Computer underground Digest Wed Dec 16, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 66
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer ([email protected]
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Copy Editor: Etaion Shrdlu, Junior
CONTENTS, #4.66 (Dec 16, 1992)
File 1-- CPSR and the Transition
File 2--Cellular Phone Fraud Techniques & Countermeasures (CU News)
File 3--Police Hackers / Computer Privacy Survey (Cu News)
File 4--EFF Nominations for PIONEER AWARDS
File 5--Organizational Changes at the EFF
File 6--Response to CERT advisory (Re: CuD 4.65)
File 7--CuD's 1992 MEDIA HYPE award to FORBES MAGAZINE
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Date: Tue, 15 Dec 1992 13:13:39 EDT
From: Marc Rotenberg
Subject: File 1-- CPSR and the Transition
Over the last several years CPSR has worked extensively on access to
government information, the Freedom of Information Act, computer
security policy, and privacy protection.
We have now sent the following recommendations to several transition
team groups. (The "(b)(1) exemption" in the first recommendation
refers to the national security exemption in the Freedom of
We hope that the new administration will give our proposals full
Marc Rotenberg, Director
CPSR Washington Office
FROM--Marc Rotenberg, CPSR
RE--Classification, Computer Security, Privacy
CC--Policy Group, Justice Cluster
DATE--December 10, 1992
Three issues that the Executive Order Project should
1) Rescind E.O. 12356 (1982 Reagan Order on classification)
The Reagan Order on classification is the bane of the FOIA and
science communities. It has led to enormous overclassification,
frustrated government accountability, and skewed national priorities.
It should be rescinded.
A new E.O. should narrow the scope of classification
authority. It should reduce the classification bureaucracy. And it
should reflect the economic cost of classifying scientific and
technical information, i.e. such information should be presumptively
available. In the FOIA context, the new E.O. should also require
agencies to identify "an ascertainable harm" before invoking the
2) Rescind NSD-42 (1991 Bush Directive on computer security
This directive undermined a fairly good 1987 law (the Computer
Security Act) and transferred authority for computer security from the
civilian sector to the intelligence community. It led to several bad
decisions in the area of technical standard setting (e.g. network
standards that facilitate surveillance rather than promoting security)
and has made it more difficult to ensure agency accountability. It
should be rescinded.
The President could either leave the 1987 Act in place and
issue no new E.O. or he could revise the E.O. consistent with the aims
of the 1987 law, recognizing the recent problems with technical
standard setting by the intelligence community.
3) Establish a task force on privacy protection
The new administration should move quickly on the privacy
front, particularly in the telecommunications arena. The United
States currently lags behind Canada, Japan, and the EC on telecomm
new services and the protection of consumer interests.
An Executive Order on privacy should include the following
elements: (1) the creation of an intra-agency task force with public
participation, (2) a report to the President within 180 days with
legislative recommendations, (3) a procedure for ongoing review and
coordination with Justice, Commerce, State, and OSTP.
Date: 13 Dec 92 14:00:21 EST
From: Gordon Meyer <[email protected]>
Subject: File 2--Cellular Phone Fraud & Countermeasures (CU News)
Industry sponsored studies on the amount of money lost to fraudulent
calls vary, as they do with estimates of computer crime and software
piracy, but one figure from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry
Association (CTIA) places the cost at somewhere between 100 and $300
million annually. Other estimates are as high at $600 million.
Typical methods used to obtain service for free include paying off
company employees to provide the all-essential ESN (Electronic Serial
Number, a unique identifier transmitted with each call that identifies
who is placing the call.), to 'cloning' ESN's from existing phones,
sometimes using radio receivers to evesdrop on cellular traffic and
copy the ESN from other calls.
Earlier this year the Secret Service raided homes in Phoenix and
confiscated 35 phones, 10,000 microchips, and other equipment used to
steal cellular service.
The El Segundo based Computer Sciences Corp has recently released an
Artificial Intelligence based device that attempts to thwart
fraudulent activity by maintaining a data base of calling patterns for
a particular ESN. When the pattern of activity changes, the cellular
company is notified that the ESN may have been compromised.
The CTIA has set up a fraud task force, with an annual budget of $4
million dollars, to help fight the problem. Individual cellular
companies have also established their own fraud investigation units.
Unlike the long-distance industry, cellular companies do not have a
policy of holding the customer responsible for fraudulent calls.
For more information read "Stop, Thief!", Information Week,
November 30, 1992. pg. 32
Date: 13 Dec 92 14:00:21 EST
From: Gordon Meyer <[email protected]>
Subject: File 3--Police Hackers / Computer Privacy Survey (Cu News)
According to news reports, up to 45 members (since 1989) of the Los
Angeles Police Department have been disciplined for using for
unauthorized use of police databases. They have been freely digging
up information on everyone from potential baby sitters to local
celebrities. There are reportedly some cases of using the databases
to file false insurance claims as well.
For more information see Karen M. Carriol's "Was Police Search
Warranted? Information Week. Nov 23 1992 pg 79
Privacy vs Computers Survey.
Equifax's June '92 update to their "Consumers in the Information Age"
study shows some interesting survey results. Of the 1200+ people
surveyed, 80% said that computers improved the overall quality of
life, but nearly 70% agree that present uses of computers threaten
their personal privacy.
Other results include:
- Just over 75% worry that consumers have lost
all control over how businesses use and circulate personal
- About half see no signs of improving this, saying that
protection of individual consumer data will weaken over the next ten
- Almost 70% agree that if privacy is to be preserved, the use
of computers must be sharply restricted in the future.
For more information refer to: "The Databases That Knew Too Much",
Information Week. 12/7/92 pg 22
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 92 15:01:26 EST
From: Rita Marie Rouvalis
Subject: File 4--EFF Nominations for PIONEER AWARDS
THE SECOND ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL EFF PIONEER AWARDS:
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS
Deadline: December 31,1992
In every field of human endeavor,there are those dedicated to
expanding knowledge, freedom, efficiency and utility. Along the
electronic frontier, this is especially true. To recognize this,the
Electronic Frontier Foundation has established the Pioneer Awards for
deserving individuals and organizations.
The Pioneer Awards are international and nominations are open to all.
In March of 1992, the first EFF Pioneer Awards were given in
Washington D.C. The winners were: Douglas C. Engelbart of Fremont,
California; Robert Kahn of Reston, Virginia; Jim Warren of Woodside,
California; Tom Jennings of San Francisco, California; and Andrzej
Smereczynski of Warsaw, Poland.
The Second Annual Pioneer Awards will be given in San Francisco,
California at the 3rd Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy in
March of 1993.
All valid nominations will be reviewed by a panel of impartial judges
chosen for their knowledge of computer-based communications and the
technical, legal, and social issues involved in networking.
There are no specific categories for the Pioneer Awards, but the
following guidelines apply:
1) The nominees must have made a substantial contribution to the
health, growth, accessibility, or freedom of computer-based
2) The contribution may be technical, social, economic or cultural.
3) Nominations may be of individuals, systems, or organizations in
the private or public sectors.
4) Nominations are open to all, and you may nominate more than one
recipient. You may nominate yourself or your organization.
5) All nominations, to be valid, must contain your reasons, however
brief, on why you are nominating the individual or organization,
along with a means of contacting the nominee, and your own
contact number. No anonymous nominations will be allowed.
6) Every person or organization, with the single exception of EFF
staff members, are eligible for Pioneer Awards.
7) Persons or representatives of organizations receiving a Pioneer
Award will be invited to attend the ceremony at the Foundation's
You may nominate as many as you wish, but please use one form per
nomination. You may return the forms to us via email to
You may mail them to us at:
Pioneer Awards, EFF,
155 Second Street
Cambridge MA 02141.
You may FAX them to us at:
+1 617 864 0866
Just tell us the name of the nominee, the phone number or email
address at which the nominee can be reached, and, most important, why
you feel the nominee deserves the award. You may attach supporting
documentation. Please include your own name, address, and phone
We're looking for the Pioneers of the Electronic Frontier that have
made and are making a difference. Thanks for helping us find them,
The Electronic Frontier Foundation
-------EFF Pioneer Awards Nomination Form------
Please return to the Electronic Frontier Foundation
via email to: [email protected]
via surface mail to EFF 155 Second Street, Cambridge, MA 02141 USA;
via FAX to +1 617 864 0866
Contact number or email address:
Reason for nomination:
Your name and contact information:
Extra documentation attached:
DEADLINE: ALL NOMINATIONS MUST BE RECEIVE BY THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER
FOUNDATION BY MIDNIGHT, EASTERN STANDARD TIME U.S., DECEMBER 31,1992.
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 92 14:47:43 EST
From: Rita Marie Rouvalis
Subject: File 5--Organizational Changes at the EFF
EFF EXPLAINS ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES
Mitchell Kapor, Chairman and President of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (EFF), today explained several organizational moves and
initiatives approved by the EFF Board at its November 10, 1992
meeting in San Francisco. According to Kapor, "they are designed to
increase our effectiveness in making EFF into a national public
education, advocacy, membership, and chapters organization that
represents and serves our growing constituency on the electronic
Berman Becomes Acting Executive Director
Kapor stated that "Jerry Berman, who currently heads our Washington
Office, has been designated by the EFF board to serve as the interim
Executive Director of EFF with present overall responsibility for
managing the activities of our Cambridge and Washington, D.C. offices.
In this capacity, he will oversee EFF's public policy, membership, and
chapter building activities."
Berman said: "I am delighted to be working with Cliff Figallo, our
Cambridge Office Director and the entire EFF staff and Board. In the
next two months we will be making a concerted effort to develop a plan
to make EFF into a more effective and powerful public interest
On January, 23 and 24, 1993, EFF will hold a "chapters summit" in
Atlanta, Georgia. Dave Farber, EFF Board Member, stated that the
meeting would be "an open, candid sharing of views about chapter
relations with EFF and EFF's relations with chapters with the goal of
making the chapters an integral part of the EFF mission." The meeting
is being organized by a steering committee made up of Cliff Figallo,
Jerry Berman, Dave Farber and representatives from chapters and
potential chapters including Mitch Ratcliffe and Jon Lebkowsky .
Mitchell Kapor to Chair EFF Board and Oversee Critical Policy Studies
Mitchell Kapor, who serves as Chairman of the EFF Board, has turned
over management functions to Berman and Figallo to devote his energy
and talents to developing EFF strategy and public policy initiatives,
such as a pragmatic program for achieving an open broadband
communications network and an exploration of the potential role of the
cable television network in serving as a interactive, multimedia
electronic communications highway. Kapor will also continue to lead
EFF's current public policy initiative to develop a near term digital
path to the home designed to maximize free speech, innovation, and
Permanent Executive Director
The EFF Board, once it has developed and approved an overall strategic
plan in January, will proceed with an open search for a permanent
Executive Director for the organization.
Date: 15 Dec 92 15:11:24
From: Louis Giliberto
Subject: File 6--Response to CERT advisory (Re: CuD 4.65)
In CuD #4.65 this CERT advisory appeared:
> CA-92:19 CERT Advisory
> December 7, 1992
> Keystroke Logging Banner
There are several issues that need to be considered before
implementing a system such as this, the last of which should be
defensibility. Killing in self-defense is defensible, but there are
other considerations involved. The point? Just because someone *can*
do something does not mean someone *should* do something.
Who should/could be monitored?
This advisory seems to give free license to the system administrator to
monitor as he/she sees fit. What if you own a company, and your
administrator logs and monitors all activity as outlined? Then he
leaves your company and joins your competitor. He has read over every
piece of information typed into your system. Obviously this causes
problems if the computer is used for proprietary information.
However, let us assume the administrator can be trusted. Who does he
decide to log? The fairest way would be to log everyone. However,
this is near impossible since the resources required would be
overwhelming. More resources would be spent on logging than on
computation. One might suggest that he log only those accounts that
have had illegal logon attempts or suspicious activity. But this
brings up two points: 1) If the logs are catching the activity, is
keystroke monitoring needed to secure the system? 2) In the cases
where keystroke monitoring would be most effective (i.e., determining
the method of intrustion) the logs are most likely doctored in some
way, so the determination of which account to monitor could not even
Therefore the most effective use of keystroke logging would be 1)
monitor those accounts with suspicious activity and 2) monitor at
random. In this manner, illegal entries not caught in the logs or
other security measures may be picked up in the keystroke loggings.
But this brings up even more questions:
What type of notification should there be? +++++++++++++++++++++ Is
the banner enough? Is more notification needed? Way back when, it
was determined system administrators should give notice (in the form
of a banner or some such publicly visible medium) that e-mail and
files are not secure on the system and are open to incidental
inspection by the system administrator in the course of system
maintenance. Most people expect this and trust the system
administrator enough to feel that he is not reading their mail for
kicks. The banner is enough of a notification in this instance since
monitoring does not take place in real-time. Unlike monitoring on the
phone system where it happens as the voice is transmitted, e-mail and
file monitoring takes place often when the user is not on so that
instant notification is not possible (or even warranted in most cases
when it happens in the course of system maintenance).
Keystroke logging differs in that it takes place in real-time while
the user is logged on. Is a banner enough notification?
I would argue no. While using the phone system, if an operator comes
into your call, his/her presence is announced with several tones and
the name of the company. The law requires that any taping of
conversations to be accompanied by a tone every so often of a specific
duration. The logging of keystrokes is the same type of monitoring,
and should be subject to the same requirements. The user should be
notified in real-time that he is being monitored in real-time. Any
type of monitoring without such a warning is usually called
"wiretapping," and such monitoring is illegal except by law
enforcement agencies with a court order allowing the event after cause
Many people would contend: "But this is a privately owned system, not
a public utility." Yes, but there is reasonable expectation of
privacy allowed even in the workplace. I'm too lazy to look up the
court cases (and I'm not a lawyer, so I don't care either), but there
are multiple instances where searches of employee desks and lockers
and the like were determined to be a violation of privacy rights. A
company could clearly not monitor the voice transmissions of an
employee's telephone but could log the number he called. In the same
way, a system administrator could log login attempts, but should not
be given free license to monitor the actual keystrokes. It violates
the reasonable rights of the employee. Even high school students are
given reasonable rights in the expectation of privacy of the contents
of their lockers and person. Well, unless you went to Catholic high
school like I did + never tell a Jesuit he can't do something (unless
you like corporal punishment).
Extensions of keystroke monitoring
Given the fact that keystrokes are passed over the internet in the
form of IP packets generated by telnet (and other comparable
applications), does this allow keystroke monitoring at a remote site?
In other words, can routing centers sniff packets at will if they
inform the other sites they are going to? According to the
interpretation given by the justice department, yes, they can. They
can monitor keystrokes. The argument would be there is a reasonable
expectation for keystrokes to appear in an IP packet, so all of them
are open to examination if a banner is presented or prior notification
given. Does apple.com want ibm.com to monitor its packets? Nope. Does
a prof at Purdue want a prof at Champaign to monitor his? Nope.
However, if a packet goes through someone's machine (possible since
many machines are used for gatewaying and routing) he could argue that
he had the right to sniff it.
Can pay services monitor your keystrokes legally? Say CompuServe or
America Online or Prodigy or another fine reputable sarcasm?> service put this measure in place. These services are
comparable to a public service such as a bookstore (which was proven
in litigation with CompuServe) or a phone company. Don't they then
have the responsibility to respect the privacy of the customers? If
you walk into K-Mart they can't strip search you at their whim. The
phone company can't (legally) listen into your conversations. Is
keystroke monitoring without real time notification to be allowed on
these systems as well?
An argument may be: "But security cameras are allowed to videotape
customers" Ah, yes! But that is a different scenario: 1) The
videotaping does not center on a specific individual. As stated
before, to monitor the keystrokes of everyone would be
near-impossible. 2) The store is a publically accessible place, and
there is no reasonable expectation of privacy except to your person.
Why is there a reasonable expectation of privacy on a computer system?
Well, what are file permissions for? To keep one's files and stuff
private. Just as a lock on a desk or a closed door intimates privacy,
so do file permissions. If a system is truly public as a Sears or
WalMart, there would be no file permissions. There would be no
accounts with names on them giving ownership. Ownership implies a
right to security from trespass and interference. There are many
arguments to be made for privacy expectations on computer systems that
I won't go into here. Let me just clarify "truly public" as I used it
in describing Sears and WalMart. By "truly public" I mean that they
may not turn away anyone entering their property without good reason.
They may not discriminate, and being employed by them is not a
criteria for entering their sales area. Customers are allowed to move
unimpeded throughout the sales area, and customers do not get lockers
to put stuff in on a daily basis which are provided by the store. In
other words, their is no private ownership on the part of the customer
within the store except for what he carries on his person. This is
comparable to being in a public area. The comparison I am making
believes that being inside a computer system is not comparable to
being in a public area if ownership of files and accounts are given.
While I realize that CERT was merely passing on the findings of the
Justice Department, I have to question 1) the presentation of those
findings including giving almost a "non-liability kit" in their
advisory, and, 2) the findings themselves. Anything is defensible.
Charles Manson had a defense. However, even if the act is defensible,
it may still be illegal. Defensible merely means "there is a
reasonable expectation that consideration will be given to your side."
I think CERT went a bit too far in suggesting a banner and not
bringing up possible consequences. I tried to "balance" the situation
here. For any company, I would seriously advise you to consult an
attorney before you implement this type of monitoring, and to think
about what effects it could have. It may weaken security rather than
As a system administrator (albeit a tiny system consisting of myself,
4 friends, my sister, and my girlfriend) I would not implement such a
scheme since I feel that it would be illegal without real-time
notification, and such real-time notification is, quite frankly, a
pain to give to someone using an editor without disrupting their
session or their train of thought.
In a nutshell, the point is this: just because it's defensible does
not mean it's legal, and in this case I feel that it just might be
Date: 15 Dec 92 18:48:01 CST
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 7--CuD's 1992 MEDIA HYPE award to FORBES MAGAZINE
In recent years, media depiction of "hackers" has been criticized for
inaccurate and slanted reporting that exaggerates the public dangers
of the dread "hacker menace." As a result, CuD annually recogizes the
year's most egregious example of media hype.
The 1992 annual CuD GERALDO RIVERA MEDIA HYPE award goes to WILLIAM G.
FLANAGAN AND BRIGID McMENAMIN for their article "The Playground
Bullies are Learning how to Type" in the 21 December issue of Forbes
(pp 184-189). The authors improved upon last year's winner, Geraldo
himself, in inflammatory rhetoric and distorted narrative that seems
more appropriate for a segment of "Inside Edition" during sweeps week
than for a mainstream conservative periodical.
The Forbes piece is the hands-down winner for two reasons.
First, one reporter of the story, Brigid McMenamin, was exceptionally
successful in creating for herself an image as clueless and obnoxious.
Second, the story itself was based on faulty logic, rumors, and some
impressive leaps of induction. Consider the following.
The Reporter: Brigid McMenamin
It's not only the story's gross errors, hyperbole, and irresponsible
distortion that deserve commendation/condemnation, but the way that
Forbes reporter Brigid McMenamin tried to sell herself to solicit
One individual contacted by Brigid McM claimed she called him several
times "bugging" him for information, asking for names, and complaining
because "hackers" never called her back. He reports that she
explicitly stated that her interest was limited to the "illegal stuff"
and the "crime aspect" and was oblivious to facts or issues
that did not bear upon hackers-as-criminals.
Some persons present at the November 2600 meeting at Citicorp, which
she attended, suggested the possibility that she used another reporter
as a credibility prop, followed some of the participants to dinner
after the meeting, and was interested in talking only about illegal
activities. One observer indicated that those who were willing to talk
to her might not be the most credible informants. Perhaps this is one
reason for her curious language in describing the 2600 meeting.
Another person she contacted indicated that she called him wanting
names of people to talk to and indicated that because Forbes is a
business magazine, it only publishes the "truth." Yet, she seemed not
so much interested in "truth," but in finding "evidence" to fit a
story. He reports that he attempted to explain that hackers generally
are interested in Unix and she asked if she could make free phone
calls if she knew Unix. Although the reporter stated to me several
times that she had done her homework, my own conversation with her
contradicted her claims, and if the reports of others are accurate,
here claims of preparation seem disturbingly exaggerated.
I also had a rather unpleasant exchange with Ms. McM. She was rude,
abrasive, and was interested in obtaining the names of "hackers" who
worked for or as "criminals." Her "angle" was clearly the
hacker-as-demon. Her questions suggested that she did not understand
the culture about which she was writing. She would ask questions and
then argue about the answer, and was resistant to any "facts" or
responses that failed to focus on "the hacker criminal." She dropped
Emmanuel Goldstein's name in a way that I interpreted as indicating a
closer relationship than she had--an incidental sentence, but one not
without import--which I later discovered was either an inadvertently
misleading choice of words or a deliberate attempt to deceptively
establish credentials. She claimed she was an avowed civil
libertarian. I asked why, then, she didn't incorporate some of those
issues. She invoked publisher pressure. Forbes is a business magazine,
she said, and the story should be of interest to readers. She
indicated that civil liberties weren't related to "business." She
struck me as exceptionally ill-informed and not particularly good at
soliciting information. She also left a post on Mindvox inviting
"hackers" who had been contacted by "criminals" for services to
>Post: 150 of 161
>Subject: Hacking for Profit?
>From: forbes (Forbes Reporter)
>Date: Tue, 17 Nov 92 13:17:34 EST
>Hacking for Profit? Has anyone ever offered to pay you (or
>a friend) to get into a certain system and alter, destroy or
>retrieve information? Can you earn money hacking credit
>card numbers, access codes or other information? Do you know
>where to sell it? Then I'd like to hear from you. I'm
>doing research for a magazine article. We don't need you
>name. But I do want to hear your story. Please contact me.
However, apparently she wasn't over-zealous about following up her
post or reading the Mindvox conferences. When I finally agreed to
send her some information about CuD, she insisted it be faxed rather
than sent to Mindvox because she was rarely on it. Logs indicate that
she made only six calls to the board, none of which occured after
My own experience with the Forbes reporter was consistent with those
of others. She emphasized "truth" and "fact-checkers," but the story
seems short on both. She emphasized explicitly that her story would
*not* be sensationalistic. She implied that she wanted to focus on
criminals and that the story would have the effect of presenting the
distinction between "hackers" and real criminals. Another of her
contacts also appeared to have the same impression. After our
less-than-cordial discussion, she reported it to the contact, and he
attempted to intercede on her behalf in the belief that her intent was
to dispel many of the media inaccuracies about "hacking." If his
interpretation is correct, then she deceived him as well, because her
portrayal of him in the story was unfavorably misleading.
In CuD 4.45 (File #3), we ran Mike Godwin's article on "How to
Talk to the Press," which should be required reading.
His guidelines included:
1) TRY TO THINK LIKE THE REPORTER YOU'RE TALKING TO.
2) IF YOU'RE GOING TO MEET THE REPORTER IN PERSON, TRY TO
BRING SOMETHING ON PAPER.
3) GIVE THE REPORTER OTHER PEOPLE TO TALK TO, IF POSSIBLE.
4) DON'T ASSUME THAT THE REPORTER WILL COVER THE STORY THE WAY
YOU'D LIKE HER TO.
Other experienced observers contend that discussing "hacking" with the
press should be avoided unless one knows the reporter well or if the
reporter has established sufficient credentials as accurate and
non-sensationalist. Using these criteria, it will probably be a long
while before any competent cybernaught again speaks to Brigid
Rather than present a coherent and factual story about the types of
computer crime, the authors instead make "hackers" the focal point and
use a narrative strategy that conflates all computer crime with
The story implies that Len Rose is part of the "hacker hood" crowd.
The lead reports Rose's prison experience and relates his feeling that
he was "made an example of" by federal prosecutors. But, asks the
narrative, if this is so, then why is the government cracking down?
Whatever else one might think of Len Rose, no one ever has implied
that he as a "playground bully" or "hacker hood." The story also
states that 2600 Magazine editor Emmanuel Goldstein "hands copies 2600> out free of charge to kids. Then they get arrested." (p. 188--a
quote attributed to Don Delaney), and distorts (or fabricates) facts
to fit the slant:
According to one knowledgeable source, another hacker brags
that he recently found a way to get into Citibank's
computers. For three months he says he quietly skimmed off a
penny or so from each account. Once he had $200,000, he quit.
Citibank says it has no evidence of this incident and we
cannot confirm the hacker's story. But, says computer crime
expert Donn Parker of consultants SRI International: "Such a
'salami attack' is definitely possible, especially for an
insider" (p. 186).
Has anybody calculated how many accounts one would have to "skim" a
few pennies from before obtaining $200,000? At a dime apiece, that's
over 2 million. If I'm figuring correctly, at one minute per account,
60 accounts per minute non-stop for 24 hours a day all year, it would
take nearly 4 straight years of on-line computer work for an
out-sider. According to the story, it took only 3 months. At 20
cents an account, that's over a million accounts.
Although no names or evidence are given, the story quotes Donn Parker
of SRI as saying that the story is a "definite possibility." Over the
years, there have been cases of skimming, but as I remember the
various incidents, all have been inside jobs and few, if any, involved
hackers. The story is suspiciously reminiscent of the infamous "bank
cracking" article published in Phrack as a spoof several years ago.
The basis for the claim that "hacker hoods" (former "playground
bullies") are now dangerous is based on a series of second and
third-hand rumors and myths. The authors then list from "generally
reliable press reports" a half-dozen or so non-hacker fraud cases
that, in context, would seem to the casual reader to be part of the
"hacker menace." I counted in the article at least 24 instances of
half-truths, inaccuracies, distortions, questionable/spurious links,
or misleading claims that are reminiscent of 80s media hype. For
example, the article attributes to Phiber Optik counts in the MOD
indictment that do not include him, misleads on the Len Rose
indictment and guilty plea, uses second and third hand information
as "fact" without checking the reliability, and presents facts out
of context (such as attributing the Morris Internet worm to
Featured as a key "hacker hood" is "Kimble," a German hacker said by
some to be sufficiently media-hungry and self-serving that he is
ostracized by other German hackers. His major crime reported in the
story is hacking into PBXes. While clearly wrong, his "crime" hardly
qualifies him for the "hacker hood/organized crime" danger that's the
focus of the story. Perhaps he is engaged in other activities
unreported by the authors, but it appears he is simply a
run-of-the-mill petty rip-off artist. In fact, the authors do not make
much of his crimes. Instead, they leap to the conclusion that
"hackers" do the same thing and sell the numbers "increasingly" to
criminals without a shred of evidence for the leap. To be sure the
reader understands the menace, the authors also invoke unsubstantiated
images of a hacker/Turkish Mafia connection and suggest that during
the Gulf war, one hacker was paid "millions" to invade a Pentagon
computer and retrieve information from a spy satellite (p. 186).
Criminals use computers for crime. Some criminals may purchase numbers
from others. But the story paints a broader picture, and equates all
computer crime with "hacking." The authors' logic seems to be that if
a crime is committed with a computer, it's a hacking crime, and
therefore computer crime and "hackers" are synonymous. The story
ignores the fact that most computer crime is an "inside job" and it
says nothing about the problem of security and how the greatest danger
to computer systems is careless users.
One short paragraph near the end mentions the concerns about civil
liberties, and the next paragraph mentions that EFF was formed to
address these concerns. However, nothing in the article articulates
the bases for these concerns. Instead, the piece promotes the "hacker
as demon" mystique quite creatively.
The use of terms such as "new hoods on the block," "playground
bullies," and "hacker hoods" suggests that the purpose of the story
was to find facts to fit a slant.
In one sense, the authors might be able to claim that some of their
"facts" were accurate. For example, the "playground bullies" phrase is
attributed to Chesire Catalyst. "Gee, *we* didn't say it!" But, they
don't identify whether it's the original CC or not. The phrase sounds
like a term used in recent internecine "hacker group" bickering, and
if this was the context, it hardly describes any new "hacker culture."
Even so, the use of the phrase would be akin to a critic of the Forbes
article refering to it as the product of "media whores who are now
getting paid for doing what they used to do for free," and then
applying the term "whores" to the authors because, hey, I didn't
make up the term, somebody else did, and I'm just reporting (and using
it as my central metaphor) just the way it was told to me. However, I
suspect that neither Forbes' author would take kindly to being called
a whore because of the perception that they prostituted journalistic
integrity for the pay-off of a sexy story. And this is what's wrong
with the article: The authors take rumors and catch-phrases, "merely
report" the phrases, but then construct premises around the phrases
*as if* they were true with little (if any) evidence. They take an
unconfirmed "truth" (where are fact checkers when you need them) or an
unrelated "fact" (such as an example of insider fraud) and generalize
from a discrete fact to a larger population. The article is an
excellent bit of creative writing.
Why Does It All Matter?
Computer crime is serious, costly, and must not be tolerated.
Rip-off is no joke. But, it helps to understand a problem before it
can be solved, and lack of understanding can lead to policies and laws
that are not only ineffective, but also a threat to civil liberties.
The public should be accurately informed of the dangers of computer
crime and how it can be prevented. However, little will be served by
creating demons and falsely attributing to them the sins of others. It
is bad enough that the meaning" of the term "hacker" has been used to
apply both to both computer delinquents and creative explorers without
also having the label extended to include all other forms of computer
criminals as well.
CPSR, the EFF, CuD, and many, many others have worked, with some
success, to educate the media about both dangers of computer crime and
the dangers of inaccurately reporting it and attributing it to
"hackers." Some, perhaps most, reporters take their work seriously,
let the facts speak to them, and at least make a good-faith effort not
to fit their "facts" into a narrative that--by one authors' indication
at least--seems to have been predetermined.
Contrary to billing, there was no evidence in the story, other than
questionable rumor, of "hacker" connection to organized crime. Yet,
this type of article has been used by legislators and some law
enforcement agents to justify a "crackdown" on conventional hackers as
if they were the ultimate menace to society. Forbes, with a paid
circulation of over 735,000 (compared to CuDs unpaid circulation of
only 40,000), reaches a significant and influential population.
Hysterical stories create hysterical images, and these create
hysteria-based laws that threaten the rights of law-abiding users.
When a problem is defined by irresponsibly produced images and then
fed to the public, it becomes more difficult to overcome policies and
laws that restrict rights in cyberspace.
The issue is not whether "hackers" are or are not portrayed favorably.
Rather, the issue is whether images re-inforce a witch-hunt mentality
that leads to the excesses of Operation Sun Devil, the Steve Jackson
Games fiasco, or excessive sentences for those who are either
law-abiding or are set up as scapegoats. The danger of the Forbes
article is that it contributes to the persecution of those who are
stigmatized not so much for their acts, but rather for the signs they
End of Computer Underground Digest #4.66