prison, where he had served time for beating up a Vietnamese boy at a
railway station. He had a bad attitude and he often greeted the party
line by saying, `Are there any coons on the line today?' His attitude
to women wasn't much better. He relentlessly hit on the women who
frequented the line. One day, he made a mistake. He gave out his phone
number to a girl he was trying to pick up. The operator copied it down
and when her friend Anthrax came on later that day, she passed it on
Anthrax spent a few weeks social engineering various people, including
phone accounts, to piece together the details of his life. Bill was a
rough old ex-con who owned a budgie and was dying of cancer. Anthrax
phoned Bill in the hospital and proceeded to tell him all sorts of
personal details about himself, the kind of details which upset a
though he had perhaps gone a bit too far.
The tension at home had eased a little by the time Anthrax left to
attend university. But when he returned home during holidays he found
his father even more unbearable. More and more, Anthrax rebelled
against his father's sniping comments and violence. Eventually, he
vowed that the next time his father tried to break his arm he would
fight back. And he did.
One day Anthrax's father began making bitter fun of his younger son's
stutter. Brimming with biting sarcasm, the father mimicked Anthrax's
`Why are you doing that?' Anthrax yelled. The bait had worked once
It was as though he became possessed with a spirit not his own. He
a chair and thrust it forward to keep Anthrax at bay, then reached
back for the phone. Said he was calling the police. Anthrax ripped the
phone from the wall. He pursued his father through the house, smashing
furniture. Amid the crashing violence of the fight, Anthrax suddenly
felt a flash of fear for his mother's clock--a much loved, delicate
family heirloom. He gently picked it up and placed it out of harm's
way. Then he heaved the stereo into the air and threw it at his
father. The stereo cabinet followed in its wake. Wardrobes toppled
with a crash across the floor.
When his father fled the house, Anthrax got a hold of himself and
began to look around. The place was a disaster area. All those things
so tenderly gathered and carefully treasured by his mother, the things
she had used to build her life in a foreign land of white people
speaking an alien tongue, lay in fragments scattered around the house.
Anthrax felt wretched. His mother was distraught at the destruction
and he was badly shaken by how much it upset her. He promised to try
and control his temper from that moment on. It proved to be a constant
battle. Mostly he would win, but not always. The battle still simmered
below the surface.
Sometimes it boiled over.
Anthrax considered the possibilities of who else would be using his
login patch. It could be another hacker, perhaps someone who was
running another sniffer that logged Anthrax's previous login. But it
was more likely to be a security admin. Meaning he had been found out.
Meaning that he might be being traced even as he leap-frogged through
System X to the telecommunications company's computer.
Anthrax made his way to the system admin's mailboxes. If the game was
up, chances were something in the mailbox would give it away.
There it was. The evidence. They were onto him all right, and they
hadn't wasted any time. The admins had mailed CERT, the Computer
Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon University, reporting a
security breach. CERT, the nemesis of every Internet hacker, was bound
to complicate matters. Law enforcement would no doubt be called in
It was time to get out of this system, but not before leaving in a
CERT had written back to the admins acknowledging the incident and
providing a case number. Posing as one of the admins, Anthrax drafted
a letter to CERT. To make the thing look official, he added the case
number `for reference'. The letter went something like this:
`In regard to incident no. XXXXX, reported on this date, we have since
carried out some additional investigations on the matter. We have
discovered the security incident was caused by a disgruntled employee
who was fired for alcoholism and decided to retaliate against the
company in this manner.
`We have long had a problem with alcohol and drug abuse due to the
stressful nature of the company environment. No further investigation
At his computer terminal, Anthrax smiled. How embarrassing was that
going to be? Try scraping that mud off. He felt very pleased with
the sniffer and moved out.
Things began to move quickly after that. He logged into System X later
to check the sniffer records, only to find that someone had used his
login patch password on that system as well. He became very nervous.
It was one thing goofing around with a commercial site, and quite
another being tracked from a military computer.
A new process had been added to System X, which Anthrax recognised. It
was called `-u'. He didn't know what it did, but he had seen it before
on military systems. About 24 hours after it appeared, he found
himself locked out of the system. He had tried killing off the -u
process before. It disappeared for a split-second and reappeared. Once
it was in place, there was no way to destroy it.
Anthrax also unearthed some alarming email. The admin at a site
upstream from both System X and the company's system had been sent a
warning letter: `We think there has been a security incident at your
site'. The circle was closing in on him. It was definitely time to get
the hell out. He packed up his things in a hurry. Killed off the
remaining sniffer. Moved his files. Removed the login patch. And
departed with considerable alacrity.
After he cut his connection, Anthrax sat wondering about the admins.
If they knew he was into their systems, why did they leave the
sniffers up and running? He could understand leaving the login patch.
Maybe they wanted to track his movements, determine his motives, or
trace his connection. Killing the patch would have simply locked him
out of the only door the admins could watch. They wouldn't know if he
had other backdoors into their system. But the sniffer? It didn't make
It was possible that they simply hadn't seen the sniffer. Leaving it
there had been an oversight. But it was almost too glaring an error to
be a real possibility. If it was an error, it implied the admins
weren't actually monitoring the connections in and out of their
systems. If they had been watching the connections, they would
probably have seen the sniffer. But if they weren't monitoring the
connections, how on earth did they find out his special password for
the login patch? Like all passwords on the system, that one was
encrypted. There were only two ways to get that password. Monitor the
connection and sniff it, or break the encryption with a brute-force
Breaking the encryption would probably have taken millions of dollars
sniffing it, which would have alerted them to his own sniffer. Surely
they wouldn't have left his sniffer running on purpose. They must have
known he would learn they were watching him through his sniffer. The
whole thing was bizarre.
Anthrax thought about the admins who were chasing him. Thought about
their moves, their strategies. Wondered why. It was one of the
unsolved mysteries a hacker often faced--an unpleasant side of
hacking. Missing the answers to certain questions, the satisfaction of
a certain curiosity. Never being able to look over the fence at the
Harrisburg Oh Harrisburg
The plant is melting down
The people out in Harrisbug
Are getting out of town
And when this stuff gets in
You cannot get it out
-- from `Harrisburg', on Red Sails in the Sunset by Midnight Oil
Anthrax thought he would never get caught. But in some strange way, he
also wanted to get caught. When he thought about being busted, he
found himself filled with a strange emotion--impatience. Bring on the
impending doom and be done with it. Or perhaps it was frustration at
how inept his opponents seemed to be. They kept losing his trail and
he was impatient with their incompetence. It was more fun outwitting a
Perhaps he didn't really want to be caught so much as tracked. Anthrax
liked the idea of the police tracking him, of the system
administrators pursuing him. He liked to follow the trail of their
investigations through other people's mail. He especially liked being
on-line, watching them trying to figure out where he was coming from.
He would cleverly take control of their computers in ways they
couldn't see. He watched every character they typed, every spelling
error, every mistyped command, each twist and turn taken in the vain
hope of catching him.
He hadn't been caught back in early 1991, when it seemed everyone was
after him. In fact Anthrax nearly gave up hacking and phreaking
completely in that year after what he later called `The Fear of God'
Late at night, on a university computer system, he bumped into another
hackers recognised another of their kind. Strange connections to
strange places in the middle of the night. Inconsistencies in process
names and sizes. The clues were visible for those who knew how to find
The two hackers danced around each other, trying to determine who the
mystery hacker asked Anthrax, `Are you a disease which affects sheep?'
Anthrax typed the simple answer back. `Yes.'
The other hacker revealed himself as Prime Suspect, one of the
International Subversives. Anthrax recognised the name. He had seen
Prime Suspect around on the BBSes, had read his postings. Before
Anthrax could get started on a friendly chat, the IS hacker jumped in
with an urgent warning.
He had unearthed emails showing the Feds were closing in on Anthrax.
The mail, obtained from system admins at Miden Pacific, described the
systems Anthrax had been visiting. It showed the phone connections he
had been using to get to them, some of which Telecom had traced back
to his phone. One of the admins had written, `We're on to him. I feel
really bad. He's seventeen years old and they are going to bust him
and ruin his life.' Anthrax felt a cold chill run down his spine.
Prime Suspect continued with the story. When he first came across the
email, he thought it referred to himself. The two hackers were the
same age and had evidently been breaking into the same systems. Prime
Suspect had freaked out over the mail. He took it back to the other
two IS hackers, and they talked it through. Most of the description
fitted, but a few of the details didn't seem to make sense. Prime
Suspect wasn't calling from a country exchange. The more they worked
it through, the clearer it became that the email must have been
referring to someone else. They ran through the list of other options
and Anthrax's name came up as a possibility. The IS hackers had all
seen him around a few systems and BBSes. Trax had even spoken to him
once on a conference call with another phreaker. They pieced together
what they knew of him and the picture fitted. The AFP were onto
Anthrax and they seemed to know a lot about him. They had traced his
telephone connection back to his house. They knew his age, which
implied they knew his name. The phone bills were in his parents'
names, so there may have been some personal surveillance of him. The
Feds were so close they were all but treading on his heels. The IS
hackers had been keeping an eye out for him, to warn him, but this was
the first time they had found him.
Anthrax thanked Prime Suspect and got out of the system. He sat frozen
in the night stillness. It was one thing to contemplate getting caught,
to carry mixed emotions on the hypothetical situation. It was another to
have the real prospect staring you in the face. In the morning, he
gathered up all his hacking papers, notes, manuals--everything. Three
trunks' worth of material. He carried it all to the back garden, lit a
bonfire and watched it burn. He vowed to give up hacking forever.
And he did give it up, for a time. But a few months later he somehow
found himself back in front of his computer screen, with his modem
purring. It was so tempting, so hard to let go. The police had never
shown up. Months had come and gone, still nothing. Prime Suspect must
have been wrong. Perhaps the AFP were after another hacker entirely.
Then, in October 1991, the AFP busted Prime Suspect, Mendax and Trax.
But Anthrax continued to hack, mostly on his own as usual, for another
two years. He reminded himself that the IS hackers worked in a team.
If the police hadn't nailed him when they busted the others, surely
they would never find him now. Further, he had become more skilled as
a hacker, better at covering his tracks, less likely to draw attention
to himself. He had other rationalisations too. The town where he lived
was so far away, the police would never bother travelling all the way
into the bush. The elusive Anthrax would remain at large forever, the
unvanquished Ned Kelly of the computer underground.
Mundane matters were on Anthrax's mind on the morning of 14 July 1994.
The removalists were due to arrive to take things from the half-empty
apartment he had shared with another student. His room-mate had
already departed and the place was a clutter of boxes stuffed with
clothes, tapes and books.
Anthrax sat in bed half-asleep, half-watching the `Today' show when he
heard the sound of a large vehicle pulling up outside. He looked out
the window expecting to see the removalists. What he saw instead was
at least four men in casual clothes running toward the house.
They were a little too enthusiastic for removalists and they split up
before getting to the door, with two men forking off toward opposite
sides of the building. One headed for the car port. Another dove
around the other side of the building. A third banged on the front
door. Anthrax shook himself awake.
The short, stocky guy at the front door was a worry. He had puffy,
longish hair and was wearing a sweatshirt and acid-wash jeans so tight
you could count the change in his back pocket. Bad ideas raced through
Anthrax's head. It looked like a home invasion. Thugs were going to
break into his home, tie him up and terrorise him before stealing all
`Open up. Open up,' the stocky one shouted, flashing a police badge.
Stunned, and still uncomprehending, Anthrax opened the door. `Do you
know who WE are?' the stocky one asked him.
Anthrax looked confused. No. Not sure.
`The Australian Federal Police.' The cop proceeded to read out the
What happened from this point forward is a matter of some debate. What
is fact is that the events of the raid and what
followed formed the basis of a formal complaint by Anthrax to the
Office of the Ombudsman and an internal investigation within the AFP.
The following is simply Anthrax's account of how it happened.
The stocky one barked at Anthrax, `Where's your computer?'
`What computer?' Anthrax looked blankly at the officer. He didn't have
a computer at his apartment. He used the uni's machines or friend's
`Your computer. Where is it? Which one of your friends has it?'
`No-one has it. I don't own one.'
`Well, when you decide to tell us where it is, you let us know.'
Yeah. Right. If Anthrax did have a hidden computer at uni, revealing
its location wasn't top of the must-do list.
The police pawed through his personal letters, quizzed Anthrax about
them. Who wrote this letter? Is he in the computer underground? What's
Anthrax said `no comment' more times than he could count. He saw a few
police moving into his bedroom and decided it was time to watch them
closely, make sure nothing was planted. He stood up to follow them in
and observe the search when one of the cops stopped him. Anthrax told
them he wanted a lawyer. One of the police looked on with disapproval.
`You must be guilty,' he told Anthrax. `Only guilty people ask for
lawyers. And here I was feeling sorry for you.'
Then one of the other officers dropped the bomb. `You know,' he began
casually, `we're also raiding your parents' house ...'
Anthrax freaked out. His mum would be hysterical. He asked to call his
mother on his mobile, the only phone then working in the apartment.
The police refused to let him touch his mobile. Then he asked to call
her from the pay phone across the street. The police refused again.
One of the officers, a tall, lanky cop, recognised a leverage point if
ever he saw one. He spread the guilt on thick.
`Your poor sick mum. How could you do this to your poor sick mum?
We're going to have to take her to Melbourne for questioning, maybe
even to charge her, arrest her, take her to jail. You make me sick. I
feel sorry for a mother having a son like you who is going to cause
her all this trouble.'
From that moment on, the tall officer took every opportunity to talk
about Anthrax's `poor sick mum'. He wouldn't let up. Not that he
probably knew the first thing about scleroderma, the creeping fatal
disease which affected her. Anthrax often thought about the pain his
mother was in as the disease worked its way from her extremities to
her internal organs. Scleroderma toughened the skin on the fingers and
feet, but made them overly sensitive, particularly to changes in
weather. It typically affected women native to hot climates who moved
to colder environments.
Anthrax's mobile rang. His mother. It had to be. The police wouldn't
let him answer it.
The tall officer picked up the call, then turned to the stocky cop and
said in a mocking Indian accent, `It is some woman with an Indian
accent'. Anthrax felt like jumping out of his chair and grabbing the
phone. He felt like doing some other things too, things that would
have undoubtedly landed him in prison then and there.
The stocky cop nodded to the tall one, who handed the mobile to
At first, he couldn't make sense of what his mother was saying. She
was a terrified mess. Anthrax tried to calm her down. Then she tried
to comfort him.
`Don't worry. It will be all right,' she said it, over and over. No
matter what Anthrax said, she repeated that phrase, like a chant. In
trying to console him, she was actually calming herself. Anthrax
listened to her trying to impose order on the chaos around her. He
could hear noises in the background and he guessed it was the police
rummaging through her home. Suddenly, she said she had to go and hung
Anthrax handed the phone back to the police and sat with his head in
happening to him. How could the police seriously consider taking his
mother to Melbourne for questioning? True, he phreaked from her home
office phone, but she had no idea how to hack or phreak. As for
charging his mother, that would just about kill her. In her mental and
physical condition, she would simply collapse, maybe never to get up
He didn't have many options. One of the cops was sealing up his mobile
impossible for him to call a lawyer, since the police wouldn't let him
use the mobile or go to a pay phone. They harangued him about coming
to Melbourne for a police interview.
`It is your best interest to cooperate,' one of the cops told him. `It
would be in your best interest to come with us now.'
Anthrax pondered that line for a moment, considered how ludicrous it
sounded coming from a cop. Such a bald-faced lie told so
matter-of-factly. It would have been humorous if the situation with
his mother hadn't been so awful. He agreed to an interview with the
police, but it would have to be done on another day.
The cops wanted to search his car. Anthrax didn't like it, but there
was nothing incriminating in the car anyway. As he walked outside in
the winter morning, one of the cops looked down at Anthrax's feet,
which were bare in accordance with the Muslim custom of removing shoes
in the house. The cop asked if he was cold.
The other cop answered for Anthrax. `No. The fungus keeps them warm.'
Anthrax swallowed his anger. He was used to racism, and plenty of it,
especially from cops. But this was over the top.
In the town where he attended uni, everyone thought he was Aboriginal.
There were only two races in that country town--white and Aboriginal.
Indian, Pakistani, Malay, Burmese, Sri Lankan--it didn't matter. They
were all Aboriginal, and were treated accordingly.
Once when he was talking on the pay phone across from his house, the
police pulled up and asked him what he was doing there. Talking on the
phone, he told them. It was pretty obvious. They asked for
identification, made him empty his pockets, which contained his small
mobile phone. They told him his mobile must be stolen, took it from
him and ran a check on the serial number. Fifteen minutes and many