The Computer Underground

.. ere publicized in a 1971 Esquire magazine article. The term “phreaking” encompasses several different means of getting around the billing mechanisms of telephone companies. By using these methods, long distance phone calls can be placed without cost. In ma y cases the methods also prevent, or at least inhibit, the possibility of calls being traced to their source thereby helping the phreaker to avoid being caught.

Early phreaking methods involved electro- mechanical devices that generated key tones, or altered line voltages in certain ways as to trick the mechanical switches of the phone company into connecting calls without charging. This method of phreaking is generally called “(color) boxing,” where the type of box is referred to by a color such as “blue boxing.” However the advent of computerized telephone-switching systems largely made these devices obsolete. In order to continue their practice the phreaks have had to learn hacking skills. Phreaking and hacking have just recently merged, because now, the telephone companies are using computers to operate their network. So, in order to learn more about these computers in relation to the network, phreaks have learned hacking skills, and can now program, and get around inside the machines (AF, message log, 1988).

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For most members of the computer underground, phreaking is simply a tool that allows them to call long distance without amassing enormous phone bills. Because the two activities are so closely related, with phreakers learning hacking skills and hackers breaking into “telco” computers, reference is usually made to phreak/hacking or p/hackers.” Those who have a deeper and more technically oriented interest in the “telco” (telephone company) are known as phreakers. They, like the hackers discussed earlier, desire to master and explore a system that few outsiders really understand: The phone system is the most interesting, fascinating thing that I know of. There is so much to know. Even phreaks have their own areas of knowledge.

There is so much to know that one phreak could know something fairly important and the next phreak not. The next phreak might know ten things that the first phreak doesn’t though. It all depends upon where and how they get their info. I myself would like to work for the telco, doing something interesting, like programming a switch. Something that isn’t slave labor bullshit.

Something that you enjoy, but have to take risks in order to participate unless you are lucky enough to work for the telco. To have access to telco things, manuals, etc would be great (DP, message log, 1988). Phreaking involves having the dedication to commit yourself to learning as much about the phone system/network as possible. Since most of this information is not made public, phreaks have to resort to legally questionable means to obtain the knowledge they want (TP2, message log, 1988). Most members of the underground do not approach the telephone system with such passion. Many hackers are interested in the phone system solely to the extent that they can exploit its weaknesses and pursue other goals.

In this case, phreaking becomes a means and not a pursuit unto itself. Another individual, one who identifies himself as a hacker, explains: I know very little about phones . . . I just hack. See, I can’t exactly call these numbers direct.

A lot of people are in the same boat. In my case, phreaking is a tool, an often used one, but nonetheless a tool (TU, message log, 1988). In the world of the computer underground, the ability to “phreak a call” is taken for granted. The phone companies allowance the use of the credit cards for billing has opened the door to wide-scale phreaking. With credit cards, no special knowledge or equipment is required to phreak a call, only valid credit card numbers, known as “codez,” are needed to call any location in the world.

This method of phreaking is generally called “carding,” it is generally looked on as the lowest form of phreaking as almost no technical skill is necessary. Another role in the computer underground is that of the software pirate. Software piracy refers to the unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted software. This activity centers around computer bulletin board systems, and parts of the internet that specialize in “warez.” Pirates and phreak/hackers/crackers do not necessarily support the activities of each other, and there is distrust and misunderstanding between the two groups. At least part of this distrust lies in the phreak/hacker perception that piracy is an unskilled activity. A possible exception to this are those pirates that have the programming skills needed to remove copy protection from software.

By removing the program code that inhibits duplicate copies from being made these individuals, which also go by the name “crackers,” contribute greatly to the easy distribution of “warez.” While p/hackers generally don’t disapprove of piracy as an activity, especially “cracking pirates,” they nevertheless tend to avoid pirate bulletin boards and internet sites partly because there is little pertinent phreak/hack information contained on them, and partly because of the belief that pirates indiscriminately abuse the telephone network in pursuit of the latest computer game. One hacker illustrates this belief by theorizing that pirates are responsible for a large part of credit card fraud. The media claims that it is solely hackers who are responsible or losses pertaining to large telecommunication companies and long distance services. This is not the case. We are (hackers) but a small portion of these losses. The rest are caused by pirates and thieves who sell these codes to people on the street (AF, message log, 1988). Other hackers complain that uploading large programs frequently takes several hours to complete, and it is pirate calls, not the ones placed by “tele-communications enthusiasts” (a popular euphemism for phreakers and hackers) that cost the telephone industry large sums of money.

However, not all pirates phreak their calls. Phreaking is considered “very tacky” among elite pirates, and system operators (Sysops) of pirate bulletin boards discourage phreaked calls because it draws attention to the system when the call is discovered by the telephone company. For the average computer user the most feared of the computer underground is that of the computer virus creator. Among the CU computer viruses are generally referred to as “viri.” Computer viruses are in themselves a very specific type of program but to the novice or low sophistication computer user, which the majority are, they are any program that can take over, damage or otherwise infiltrate, a computer. Program that qualify as “trojan horses,” “logic bombs,” or “worms” are often just called “viruses.” A virus is a self-replicating program that is capable of carrying a destructive or otherwise annoying payload while a “trojan horse” is a program that allows easy access to an already-penetrated system.

It can also be used to facilitate a penetration by being tagged to a legitimate program so that when the host computer runs the program the trojan put itself in a position to allow the designer easy access. “Logic” or “time bombs” are similar to the trojans except that they wait for a specific circumstances or time to detonate a harmful payload. Logic bombs are often incorporated into a virus, if it is of the destructive variety, as their destructive payload. The “worm” is the most similar to a virus in that it also replicates, but it is generally designed to infect idle workstations or terminals on a network. Worms tend to exist in memory and are non- permanent, one must simply reboot to remove them, while the virus resides on disk where they are permanent until eradicated. There are two main types of virus writers, people who’s main purpose is to create havoc for the computer user doing everything possible to spread their viruses.

Then there are the people who aren’t interested in spreading their viruses but rather creating them as a mental exercise that involves figuring out better ways to evade detection or further empower their programming skills. The latter will often be composed of software engineers and highly skilled programmers while the primary tends to be a younger age group who are relatively unskilled in comparison. An example of this is a teenage viri writer called “Little Loc” who “wanted to be the most dangerous virus writer in American,” and attempted to prove it by writing a virus that became wide spread and know as the Satan Bug. On the other hand there are writers like “Screaming Radish,” who is Windows-application developer from Australia, his purpose in virus development is not destructive but rather to gain a better understanding of how anti-virus software works. He likes to “reverse-engineer” anti- virus software taking them apart to study what signatures it scanned for and what the software excludes from it’s scrutiny.

Viruses made with that level of sophistication are becoming a type of digital currency in the computer underground where one can use them to trade for other information. (Jan Smith, 1994) Mark A. Lugwig, the writer of virus tutorials, had this to say: It is inevitable that these books will offend some people. In fact, I hope they do. They need to.

I am convinced that computer viruses are not evil and that programmers have the right to create them, posses them and experiment with them. That kind of a stand is going to offend a lot of people, no matter how it is presented. Even a purely technical treatment of viruses which simply discussed how to write them and provided some examples would be offensive. The mere thought of a million well armed hackers out there is enough to drive some bureaucrats mad. These books go beyond a technical treatment, though, to defend the idea that viruses can be useful, interesting, and just plain fun. That is bound to prove even more offensive.

Still, the truth is the truth, and it needs to be spoken, even if it is offensive. Morals and ethics cannot be determined by a majority vote, any more than they can be determined by the barrel of a gun or loud mouth. Might does not make right. The mass media has tended to sensationalize hacking, whilst soundly condemning it. But there other points of view: for example, in many instances the breaching of systems can provide more effective security in the future, so that other (presumably less well-intentioned) elements of the CU are prevented from causing real harm.

A good llustration of this was the penetration of British Telecom’s electronic mail system in 1984, by Steven Gold and Robert Schifreen, which resulted in a rude message being left in none other than the Duke of Edinburgh’s account! This incident attracted enormous publicity and led directly to improved security arrangements for the whole of the Prestel system. Gold and Schifeen were therefore extremely indignant at being treated as criminals – and this illustrates the discrepancy between what the law considers to be criminal behavior and how the CU often perceive themselves. (The Australian, 1988) We might therefore ask ourselves whether, for the sake of balance, a truly democratic society should possess a core of technically gifted but recalcitrant people. Given that more and more information about individuals is now being stored on computers, often without our knowledge or consent, is it not reassuring that some citizens are able to penetrate these databases to find out what is going on? Thus it could be argued that the CU represent one way in which we can help avoid the creation of a more centralized, even totalitarian government. This is one scenario the CU openly entertain.

Indeed, we now know that at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster in the former Soviet Union, hackers from the Chaos Computer Club released more information to the public about developments than did the West German government itself. All of this information was gained by illegal break-ins carried out in government computer installations. REFERENCES The Australian, 1988, January 26, Hackers found guilty after cracking Duke’s codes. April 29, Lords clear British Hackers. Best, Joel and David F. Luckenbill.

1982. Organizing Deviance. Englewood Cliff, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Bequai, August. 1987. Technocrimes.

Lexington, Mass.:Lexington Books. Bickford, Robert. 1988. Personal communication to Gordon Meyer. Chicago Tribune. 1989.

“Computer hacker, 18, gets prison for fraud.” Feb. 15:2,1. Compuserve Magazine, 1994, Viruses: Gone or just forgotten? Forester, Tom and Morrison, Perry, 1990, Computer Ethics, Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing. Hollinger, Richard C. and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce. 1988. “The Process of Criminalization: The Case of Computer Crime Laws.” Criminology 26:101-126. Levy, Steven.

1984. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. New York: Dell Publishing. Message Logs from a variety of computer underground bulletin board systems, 1988-1989. NBC-TV. 1988. Hour Magazine.

November 2, 1988. Bill Landreth, 1985, Outside the Inner Circle. Microsoft publishing Parker, Donn B. 1983. Fighting Computer Crime. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Rosenbaum, Ron. 1971.

“Secrets of the Little Blue Box .” Esquire October, pp. 116-125. Small, David. 1988. Personal communication to Gordon Meyer. WGN-Radio.

1988. Ed Schwartz Show. September 27, 1988.


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