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: OPEN SESAME :
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: In The Arcane Culture Of Computer Hackers, Few Doors Stay Closed :
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:Frank Darden Easily Broke Into BellSouth's Network, Trading Tips W/ Others:
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: Entering The Legion Of Doom :
Article Direct From The Wall Street Journal Volume LXXXVI NO. 37 Southwest
Edition WEDNESDAY AUGUST 22, 1990.
Article Written By: John R. Wilke
Staff Report Of The Wall Street Journal
ATLANTA - Frank Darden got his first computer at the age of 16, a Christmas
present from his parents. Sitting on a desk in his bedroom, it opened a
window on a world he found so consuming that he quit high school and spend
most days/nights at the keyboard.
His parents often wondered what their son found so compelling in the endless
hours he spent alone in his room. then one afternoon last summer, a doezen
Secret SErvice agents burst into the family's suburbn home. Agents held
Edward and Lou Darden at gunpoint as they swarmed into their son's room,
seizing scores of disks, armloads of files and three computers.
When Frank got home an hour later, the terrified young man confessed that he
had used his home computer to break into BellSouth Corp's telephone network.
In February, Mr. Darden and two others were indicted on felony charges of
conspiracy and wire fraud.
"I guess now my parents know what I was doing in my room," says a remoresful
Mr. Darden, a bright, impatient 24-year old with shoulder-length hair and a
JUST PASSING THROUGH
Mr. Darden thus became another of the growing number of "hackers" nabbed by
federal agents. for a long time, these high tech trespasswers operated in
relative obscurity, using their computers and phone lines to go where few
people were meant to go. But lately, in a string of highly publicized
cases, hacking has moved toward the forefront of white-collar crime.
Increasingly, banks, businesses, credit bureaus and telephone companies are
discovering that someone, often in the dead of night, has wandered into
their computer systems -- and left his mark.
As Mr. Darden's experience reveals, hacking has developed its own
subculture, rich with literature and legend and peopled by electronic
vandels, yoyeurs, and explorers known by fanciful code names. "any business
that has a computer hooked to a phone is vulnerable," warns Mr. Darden, who
called himself the "The Leftist." Before the bust, he was one of the best.
Mr. Darden's case is part of a broad federal crackdown on computer hackers
that has led to more than 30 raids in cities across the country. In the
most recent sweep, 13 people were arrested in New York last week, including
a 14 year old suspected of breaking into a computer used by the Secretary of
the Air Force.
An early target in the crackdown was the Legion Of Doom, an elite clique of
hackers that included Mr. Darden and was targeted by the SEcret Service
because of its member's notable skills. "The Legion Of Doom had the power
to jeopardize the entire phone network," Says Kent B. Alexander, an
assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Mr. Darden's case in Atlanta.
In a SEcret Service affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta,
BellSouth investigators call the Legion Of Doom "a severe threat to U.S.
financial and telecommunications industries." Federal agents suspect the
Legion was responsible for software "Time-Bombs" -- Destructive progrmas
designed to shut down major switching hubs -- planted in telephone company
computers in Denver, Atlanta And New Jersey last year. The programs were
defused before causing damage, investigators say, but the intrusions, which
were not disclosed by the phone companies, could have knocked out service to
hundreds of thoughsands of customore phone lines.
The government sweep so far has bagged a motley band, mostly loners and
young rebels in their teens or early twenties. In past cases, many of the
hackers who have admitted breaking into computers have insisted that they
didn't damage the systems they penetrated. they did it for sport.
"There is no thrill quite the same as getting into your first system," says
Phrack, an electronic magazine run out of a University of Missouri dorm and
accessed by computer. Before it was shut down in the latest sweep, Phrack
(for Phone-freak-hacking (GOT: Notice the spelling of Phreak??), published
tips on cracking computer security. One issue offers a "hacker's code of
ethics," which advises, "Do NOT intentionally damage ANY system" or alter
any files "other than ones you need to ensure your escape." Another rule:
"Don't be afraid to be paranoid. Remember, you are breaking the law." Mr.
Darden says he strictly adhered to the code.
But the hackers' creed means nothing in court. There, hacking is treated
much like any other form of criminal trespass under a law Congress passed in
1988. The law persuaded many hackers to end their illicit forays. But it
turned other hobbyists into criminals.
During his hacker days, Mr. Darden's world was an oddly solitary one. For
hours on end he sat in front of the computer screen, finding his only human
contact in the words and arcane code that arrived via computer from other
hackers. "Once he got into a subject, there was no stopping," recalls his
mother. "He was always studing up on somthing. He read encyclopedias as a
Geography was meaningless; friends around the world were just a few
keystrokes away, thanks to modems that connect computers through phone
lines. Mr. Darden says he has struck up many lasting friendships on-line w/
many people he has never met in person.
In this silent, cerebral world, age is also irrelevant. Only computer
skills count. Once on-line, a hacker can be anyone he/she wants to be. "No
one knows if you are fat, pimply, or scared to talk to girls," says Sheldon
Zenner, a chicago attorney who recently defended an editor of Phrack on
felony wire-fraud charges. "Suddenly you are no longer just the shy
adolescent but KNIGHT LIGHTNING or THE PROPHET."
"It is a complusion for some of these people," adds Mr. Alexander, the
Atlanta Prosecutor, "I am convinced that if Lotus 1-2-3 was behind door
number one and Cheryl Tiegs was standing behind Door Number two, a hacker
would go for the software."
Mr. Darden recounts his hacking days w/ disapproval -- and just a touch of
pride. He broke into his first system at the age of 17, dialing his way
into a big computer at Hayes Microcomputer Products Inc., in Norcross, Ga.,
and nosing around the system. "I didn't take anything, I was just trying to
see if it could be done," he says now. Hayes uncovered the breach and
quickly tightened security, he says.
Hacking sessions often stretched into the early morning hours. He owuld
start by checking lists of comptuer phone numbers collected by his computer
the night before through an automatic process called "war dialing." Thats
the brute force approach to hacking, when the computer runs through the
night, methodically dialing every number in a telephone exchange. It
records the number whenever it hits a "carrier tone" signaling a computer is
on the other end.
In a typical night of war dialing, in which the computer might check
thousands of numbers, perhaps 100 computer carrier tones would be unerathed,
"each one a potential treasure chest, " Mr. Darden says. He would then
begin calling down the "hit list" w/ his computer, each time trying to
determine what kind of system was on the other end. FAX machines were a
problem, because they emit a tone that sounds like a computer to he wrote
software that ignored them.
HELLO, ARE YOU THERE??
Each kind of computer had a distinctive response to his call, so he would
tailor his approach to the type of system he encountered. Computers that
used the UNIX software operating system were especially easy to break into,
while Digital Equipment Corp.'s VAX computers, which have multiple levels of
security, presented a bigger challenge. But he says he was fond of the VAX
because of its widely used software. "For a hacker, the VAX is like putting
on an old Jimi Hendrix record in a bar -- it's a real classic." Using
purloined telephone credit-card numbers, which his computer generated
through trial and error, he got into computers all over the world, including
an encounter with a VAX that spoke Finnish.
He devised password-caracking programs that automated the hacking process.
He also devised a program that let him capture legitimate users' passwords
as they logged onto the system. When he found a password the target
computer recognized, his screen would typically respond with a prompt, such
as a sign. "once you get that, you have an open door," he says. Often he
would play "cat/mouse games" w/ a company's computer operators. "I'd send a
little greeting to their printer to let them know I was there. It drove
Credit bureaus were a favorite target. And, despite the warnings of other
hackers that it might give him away, his first move was to look up his own
credit report. "Naturally, i didn't have one," he says. He found his
parents' report, and looked up others for friends.
To make the process more efficient, and show off, Mr. Darden and other
hackers traded phone numbers and system-cracking tips on pirate "Bulletin
Boards" -- computer systems that store and forward text and electronic mail
over phone lines. "Black Ice" was one such board. Access was tightly
limited to an elite circle.
NO BUSY SIGNAL HERE
Mr. Darden's biggest thrill as a hacker, and ultimately his downfall, came
when he broke into a big BellSouth computer in Atlanta used by technicians
to maintain and control the phone system. He learned how to navigate w/in
the system by asking questions of BellSouth's own online "help" program.
Once inside, he found he had the ability to reroute telephone calls or bring
down switching centers, neither of which he says he did. Mr. Darden did,
however, listen in on a few phone lines, but only those of other hackers, he
insists and only to prove his prowness.
"If we'd wanted to, we could have knocked out service across the
Southeastern United States" he says. "The fact that I could get into the
system amazed me. But we were careful not to damage anything."
Not surprisingly, when BellSouth discovered hackers rummaging through its
computer, it reacted swiftly. It put 42 investigators on the task of
tracking the intruders down, and spent 1.5$ million on the effort. Once it
found the source of the intrusions, it called in the Secret Service, which
enforces computer-crime laws.
In the indictment, Mr. Darden and two co-defendants, Robert J. Riggs, 21,
aka The Prophet, and Adam E. Garant, 22, aka The Urvile, were charged with
taking copies of proprietary software from BellSouth, and w/ unauthorized
intrusion, possessing illegal phone credit-card numbers w/ intent to
defrand, and conspiracy. Messrs, Darden and Riggs pleaded guilty to
conspiracy and face a maximum of five years in prison and a 250,00$ fine.
Mr. Grant pleaded guilty to possessing BellSouth computer access codes w/
intent to defraud and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a 250,00$
fine. Sentencing is scheduled for September 14.
The only good thing to come out of the whole experience, Mr. Darden muses,
is that after he was indicted, his high-school sweetheart, whom he often
spurned in favor of his computer, saw his picture on the front page of the
local paper and got back in touch.
Mr. Darden, who now works installing systems for a local computer company,
views himself as a purist, hacking for the thrill of exploring the
forbidden. He looks down on those who use their skills simply to steal
phone/credit-card numbers. But in this game, information is everything and
not even Mr. Darden can control its spread. During their sweep, federal
agents have found some hackers using code-cracking information dug up by the
Legion of Doom to perpetrate their own practical jokes and fraud.
For a few days last year, for example, phone calls to the Delray Beach,
Fla., probation office were mysteriously rerouted to a dial a porn line in
New York. Secret Service agents say its the kind of thing the Legion of
Doom MIGHT have done.
And in Elwood, Ind., a 15 year old calling himself Fry Guy allegedly used
information he got from the Legion to carry out an elaborate fraud. Secret
Service agents say he used his computer to break into a Credit Rating
service in Maryland to pilfer VISA/MASTERCARD credit information. He then
entered BellSouth's control network and altered a pay phone on a street
corner in nearby Paducah, Ky., to residential status. Next, he called
Western Union and had cash wired out of credit-card accounts to the Paducah
Western Union office. When Western Union called the credit-card holders to
verify the transactions, the calls were forwarded to the pay phone and then
to the youth's home phone, where he posed as the credit-card holders and
gave approval. The cash was then picked up at the loacl Western Union
window, investigators say.
AND A RAISE FOR EVERYONE
In all, Fry Guy siphoned more than 10,000$ in cash and purchases from
credit-card accunts, alleges William M. Gleason, the Secret Service
investigator. He also found evidence that Fry Guy, whose name has not been
released, hacked his way into a payroll computer for a local McDonald's
Corporation outlet, giving pay raises to his friends working at the
Fry Guy's case is being handled by state and federal juvenile authorities
and, because of his age, it is unclear what punishment he might get. At the
very least, his parents are likely to watch the family phone bill more
closely. In a recent meeting w/ federal prosecutors, Fry Guy's exasperated
father wore a baseball cap bearing the legen "Kids: They'll drive you
Federal agents admit that, when they detect an intruder inside a computer,
there isn't any way of telling if its a precocious teen-ager or a crook out
to commit fraud. So they simply execute the law.
"when a hacker gets into a system. It's no different from a burglar breaking
into your home/office," Says Secret Service agent James Cool. If the door
is open, the law treats a trespasser differently , he adds. But if a hacker
cracks a password to get into a system, "it's the same as kicking in a
locked door, and we're going to come after them."
Ed Darden wishes he had known all of this before he gave his son that
Apple II for Christmas eight years ago. "I'd have thought twice about it,"
he says. "Maybe we should have given him a bicycle."
Mother Earth is down, disregard any phone numbers. The board will be going
up in December and under a different name. No name/Number has been
established as of yet. When the time comes, we'll publish it in our latest
Issue Of NIA.
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