then finally told Anthrax to keep his mouth shut and mind his own
business. But Anthrax told his mother. Tensions erupted and, for a
time, Anthrax's parents saw a marriage counsellor.
But his father did not give up writing the letters. He put a password
protection program on the word processor to keep his son out of his
business. It was a futile effort. His father had chosen the wrong
medium to record his indiscretions.
Anthrax showed his mother the new letters and continued to confront
his father. When the tension in the house grew, Anthrax would escape
with his friends. One night they were at a nightclub when someone
started taunting Anthrax, calling him `curry muncher' and worse.
That was it. The anger which had been simmering below the surface for
so long exploded as Anthrax violently attacked his taunter, hitting,
kicking and punching him, using the tai kwon do combinations he had
been learning. There was blood and it felt good. Vengeance tasted
After that incident, Anthrax often lashed out violently. He was out of
for trouble. Once he tracked down a particularly seedy character who
had tried to rape one of his girlfriends. Anthrax pulled a knife on
the guy, but the incident had little to do with the girl. The thing
that made him angry was the disrespect. This guy knew the girl was
with Anthrax. The attempted rape was like spitting in his face.
Perhaps that's what appealed to Anthrax about Islam--the importance of
respect. At sixteen he found Islam and it changed his life. He
discovered the Qu'raan in the school library while researching an
assignment on religion. About the same time, he began listening to a
lot of rap music. More than half the American rappers in his music
collection were Muslim, and many sang about the Nation of Islam and
the sect's charismatic leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan. Their songs
described the injustices whites inflicted on blacks. They told blacks
to demand respect.
Anthrax found a magazine article about Farrakhan and began reading
books like the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Then he rang up the Nation
of Islam head office in Chicago and asked them to send some
information. The Final Call, the NOI newsletter, arrived one day,
followed by other literature which began appearing around Anthrax's
home. Under the TV guide. On the coffee table. Amid the pile of
newspapers. On top of his computer. Anthrax often took time to read
articles aloud to his mother while she did housework.
In the middle of 1990, when Anthrax was in year 11, his father
suggested the boy attend Catholic boarding school in Melbourne. The
school was inexpensive and the family could scrape and save to pay the
fees. Anthrax disliked the idea, but his father insisted.
Anthrax and his new school proved a bad match. The school thought he
asked too many questions, and Anthrax thought the school answered too
few of them. The hypocrisy of the Catholic church riled Anthrax and
pushed him further into the arms of NOI. How could he respect an
institution which had sanctioned slavery as a righteous and
progressive method of converting people? The school and Anthrax parted
on less than friendly terms after just one semester.
The Catholic school intensified a feeling of inferiority Anthrax had
felt for many years. He was an outsider. The wrong colour, the wrong
size, too intelligent for his school. Yet, NOI's Minister Farrakhan
told him that he wasn't inferior at all. `I know that you have been
discriminated against because of your colour,' Farrakhan told Anthrax
from the tape player. `Let me tell you why. Let me tell you about the
origins of the white race and how they were put on this earth to do
evil. They have shown themselves to be nothing but an enemy of the
East. Non-whites are the original people of the earth.'
Anthrax found some deep veins of truth in NOI's teachings. Interracial
marriages don't work. A white man marries a non-white woman because he
wants a slave, not because he loves and respects her. Islam respects
women in more meaningful ways than Western religions. Perhaps it wasn't
the type of respect that Western men were used to giving women, but he
had seen that kind of respect in his own home and he didn't think much
NOI: `The enemy does not have to be a real devil. He could be your
father, mother, brother, husband, wife or children. Many times they're
in your own household. Today is the great time of separation of the
righteous Muslim and the wicked white race.' Anthrax looked inside his
own household and saw what seemed to be a devil. A white devil.
NOI fed Anthrax's mind. He followed up the lists of literature
included in every issue of The Final Call. Books like Black Athena by
Martin Bernel and Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky had common
themes of conspiracy and oppression by the haves against the
have-nots. Anthrax read them all.
The transformation of Anthrax occurred over a period of six months. He
didn't talk about it much with his parents. It was a private matter.
But his mother later told him his adoption of the religion didn't
surprise her. His great-grandfather had been a Muslim scholar and
cleric in India. It was fate. His conversion presented a certain sense
of closure, of completing the circle.
His interest in Islam found secular outlets. A giant black and white
poster of Malcolm X appeared on Anthrax's bedroom wall. A huge photo
of Los Angeles Black Panther leader Elmer Pratt followed soon after.
The photo was captioned, `A coward dies a million deaths, a brave man
dies but one'. The last bit of wall was covered in posters of hip-hop
bands from ceiling to floor. A traditional Indian sword adorned the
top of one of the many bookcases. It complemented the growing
collection of books on martial arts. A well-loved copy of The Art of
War by Sun Tzu sat on the shelf next to Homer's Ulysses, The Lord of
The Rings, The Hobbit, a few old Dungeons and Dragons books, works of
mythology from India and Egypt. The shelves did not contain a single
work of science fiction. Anthrax shaved his head. His mother may not
have been surprised by the conversion to Islam, but the head shaving
went a bit over the top.
Anthrax pursued NOI with the same vigour with which he attacked
hacking. He memorised whole speeches of Farrakhan and began speaking
like him, commenting casually on `those caucasian, blue-eyed devils'.
He quoted people he had discovered through NOI. People who described
the US Federal Reserve Bank as being controlled by Jews. People who
spoke of those hooked-nose, bagel-eating, just-crawled-out-of-a-cave
Jews. Anthrax denied the existence of the Holocaust.
`You're shaping up to be quite a little Hitler,' his father told
seemed to frighten him. Receiving blueprints in the mail for
overthowing governments didn't sit well with the neighbours in the
quiet suburban street of the provincial town.
`Watch out,' he warned his son. `Having these thing turn up in your
mailbox can be dangerous. It will probably earmark you for some sort
of investigation. They will follow you around.'
The traffic raced. The ethernet cables attached to System X were a
regular speedway. People whizzed in and out of the mystery site like a
swarm of bees. In only twelve hours, the sniffer file topped 100 k.
Many of the connections went from System X to the major
telecommunications company. Anthrax headed in that direction.
He considered how to route the attack. He could go through a few
diverters and other leapfrog devices to cover his trail, thus hitting
the company's system from a completely separate source. The advantage
of this route was anonymity. If the admin managed to detect his entry,
Anthrax would only lose access to the phone company's system, not to
System X. Alternatively, if he went in to the company through the
gateway and System X, he risked alarms being raised at all three
sites. However, his sniffer showed so much traffic running on this
route, he might simply disappear in the flow. The established path was
obviously there for a reason. One more person logging into the gateway
through System X and then into the company's machine would not raise
suspicions. He chose to go through System X.
Anthrax logged into the company using a sniffed username and password.
Trying the load-module bug again, he got root on the system and
installed his own login patch. The company's system looked far more
normal than System X. A few hundred users. Lots of email, far too much
to read. He ran a few key word searches on all the email, trying to
piece together a better picture of the project being developed on
The company did plenty of defence work, mostly in telecommunications.
Different divisions of the company seemed to be working on different
segments of the project. Anthrax searched through people's home
directories, but nothing looked very interesting because he couldn't
get a handle on the whole project. People were all developing
different modules of the project and, without a centralised overview,
the pieces didn't mean much.
He did find a group of binary files--types of programs--but he had no
idea what they were for. The only real way to find out what they did
was to take them for a test drive. He ran a few binaries. They didn't
appear to do anything. He ran a few more. Again, nothing. He kept
running them, one after another. Still no results. All he received was
The binaries seemed to need a monitor which could display graphics.
They used XII, a graphical display common on Unix systems. Anthrax's
inexpensive home computer didn't have that sort of graphical display
operating system. He could still run the binaries by telling System X
to run them on one of its local terminals, but he wouldn't be able to
see the output on his home computer. More importantly, it was a risky
course of action. What if someone happened to be sitting at the
terminal where he chose to run the binary? The game would be up.
He leaned away from his keyboard and stretched. Exhaustion was
beginning to set in. He hadn't slept in almost 48 hours. Occasionally,
he had left his computer terminal to eat, though he always brought the
food back to the screen. His mother popped her head in the doorway
once in a while and shook her head silently. When he noticed her
there, he tried to ease her concerns. `But I'm learning lots of
things,' he pleaded. She was not convinced.
He also broke his long hacking session to pray. It was important for a
devout Muslim to practice salat--to pray at least five times a day
depending on the branch of Islam followed by the devotee. Islam allows
followers to group some of their prayers, so Anthrax usually grouped
two in the morning, prayed once at midday as normal, and grouped two
more at night. An efficient way to meet religious obligations.
Sometimes the time just slipped away, hacking all night. When the
first hint of dawn snuck up on him, he was invariably in the middle of
some exciting journey. But duty was duty, and it had to be done. So he
pressed control S to freeze his screen, unfurled the prayer mat with
its built-in compass, faced Mecca, knelt down and did two sets of
prayers before sunrise. Ten minutes later he rolled the prayer mat up,
slid back into his chair, typed control Q to release the pause on his
computer and picked up where he left off.
This company's computer system seemed to confirm what he had begun to
suspect. System X was the first stage of a project, the rest of which
was under development. He found a number of tables and reports in
System X's files. The reports carried headers like `Traffic Analysis',
`calls in' and `calls out', `failure rate'. It all began to make sense
System X called up each of the military telephone exchanges in that
list. It logged in using the computer-generated name and password.
Once inside, a program in System X polled the exchange for important
statistics, such as the number of calls coming in and out of the base.
This information was then stored on System X. Whenever someone wanted
a report on something, for example, the military sites with the most
incoming calls over the past 24 hours, he or she would simply ask
System X to compile the information. All of this was done
Anthrax had read some email suggesting that changes to an exchange,
such as adding new telephone lines on the base, had been handled
manually, but this job was soon to be done automatically by System X.
It made sense. The maintenance time spent by humans would be cut
A machine which gathers statistics and services phone exchanges
remotely doesn't sound very sexy on the face of it, until you begin to
consider what you could do with something like that. You could sell it
to a foreign power interested in the level of activity at a certain
base at a particular time. And that is just the beginning.
You could tap any unencrypted line going in or out of any of the 100
or so exchanges and listen in to sensitive military discussions. Just
a few commands makes you a fly on the wall of a general's conversation
to the head of a base in the Philippines. Anti-government rebels in
that country might pay a pretty penny for getting intelligence on the
All of those options paled next to the most striking power wielded by
a hacker who had unlimited access to System X and the 100 or so
telephone exchanges. He could take down that US military voice
communications system almost overnight, and he could do it
automatically. The potential for havoc creation was breathtaking. It
would be a small matter for a skilled programmer to alter the
automated program used by System X. Instead of using its dozen or more
modems to dial all the exchanges overnight and poll them for
statistics, System X could be instructed to call them overnight and
reprogram the exchanges.
What if every time General Colin Powell picked up his phone, he was be
automatically patched through to some Russian general's office? He
wouldn't be able to dial any other number from his office phone. He'd
pick up his phone to dial and there would be the Russian at the other
end. And what if every time someone called into the general's number,
they ended up talking to the stationery department? What if none of the
phone numbers connected to their proper telephones? No-one would be
able to reach one another. An important part of the US military machine
would be in utter disarray. Now, what if all this happened in the first
few days of a war? People trying to contact each other with vital
information wouldn't be able to use the telephone exchanges reprogrammed
by System X.
THAT was power.
It wasn't like Anthrax screaming at his father until his voice turned
to a whisper, all for nothing. He could make people sit up and take
notice with this sort of power.
Hacking a system gave him a sense of control. Getting root on a system
always gave him an adrenalin rush for just that reason. It meant the
system was his, he could do whatever he wanted, he could run whatever
processes or programs he desired, he could remove other users he
didn't want using his system. He thought, I own the system. The word
`own' anchored the phrase which circled through his thoughts again and
again when he successfully hacked a system.
The sense of ownership was almost passionate, rippled with streaks of
obsession and jealousy. At any given moment, Anthrax had a list of
systems he owned and that had captured his interest for that moment.
Anthrax hated seeing a system administrator logging onto one of those
systems. It was an invasion. It was as though Anthrax had just got
this woman he had been after for some time alone in a room with the
door closed. Then, just as he was getting to know her, this other guy
had barged in, sat down on the couch and started talking to her.
It was never enough to look at a system from a distance and know he
could hack it if he wanted to. Anthrax had to actually hack the
system. He had to own it. He needed to see what was inside the system,
to know exactly what it was he owned.
The worst thing admins could do was to fiddle with system security.
That made Anthrax burn with anger. If Anthrax was on-line, silently
observing the admins' activities, he would feel a sudden urge to log
them off. He wanted to punish them. Wanted them to know he was into
their system. And yet, at the same time, he didn't want them to know.
Logging them off would draw attention to himself, but the two desires
pulled at him from opposite directions. What Anthrax really wanted was
for the admins to know he controlled their system, but for them not to
be able to do anything about it. He wanted them to be helpless.
Anthrax decided to keep undercover. But he contemplated the power of
having System X's list of telephone exchange dial-ups and their
username-password combinations. Normally, it would take days for a
single hacker with his lone modem to have much impact on the US
military's communications network. Sure, he could take down a few
exchanges before the military wised up and started protecting
themselves. It was like hacking a military computer. You could take
out a machine here, a system there. But the essence of the power of
System X was being able to use its own resources to orchestrate
widespread pandemonium quickly and quietly.
Anthrax defines power as the potential for real world impact. At that
moment of discovery and realisation, the real world impact of hacking
System X looked good. The telecommunications company computer seemed
like a good place to hang up a sniffer, so he plugged one into the
machine and decided to return in a little while. Then he logged out
and went to bed.
When he revisited the sniffer a day or so later, Anthrax received a
rude shock. Scrolling through the sniffer file, he did a double take
on one of the entries. Someone had logged into the company's system
using his special login patch password.
He tried to stay calm. He thought hard. When was the last time he had
logged into the system using that special password? Could his sniffer
have logged himself on an earlier hacking session? It did happen
occasionally. Hackers sometimes gave themselves quite a fright. In the
seamless days and nights of hacking dozens of systems, it was easy to
forget the last time you logged into a particular system using the
special password. The more he thought, the more he was absolutely
sure. He hadn't logged into the system again.
Which left the obvious question. Who had?
Sometimes Anthrax pranked, sometimes he punished. Punishment could be
severe or mild. Generally it was severe. And unlike pranking, it was
not done randomly.
Different things set him off. The librarian, for example. In early
1993 Anthrax had enrolled in Asia-Pacific and Business Studies at a
university in a nearby regional city. Ever since he showed up on the
campus, he had been hassled by a student who worked part-time at the
university library. On more than one occasion, Anthrax had been
reading at a library table when a security guard came up and asked to
search his bags. And when Anthrax looked over his shoulder to the
check-out desk, that librarian was always there, the one with the bad
attitude smeared across his face.
The harassment became so noticeable, Anthrax's friends began
commenting on it. His bag would be hand-searched when he left the
library, while other students walked through the electronic security
boom gate unbothered. When he returned a book one day late, the
librarian--that librarian--insisted he pay all sorts of fines.
Anthrax's pleas of being a poor student fell on deaf ears. By the time
exam period rolled around at the end of term, Anthrax decided to
punish the librarian by taking down the library's entire computer
quickly gained root privileges. The system had security holes a mile
wide. Then, with one simple command, he deleted every file in the
computer. He knew the system would be backed up somewhere, but it
would take a day or two to get the system up and running again. In the
meantime, every loan or book search had to be conducted manually.
During Anthrax's first year at university, even small incidents
provoked punishment. Cutting him off while he was driving, or swearing
at him on the road, fit the bill. Anthrax would memorise the licence
plate of the offending driver, then social engineer the driver's
personal details. Usually he called the police to report what appeared
to be a stolen car and then provided the licence plate number. Shortly
after, Anthrax tuned into to his police scanner, where he picked up
the driver's name and address as it was read over the airways to the
investigating police car. Anthrax wrote it all down.
Then began the process of punishment. Posing as the driver, Anthrax rang
the driver's electricity company to arrange a power disconnection. The
next morning the driver might return home to find his electricity cut
off. The day after, his gas might be disconnected. Then his water. Then
Some people warranted special punishment--people such as Bill. Anthrax
came across Bill on the Swedish Party Line, an English-speaking
telephone conference. For a time, Anthrax was a regular fixture on the
line, having attempted to call it by phreaking more than 2000 times
over just a few months. Of course, not all those attempts were
successful, but he managed to get through at least half the time. It
required quite an effort to keep a presence on the party line, since
it automatically cut people off after only ten minutes. Anthrax made
friends with the operators, who sometimes let him stay on-line a while