[ISN] Phrack straddles the world of hackers

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Sun Sep 20 1998 - 20:30:08 PDT

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    Forwarded From: William Knowles <erehwonat_private>
    SAN FRANCISCO (September 20, 1998 00:07 a.m. EDT
    http://www.nandotimes.com) -- The lines of text scrolled off the screen
    quickly, but the bleached-blond hacker snatched quick glances at the
    visitors' log on his Web page. Lots of visitors using military and
    government computers. The hacker, who calls himself Route, said he always
    gets a kick out of the feds' visits. He smiled. 
    The FBI, the CIA and the others "wouldn't be doing their job if they
    weren't tracking computer information both legitimate and illegitimate,"
    Route said. "I guess Phrack falls somewhere in between." 
    Phrack is an online publication called a 'zine. It's a digital chimera:
    written for hackers but read by law enforcement, too. It's been the
    subject of federal prosecution, yet it still operates in the open. Its
    name combines "hack" and "phreak," which refers to phone hacking. 
    It's got attitude, technical know-how and in many ways defines today's
    hacker scene. It first hit the electronic bulletin boards Nov. 17, 1985,
    ages ago in hacker years. 
    To put its longevity in perspective, Phrack came out two years after the
    movie "WarGames" in which actor Matthew Broderick established the
    now-cliched image of the hacker as the lonely kid who altered his grades
    with a computer. Phrack predates the World Wide Web by almost a decade.
    And Phrack is older than many of its readers, who number about 8,000, said
    Route, who refuses to give his real name. 
    Route, 24, doesn't look like the scrawny computer nerd with the
    cathode-ray pallor so many think of when the word hacker is mentioned.
    Silver earrings dangle from each ear and a bar pierces his tongue. Spidery
    tattoos creep down his shoulders and over biceps grown solid with hours of
    iron work. 
    Behind his glower lies a keen mind that cuts through computer network
    problems like a digital knife, an invaluable skill for his day job at a
    computer security firm with Fortune 500 companies for clients. Route
    refused to name his company. 
    Phrack's improbable history begins in 1985 when a hacker with the handle
    Taran King cobbled together various subversive texts that had been
    circulating like Soviet-era samizdat on the archipelago of underground
    electronic bulletin boards.  It included all sorts of mischief-making:
    "How to Pick Master Locks," "How to Make an Acetylene Bomb" and
    "School/College Computer Dial-Ups." 
    But Phrack found itself the focus of federal prosecution in 1990, when
    editor Craig Neidorf, also known as Knight Lightning, was prosecuted by
    the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force. His alleged crime? He
    published a document in Phrack with certain details of the emergency 911
    systems in use around the country. It had been given to him by another
    hacker who had copied it from computers owned by BellSouth, which valued
    it at almost $80,000. 
    But the task force wanted to prove the document was more than valuable.
    Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Cook said it put dangerous information
    in the hands of hackers. 
    The case fell apart when Neidorf's lawyer proved that more detailed
    information about the system had appeared in other publications. You could
    order them from phone company technical catalogs for $13. The charges were
    dropped. Neidorf's trial was over. 
    If today's Phrack is a bit less confrontational, that's understandable.
    Like many of the older hackers, Route is shifting his focus away from
    anarchy texts and phone hacking to computer security. Its "how-to" days
    are pretty much over. 
    "Phrack is not meant to be a manual of vulnerabilities," he said. 
    As the editor, Route knows that Phrack can still be used for illegal
    purposes. "But you can't hold people completely liable for just putting
    information out there." 
    He said he has had "blatantly illegal stuff" sent to him. Once, he said he
    received the technical specifications for most pager systems used in the
    country, complete with how to hack those systems. He didn't publish. 
    "It's a judgment call," he said. "I have no intention of running up
    against the law or (upsetting) the military." 
    But it's almost guaranteed that something gleaned from Phrack will be used
    against the computer system of a big and powerful organization or
    "The scene is going to do what the scene is going to do,"  he said. "It's
    like any clique in society. You have good people and you have bad people." 
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