THE BAUDY WORLD OF THE BYTE BANDIT:
A POSTMODERNIST INTERPRETATION OF THE COMPUTER UNDERGROUND
Gordon Meyer and Jim Thomas
Department of Sociology
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
(5 March, 1990)
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American
Society of Criminology annual meetings, Reno (November 9, 1989).
Authors are listed in alphabetical order. Address correspondence
to Jim Thomas.
We are indebted to the numerous anonymous computer underground
participants who provided information. Special acknowledgement
goes to Hatchet Molly, Jedi, The Mentor, Knight Lightning, and
The criminalization of "deviant acts" transforms social
meanings into legal ones. Yet, legal meanings are not necessari-
ly social meanings. The legitimacy of statutory social control
generally requires that one accept the realist textual readings
of those with the power to interpret and stigmatize behaviors as
inappropriate. "Moral crusades" that lead to definitions of
criminalized deviance tend to reduce the meanings of polysemic
acts to unidimensional ones that limit understanding of both the
nature of the acts and their broader relationship to the culture
in which they occur. This has occured with the criminalization
of computer phreaking and hacking. In this paper, we examine the
computer underground as a cultural, rather than a deviant, phe-
nomenon. Our data reveal the computer underground as an invisi-
ble community with a complex and interconnected culture, depen-
dent for survival on information sharing, norms of reciprocity,
sophisticated socialization rituals, and an explicit value sys-
tem. We suggest that the dominant image of the computer under-
ground as one of criminal deviance results in a failure to appre-
ciate cultural meaning. We conclude by arguing that there are
characteristics of underground activity that embrace a postmoder-
nist rejection of conventional culture.
- ii -
THE BAUDY WORLD OF THE BYTE BANDIT:
A POSTMODERNIST INTERPRETATION OF THE COMPUTER UNDERGROUND
Hackers are "nothing more than high-tech street gangs"
(Federal Prosecutor, Chicago).
Transgression is not immoral. Quite to the contrary, it
reconciles the law with what it forbids; it is the dia-
lectical game of good and evil (Baudrillard, 1987: 81).
There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's
just stuff people do. It's all part of the nice, but
that's as far as any man got a right to say (Steinbeck,
The criminalization of "deviant acts" transforms and reduces
social meanings to legal ones. Legal meanings are not necessari-
ly social meanings. Most deviancy research tends to reproduce
conventional social ideology and operative definitions of normal-
ity within its concepts and theories. On occasion, these mean-
ings represent a form of "class politics" that protect the power
and privilege of one group from the challenge of another:
Divorcing moral crusades from status group competition
while denying that cultures are linked to social class-
es has undermined attempts to link lifestyle politics
to group struggles (Beisel, 1990: 45).
Once a category of behaviors has become defined by statute
as sanctionably deviant, the behaviors so-defined assume a new
set of meanings that may obscure ones possessed by those who en-
gage in such behaviors. "Computer deviants" provide one example
of a criminalized type of "lifestyle politics."
- 1 -
The proliferation of computer technology has been accompa-
nied by the growth of a computer underground (CU), often mistak-
enly labeled "hackers," that is perceived as criminally deviant
by the media, law enforcement officials, and researchers. Draw-
ing from ethnographic data, we offer a cultural rather than a
criminological analysis of the underground by suggesting that it
reflects an attempt to recast, re-appropriate, and reconstruct
the power-knowledge relationship that increasingly dominates the
ideology and actions of modern society. Our data reveal the com-
puter underground as an invisible community with a complex and
interconnected cultural lifestyle, an inchoate anti-authoritarian
political consciousness, and dependent on norms of reciprocity,
sophisticated socialization rituals, networks of information
sharing, and an explicit value system. We interpret the CU cul-
ture as a challenge to and parody of conventional culture, as a
playful attempt to reject the seriousness of technocracy, and as
an ironic substitution of rational technological control of the
present for an anarchic and playful future.
Stigmatizing the Computer Underground
The computer underground refers to persons engaged in one or
more of several activities, including pirating, anarchy, hacking,
and phreaking. Because computer underground participants
freely share information and often are involved collectively in a
single incident, media definitions invoke the generalized meta-
phors of "conspiracies" and "criminal rings," (e.g., Camper,
1989; Zablit, 1989), "modem macho" evil-doers (Bloombecker,
- 2 -
1988), moral bankruptcy (Schwartz, 1988), "electronic trespas-
sers" (Parker: 1983), "crazy kids dedicated to making mischief"
(Sandza, 1984: 17), "electronic vandals" (Bequai: 1987), a new
"threat" (Van, 1989), saboteurs ("Computer Sabateur," 1988), se-
cret societies of criminals (WMAQ, 1990), and "high-tech street
gangs" ("Hacker, 18," 1989). These images have prompted calls
for community and law enforcement vigilance (Conly and McEwen,
1990: 2) and for application of the Racketeer Influenced and Cor-
rupt Organizations (RICO) Act to prosecute and control the "crim-
inals" (Cooley, 1984). These images fail to distinguish under-
ground "hobbyists," who may infringe on legal norms but have no
intention of pillaging, from felonious predators, who use tech-
nology to loot. Such terminology provides a common stock of
knowledge that formats interpretations of CU activity in ways
pre-patterned as requiring social control to protect the common-
weal (e.g., Altheide, 1985).
As Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce (1988: 119), Kane (1989), and
Pfuhl (1987) observed, the stigmatization of hackers has emerged
primarily through value-laden media depictions. When in 1990 a
Cornell University graduate student inadvertently infected an in-
ternational computer network by planting a self-reproducing "vi-
rus," or "rogue program," the news media followed the story with
considerable detail about the dangers of computer abuse (e.g.,
Allman, 1990; Winter, 1988). Five years earlier, in May of 1983,
a group of hackers known as "The 414's" received equal media at-
tention when they broke into the computer system of the Sloan
- 3 -
Kettering Cancer research center. Between these dramatic and a-
typical events, the media have dramatized the dangers of computer
renegades, and media anecdotes presented during Congressional
legislative debates to curtail "computer abuse" dramatized the
"computer hacking problem" (Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce, 1988:
107). Although the accuracy and objectivity of the evidence has
since been challenged (Hollinger and Lanza-Kaduce 1988: 105), the
media continue to format CU activity by suggesting that any com-
puter-related felony can be attributed to hacking. Additionally,
media stories are taken from the accounts of police blotters, se-
curity personnel, and apprehended hackers, each of whom have dif-
ferent perspectives and definitions. This creates a self-rein-
forcing imagery in which extreme examples and cursively
circulated data are discretely adduced to substantiate the claim
of criminality by those with a vested interest in creating and
maintaining such definitions. For example, Conly and McEwen
(1990) list examples of law enforcement jurisdictions in which
special units to fight "computer crime," very broadly defined,
have been created. These broad definitions serve to expand the
scope of authority and resources of the units. Nonetheless, de-
spite criminalization, there is little evidence to support the
contention that computer hacking has been sufficiently abusive or
pervasive to warrant prosecution (Michalowski and Pfuhl, forth-
As an antidote to the conventional meanings of CU activity
as simply one of deviance, we shift the social meaning of CU be-
- 4 -
havior from one of stigma to one of culture creation and meaning.
Our work is tentative, in part because of the lack of previous
substantive literature and in part because of the complexity of
the data, which indicate a multiplicity of subcultures within the
CU. This paper examines of two distinct CU subcultures, phreaks
and hackers, and challenges the Manichean view that hackers can
be understood simply as profaners of a sacred moral and economic
The Computer Underground and Postmodernism
The computer underground is a culture of persons who call
computer bulletin board systems (BBSs, or just "boards"), and
share the interests fostered by the BBS. In conceptualizing the
computer underground as a distinct culture, we draw from Geertz's
(1973: 5) definition of culture as a system of meanings that give
significance to shared behaviors that must be interpreted from
the perspective of those engaged in them. A culture provides not
only the "systems of standards for perceiving, believing, evalu-
ating, and acting" (Goodenough, 1981: 110), but includes the
rules and symbols of interpretation and discourse for partici-
In crude relief, culture can be understood as a set of
solutions devised by a group of people to meet specific
problems posed by situations they face in com-
mon. . . This notion of culture as a living, historical
product of group problem solving allows an approach to
cultural study that is applicable to any group, be it a
society, a neighborhood, a family, a dance band, or an
organization and its segments (Van Maanen and Barley,
- 5 -
Creating and maintaining a culture requires continuous indi-
vidual or group processes of sustaining an identity through the
coherence gained by a consistent aesthetic point of view, a moral
conception of self, and a lifestyle that expresses those concep-
tions in one's immediate existence and tastes (Bell, 1976: 36).
These behavioral expressions signify a variety of meanings, and
as signifiers they reflect a type of code that can be interpreted
semiotically, or as a sign system amenable to readings indepen-
dent of either participants or of those imposed by the super-or-
All aspects of culture possess a semiotic value, and
the most taken-for-granted phenomena can function as
signs: as elements in communication systems governed
by semantic rules and codes which are not themselves
directly apprehended in experience. These signs are,
then, as opaque as the social relations which produce
them and which they re-present (Hebdige, 1982: 13).
It is this symbolic cultural ethos, by which we mean the
style, world view, and mood (Hebdige, 1979), that reflects the
postmodernist elements of the CU and separates it from modernism.
Modernist culture is characterized especially by rationality,
technological enhancement, deference to centralized control, and
mass communication. The emergence of computer technology has
created dramatic changes in social communication, economic trans-
actions, and information processing and sharing, while simultane-
ously introducing new forms of surveillance, social control, and
intrusions on privacy (Marx, 1988a: 208-211; Marx and Reichman,
1985). This has contributed to a:
. . . richly confused and hugely verbal age, energized
by a multitude of competing discourses, the very pro-
liferation and plasticity of which increasingly deter-
- 6 -
mine what we defensively refer to as our reality (New-
man, 1985: 15).
By Postmodernism we mean a reaction against "cultural moder-
nity" and a destruction of the constraints of the present "maxi-
mum security society" (Marx, 1988b) that reflect an attempt to
gain control of an alternative future. In the CU world, this con-
stitutes a conscious resistance to the domination of but not the
fact of technological encroachment into all realms of our social
existence. The CU represents a reaction against modernism by of-
fering an ironic response to the primacy of a master technocratic
language, the incursion of computers into realms once considered
private, the politics of techno-society, and the sanctity of es-
tablished civil and state authority. Postmodernism is character-
ized not so much by a single definition as by a number of inter-
related characteristics, including, but not limited to:
1. Dissent for dissent's sake (Lyotard, 1988).
2. The collapse of the hierarchical distinction between mass
and popular culture (Featherstone, 1988: 203).
3. A stylistic promiscuity favoring eclecticism and the mix-
ing of codes (Featherstone, 1988: 203).
4. Parody, pastiche, irony, playfulness and the celebration
of the surface "depthlessness" of culture (Featherstone,
5. The decline of the originality/genius of the artistic pro-
ducer and the assumption that art can only be repetitious
(Featherstone 1988: 203).
- 7 -
6. The stripping away of social and perceptual coordinates
that let one "know where one is" (Latimer, 1984: 121).
7. A search for new ways to make the unpresentable presenta-
ble, and break down the barriers that keep the profane out
of everyday life (Denzin, 1988: 471).
8. The introduction of new moves into old games or inventing
new games that are evaluated pragmatically rather than
from some uniform stand point of "truth" or philosophical
discourse (Callinicos, 1985: 86).
9. Emphasis on the visual over the literary (Lash, 1988:
10. Devaluation of formalism and juxtaposition of signifiers
taken from the banalities of everyday life (Lash, 1988:
11. Contesting of rationalist and/or didactive views of cul-
ture (Lash, 1988: 314).
12. Asking not what a cultural text means, but what it does
(Lash, 1988: 314).
13. Operation through the spectator's immersion, the relative-
ly unmediated investment of his/her desire in the cultural
object (Lash, 1988: 314).
14. Acknowledgement of the decenteredness of modern life and
"plays with the apparent emptiness of modern life as well
as the lack of coherence in modern symbol systems" (Man-
ning, 1989: 8).
- 8 -
"Post-Modernism" in its positive form constitutes an intel-
lectual attack upon the atomized, passive and indifferent mass
culture which, through the saturation of electronic technology,
has reached its zenith in Post-War American (Newman, 1985: 5).
It is this style of playful rebellion, irreverent subversion, and
juxtaposition of fantasy with high-tech reality that impels us to
interpret the computer underground as a postmodernist culture.
Data and Method
Obtaining data from any underground culture requires tact.
BBS operators protect the privacy of users and access to elite
boards, or at least to their relevant security levels, virtually
always requires completion of a preliminary questionnaire, a
screening process, and occasional voice verification. Research-
ers generally do not themselves violate laws or dominant norms,
so they depend on their informants for potentially "dirty infor-
mation" (Thomas and Marquart, 1988). Our own data are no excep-
tion and derive from several sources.
First, the bulk of our data come from computer bulletin
board systems. BBSs are personal computers (PCs) that have been
equipped with a telephone modem and special software that con-
nects users to other PCs by telephone. After "logging in" by
supplying a valid user name and password, the user can receive
and leave messages to other users of the system. These messages
are rarely private and anyone calling the BBS can freely read and
respond to them. There is usually the capacity to receive (down-
load) or send (upload) text files ("G-philes") or software pro-
grams between the caller and host system.
- 9 -
We logged the message section of CU BBSs to compile documen-
tary evidence of the issues deemed important for discussion by
participants. Logs are "captured" (recorded using the computer
buffer) messages left on the board by users. Calculating the
quantity of logged data is difficult because of formatting vari-
ance, but we estimate that our logs exceed 10,000 printed pages.
The logs cited here are verbatim with the exception of minor
editing changes in format and extreme typographical errors.
Identifying underground BBSs can be difficult, and to the
uninitiated they may appear to be licit chat or shareware boards.
For callers with sufficient access, however, there exist back-
stage realms in which "cracking" information is exchanged and
private text or software files made available. With current
technology, establishing a BBS requires little initial skill.
Most boards are short-lived and serve only local or regional
callers. Because of the generally poor quality and amateur na-
ture of these systems, we focused on national elite boards. We
considered a board "elite" if it met all of the following charac-
teristics: At least one quarter of the users were registered out-
side the state of the board called; the phone line were exclu-
sively for BBS use and available 24 hours a day; and the
information and files/warez were current "state of the field."
Elite CU members argue that there are less than ten "truly elite"
p/hacker boards nationally.
We obtained the names and numbers of BBSs from the first
boards we called, and used a snowball technique to supplement the
- 10 -
list. We obtained additional numbers from CU periodicals, and,
as we became more familiar with the culture, users also added to
the list. Our aggregate data include no less than 300 Bulletin
board systems, of which at least 50 attract phreaks and hackers,
and voice or on-line interviews with no less than 45 sysops (op-
erators of BBS systems) and other active CU participants.
A second data source included open-ended voice and on-line
interviews with hackers, phreaks and pirates. The data include
no less than 25 face-to-face, 25 telephone, and 60 on-line inter-
views obtained as we became familiar with our informants.
Third, data acquisition included as much participation as
legally possible in CU activities. This served to justify our
presence in the culture and provided information about the mun-
dane activity of the CU.
Finally, we obtained back and current issues of the primary
underground computerized magazines, which are distributed on na-
tional BBSs as text files. These contain information relevant to
the particular subculture, and included PHRACK, Activist Times
Incorporated (ATI), P/Hun, 2600 Magazine, PIRATE, TAP, and Legion
of Doom (LoD/H). We also draw data from national and interna-
tional electronic mail (e-mail) systems on which an active infor-
mation-sharing CU network has developed and spread.
Assessing the validity and reliability of data obtained in
this manner creates special problems. One is that of sampling.
The number of boards, their often ephemeral existence, and the
problem of obtaining access makes conventional sampling impossi-
- 11 -
ble. We focused on national boards and engaged in theoretical
sampling (Glaser and Strauss, 1967: 45-77). We consider our sam-
ple representative, and accept Bordieu's observation that:
If, following the canon dictated by orthodox methodolo-
gy, you take a random sample, you mutilate the very ob-
ject you have set out to construct. If, in a study of
the field of lawyers, for instance, you do not draw the
President of the Supreme Court, or if, in an inquiry
into the French intellectual field of the 1950s, you
leave out Jean-Paul Sartre, or Princeton University in
a study of American academics, your field is destroyed,
insofar as these personas or institutions alone mark a
crucial position--there are positions in a field which
command the whole structure (Bordieu, interviewed in
Wacquant, 1989: 38).
We judge our sample of participants adequate for several
reasons. First, we presume that the members with whom we have
had contact comprise the elite members of the culture, as deter-
mined by the nature of the boards they were on, references to
them on national boards, the level of expertise displayed in
their messages, and their appearance in the "user lists" of elite
boards. We consider the BBSs to be "typical exemplars" because
of their status in the culture, because of the level of sophisti-
cation both of users and of message content, and because of ref-
erences to these boards as "elite" in CU periodicals.
The Computer Underground
The computer underground is both a life style and a social
network. As a lifestyle, it provides identity and roles, an op-
erational ideology, and guides daily routine. As a social net-
work, it functions as a communications channel between persons
engaged in one of three basic activities: Hacking, phreaking,
and pirating. Each subgroup possesses an explicit style that
- 12 -
includes an ethic and "code of honor," cohesive norms, career
paths, and other characteristics that typify a culture (Meyer,
1989a, 1989b;; Meyer and Thomas, 1989).
Hebdige (1982: 113-117) used the concept of homology to de-
scribe the structural unity that binds participants and provides
the "symbolic fit between the values and life-styles of a group"
and how it expresses or reinforces its focal concerns. Homology
refers to the affinity and similarities members of a group share
that give it the particular cultural identity. These shared al-
ternative values and actions connect CU members to each other and
their culture, and create a celebration of "otherness" from the
(Tune: "Put Another Nickel in")
Put another password in,
Bomb it out, and try again,
Try to get past logging in,
Were hacking, hacking, hacking.
Try his first wife's maiden name,
This is more than just a game,
It's real fun, but just the same
It's hacking, hacking, hacking.
Sys-call, let's try sys-call.
Remember, that great bug from Version 3,
Of R S X, It's here! Whoopee!
Put another sys-call in,
Run those passwords out and then,
Dial back up, we're logging on,
We're hacking, hacking, hacking.
(The Hacker Anthem, by Chesire Catalyst)
Hacking broadly refers to attempts to gain access to comput-
ers to which one does not possess authorization. The term "hack-
ers" first came into use in the early 1960's when it was applied
to a group of pioneering computer aficionados at MIT (Levy,
- 13 -
1984). Through the 1970s, a hacker was viewed as someone obs-
essed with understanding and mastering computer systems (Levy
1984). But, in the early 1980's, stimulated by the release of the
movie "War Games" and the much publicized arrest of a "hacker
gang" known as "The 414s", hackers were seen as young whiz-kids
capable of breaking into corporate and government computer sys-
tems (Landreth 1985:34). The imprecise media definition and the
lack of any clear understanding of what it means to be a hacker
results in the mis-application of the label to all forms of com-
Despite the inter-relationship between phreaks and hackers,
the label of "hacker" is generally reserved for those engaged in
computer system trespassing. For CU participants, hacking can
mean either attempting to gain access to a computer system, or
the more refined goals of exploring in, experimenting with, or
testing a computer system. In the first connotation, hacking re-
quires skills to obtain valid user accounts on computer systems
that would otherwise be unavailable, and the term connotes the
repetitive nature of break-in attempts. Once successful entry is
made, the illicit accounts are often shared among associates and
described as being "freshly (or newly) hacked."
The second connotation refers to someone possessing the
knowledge, ability, and desire to fully explore a computer sys-
tem. For elite hackers, the mere act of gaining entry is not
enough to warrant the "hacker" label; there must be a desire to
master and skill to use the system after access has been
- 14 -
It's Sunday night, and I'm in my room, deep into a
hack. My eyes are on the monitor, and my hands are on
the keyboard, but my mind is really on the operating
system of a super-minicomputer a thousand miles away -
a super-mini with an operating systems that does a good
job of tracking users, and that will show my activities
in its user logs, unless I can outwit it in the few
hours before the Monday morning staff arrives for
work.....Eighteen hours ago, I managed to hack a pass-
word for the PDP 11/44. Now, I have only an hour or so
left to alter the user logs. If I don't the logs will
lead the system operators to my secret account, and the
hours of work it took me to get this account will be
wasted (Landreth, 1985: 57-58).
An elite hacker must experiment with command structures and
explore the many files available in order to understand and ef-
fectively use the system. This is sometimes called "hacking
around" or simply "hacking a system". This distinction is neces-
sary because not all trespassers are necessarily skilled at hack-
ing out passwords, and not all hackers retain interest in a sys-
tem once the challenge of gaining entry has been surmounted.
Further, passwords and accounts are often traded, allowing even
an unskilled intruder to erroneously claim the title of "hacker."
Our data indicate that, contrary to their media image, hack-
ers avoid deliberately destroying data or otherwise damaging the
system. Doing so would conflict with their instrumental goal of
blending in with the average user to conceal their presence and
prevent the deletion of the account. After spending what may be
a substantial amount of time obtaining a high access account,
the hacker places a high priority on not being discovered using
it, and hackers share considerable contempt for media stories
that portray them as "criminals." The leading CU periodicals
(e.g., PHRACK, PIRATE) and several CU "home boards" reprint and
- 15 -
disseminate media stories, adding ironic commentary. The percep-
tion of media distortion also provides grist for message sec-
A1: I myself hate newspaper reporters who do stories on
hackers, piraters, phreaks, etc...because they always
make us sound like these incred. %sic% smart people
(which isn't too bad) who are the biggest threat to to-
days community. Shit...the BEST hackers/phreaks/etc
will tell you that they only do it to gain information
on those systems, etc...(Freedom - That's what they
call it...right?) (grin)
A2: Good point...never met a "real p/h type yet who was
into ripping off. To rip of a line from the Steve Good-
man song (loosely), the game's the thing. Even those
who allegedly fly the jolly rodger %pirates%, the true
ones, don't do it for the rip-off, but, like monopoly,
to see if they can get Boardwalk and Park Place without
losing any railroads. Fun of the latter is to start on
a board with a single good game or util %software util-
ity% and see what it can be turned into, so I'm told.
Fuck the press (DS message log, 1989).
One elite hacker, a member of a loose-knit organization re-
cently in the national news when some participants were indicted
for hacking, responded to media distortions of the group by is-
sueing an underground press release:
My name is %deleted%, but to the computer world, I am
%deleted%. I have been a member of the group known as
Legion of Doom since its creation, and admittedly I
have not been the most legitimate computer user around,
but when people start hinting at my supposed Communist-
backed actions, and say that I am involved in a world-
wide conspiracy to destroy the nation's computer and/or
911 network, I have to speak up and hope that people
will take what I have to say seriously. . . .
People just can't seem to grasp the fact that a group
of 20 year old kids just might know a little more than
they do, and rather than make good use of us, they
would rather just lock us away and keep on letting
things pass by them. I've said this before, you can't
stop burglars from robbing you when you leave the doors
unlocked and merely bash them in the head with baseball
bats when they walk in. You need to lock the door.
But when you leave the doors open, but lock up the peo-
- 16 -
ple who can close them for you another burglar will
just walk right in ("EB," 1990).
Although skirting the law, hackers possess an explicit ethic
and their primary goal is knowledge acquisition. Levy (1984:
26-36) identifies six "planks" of the original hacker ethic, and
these continue to guide modern hackers:
1. First, access to computers should be unlimited and total:
"Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!"
2. Second, all information should be free.
3. Third, mistrust authority and promote decentralization.
4. Fourth, hackers should be judged by their prowess as hack-
ers rather than by formal organizational or other irrele-
5. Fifth, one can create art and beauty on a computer.
6. Finally, computers can change lives for the better.
PHRACK, recognized as the "official" p/hacker newsletter,
expanded on this creed with a rationale that can be summarized in
three principles ("Doctor Crash," 1986). First, hackers reject
the notion that "businesses" are the only groups entitled to ac-
cess and use of modern technology. Second, hacking is a major
weapon in the fight against encroaching computer technology. Fi-
nally, the high cost of equipment is beyond the means of most
hackers, which results in the perception that hacking and phreak-
ing are the only recourse to spreading computer literacy to the
Hacking. It is a full time hobby, taking countless
hours per week to learn, experiment, and execute the
art of penetrating multi-user computers: Why do hack-
ers spend a good portion of their time hacking? Some
- 17 -
might say it is scientific curiosity, others that it is
for mental stimulation. But the true roots of hacker
motives run much deeper than that. In this file I will
describe the underlying motives of the aware hackers,
make known the connections between Hacking, Phreaking,
Carding, and Anarchy, and make known the "techno-revo-
lution" which is laying seeds in the mind of every
hacker. . . .If you need a tutorial on how to perform
any of the above stated methods %of hacking%, please
read a %PHRACK% file on it. And whatever you do, con-
tinue the fight. Whether you know it or not, if you are
a hacker, you are a revolutionary. Don't worry, you're
on the right side ("Doctor Crash," 1986).
Computer software, such as auto-dialers popularized in the
film War Games, provides a means for inexperienced hackers to
search out other computers. Auto-dialers randomly dial numbers
and save the "hits" for manual testing later. Some users self-i-
dentify has hackers simply on the basis of successfully collect-
ing computer numbers or passwords, but these users are considered
"lamerz," because they do not possess sufficient knowledge to ob-
tain access or move about in the system once access is obtained.
Lamerz are readily identified by their message content:
From -> (#538)
Date ->02/21/xx 06:10:00 PM
Does anyone know any numbers for hotels, schools, busi-
nesses, etc..and passwords if you do please leave a
bulletin with the number and the password and/or logon
From -> (#138)
Date ->02/22/xx 12:21:00 AM
Anyone out there got some good 800 dial up that are
fairly safe to hack? If so could ya leave me em in e-
mail or post em with the formats.....any help would%be
- 18 -
From -> (#538)
Date ->02/24/xx 03:12:00 PM
Does anyone have any 1-800 numbers with id, logon and
Sub ->Credit Card's for Codez
From -> (#134)
Date ->01/26/xx 07:43:00 AM
Tell ya what. I will exchange any amount of credit
cards for a code or two. You name the credit limit you
want on the credit card and I will get it for you. I
do this cause I to janitorial work at night INSIDE the
bank when no one is there..... heheheheheh
From -> (#660)
Date ->01/31/xx 01:29:00 AM
Well, instead of leaving codes, could you leave us
"uninformed" people with a few 800 dialups and formats?
I don't need codes, I just want dialups! Is that so
much to ask? I would be willing to trade CC's %credit
cards% for dialups. Lemme know..
Sub ->0266 Codez
From -> (#134)
Date ->01/31/xx 06:56:00 AM
Anyone, What is the full dial up for 0266 codez?
Such requests are considered amateurish, rarely generate the
requested information, and elicit predictable "flamez" (severe
criticism) or even potentially dangerous pseudo-assistance:
Sub ->Reply to: 0266 Codez
From -> (#124)
Date ->01/31/xx 09:02:00 AM
Okay, here's the full info, Chris: Dial
1-900-(pause)-%xxx%-REAL. When it answers, hit
#*9876321233456534323545766764 Got it? Okay, here's a
800 number to try: 1-800-426-%xxxx%. Give the opera-
tor your zip,and fake it from there! Enjoy, you hack-
- 19 -
Sub ->Reply to: 0266 Codez
From -> (#448)
To -> #38
Date ->01/31/xx 03:43:00 PM
What the fuck kind of question is that? Are you that
stupid? what is the full dial up for an 0266? Give me
a break! Call back when you learn not when you want to
From -> (#393)
To -> #38
Date ->02/05/xx 01:41:00 AM
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU? PROBABLY A NARC, AREN'T YA! NO
ONE IN HIS RIGHT MIND ASKS FOR CARDS. (AND NARCS AREN'T
IN THEIR RIGHT MINDS) AND GIVE OUT CARDS, WHAT DO YOU
THINK WE ARE, SHLONGS?! PERSONALLY I GET MY OWN ON THE
JOB, PUMPING GAS PAYS A LOT MORE THAN YOU THINK,
THEREFORE I DON'T NEED ANY. THINK ABOUT IT, IF YOU ARE
A GOOD HACKER, WHICH I CAN SEE YOU'RE NOT, THEN YOU CAN
HACK OUT YOUR OWN CODEZ. PEOPLE WHO NEED CCS CAN CALL
CC-VMBS. I HAVE ONE, BUT DON'T ASK FOR IT. IF YOU
DON'T KNOW MY CC-VMB LINE THEN YOU'RE NOT TO WELL
KNOWN. A LOT OF KNOWN HACKERS KNOW MY CC-VMB LINE.
WELL, IF YOU'RE A NARC, YOU'VE JUST BEEN FOUND OUT, IF
NOT YOU MIGHT WANT TO GET A JOB AS ONE CUZ YOU ACT JUST
LIKE ONE %In BBS protocol, upper case letters indicate
emphasis, anger, or shouting%.
Although hackers freely acknowledge that their activities
may be occasionally illegal, considerable emphasis is placed on
limiting violations only to those required to obtain access and
learn a system, and they display hostility toward those who
transgress beyond beyond these limits. Most experienced CU mem-
bers are suspicious of young novices who are often entranced with
what they perceive to be the "romance" of hacking. Elite hackers
complain continuously that novices are at an increased risk of
apprehension and also can "trash" accounts on which experienced
hackers have gained and hidden their access. Nonetheless, ex-
- 20 -
perienced hackers take pride in their ethic of mentoring promis-
ing newcomers, both through their BBSs and newsletters:
As %my% reputation grew, answering such requests [from
novice hackers wanting help] became a matter of pride.
No matter how difficult the question happened to be, I
would sit at the terminal for five, ten, twenty hours
at a time, until I had the answer (Landreth, 1985: 16).
The nation's top elite p/hacker board was particularly nur-
turing of promising novices before it voluntarily closed in early
1990, and its sysop's handle means "teacher." PHRACK, begun in
1985, normally contained 10-12 educational articles (or "phi-
les"), most of which provided explicit sophisticated technical
information about computer networks and telecommunications sys-
tems. Boundary socialization occurs in message bases and
newsletters that either discourage such activity or provide
guidelines for concealing access once obtained:
Welcome to the world of hacking! We, the people who
live outside of the normal rules, and have been scorned
and even arrested by those from the 'civilized world',
are becoming scarcer every day. This is due to the
greater fear of what a good hacker (skill wise, no mor-
al judgements here) can do nowadays, thus causing anti-
hacker sentiment in the masses. Also, few hackers seem
to actually know about the computer systems they hack,
or what equipment they will run into on the front end,
or what they could do wrong on a system to alert the
'higher' authorities who monitor the system. This arti-
cle is intended to tell you about some things not to
do, even before you get on the system. We will tell you
about the new wave of front end security devices that
are beginning to be used on computers. We will attempt
to instill in you a second identity, to be brought up
at time of great need, to pull you out of trouble.
(p/hacker newsletter, 1987).
Elite hacking requires highly sophisticated technical skills
to enter the maze of protective barriers, recognize the computer
type, and move about at the highest system levels. As a conse-
- 21 -
quence, information sharing becomes the sine qua non of the hack-
er culture. "Main message" sections are generally open to all
users, but only general information, gossip, and casual commen-
tary is posted. Elite users, those with higher security privileg-
es and access to the "backstage" regions, share technical infor-
mation and problems, of which the following is typical:
From ***** ** * ***>
Help! Anyone familiar with a system that responds:
A2: SELECT : DISPLAY:
then it gives you a prompt> If you chose 1... ENTER
At this point I know you can enter 7 digits, the 8th
will give you an INVALID ENTRY type message. Some num-
bers don't work however. (1,2,7,8 I know will)
I was hacking around on telenet (415 area code) and got
a few things that I am stuck-o on if ya can help, I'd
be greatly happy. First of all, I got one that is
called RCC PALO ALTO and I can't figure it out. Second
(and this looks pretty fun) is the ESPRIT COMMAIL and
I know that a user name is SYSTEM because it asked for
a password on ONLY that account (pretty obvious eh?) a
few primnet and geonet nodes and a bunch of TELENET
ASYYNC to 3270 SERVICE. It asks for TERMINAL TYPE, my
LU NUMBER and on numbers higher than 0 and lower that
22 it asks for a password. Is it an outdial? What are
some common passwords? then I got a sushi-primnet sys-
tem. And a dELUT system. And at 206174 there is JUST
a : prompt. help! (P/h message log, 1988).
Rebelliousness also permeates the hacker culture and is re-
flected in actions, messages, and symbolic identities. Like oth-
er CU participants, hackers employ handles (aliases) intended to
display an aspect of one's personality and interests, and a han-
dle can often reveal whether its owner is a "lamer" (an incompe-
- 22 -
tent) or sophisticated. Hackers take pride in their assumed
names, and one of the greatest taboos is to use the handle of an-
other or to use multiple handles. Handles are borrowed liberally
from the anti-heros of science fiction, adventure fantasy, and
heavy metal rock lyrics, particularly among younger users, and
from word plays on technology, nihilism, and violence. The CU
handle reflects a stylistic identity heavily influenced by meta-
phors reflecting color (especially red and black), supernatural
power (e.g., "Ultimate Warrior, "Dragon Lord"), and chaos ("Death
Stalker," "Black Avenger"), or ironic twists on technology, fan-
tasy, or symbols of mass culture (e.g., Epeios, Phelix the Hack,
Ellis Dea, Rambo Pacifist, Hitch Hacker).
This anti-establishment ethos also provides an ideological
unity for collective action. Hackers have been known to use
their collective skills in retaliation for acts against the cul-
ture that the perceive as unfair by, for example, changing credit
data or "revoking" driver's licenses (Sandza, 1984; "Yes, you
Sound very Sexy," 1989). Following a bust of a national hacker
group, the message section of the "home board" contained a lively
debate on the desireability of a retaliatory response, and the
moderates prevailed. Influenced especially by such science fan-
tasy as William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), John Brunner's The
Shockwave Rider (1975), and cyber-punk, which is a fusion of ele-
ments of electronic communication technology and the "punk" sub-
culture, the hacker ethic promotes resistance to the very forms
that create it. Suggestive of Frazer's (1922) The Golden Bough,
- 23 -
power is challenged and supplanted by rituals combining both de-
struction and rejuvenation. From this emerges a shared ethos of
opposition against perceived Orwellian domination by an informa-
(Hackers will) always be necessary, especially in the
technological oppression of the future. Just imagine
an information system that systematically filters out
certain obscene words. Then it will move on to phras-
es, and then entire ideas will be replaced by comput-
ers! Anyway, there will always be people tripping out
on paper and trying to keep it to themselves, and it's
up to us to at least loosen their grasp (P.A. Message
Another hacker summarized the near-anarchist ethic characterized
the CU style:
Lookit, we're here as criminal hobbyists, peeping toms,
and looters. I am in it for the fun. Not providing
the public what it has a right to know, or keeping big
brother in check. I couldn't care less. I am sick of
the old journalistic hackers nonsense about or (oops!
OUR) computerized ego...I make no attempt to justify
what I am doing. Because it doesn't matter. As long as
we live in this goddamn welfare state I might as well
have some fun taking what isn't mine, and I am better
off than those welfare-assholes who justify their
stealing. At least I am smart enough to know that the
free lunch can't go on forever (U.U. message log
In sum, the hacker style reflects well-defined goals, commu-
nication networks, values, and an ethos of resistance to authori-
ty. Because hacking requires a broader range of knowledge than
does phreaking, and because such knowledge can be acquired only
through experience, hackers tend to be both older and more knowl-
edgeable than phreaks. In addition, despite some overlap, the
goals of the two are somewhat dissimilar. As a consequence, each
group constitutes a separate analytic category.
- 24 -
Running numbers is not only fun; it's a moral impera-
tive! (Phreak credo).
Phreaking broadly refers to the practice of using either
technology or telephone credit card numbers (called "codez") to
avoid long distance charges. Phreaking attained public visibili-
ty with the revelation of the exploits of John "Cap'n Crunch"
Draper, the "father of phreaking" (Rosenbaum, 1971). Although
phreaking and hacking each require different skills, phreaks and
hackers tend to associate on same boards. Unlike hackers, who
attempt to master a computer system and its command and security
structure, phreaks struggle to master telecom (tele-communica-
The phone system is the most interesting, fascinating
thing that I know of. There is so much to know. Even
phreaks have their own areas of knowledge. There is so
much to know that one phreak could know something fair-
ly important and the next phreak not. The next phreak
might know 10 things that the first phreak doesn't
though. It all depends upon where and how they get
their info. I myself would like to work for the telco,
doing something interesting, like programming a switch.
Something that isn't slave labor bullshit. Something
that you enjoy, but have to take risks in order to par-
ticipate unless you are lucky enough to work for Bell/
AT&T/any telco. To have legal access to telco things,
manuals, etc. would be great (message log, 1988).
Early phreaking methods involved electro-mechanical devices
that generated key tones or altered phone line voltages to trick
the mechanical switches of the phone company into connecting
calls without charging, but the advent of computerized telephone-
switching systems largely made these devices obsolete. In order
to continue their practice, phreaks have had to learn hacking
skills in order to obtain access to telephone company computers
- 25 -
Access to telecom information takes several forms, and the
possesion of numbers for "loops" and "bridges," while lying in a
grey area of law, further enhances the reputation and status of a
phreak. P/hackers can utilize "loop lines" to limit the number
of eavesdroppers on their conversations. Unlike bridges, which
connect an unlimited number of callers simultaneously, loops are
limited to just two people at a time. A "bridge" is a techni-
cal name for what is commonly known as a "chat line" or "confer-
ence system." Bridges are familiar to the public as the pay-per-
minute group conversation systems advertised on late night
television. Many bridge systems are owned by large corporations
that maintain them for business use during the day. While the
numbers to these systems are not public knowledge, many of them
have been discovered by phreaks who then utilize the systems at
night. Phreaks are skilled at arranging for a temporary, pri-
vate bridge to be created via ATT's conference calling facili-
ties. This provides a helpful information sharing technique
among a self-selected group of phreak/hackers:
Bridges can be extremely useful means of distributing
information as long as the %phone% number is not known,
and you don't have a bunch of children online testing
out their DTMF. The last great discussion I partici-
pated with over a bridge occurred about 2 months ago on
an AT&T Quorum where all we did was engineer 3/way
%calls% and restrict ourselves to purely technical in-
formation. We could have convinced the Quorum operators
that we were AT&T technicians had the need occurred.
Don't let the kids ruin all the fun and convenience of
bridges. Lameness is one thing, practicality is an-
other (DC, message log, 1988).
Phreaks recognize their precarious legal position, but see
no other way to "play the game:"
- 26 -
Phreaking involves having the dedication to commit
yourself to learning as much about the phone system/
network as possible. Since most of this information is
not made public, phreaks have to resort to legally
questionable means to obtain the knowledge they want
(TP2, message log, 1988).
Little sympathy exists among experienced phreaks for "teleco
ripoff." "Carding," or the use of fraudulent credit cards, is
anathema to phreaks, and not only violates the phreaking ethic,
but is simply not the goal of phreaking:
Credit card fraud truly gives hacking a bad name.
Snooping around a VAX is just electronic voyeurism. .
.carding a new modem is just flat out blue-collar
crime. It's just as bad as breaking into a house or
kicking a puppy! %This phreak% does everything he can
(even up to turning off a number) to get credit infor-
mation taken off a BBS. %This phreak% also tries to
remove codes from BBSes. He doesn't see code abuse in
the same light as credit card fraud, (although the law
does), but posted codes are the quickest way to get
your board busted, and your computer confiscated. Peo-
ple should just find a local outdial to wherever they
want to call and use that. If you only make local
calls from an outdial, it will never die, you will keep
out of trouble, and everyone will be happy (PHRACK,
3(28): Phile 2).
Experienced phreaks become easily angered at novices and
"lamerz" who engage in fraud or are interested only in "leeching"
(obtaining something for nothing):
From ->JB (#208)
Date ->02/10/xx 02:22:00 PM
What do you people think about using a parents card
number for carding? For instance, if I had a friend
order and receive via next day air on my parents card,
and receive it at my parents house while we were on va-
cation. Do you think that would work? Cuz then, all
that we have to do is to leave the note, and have the
bud pick up the packages, and when the bill came for
over $1500, then we just say... 'Fuck you! We were on
vacation! Look at our airline tickets!' I hope it
does... Its such a great plan!
- 27 -
Sub ->Reply to: Carding
From -> (xxx)
To -> X
Date ->02/11xx 03: 16:00 AM
NO IT'S NOT A GREAT IDEA! WHERE'S YOUR SENSE OF
RESPONSIBILITY TO YOUR FAMILY? ARE THEY ALL IN
AGREEMENT WITH YOU? WOULD YOU WANT ANYONE TO USE YOUR
PRIVATE STUFF IN ILLEGAL (AND IMMORAL) ACTIVITIES
WITHOUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE? DIDJA EVER HEAR ABOUT TRUST
BETWEEN FAMILY MEMBERS? IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE A THIEF
(AND THAT'S NOT NEAT LIKE JAMES BOND IN THE MOVIES),
TAKE THE RISKS ONLY UPON YOURSELF!
From -> (#208)
To -> (#47)
Date ->02/12/xx 11: 18:00 AM
Why not? We have a law that says that we have the
right to refuse payment to credit cards if there are
fraudulent charges. All we do and it is settled....
what is so bad about it? I'm going for it!
Sub ->Reply to: Carding
From -> (xxx)
Date ->02/13/xx 02:08:00 AM
APPARENTLY YOU MISSED THE MAIN POINTS I TRIED TO MAKE
TO YOU . . . YOU'RE A THIEF AND A LIAR, AND ARE
BETRAYING THE TRUST OF YOUR FAMILY AS WELL AS INVOLVING
THEM IN YOUR RISK WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE. THAT MEANS
YOU ARE A FAIRLY SCUMMY INDIVIDUAL IF YOU GO THROUGH
WITH IT! NOW AS TO YOUR "DEFENCE" ABOUT $50 MAXIMUMS
AND ERRONEOUS BILLINGS.. LAW MAKES A CLEAR DISTINCTION
ABOUT THEFT BY FRAUD (OF WHICH YOU WOULD BE GUILTY).
AND IN A LARGER SENSE, YOUR THEFT JUST MAKES IT MORE
COSTLY FOR YOU YOU AND EVERYBODY ELSE TO GET CREDIT,
AND DO BUSINESS WITH CREDIT CARDS. YOU'RE GOING TO DO
WHATEVER YOU DO ANYWAY.....DON'T LOOK FOR ANY APPROVAL
IN THIS DIRECTION.
Ironically, experienced phreaks are not only offended by
such disregard of law, but also feel that "rip-off artists" have
no information to share and only increase the risk for the "tech-
no-junkies." Message boards reflect hostility toward apprehended
"lamerz" with such comments as "I hope they burn him," or "the
- 28 -
lamer probably narked %turned informant% to the pheds %law en-
forcement agents%." Experienced phreaks also post continual re-
minders that some actions, because of their illegality, are sim-
It should be pointed out however, that should any of
you crack any WATS EXTENDER access codes and attempt to
use them, you are guilty of Theft of communications
services from the company who owns it, and Bell is very
willing and able to help nail you! WATS EXTENDERS can
get you in every bit as much trouble as a Blue Box
should you be caught.
Ex-phreaks, especially those who are no longer defined by
law as juveniles, often attempt to caution younger phreaks from
ZA1: One thing to consider, also, is that the phone co.
knows where the junction box is for all of the lines
that you are messing with and if they get enough com-
plaints about the bills, they may start to check things
out (I hope your work is neat). I would guess that the
odds are probably against this from happening though,
because when each of the people call to complain,
they'll probably get a different person from the oth-
ers. This means that someone at Ma Bell has to notice
that all of the complaints are coming from the same
area...I don't think anybody there really cares that
much about their job to really start noticing things
like that...anyway, enjoy!!! My guess is that you're
under-age. Anyway, so if they catch you, they won't do
anything to you anyway.
ZB1: Yeah I am a minor (17 years old) I just hope that
they don't cause I would like to not have a criminal or
juvenile record when I apply to college. Also if they
do come as I said in the other message if there are no
wires they can't prove shit. Also as I said I only hook
up after 6 p.m. The phone company doesn't service peo-
ple after 6 p.m. Just recently (today) I hooked up to
an empty line. No wires were leading from the two
plugs to somebody house but I got a dial tone. How
great. Don't have to worry about billing somebody else.
But I still have to disconnect cause the phone bills
should be coming to the other people pretty soon.
- 29 -
ZX1: Be cool on that, especially if you're calling oth-
er boards. Easiest way for telecom security to catch
you is match the number called to the time called, call
the board, look at users log or messages for hints of
identity, then work from there. If you do it too much
to a pirate board, they can (and have successfully)
pressured the sysop to reveal the identity under threat
of prosecution. They may or may not be able to always
trace it back, but remember: Yesterday's phreaks are
today's telecom security folk. AND: IT'S NOT COOL TO
PHREAK TO A PIRATE BOARD...draws attention to that
board and screws it up for everybody. So, be cool
phreaking....there's safer ways.
ZC2: Be cool, Wormburger. They can use all sorts of
stuff for evidence. Here's what they'd do in Ill. If
they suspected you, they'd flag the phone lines, send
somebody out during the time you're on (or they suspect
you're on) and nail you. Don't want to squelch a bud-
ding phreak, but you're really taking an unnecessary
chance. Most of us have been doing stuff for some
time, and just don't want to see you get nailed for
something. There's some good boards with tips on how to
phreak, and if you want the numbers, let me know. We've
survived to warn you because we know the dangers. If
you don't know what ESS is, best do some quick research
(P/h message log, 1988).
In sum, the attraction of phreaking and its attendant life-
style appear to center on three fundamental characteristics: The
quest for knowledge, the belief in a higher ideological purpose
of opposition to potentially dangerous technological control, and
the enjoyment of risk-taking. In a sense, CU participants con-
sciously create dissonance as a means of creating social meaning
in what is perceived as an increasingly meaningless world (Milo-
vanovic and Thomas, 1989). Together, phreaks and hackers have
created an overlapping culture that, whatever the legality, is
seen by participants as a legitimate enterprise in the new "tech-
- 30 -
The transition to an information-oriented society dependent
on computer technology brings with it new symbolic metaphors and
behaviors. Baudrillard (1987: 15) observed that our private
sphere now ceases to be the stage where the drama of subjects at
odds with their objects and with their image is played out, and
we no longer exist as playwrites or actors, but as terminals of
multiple networks. The public space of the social arena is re-
duced to the private space of the computer desk, which in turn
creates a new semi-public, but restricted, public realm to which
dissonance seekers retreat. To participate in the computer un-
derground is to engage in what Baudrillard (1987: 15) describes
as private telematics, in which individuals, to extend Baudril-
lard's fantasy metaphor, are transported from their mundane com-
puter system to the controls of a hypothetical machine, isolated
in a position of perfect sovereignty, at an infinite distance
from the original universe. There, identity is created through
symbolic strategies and collective beliefs (Bordieu, cited in
Wacquant, 1989: 35).
We have argued that the symbolic identity of the computer
underground creates a rich and diverse culture comprised of jus-
tifications, highly specialized skills, information-sharing net-
works, norms, status hierarchies, language, and unifying symbolic
meanings. The stylistic elements of CU identity and activity
serve what Denzin (1988: 471) sees as the primary characteristic
of postmodern behavior, which is to make fun of the past while
- 31 -
keeping it alive and the search for new ways to present the un-
presentable in order to break down the barriers that keep the
profane out of the everyday.
The risks entailed by acting on the fringes of legality and
substituting definitions of acceptable behavior with their own,
the playful parodying of mass culture, and the challenge to au-
thority constitute an exploration of the limits of techno-culture
while resisting the legal meanings that would control such ac-
tions. The celebration of anti-heros, re-enacted through forays
into the world of computer programs and software, reflects the
stylistic promiscuity, eclecticism and code-mixing that typifies
the postmodern experience (Featherstone, 1988: 202). Rather than
attempt to fit within modern culture and adapt to values and def-
initions imposed on them, CU participants mediate it by mixing
art, science, and resistance to create a culture with an alterna-
tive meaning both to the dominant one and to those that observers
would impose on them and on their enterprise.
Pfuhl (1987) cogently argued that criminalization of comput-
er abuse tends to polarize definitions of behavior. As a conse-
quence, To view the CU as simply another form of deviance, or as
little more than "high-tech street gangs" obscures the ironic,
mythic, and subversive element, the Nieztschean "will to power,"
reflected in the attempt to master technology while challenging
those forces that control it. The "new society" spawned by com-
puter technology is in its infancy, and, as Sennet (1970: xvii)
observed, the passage of societies through adolescence to maturi-
ty requires acceptance of disorder and painful dislocation.
- 32 -
Instead of embracing the dominant culture, the CU has creat-
ed an irreducible cultural alternative, one that cannot be under-
stood without locating its place within the dialectic of social
change. Especially in counter-cultures, as Hebdige (1983: 3) ob-
serves, "objects are made to mean and mean again," often ending:
. . .in the construction of a style, in a gesture of
defiance or contempt, in a smile or a sneer. It sig-
nals a Refusal. I would like to think that this Reusal
is worth making, that these gestures have a meaning,
that the smiles and the sneers have some subversive
value. . . (Hebdige, 1982: 3).
- 33 -
 Participants in the computer underground engage in considera-
ble word play that includes juxtaposition of letters. For ex-
ample, commonly used words beginning with "f" are customarily
spelled with a "ph." The CU spelling conventions are re-
tained throughout this paper.
 Conly and McEwen (1990: 3) classify "software piracy" in the
same category as theft of computers and trade secrets, and
grossly confuse both the concept and definition of computer
crime by conflating any illicit activity involving computers
under a definition so broad that embezzlement and bulletin
boards all fall within it. However, the label of "computer
criminal" should be reserved for those who manipulate comput-
erized records in order to defraud or damage, a point implied
by Bequai (1978: 4) and Parker (1983: 106).
 One author has been active in the computer underground since
1984 and participated in Summercon-88 in St. Louis, a nation-
al conference of elite hackers. The other began researching
p/hackers and pirates in 1988. Both authors have had sysop
experience with national CU boards. As do virtually all CU
participants, we used pseudonyms but, as we became more fully
immersed in the culture, our true identities were sometimes
 Although we consider software pirates an integral part of the
computer underground, we have excluded them from this analy-
sis both for parsimony and because their actions are suffi-
ciently different to warrant separate analysis (Thomas and
- 34 -
Meyer, 1990). We also have excluded anarchist boards, which
tend to be utilized by teenagers who use BBSs to exchange in-
formation relating to social disruption, such as making home-
made explosives, sabotaging equipment, and other less dramat-
ic pranks. These boards are largely symbolic, and despite the
name, are devoid of political intent. However, our data sug-
gest that many hackers began their careers because of the an-
 In January, 1990, the co-editor of the magazine was indicted
for allegedly "transporting" stolen property across state
lines. According to the Secret Service agent in charge of
the case in Atlanta (personal communication), the offender
was apprehended for receiving copies of E911 ("enhanced" 911
emergency system) documents by electronic mail, but added
that there was no evidence that those involved were motivated
by, or received, material gain.
 "Loop lines" are telephone company test lines installed for
two separate telephone numbers that connect only to each oth-
er. Each end has a separate phone number, and when each per-
son calls one end, they are connected to each other automati-
cally. A loop consists of "Dual Tone Multi-Frequency," which
is the touch tone sounds used to dial phone numbers. These
test lines are discovered by phreaks and hackers by program-
ming their home computer to dial numbers at random and "lis-
ten" for the distinctive tone that an answering loop makes,
by asking sympathetic telephone company employees, or through
information contained on internal company computers.
- 35 -
Allman, William F. 1990. "Computer Hacking goes on Trial."
U.S. News and World Report, January 22: 25.
Altheide, David L. 1985. Media Power. Beverly Hills: SAGE.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1987. The Ecstasy of Communication. New
Beisel, Nicola. 1990. "Class, Culture, and Campaigns against
Vice in Three American Cities, 1872-1892." American
Sociological Review, 55(February): 44-62.
Bell, 1976. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New
York: Basic Books.
Bloombecker, Jay. 1988. Interview, Hour Magazine. NBC
television, November 23.
Bordieu, Pierre. 1989. "Social Space and Symbolic Power."
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