[ISN] UK: Hackers Fight Net Monsters

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Thu Jun 25 1998 - 14:08:55 PDT

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    Forwarded From: Nicholas Charles Brawn <ncb05at_private>
    By Adam Barnard.
    A new breed of hackers who use their codebreaking skills to crack down on
    paedophiles and child pornographers on the Internet could help those
    campaigning to make the Net safe for children.
    Hackers were once the scourge of the computing world, reviled as anarchists
    on a trail of wanton electronic destruction. Now they are joining forces
    and forming secret societies to combat the people they accuse of posting
    child pornography on the Web and trying to procure youths in chat rooms.
    StRyKe (as he is known) is typical. By day an electronic systems specialist
    in Cumbria, the 25-year-old hacker spends evenings and weekends furthering
    the cause of his Internet Combat Group (ICG). Formed last year, the group's
    15 members are united in two areas - their skills with the keyboard, and
    their hatred of people who exploit children. "It makes me sick," says
    StRyKe, his Lakeland tones giving way to an angry snarl. "These people are
    animals. They commit the worst sort of evil. There is no such thing as a
    good paedophile."
    The ICG is the first group of its kind to emerge in the UK, following a
    series of similar groups in America who report that only by breaking into
    the computer systems of alleged paedophiles can their locations be traced
    and their activities stopped.
    Although the processes involved are usually illegal, police in America
    accept information passed on to them on a "no questions asked" basis.
    Scotland Yard also says it will act on any information - no matter where it
    comes from.
    Suddenly hackers, who once occupied themselves with distributing pirated
    software, breaking into bank accounts and lifting classified information
    >from defence networks, are taking on new ethical responsibilities. One
    American group has gone so far as to christen itself Ethical Hackers
    Against Paedophilia.
    "I do think of myself as moral," says StRyKe. "The traditional image of a
    hacker is no longer a valid one. I don't attack anyone who doesn't deserve
    it. We are talking about people who deliberately harm minors."
    The problems are well known. Paedophiles, rejected by society, have found
    sanctuary in the anonymity of the online world, where users can disguise
    their name, age and location. The Internet Watch Foundation, Britain's
    Internet watchdog, reports a trade of tens of thousands of pictures on the
    Web and on newsgroups, some of children as young as seven involved in
    sexual acts. Others use e-mail and chat rooms to lure children into the
    open, a practice known as "enticement".
    The difficulty facing police is that it is often impossible to trace people
    who post pictures and talk to children because the Internet makes it so
    easy for users to disguise themselves in layers of networks and routers.
    Child pornographers and child abusers have been able to communicate freely.
    But hackers like StRyKe hope they may finally reverse the trend. By using a
    host of advanced code-cracking techniques they are waging war against
    paedophiles, tracing their identities, attacking their computers and
    removing the pictures they post.
    StRyKe says he started his crusade after stumbling on a link to a child
    porn site in a hacking newsgroup. "It was an Amsterdam site which offered
    pictures of little boys and girls," he says. "It was pretty horrendous."
    He reported the website to the service provider who carried its files, but
    "they didn't care. Those people never do anything."
    Shocked into action by what he had seen and frustrated by the apa thy of
    others, he turned to hacking.
    "I am fully aware that what I do is illegal," he says. "But I'm careful,
    and if I think I can get away with something I'll do it. I risk being
    banned from computers, fined and sent to jail, but if people are using a
    computer for something illegal it is indefensible. If you don't break the
    law, you don't get the results."
    StRyKe's first goal is to identify and locate suspected paedophiles. "There
    are ways of pinning down where they are working from, even if they have
    tried to disguise their identity," he says. He uses techniques with names
    such as "pinging" and "fingering" to trace users back to their original
    Internet service provider.
    "Once you have traced the path they take, you can use search engines and
    other methods to find a person's e-mail address and then learn their real
    name and address."
    Another option is to attack suspected paedophiles' computers to discourage
    them from logging on. "You can 'bomb' them, and there is a flaw in Windows
    95 which you can take advantage of to lock up their system. You can knock
    them off-line."
    An Australian hacking friend wrote a virus - appropriately named
    Codebreaker - for StRyKe and his colleagues. "It will wipe a computer
    clean," says StRyKe with palpable excitement. "It will take over the hard
    disk and destroy all the pictures.
    "Anything is possible. You can delete pictures posted on newsgroups and
    change what's on a website. You can take over a chat room and then ban
    everyone from it. You can even shut down an entire system. It's all a
    question of knowing how.
    "I'll do anything if I think it will ultimately help to protect children."
    Critics of StRyKe's tactics claim that legal methods work just as well.
    David Kerr, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, which has the
    support of the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, argues
    that there are things his organisation can do that hackers cannot. "While
    we sympathise with their motives we can't condone what hackers do," he
    "We have a general brief against illegal activity on the Net and that
    includes hacking. There are legal ways of dealing with the problem, even if
    these methods can seem laborious and slow. Hackers may be able to do more
    damage but they are not as well connected to the police, which is
    ultimately what matters."
    It is often hard for hackers to find out whether their information has
    helped police. But American groups such as the Ethical Hackers Against
    Paedophilia insist they are already making a difference, and the FBI has
    gone on record supporting the practice.
    But even StRyKe concedes that hackers may never entirely rid the Internet
    of child abuse. "It is almost an impossible battle," he admits.
    "But if you stop one person from harming one child then it's been worth it.
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