knows about his hacking convictions, recently gave him a pay rise. In
mid-1994, he gave up drugs for good. In 1995 he moved into a shared
house with some friends, and in August 1996 he stopped smoking
Without hacking, there seems to be time in his life to do new things.
He took up sky-diving. A single jump gives him a high which lasts for
days, sometimes up to a week. Girls have captured his interest. He's
had a few girlfriends and thinks he would like to settle into a
serious relationship when he finds the right person.
Recently, Prime Suspect has been studying martial arts. He tries to
attend at least four classes a week, sometimes more, and says he has a
special interest in the spiritual and philosophical sides of martial
arts. Most days, he rises at 5 a.m., either to jog or to meditate.
In 1992 Mendax and Trax teamed up with a wealthy Italian real-estate
investor, purchased La Trobe University's mainframe computer
(ironically, a machine they had been accused of hacking) and started a
computer security company. The company eventually dissolved when the
investor disappeared following actions by his creditors.
After a public confrontation in 1993 with Victorian Premier Jeff
Kennett, Mendax and two others formed a civil rights organisation to
fight corruption and lack of accountability in a Victorian government
department. As part of this ongoing effort, Mendax acted as a conduit
for leaked documents and became involved in a number of court cases
against the department during 1993-94. Eventually, he gave evidence in
camera to a state parliamentary committee examining the issues, and
his organisation later facilitated the appearance of more than 40
witnesses at an investigation by the Auditor-General.
Mendax volunteers his time and computer expertise for several other
non-profit community organisations. He believes strongly in the
importance of the non-profit sector, and spends much of his free time
as an activist on different community projects. Mendax has provided
information or assistance to law-enforcement bodies, but not against
hackers. He said, `I couldn't ethically justify that. But as for
others, such as people who prey on children or corporate spies, I am
not concerned about using my skills there.'
Still passionate about coding, Mendax donates his time to various
international programming efforts and releases some of his programs
for free on the Internet. His philosophy is that most of the lasting
social advances in the history of man have been a direct result of new
NorTel and a number of other organisations he was accused of hacking
use his cryptography software--a fact he finds rather ironic.
Anthrax moved to Melbourne, where he is completing a university course
and working on freelance assignments in the computer networking area
of a major corporation.
His father and mother are divorcing. Anthrax doesn't talk to his
father at all these days.
Anthrax's mother's health has stabilised somewhat since the completion
of the court case, though her condition still gives her chronic pain.
Despite some skin discolouration caused by the disease, she looks
well. As a result of her years of work in the local community, she has
a loyal group of friends who support her through bad bouts of the
illness. She tries to live without bitterness and continues to have a
good relationship with both her sons.
Anthrax is no longer involved in the Nation of Islam, but he is still
a devout Muslim. An acquaintance of his, an Albanian who ran a local
fish and chips shop, introduced him to a different kind of Islam. Not
long after, Anthrax became a Sunni Muslim. He doesn't drink alcohol or
gamble, and he attends a local mosque for Friday evening prayers. He
tries to read from the Qu'raan every day and to practise the tenets of
his religion faithfully.
With his computer and business skills now sought after by industry, he
is exploring the possibility of moving to a Muslim country in Asia or
the Middle East. He tries to promote the interests of Islam worldwide.
Most of his pranking needs are now met by commercial CDs--recordings
of other people's pranking sold through underground magazines and
American mail order catalogues. Once in a long while, he still rings
Mr McKenny in search of the missing shovel.
Anthrax felt aggrieved at the outcome of his written complaint to the
Office of the Ombudsman. In the complaint, Anthrax gave an account of
how he believed the AFP had behaved inappropriately throughout his
case. Specifically, he alleged that the AFP had pressured his mother
with threats and had harassed him, taken photographs of him without
his permission, given information to his university about his case
prior to the issue of a summons and the resolution of his case, and
made racist comments toward him during the raid.
In 1995-96, a total of 1157 complaints were filed against the AFP, 683
of which were investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Of the
complaint investigations completed and reviewed, only 6 per cent were
substantiated. Another 9 per cent were deemed to be `incapable of
determination', about 34 per cent were `unsubstantiated', and in more
than a quarter of all cases the Ombudsman either chose not to
investigate or not to continue to investigate a complaint.
The Office of the Ombudsman referred Anthrax's matter to the AFP's
Internal Investigations office. Although Anthrax and his mother both
gave statements to the investigating officers, there was no other
proof of Anthrax's allegations. In the end, it came down to Anthrax
and his mother's words against those of the police.
The AFP's internal investigation concluded that Anthrax's complaints
could either not be substantiated or not be determined, in part due to
the fact that almost two years had passed since the original raid. For
the most part, the Ombudsman backed the AFP's finding. No
recommendation was made for the disciplining of any officers.
Anthrax's only consolation was a concern voiced by the Ombudsman's
Office. Although the investigating officer agreed with the AFP
investigators that the complaint could not be substantiated, she
wrote, `I am concerned that your mother felt she was compelled to
pressure you into attending an interview based on a fear that she
would be charged because her phone was used to perpetrate the
Anthrax remains angry and sceptical about his experience with the
police. He believes a lot of things need to be changed about the way
the police operate. Most of all, he believes that justice will never
be assured in a system where the police are allowed to investigate
After Pad and Gandalf were released from prison, they started up a
free security advisory service on the Internet. One reason they began
releasing 8lgm advisories, as they were known, was to help admins
secure their own systems. The other reason was to thumb their noses at
the conservatives in the security industry.
Many on the Internet considered the 8lgm advisories to be the best
available at the time--far better than anything CERT had ever
produced. Pad and Gandalf were sending their own message back to the
establishment. The message, though never openly stated, was something
like this: `You busted us. You sent us to prison. But it didn't
matter. You can't keep information like this secret. Further, we are
still better than you ever were and, to prove it, we are going to beat
you at your own game.'
Believing that the best way to keep a hacker out of your system is to
secure it properly in the first place, the two British hackers
rejected security gurus who refused to tell the world about new
security holes. Their 8lgm advisories began marginalising the
traditional industry security reports, and helped to push the industry
toward its current, more open attitude.
Pad and Gandalf now both work, doing computer programming jobs on
contract, sometimes for financial institutions. Their clients like
them and value their work. Both have steady girlfriends.
Pad doesn't hack any more. The reason isn't the risk of getting caught
or the threat of prison. He has stopped hacking because he has
realised what a headache it is for a system administrator to clean up
his or her computer after an attack. Searching through logs. Looking
for backdoors the hacker might have left behind. The hours, the
hassle, the pressure--he thinks it is wrong to put anyone through
that. Pad understands far better now how much strain a hacker
intrusion can cause another human being.
There is another reason Pad has given up hacking: he has simply
outgrown the desire. He says that he has better things to do with his
time. Computers are a way for him to earn a living, not a way to spend
his leisure time. After a trip overseas he decided that real
travel--not its electronic cousin--was more interesting than hacking.
He has also learned to play the guitar, something he believes he would
have done years ago if he hadn't spent so much time hacking.
Gandalf shares Pad's interest in travelling. One reason they like
contract work is because it lets them work hard for six months, save
some money, and then take a few months off. The aim of both ex-hackers
for now is simply to sling backpacks over their shoulders and bounce
around the globe.
Pad still thinks that Britain takes hacking far too seriously and he
is considering moving overseas permanently. The 8lgm court case made
him wonder about the people in power in Britain--the politicians, the
judges, the law enforcement officers. He often thinks: what kind of
people are running this show?
In 1993, the Victorian Ombudsman1 and the Victoria Police2 both
investigated the leaking of confidential police information in
association with Operation Iceberg--a police investigation into
allegations of corruption against Assistant Commissioner of Police
Frank Green. Stuart Gill figured prominently in both reports.
The Victoria Police report concluded that `Gill was able to infiltrate
the policing environment by skilfully manipulating himself and
information to the unsuspecting'. The Ombudsman concluded that a
`large quantity of confidential police information, mainly from the
ISU database, was given to ... Gill by [Victoria Police officer]
The police report stated that Inspector Chris Cosgriff had
deliberately leaked confidential police information to Gill, and
reported that he was `besotted with Gill'. Superintendent Tony Warren,
ex-Deputy Commissioner John Frame and ex-Assistant Commissioner
Bernice Masterston were also criticised in the report.
The Ombudsman concluded that Warren and Cosgriff's relationship with
Gill was `primarily responsible for the release of confidential
information'. Interestingly, however, the Ombudsman also stated,
`Whilst Mr Gill may have had his own agenda and taken advantage of his
relationship with police, [the] police have equally used and in some
cases misused Mr Gill for their own purposes'.
The Ombudsman's report further concluded that there was no evidence of
criminal conduct by Frank Green, and that the `allegations made over
the years against Mr Green should have been properly and fully
investigated at the time they were made'.
As his court case played in the media, Phoenix was speeding on his
motorcycle through an inner-city Melbourne street one rainy night when
he hit a car. The car's driver leapt from the front seat and found a
disturbing scene. Phoenix was sprawled across the road. His helmet had
a huge crack on the side, where his head had hit the car's petrol
tank, and petrol had spilled over the motorcycle and its rider.
Miraculously, Phoenix was unhurt, though very dazed. Some bystanders
helped him and the distraught driver to a nearby halfway house. They
called an ambulance, and then made the two traumatised young men some
tea in the kitchen. Phoenix's mother arrived, called by a bystander at
Phoenix's request. The ambulance workers confirmed that Phoenix had
not broken any bones but they recommended he go to hospital to check
for possible concussion.
Still both badly shaken, Phoenix and the driver exchanged names and
phone numbers. Phoenix told the driver he did technical work for a
0055 telephone service, then said, `You might recognise me. I'm
Phoenix. There's this big computer hacking case going on in
court--that's my case'.
The driver looked at him blankly.
Phoenix said, `You might have seen me on the TV news.'
No, the driver said, somewhat amazed at the strange things which go
through the dazed mind of a young man who has so narrowly escaped
left his info-line technician's job and began working in the
information technology division of a large Melbourne-based
corporation. Well paid in his new job, Phoenix is seen, once again, as
the golden-haired boy. He helped to write a software program which
reduces waste in one of the production lines and reportedly saved the
company thousands of dollars. Now he travels abroad regularly, to
Japan and elsewhere.
He had a steady girlfriend for a time, but eventually she broke the
relationship off to see other people. Heartbroken, he avoided dating
for months. Instead, he filled his time with his ever-increasing
His new interest is music. He plays electric guitar in an amateur
A few weeks after his sentencing, Electron had another psychotic
episode, triggered by a dose of speed. He was admitted to hospital
again, this time at Larundel. After a short stay, he was released and
underwent further psychiatric care.
Some months later, he did speed again, and suffered another bout of
psychosis. He kept reading medical papers on the Internet about his
condition and his psychiatrists worried that his detailed research
might interfere with their ability to treat him.
He moved into special accommodation for people recovering from mental
instabilities. Slowly, he struggled to overcome his illness. When
people came up to him and said things like, `What a nice day it is!'
Electron willed himself to take their words at face value, to accept
that they really were just commenting on the weather, nothing more.
During this time, he quit drugs, alcohol and his much-hated accounting
course. Eventually he was able to come off his psychiatric medicines
completely. He hasn't taken drugs or had alcohol since December 1994.
His only chemical vice in 1996 was cigarettes. By the beginning of
1997 he had also given up tobacco.
Electron hasn't talked to either Phoenix or Nom since 1992.
In early 1996, Electron moved into his own flat with his steady
girlfriend, who studies dance and who also successfully overcame
mental illness after a long, hard struggle. Electron began another
university course in a philosophy-related field. This time university
life agreed with him, and his first semester transcript showed honours
grades in every class. He is considering moving to Sydney for further
and doing minor handyman work at a local primary school. Among the small
projects the school asked him to complete was the construction of a
retaining wall. He designed and dug, measured and fortified. As he
finished off the last of his court-ordered community service hours on
the wall, he discovered that he was rather proud of his creation. Even
now, once in a while, he drives past the school and looks at the wall.
It is still standing.
There are still hacking cases in Australia. About the same time as
Mendax's case was being heard in Victoria, The Crawler pleaded guilty
to 23 indictable offences and thirteen summary offences--all hacking
related charges--in Brisbane District Court. On 20 December 1996, the
21-year-old Queenslander was given a three-year suspended prison
sentence, ordered to pay $5000 in reparations to various
organisations, and made to forfeit his modem and two computers. The
first few waves of hackers may have come and gone, but hacking is far
from dead. It is merely less visible.
Law enforcement agencies and the judiciaries of several countries have
tried to send a message to the next generation of would-be hackers.
The message is this: Don't hack.
But the next generation of elite hackers and phreakers have heard a
very different message, a message which says: Don't get caught.
The principle of deterrence has not worked with hackers at this level.
I'm not talking here about the codes-kids--the teeny-bopper, carding,
wanna-be nappies who hang out on IRC (Internet relay chat). I'm
talking about the elite hackers. If anything, law enforcement
crackdowns have not only pushed them further underground, they have
encouraged hackers to become more sophisticated than ever before in
the way they protect themselves. Adversity is the mother of invention.
When police officers march through the front door of a hacker's home
today, they may be better prepared than their predecessors, but they
will also be facing bigger hurdles. Today, top hackers encrypt
everything sensitive. The data on their hard drives, their live data
connections, even their voice conversations.
So, if hackers are still hacking, who are their targets?
It is a broad field. Any type of network provider--X.25, cellular
phone or large Internet provider. Computer vendors--the manufacturers
of software and hardware, routers, gateways, firewalls or phone
switches. Military institutions, governments and banks seem to be a
little less fashionable these days, though there are still plenty of
attacks on these sorts of sites.
Attacks on security experts are still common, but a new trend is the
increase in attacks on other hackers' systems. One Australian hacker
joked, `What are the other hackers going to do? Call the Feds? Tell
the AFP, "Yes, officer, that's right, some computer criminal broke
into my machine and stole 20000 passwords and all my exploitation code
for bypassing firewalls".'
For the most part, elite hackers seem to work alone, because of the
well-advertised risks of getting caught. There are still some
underground hacking communities frequented by top hackers, most notably
UPT in Canada and a few groups like the l0pht in the US, but such groups
are far less common, and more fragmented than they used to be.
These hackers have reached a new level of sophistication, not just in
the technical nature of their attacks, but in their strategies and
objectives. Once, top hackers such as Electron and Phoenix were happy
to get copies of Zardoz, which listed security holes found by industry
experts. Now top hackers find those holes themselves--by reading line
by line through the proprietary source code from places like DEC, HP,
CISCO, Sun and Microsoft.
Industrial espionage does not seem to be on the agenda, at least with
anyone I interviewed. I have yet to meet a hacker who has given
proprietary source code to a vendor's competitor. I have, however, met
a hacker who found one company's proprietary source code inside the
computer of its competitor. Was that a legal copy of the source code?
Who knows? The hacker didn't think so, but he kept his mouth shut
about it, for obvious reasons.
Most of the time, these hackers want to keep their original bugs as
quiet as possible, so vendors won't release patches.
The second popular target is source code development machines. The top
hackers have a clear objective in this area: to install their own
backdoors before the product is released. They call it `backdooring' a
program or an operating system. The word `backdoor' is now used as
both a noun and a verb in the underground. Hackers are very nervous
discussing this subject, in part because they don't want to see a
computer company's stock dive and people lose their jobs.
What kind of programs do these hackers want to backdoor? Targets
mentioned include at least one major Internet browser, a popular game,
an Internet packet filter and a database product used by law
A good backdoor is a very powerful device, creating a covert channel
through even the most sturdy of firewalls into the heart of an
otherwise secure network. In a net browser, a backdoor would in theory
allow a hacker to connect directly into someone's home computer every
time he or she wandered around the World Wide Web. However, don't
expect hackers to invade your suburban home just yet. Most elite
hackers couldn't care less about the average person's home computer.
Perhaps you are wondering who might be behind this sort of attack.
What sort of person would do this? There are no easy answers to that
question. Some hackers are good people, some are bad, just like any
group of people. The next generation of elite hackers are a diverse
bunch, and relaying their stories would take another book entirely.
However, I would like to introduce you to just one, to give you a
window into the future.
A European living outside Australia, SKiMo has been hacking for at
least four years, although he probably only joined the ranks of
world-class hackers in 1995 or 1996. Never busted. Young--between the
age of 18 and 25--and male. From a less than picture-perfect family.
Fluent in English as a second language. Left-leaning in his
politics--heading toward environmentally green parties and anarchy
rather than traditional labour parties. Smokes a little dope and
drinks alcohol, but doesn't touch the hard stuff.
His musical tastes include early Pink Floyd, Sullen, Dog Eat Dog,
Biohazard, old Ice-T, Therapy, Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the
Machine, Fear Factory, Life of Agony and Napalm Death. He reads
Stephen King, Stephen Hawking, Tom Clancy and Aldous Huxley. And any
good books about physics, chemistry or mathematics.