered. `You disgusting animal.'
`You're the disgusting animal,' Anthrax shouted, talking back again.
His father threw Anthrax on the floor and began kicking him in the
head, in the ribs, all over.
Anthrax ran away. He went south to Melbourne for a week, sleeping
anywhere he could, in the empty night-time spaces left over by day
workers gone to orderly homes. He even crashed in hospital emergency
rooms. If a nurse asked why he was there, he would answer politely, `I
received a phone call to meet someone here'. She would nod her head
and move on to someone else.
Eventually, when Anthrax returned home, he took up martial arts to
become strong. And he waited.
Anthrax was poking around a MILNET gateway when he stumbled on the
door to System X.* He had wanted to find this system for months,
because he had intercepted email about it which had aroused his
Anthrax telnetted into the gateway. A gateway binds two different
networks. It allows, for example, two computer networks which talk
different languages to communicate. A gateway might allow someone on a
system running DECNET to login to a TCP/IP based system, like a Unix.
Anthrax was frustrated that he couldn't seem to get past the System X
gateway and on to the hosts on the other side.
Using normal address formats for a variety of networks, he tried
telling the gateway to make a connection. X.25. TCP/IP. Whatever lay
beyond the gateway didn't respond. Anthrax looked around until he
found a sample of addresses in a help file. None of them worked, but
they offered a clue as to what format an address might take.
Each address had six digits, the first three numbers of which
corresponded to telephone area codes in the Washington DC area. So he
picked one of the codes and started guessing the last three digits.
Hand scanning was a pain, as ever, but if he was methodical and
persistent, something should turn up. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. On it
went. Eventually he connected to something--a Sunos Unix system--which
gave him a full IP address in its login message. Now that was handy.
With the full IP address, he could connect to System X again through
the Internet directly--avoiding the gateway if he chose to. It's
always helpful in covering your tracks to have a few different routing
options. Importantly, he could approach System X through more than
just its front door.
Anthrax spiralled through the usual round of default usernames and
passwords. Nothing. This system required a more strategic attack.
He backed out of the login screen, escaped from the gateway and went
to another Internet site to have a good look at System X from a
healthy distance. He `fingered' the site, pulling up any bit of
information System X would release to the rest of the Internet when
asked. He probed and prodded, looking for openings. And then he found
The version of Sendmail run by System X had a security hole Anthrax
could exploit by sending himself a tiny backdoor program. To do this,
he used System X's mail-processing service to send a `letter' which
contained a tiny computer program. System X would never have allowed
the program to run normally, but this program worked like a letter
bomb. When System X opened the letter, the program jumped out and
started running. It told System X that anyone could connect to port
2001--to an interactive shell--of the computer without using a
A port is a door to the outside world. TCP/IP computers use a standard
set of ports for certain services. Port 25 for mail. Port 79 for
Finger. Port 21 for FTP. Port 23 for Telnet. Port 513 for Rlogin. Port
80 for the World Wide Web. A TCP/IP based computer system has 65535
ports but most of them go unused. Indeed, the average Unix box uses
only 35, leaving the remaining 65500 ports sitting idle. Anthrax
simply picked one of these sleepy ports, dusted off the cobwebs and
plugged in using the backdoor created by his tiny mail-borne program.
Connecting directly to a port created some problems, because the
system wouldn't recognise certain keystrokes from the port, such as
the return key. For this reason, Anthrax had to create an account for
himself which would let him telnet to the site and login like any
normal user. To do this, he needed root privileges in order to create
an account and, ultimately, a permanent backdoor into the system.
He began hunting for vulnerabilities in System X's security. There was
nothing obvious, but he decided to try out a bug he had successfully
used elsewhere. He had first learned about it on an international
phone conference, where he had traded information with other hackers
and phreakers. The security hole involved the system's relatively
obscure load-module program. The program added features to the running
system but, more importantly, it ran as root, meaning that it had a
free run on the system when it was executed. It also meant that any
other programs the load-module program called up also ran as root. If
Anthrax could get this program to run one of his own programs--a
little Trojan--he could get root on System X.
The load-module bug was by no means a sure thing on System X. Most
commercial systems--computers run by banks or credit agencies, for
example--had cleaned up the load-module bug in their Sunos computers
months before. But military systems consistently missed the bug. They
were like turtles--hard on the outside, but soft and vulnerable on the
inside. Since the bug couldn't be exploited unless a hacker was
already inside a system, the military's computer security officials
didn't seem to pay much attention to it. Anthrax had visited a large
number of military systems prior to System X, and in his experience
more than 90 per cent of their Sunos computers had never fixed the
With only normal privileges, Anthrax couldn't force the load-module
doing so. The secret was in one simple keyboard character: /.
Unix-based computer systems are a bit like the protocols of the
diplomatic corps; the smallest variation can change something's
meaning entirely. Hackers, too, understand the implications of subtle
very differently from:
One simple character--the `/'--makes an enormous difference. A Unix
computer reads the `/' as a road sign. The first phrase tells the
computer, `Follow the road to the house of the user called "bin" and
when you get there, go inside and fetch the file called "program" and
run it'. A blank space, however, tells the computer something quite
different. In this case, Anthrax knew it told the computer to execute
the command which proceeded the space. That second phrase told the
machine, `Look everywhere for a program called "bin" and run it'.
Anthrax prepared for his attack on the load-module program by
installing his own special program, named `bin', into a temporary
storage area on System X. If he could get System X to run his program
with root privileges, he too would have procured root level access to
the system. When everything was in place, Anthrax forced the system to
read the character `/' as a blank space. Then he ran the load-module
program, and watched. When System X hunted around for a program named