http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/05/weekinreview/05SCHW.html January 5, 2003 By JOHN SCHWARTZ THE curious thing about the new film "Catch Me if You Can" is how contemporary it seems. Curious because this tale of Frank W. Abagnale Jr. - in real life a teenage con artist who cashed millions in fake checks while impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a prosecutor - is set in the swinging 60's. In those days few mortals had used a computer, and Internet wasn't even a word. But the young Frank Abagnale seems an eery prefiguration of a very modern character: the hacker. Like them, he discovered a vast and arcane system held together with technology - in his case, the nation's network of banks. He worked tirelessly to understand its every facet, from the codes used by the Federal Reserve system, to the special paper and ink and machines used to make checks. And he exploited the system with a teenager's limitless energy - and limited morality. Like many of today's hackers, Mr. Abagnale - who is currently unavailable for interviews, said a spokesman, having just completed a publicity tour for the film - finally went legit. He crossed over from committing crimes to solving them - first for the F.B.I., and these days as a consultant to the industry he once defrauded. In this, too, he was ahead of his time. In January 2000, the computer security firm known as @stake hired the seven members of L0pht Heavy Industries, a hacking collective in Boston. Two years before, a member of L0pht (pronounced loft) had bragged about the group's skills to a Senate committee, saying that any member could take down the Internet within 30 minutes. Chris Wysopal, who attended that hearing as a L0pht member and is now the director of research and development for @stake, says that while his firm doesn't go out of its way to hire hackers, it values "learning how the systems work through exploration." Kevin D. Mitnick, perhaps the nation's best-known hacker, served five years in prison on charges of computer and wire fraud and is currently trying to reinvent himself as a business consultant. He has started a company, Defensive Thinking Inc., and has written a book on computer security, "The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security," with William L. Simon. Hackers have always been with us, said David J. Farber, who helped to develop electronic telephone switching when he worked at Bell Laboratories in the 1950's and 60's, and went on to pioneer many of the technologies underlying today's networked computers. "There's been a big history of - let's call it hacking," said Mr. Farber, citing tricks like using magnets to guide slugs through Coke machines, and getting free phone calls by turning the telephone company's own technologies against it. "I don't remember doing anything particularly onerous," he said, and joked that his memory might be clouded by the fact that "I don't know what the statute of limitations is." Broadly defined, he said, it is a fundamental urge to game the system. "If you could find the records and dug back far enough, it was probably going on in ancient Rome," he said. In that sense, the hacker really is a species of trickster. And as the "cyberpunk" novelist Neal Stephenson wrote in "The Diamond Age," the trickster is universal, but varies in guise from culture to culture. "The Indians of the American Southwest called him Coyote, those of the Pacific Coast called him Raven," Mr. Stephenson writes. "Europeans called him Reynard the Fox. African-Americans called him Br'er Rabbit. In 20-century literature he appears first as Bugs Bunny and then as the Hacker." OF course, hackers may have another, less mythological reason for embracing Mr. Abagnale as one of their own. In the movie, at least, he is an infallibly successful seducer of women - a particular sort of con at which the stereotypically male hacker is proverbially inept. - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Jan 06 2003 - 08:36:33 PST