Underground: Chapter 10 -- Anthrax -- The Outsider

Contents | Previous: Chapter 9 -- Operation Weather | Next: Chapter 11 -- The Prisoner's Dilemma

They had a gun at my head and a knife at my back Don't wind me up too tight

-- from `Powderworks' on Midnight Oil (also called The Blue Album) by Midnight Oil

Anthrax didn't like working as part of a team. He always considered other people to be the weakest link in the chain.

Although people were never to be trusted completely, he socialised with many hackers and phreakers and worked with a few of them now and again on particular projects. But he never formed intimate partnerships with any of them. Even if a fellow hacker dobbed him in to the police, the informant couldn't know the full extent of his activities. The nature of his relationships was also determined, in part, by his isolation. Anthrax lived in a town in rural Victoria.

Despite the fact that he never joined a hacking partnership like The Realm, Anthrax liked people, liked to talk to them for hours at a time on the telephone. Sometimes he received up to ten international calls a day from his phreaker friends overseas. He would be over at a friend's house, and the friend's mother would knock on the door of the bedroom where the boys were hanging out, listening to new music, talking.

The mother would poke her head in the door, raise an eyebrow and point at Anthrax. `Phone call for you. Someone from Denmark.' Or sometimes it was Sweden. Finland. The US. Wherever. Though they didn't say anything, his friends' parents thought it all a bit strange. Not many kids in country towns got international calls trailing them around from house to house. But then not many kids were master phreakers.

Anthrax loved the phone system and he understood its power. Many phreakers thought it was enough to be able to call their friends around the globe for free. Or make hacking attack phone calls without being traced. However, real power for Anthrax lay in controlling voice communications systems--things that moved conversations around the world. He cruised through people's voice mailbox messages to piece together a picture of what they were doing. He wanted to be able to listen into telephone conversations. And he wanted to be able to reprogram the telephone system, even take it down. That was real power, the kind that lots of people would notice.

The desire for power grew throughout Anthrax's teenage years. He ached to know everything, to see everything, to play with exotic systems in foreign countries. He needed to know the purpose of every system, what made them tick, how they fitted together. Understanding how things worked would give him control.

His obsession with telephony and hacking began early in life. When he was about eleven, his father had taken him to see the film War Games. All Anthrax could think of as he left the theatre was how much he wanted to learn how to hack. He had already developed a fascination for computers, having received the simplest of machines, a Sinclair ZX81 with 1 k of memory, as a birthday present from his parents. Rummaging through outdoor markets, he found a few second-hand books on hacking. He read Out of the Inner Circle by Bill Landreth, and Hackers by Steven Levy.

By the time he was fourteen, Anthrax had joined a Melbourne-based group of boys called The Force. The members swapped Commodore 64 and Amiga games. They also wrote their own demos--short computer programs--and delighted in cracking the copy protections on the games and then trading them with other crackers around the world. It was like an international penpal group. Anthrax liked the challenge provided by cracking the protections, but few teenagers in his town shared an interest in his unusual hobby. Joining The Force introduced him to a whole new world of people who thought as he did.

When Anthrax first read about phreaking he wrote to one of his American cracking contacts asking for advice on how to start. His friend sent him a list of AT&T calling card numbers and a toll-free direct-dial number which connected Australians with American operators. The card numbers were all expired or cancelled, but Anthrax didn't care. What captured his imagination was the fact that he could call an operator all the way across the Pacific for free. Anthrax began trying to find more special numbers.

He would hang out at a pay phone near his house. It was a seedy neighbourhood, home to the most downtrodden of all the town's residents, but Anthrax would stand at the pay phone for hours most evenings, oblivious to the clatter around him, hand-scanning for toll-free numbers. He dialled 0014--the prefix for the international toll-free numbers--followed by a random set of numbers. Then, as he got more serious, he approached the task more methodically. He selected a range of numbers, such as 300 to 400, for the last three digits. Then he dialled over and over, increasing the number by one each time he dialled. 301. 302. 303. 304. Whenever he hit a functioning phone number, he noted it down. He never had to spend a cent since all the 0014 numbers were free.

Anthrax found some valid numbers, but many of them had modems at the other end. So he decided it was time to buy a modem so he could explore further. Too young to work legally, he lied about his age and landed an after-school job doing data entry at an escort agency. In the meantime, he spent every available moment at the pay phone, scanning and adding new numbers to his growing list of toll-free modem and operator-assisted numbers.

The scanning became an obsession. Often Anthrax stayed at the phone until 10 or 11 p.m. Some nights it was 3 a.m. The pay phone had a rotary dial, making the task laborious, and sometimes he would come home with blisters on the tips of his fingers.

A month or so after he started working, he had saved enough money for a modem.

Hand scanning was boring, but no more so than school. Anthrax attended his state school regularly, at least until year 10. Much of that was due to his mother's influence. She believed in education and in bettering oneself, and she wanted to give her son the opportunities she had been denied. It was his mother, a psychiatric nurse, who scrimped and saved for months to buy him his first real computer, a $400 Commodore 64. And it was his mother who took out a loan to buy the more powerful Amiga a few years later in 1989. She knew the boy was very bright. He used to read her medical textbooks, and computers were the future.

Anthrax had always done well in school, earning distinctions every year from year 7 to year 10. But not in maths. Maths bored him. Still, he had some aptitude for it. He won an award in year 6 for designing a pendulum device which measured the height of a building using basic trigonometry--a subject he had never studied. However, Anthrax didn't attend school so much after year 10. The teachers kept telling him things he already knew, or things he could learn much faster from reading a book. If he liked a topic, he wandered off to the library to read about it.

Things at home became increasingly complicated around that time. His family had struggled from the moment they arrived in Australia from England, when Anthrax was about twelve. They struggled financially, they struggled against the roughness of a country town, and, as Indians, Anthrax, his younger brother and their mother struggled against racism.

The town was a violent place, filled with racial hatred and ethnic tension. The ethnics had carved out corners for themselves, but incursions into enemy territory were common and almost always resulted in violence. It was the kind of town where people ended up in fist fights over a soccer game. Not an easy place for a half-Indian, half-British boy with a violent father.

Anthrax's father, a white Englishman, came from a farming family. One of five sons, he attended an agricultural college where he met and married the sister of an Indian student on a scholarship. Their marriage caused quite a stir, even making the local paper under the headline `Farmer Marries Indian Woman'. It was not a happy marriage and Anthrax often wondered why his father had married an Indian. Perhaps it was a way of rebelling against his dominating father. Perhaps he had once been in love. Or perhaps he simply wanted someone he could dominate and control. Whatever the reason, the decision was an unpopular one with Anthrax's grandfather and the mixed-race family was often excluded from larger family gatherings.

When Anthrax's family moved to Australia, they had almost no money. Eventually, the father got a job as an officer at Melbourne's Pentridge prison, where he stayed during the week. He only received a modest income, but he seemed to like his job. The mother began working as a nurse. Despite their new-found financial stability, the family was not close. The father appeared to have little respect for his wife and sons, and Anthrax had little respect for his father.

As Anthrax entered his teenage years, his father became increasingly abusive. On weekends, when he was home from work, he used to hit Anthrax, sometimes throwing him on the floor and kicking him. Anthrax tried to avoid the physical abuse but the scrawny teenager was little match for the beefy prison officer. Anthrax and his brother were quiet boys. It seemed to be the path of least resistance with a rough father in a rough town. Besides, it was hard to talk back in the painful stutter both boys shared through their early teens.

One day, when Anthrax was fifteen, he came home to find a commotion at his house. On entering the house, Anthrax went to his parents' bedroom. He found his mother there, and she was very upset and emotionally distressed. He couldn't see his father anywhere, but found him relaxing on the sofa in the lounge room, watching TV.

Disgust consumed Anthrax and he retreated into the kitchen. When his father came in not long after to prepare some food Anthrax watched his back with revulsion. Then he noticed a carving knife resting on the counter. As Anthrax reached for the knife, an ambulance worker appeared in the doorway. Anthrax put the knife down and walked away.

But he wasn't so quiet after that. He started talking back, at home and at school, and that marked the beginning of the really big problems. In primary school and early high school he had been beaten up now and again. Not any more. When a fellow student hauled Anthrax up against the wall of the locker shed and started shaking him and waving his fist, Anthrax lost it. He saw, for a moment, his father's face instead of the student's and began to throw punches in a frenzy that left his victim in a terrible state.

At home, Anthrax's father learned how to bait his son. The bully always savours a morsel of resistance from the victim, which makes going in for the kill a little more fun. Talking back gave the father a good excuse to get violent. Once he nearly broke his son's neck. Another time it was his arm. He grabbed Anthrax and twisted his arm behind his back. There was an eerie sound of cracking cartilage, and then pain. Anthrax screamed for his father to stop. His father twisted Anthrax's arm harder, then pressed on his neck. His mother shrieked at her husband to let go of her son. He wouldn't.

`Look at you crying,' his father sneered. `You disgusting animal.'

`You're the disgusting animal,' Anthrax shouted, talking back again.

His father threw Anthrax on the floor and began kicking him in the head, in the ribs, all over.

Anthrax ran away. He went south to Melbourne for a week, sleeping anywhere he could, in the empty night-time spaces left over by day workers gone to orderly homes. He even crashed in hospital emergency rooms. If a nurse asked why he was there, he would answer politely, `I received a phone call to meet someone here'. She would nod her head and move on to someone else.

Eventually, when Anthrax returned home, he took up martial arts to become strong. And he waited.

Anthrax was poking around a MILNET gateway when he stumbled on the door to System X.* He had wanted to find this system for months, because he had intercepted email about it which had aroused his curiosity.

Anthrax telnetted into the gateway. A gateway binds two different networks. It allows, for example, two computer networks which talk different languages to communicate. A gateway might allow someone on a system running DECNET to login to a TCP/IP based system, like a Unix. Anthrax was frustrated that he couldn't seem to get past the System X gateway and on to the hosts on the other side.

Using normal address formats for a variety of networks, he tried telling the gateway to make a connection. X.25. TCP/IP. Whatever lay beyond the gateway didn't respond. Anthrax looked around until he found a sample of addresses in a help file. None of them worked, but they offered a clue as to what format an address might take.

Each address had six digits, the first three numbers of which corresponded to telephone area codes in the Washington DC area. So he picked one of the codes and started guessing the last three digits.

Hand scanning was a pain, as ever, but if he was methodical and persistent, something should turn up. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. On it went. Eventually he connected to something--a Sunos Unix system--which gave him a full IP address in its login message. Now that was handy. With the full IP address, he could connect to System X again through the Internet directly--avoiding the gateway if he chose to. It's always helpful in covering your tracks to have a few different routing options. Importantly, he could approach System X through more than just its front door.

Anthrax spiralled through the usual round of default usernames and passwords. Nothing. This system required a more strategic attack.

He backed out of the login screen, escaped from the gateway and went to another Internet site to have a good look at System X from a healthy distance. He `fingered' the site, pulling up any bit of information System X would release to the rest of the Internet when asked. He probed and prodded, looking for openings. And then he found one. Sendmail.

The version of Sendmail run by System X had a security hole Anthrax could exploit by sending himself a tiny backdoor program. To do this, he used System X's mail-processing service to send a `letter' which contained a tiny computer program. System X would never have allowed the program to run normally, but this program worked like a letter bomb. When System X opened the letter, the program jumped out and started running. It told System X that anyone could connect to port 2001--to an interactive shell--of the computer without using a password.

A port is a door to the outside world. TCP/IP computers use a standard set of ports for certain services. Port 25 for mail. Port 79 for Finger. Port 21 for FTP. Port 23 for Telnet. Port 513 for Rlogin. Port 80 for the World Wide Web. A TCP/IP based computer system has 65535 ports but most of them go unused. Indeed, the average Unix box uses only 35, leaving the remaining 65500 ports sitting idle. Anthrax simply picked one of these sleepy ports, dusted off the cobwebs and plugged in using the backdoor created by his tiny mail-borne program.

Connecting directly to a port created some problems, because the system wouldn't recognise certain keystrokes from the port, such as the return key. For this reason, Anthrax had to create an account for himself which would let him telnet to the site and login like any normal user. To do this, he needed root privileges in order to create an account and, ultimately, a permanent backdoor into the system.

He began hunting for vulnerabilities in System X's security. There was nothing obvious, but he decided to try out a bug he had successfully used elsewhere. He had first learned about it on an international phone conference, where he had traded information with other hackers and phreakers. The security hole involved the system's relatively obscure load-module program. The program added features to the running system but, more importantly, it ran as root, meaning that it had a free run on the system when it was executed. It also meant that any other programs the load-module program called up also ran as root. If Anthrax could get this program to run one of his own programs--a little Trojan--he could get root on System X.

The load-module bug was by no means a sure thing on System X. Most commercial systems--computers run by banks or credit agencies, for example--had cleaned up the load-module bug in their Sunos computers months before. But military systems consistently missed the bug. They were like turtles--hard on the outside, but soft and vulnerable on the inside. Since the bug couldn't be exploited unless a hacker was already inside a system, the military's computer security officials didn't seem to pay much attention to it. Anthrax had visited a large number of military systems prior to System X, and in his experience more than 90 per cent of their Sunos computers had never fixed the bug.

With only normal privileges, Anthrax couldn't force the load-module program to run his backdoor Trojan program. But he could trick it into doing so. The secret was in one simple keyboard character: /.

Unix-based computer systems are a bit like the protocols of the diplomatic corps; the smallest variation can change something's meaning entirely. Hackers, too, understand the implications of subtle changes.

A Unix-based system reads the phrase:


very differently from:

bin program

One simple character--the `/'--makes an enormous difference. A Unix computer reads the `/' as a road sign. The first phrase tells the computer, `Follow the road to the house of the user called "bin" and when you get there, go inside and fetch the file called "program" and run it'. A blank space, however, tells the computer something quite different. In this case, Anthrax knew it told the computer to execute the command which proceeded the space. That second phrase told the machine, `Look everywhere for a program called "bin" and run it'.

Anthrax prepared for his attack on the load-module program by installing his own special program, named `bin', into a temporary storage area on System X. If he could get System X to run his program with root privileges, he too would have procured root level access to the system. When everything was in place, Anthrax forced the system to read the character `/' as a blank space. Then he ran the load-module program, and watched. When System X hunted around for a program named `bin', it quickly found Anthrax's Trojan and ran it.

The hacker savoured the moment, but he didn't pause for long. With a few swift keystrokes, he added an entry to the password file, creating a basic account for himself. He exited his connection to port 2001, circled around through another route, using the 0014 gateway, and logged into System X using his newly created account. It felt good walking in through the front door.

Once inside, Anthrax had a quick look around. The system startled him. There were only three human users. Now that was definitely odd. Most systems had hundreds of users. Even a small system might serve 30 or 40 people, and this was not a small system. He concluded that System X wasn't just some machine designed to send and receive email. It was operational. It did something.

Anthrax considered how to clean up his footsteps and secure his position. While he was hardly broadcasting his presence, someone might discover his arrival simply by looking at who was logged in on the list of accounts in the password file. He had given his backdoor root account a bland name, but he could reasonably assume that these three users knew their system pretty well. And with only three users, it was probably the kind of system that had lots of babysitting. After all that effort, Anthrax needed a watchful nanny like a hole in the head. He worked at moving into the shadows.

He removed himself from the WTMP and UTMP files, which listed who had been on-line and who was still logged in. Anthrax wasn't invisible, but an admin would have to look closely at the system's network connections and list of processes to find him. Next stop: the login program.

Anthrax couldn't use his newly created front-door account for an extended period--the risk of discovery was too great. If he accessed the computer repeatedly in this manner, a prying admin might eventually find him and delete his account. An extra account on a system with only three users was a dead give-away. And losing access to System X just as things were getting interesting was not on his agenda.

Anthrax leaned back in his chair and stretched his shoulders. His hacking room was an old cloakroom, though it was barely recognisable as such. It looked more like a closet--a very messy closet. The whole room was ankle-deep in scrap papers, most of them with lists of numbers on the back and front. Occasionally, Anthrax scooped up all the papers and piled them into heavy-duty garbage bags, three of which could just fit inside the room at any one time. Anthrax always knew roughly where he had `filed' a particular set of notes. When he needed it, he tipped the bag onto the floor, searched through the mound and returned to the computer. When the sea of paper reached a critical mass, he jammed everything back into the garbage bag again.

The computer--an Amiga 500 box with a cheap Panasonic TV as the monitor--sat on a small desk next to his mother's sewing machine cabinet. The small bookcase under the desk was stuffed with magazines like Compute and Australian Communications, along with a few Commodore, Amiga and Unix reference manuals. There was just enough space for Anthrax's old stereo and his short-wave radio. When he wasn't listening to his favourite show, a hacking program broadcast from a pirate station in Ecuador, he tuned into Radio Moscow or the BBC's World Service.

Anthrax considered what to do with System X. This system had aroused his curiosity and he intended to visit it frequently.

It was time to work on the login patch. The patch replaced the system's normal login program and had a special feature: a master password. The password was like a diplomatic passport. It would let him do anything, go anywhere. He could login as any user using the master password. Further, when he logged in with the master password, he wouldn't show up on any log files--leaving no trail. But the beauty of the login patch was that, in every other way, it ran as the normal login program. The regular computer users--all three of them--could login as usual with their passwords and would never know Anthrax had been in the system.

He thought about ways of setting up his login patch. Installing a patch on System X wasn't like mending a pair of jeans. He couldn't just slap on a swath from an old bandanna and quick-stitch it in with a thread of any colour. It was more like mending an expensive cashmere coat. The fabric needed to be a perfect match in colour and texture. And because the patch required high-quality invisible mending, the size also needed to be just right.

Every file in a computer system has three dates: the date it was created, the date it was last modified and the date it was last accessed. The problem was that the login patch needed to have the same creation and modification dates as the original login program so that it would not raise suspicions. It wasn't hard to get the dates but it was difficult to paste them onto the patch. The last access date wasn't important as it changed whenever the program was run anyway--whenever a user of the System X logged in.

If Anthrax ripped out the original login program and stitched his patch in its place, the patch would be stamped with a new creation date. He knew there was no way to change a creation date short of changing the clock for the whole system--something which would cause problems elsewhere in System X.

The first thing a good system admin does when he or she suspects a break-in is search for all files created or modified over the previous few days. One whiff of an intruder and a good admin would be all over Anthrax's login patch within about five minutes.

Anthrax wrote the modification and creation dates down on a bit of paper. He would need those in a moment. He also jotted down the size of the login file.

Instead of tearing out the old program and sewing in a completely new one, Anthrax decided to overlay his patch by copying it onto the top of the old program. He uploaded his own login patch, with his master password encased inside it, but he didn't install it yet. His patch was called `troj'--short for Trojan. He typed:

cat /bin/login

The cat command told the computer: `go get the data in the file called "troj" and put it in the file "/bin/login"'. He checked the piece of paper where he had scribbled down the original file's creation and modification dates, comparing them to the new patch. The creation date and size matched the original. The modification date was still wrong, but he was two-thirds of the way home.

Anthrax began to fasten down the final corner of the patch by using a little-known feature of the command:


Then he changed the modification date of his login patch to the original login file's date.

He stepped back to admire his work from a distance. The newly installed patch matched the original perfectly. Same size. Same creation date. Same modification date. With patch in place, he deleted the root account he had installed while visiting port 2001. Always take your garbage with you when you leave.

Now for the fun bit. Snooping around. Anthrax headed off for the email, the best way to work out what a system was used for. There were lots of reports from underlings to the three system users on buying equipment, progress reports on a certain project, updates. What was this project?

Then Anthrax came across a huge directory. He opened it and there, couched inside, were perhaps 100 subdirectories. He opened one of them. It was immense, containing hundreds of files. The smallest subfile had perhaps 60 computer screens' worth of material, all of it unintelligible. Numbers, letters, control codes. Anthrax couldn't make head nor tail of the files. It was as if he was staring at a group of binary files. The whole subdirectory was filled with thousands of pages of mush. He thought they looked like data files for some database.

As he didn't have the program he needed to interpret the mush, Anthrax cast around looking for a more readable directory.

He pried open a file and discovered it was a list. Names and phone numbers of staff at a large telecommunications company. Work phone numbers. Home numbers. Well, at least that gave him a clue as to the nature of the project. Something to do with telecommunications. A project important enough that the military needed the home phone numbers of the senior people involved.

The next file confirmed it. Another list, a very special list. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The find of a career spent hacking.

If the US government had had any inkling what was happening at that moment, heads would have rolled. If it had known that a foreigner, and a follower of what mainstream American media termed an extremist religious group, had this information in his possession, the defence agency would have called in every law enforcement agency it could enlist.

As John McMahon might have said, a lot of yelling and screaming would have occurred.

Anthrax's mother had made a good home for the family, but his father continued to disrupt it with his violence. Fun times with his friends shone like bright spots amidst the decay of Anthrax's family life. Practical jokes were his specialty. Even as a small child, he had delighted in trickery and as he grew up, the jokes became more sophisticated. Phreaking was great. It let him prank people all over the world. And pranking was cool.

Most of the fun in pranking was sharing it with friends. Anthrax called into a voice conference frequented by phreakers and hackers. Though he never trusted others completely when it came to working on projects together, it was OK to socialise. The phreaking methods he used to get onto the phone conference were his own business. Provided he was discreet in how much he said in the conference, he thought there wasn't too much risk.

He joined the conference calls using a variety of methods. One favourite was using a multinational corporation's Dialcom service. Company employees called in, gave their ID numbers, and the operator put them through to wherever they wanted to go, free of charge. All Anthrax needed was a valid ID number.

Sometimes it was hard work, sometimes he was lucky. The day Anthrax tried the Dialcom service was a lucky day. He dialled from his favourite pay phone.

`What is your code, sir?' The operator asked.

`Yes, well, this is Mr Baker. I have a sheet with a lot of numbers here. I am new to the company. Not sure which one it is.' Anthrax shuffled papers on top of the pay phone, near the receiver. `How many digits is it?'


That was helpful. Now to find seven digits. Anthrax looked across the street at the fish and chips shop. No numbers there. Then a car licence plate caught his eye. He read off the first three digits, then plucked the last four numbers from another car's plate.

`Thank you. Putting your call through, Mr Baker.'

A valid number! What amazing luck. Anthrax milked that number for all it was worth. Called party lines. Called phreakers' bridges. Access fed the obsession.

Then he gave the number to a friend in Adelaide, to call overseas. But when that friend read off the code, the operator jumped in.


Huh? `Yes I am. You have my code.'

`You are definitely not him. I know his voice.'

The friend called Anthrax, who laughed his head off, then called into Dialcom and changed his code! It was a funny incident. Still, it reminded him how much safer it was working by himself.

Living in the country was hard for a hacker and Anthrax became a phreaker out of necessity, not just desire. Almost everything involved a long-distance call and he was always searching for ways to make calls for free. He noticed that when he called certain 008 numbers--free calls--the phone would ring a few times, click, and then pause briefly before ringing some more. Eventually a company representative or answering service picked up the call. Anthrax had read about diverters, devices used to forward calls automatically, in one of the many telecommunications magazines and manuals he was constantly reading. The click suggested the call was going through a diverter and he guessed that if he punched in the right tones at the right moment, he could make the call divert away from a company's customer service agent. Furthermore, any line trace would end up at the company.

Antrax collected some 008 numbers and fiddled with them. He discovered that if he punched another number in very quickly over the top of the ringing--just after the click--he could make the line divert to where he wanted it to go. He used the 008 numbers to ring phone conferences around the world, where he hung out with other phreakers, particularly Canadians such as members of the Toronto-based UPI or the Montreal group, NPC, which produced a phreakers' manual in French. The conversation on the phreaker's phone conferences, or phone bridges as they are often called, inevitably turned to planning a prank. And those Canadian guys knew how to prank!

Once, they rang the emergency phone number in a major Canadian city. Using the Canadian incarnation of his social engineering accents, Anthrax called in a `police officer in need of assistance'. The operator wanted to know where. The phreakers had decided on the Blue Ribbon Ice-Cream Parlour. They always picked a spot within visual range of at least one member, so they could see what was happening.

In the split second of silence which followed, one of the five other phreakers quietly eavesdropping on the call coughed. It was a short, sharp cough. The operator darted back on the line.

`Was that A GUN SHOT? Are you SHOT? Hello? John?' The operator leaned away from her receiver for a moment and the phreakers heard her talking to someone else in the background. `Officer down.'

Things moved so fast when pranking. What to do now?

`Ah, yeah. Yeah.' It was amazing how much someone squeezing laughter back down his oesophagus can sound like someone who has been shot.

`John, talk to me. Talk to me,' the operator pleaded into the phone, trying to keep John alert.

`I'm down. I'm down,' Anthrax strung her along.

Anthrax disconnected the operator from the conference call. Then the phreaker who lived near the ice-cream parlour announced the street had been blocked off by police cars. They had the parlour surrounded and were anxiously searching for an injured fellow officer. It took several hours before the police realised someone had played a mean trick on them.

However, Anthrax's favourite prank was Mr McKenny, the befuddled southern American hick. Anthrax had selected the phone number at random, but the first prank was such fun he kept coming back for more. He had been ringing Mr McKenny for years. It was always the same conversation.

`Mr McKenny? This is Peter Baker. I'd like my shovel back, please.'

`I don't have your shovel.'

`Yeah, I lent it to you. Lent it to you like two years ago. I want it back now.'

`I never borrowed no shovel from you. Go away.'

`You did. You borrowed that shovel of mine. And if you don't give it back I'm a gonna come round and get it myself. And you won't like it. Now, when you gonna give me that shovel back?'

`Damn it! I don't have your goddamn shovel!'

`Give me my shovel!'

`Stop calling me! I've never had your friggin' shovel. Let me be!' Click.

Nine in the morning. Eight at night. Two a.m. There would be no peace for Mr McKenny until he admitted borrowing that shovel from a boy half his age and half a world away.

Sometimes Anthrax pranked closer to home. The Trading Post, a weekly rag of personals from people selling and buying, served as a good place to begin. Always the innocent start, to lure them in.

`Yes, sir, I see you advertised that you wanted to buy a bathtub.' Anthrax put on his serious voice. `I have a bathtub for sale.'

`Yeah? What sort? Do you have the measurements, and the model number?' And people thought phreakers were weird.

`Ah, no model number. But its about a metre and a half long, has feet, in the shape of claws. It's older style, off-white. There's only one problem.' Anthrax paused, savouring the moment.

`Oh? What's that?'

`There's a body in it.'

Like dropping a boulder in a peaceful pond.

The list on System X had dial-up modem numbers, along with usernames and password pairs for each address. These usernames were not words like `jsmith' or `jdoe', and the passwords would not have appeared in any dictionary. 12[AZ63. K5M82L. The type of passwords and usernames only a computer would remember.

This, of course, made sense, since a computer picked them out in the first place. It generated them randomly. The list wasn't particularly user-friendly. It didn't have headers, outlining what each item related to. This made sense too. The list wasn't meant to be read by humans.

Occasionally, there were comments in the list. Programmers often include a line of comment in code, which is delineated in such a way that the computer skips over the words when interpreting the commands. The comments are for other programmers examining the code. In this case, the comments were places. Fort Green. Fort Myers. Fort Ritchie. Dozens and dozens of forts. Almost half of them were not on the mainland US. They were in places like the Philippines, Turkey, Germany, Guam. Places with lots of US military presence.

Not that these bases were any secret to the locals, or indeed to many Americans. Anthrax knew that anyone could discover a base existed through perfectly legal means. The vast majority of people never thought to look. But once they saw such a list, particularly from the environment of a military computer's bowels, it tended to drive the point home. The point being that the US military seemed to be everywhere.

Anthrax logged out of System X, killed all his connections and hung up the phone. It was time to move on. Routing through a few out-of-the-way connections, he called one of the numbers on the list. The username-password combination worked. He looked around. It was as he expected. This wasn't a computer. It was a telephone exchange. It looked like a NorTel DMS 100.

Hackers and phreakers usually have areas of expertise. In Australian terms, Anthrax was a master of the X.25 network and a king of voice mailbox systems, and others in the underground recognised him as such. He knew Trilogues better than most company technicians. He knew Meridian VMB systems better than almost anyone in Australia. In the phreaking community, he was also a world-class expert in Aspen VMB systems. He did not, however, have any expertise in DMS 100s.

Anthrax quickly hunted through his hacking disks for a text file on DMS 100s he had copied from an underground BBS. The pressure was on. He didn't want to spend long inside the exchange, maybe only fifteen or twenty minutes tops. The longer he stayed without much of a clue about how the thing operated, the greater the risk of his being traced. When he found the disk with the text file, he began sorting through it while still on-line at the telephone exchange. The phreakers' file showed him some basic commands, things which let him gently prod the exchange for basic information without disturbing the system too much. He didn't want to do much more for fear of inadvertently mutilating the system.

Although he was not an authority on DMS 100s, Anthrax had an old hacker friend overseas who was a real genius on NorTel equipment. He gave the list to his friend. Yes, the friend confirmed it was indeed a DMS 100 exchange at a US military base. It was not part of the normal telephone system, though. This exchange was part of a military phone system.

In times of war, the military doesn't want to be dependent on the civilian telephone system. Even in times of peace, voice communications between military staff are more secure if they don't talk on an exchange used by civilians. For this and a variety of other reasons, the military have separate telephone networks, just as they have separate networks for their data communications. These networks operate like a normal network and in some cases can communicate to the outside world by connecting through their own exchanges to civilian ones.

When Anthrax got the word from the expert hacker, he made up his mind quickly. Up went the sniffer. System X was getting more interesting by the hour and he didn't want to miss a precious minute in the information gathering game when it came to this system.

The sniffer, a well-used program rumoured to be written by a Sydney-based Unix hacker called Rockstar, sat on System X under an innocuous name, silently tracking everyone who logged in and out of the system. It recorded the first 128 characters of every telnet connection that went across the ethernet network cable to which System X was attached. Those 128 bytes included the username and the passwords people used to log in. Sniffers were effective, but they needed time. Usually, they grew like an embryo in a healthy womb, slowly but steadily.

Anthrax resolved to return to System X in twelve hours to check on the baby.

`Why are you two watching those nigger video clips?'

It was an offensive question, but not atypical for Anthrax's father. He often breezed through the house, leaving a trail of disruption in his wake.

Soon, however, Anthrax began eroding his father's authority. He discovered his father's secrets hidden on the Commodore 64 computer. Letters--lots of them--to his family in England. Vicious, racist, horrid letters telling how his wife was stupid. How she had to be told how to do everything, like a typical Indian. How he regretted marrying her. There were other matters too, things unpleasant to discuss.

Anthrax confronted his father, who denied the allegations at first, then finally told Anthrax to keep his mouth shut and mind his own business. But Anthrax told his mother. Tensions erupted and, for a time, Anthrax's parents saw a marriage counsellor.

But his father did not give up writing the letters. He put a password protection program on the word processor to keep his son out of his business. It was a futile effort. His father had chosen the wrong medium to record his indiscretions.

Anthrax showed his mother the new letters and continued to confront his father. When the tension in the house grew, Anthrax would escape with his friends. One night they were at a nightclub when someone started taunting Anthrax, calling him `curry muncher' and worse.

That was it. The anger which had been simmering below the surface for so long exploded as Anthrax violently attacked his taunter, hitting, kicking and punching him, using the tai kwon do combinations he had been learning. There was blood and it felt good. Vengeance tasted sweet.

After that incident, Anthrax often lashed out violently. He was out of control and it sometimes scared him. However, at times he went looking for trouble. Once he tracked down a particularly seedy character who had tried to rape one of his girlfriends. Anthrax pulled a knife on the guy, but the incident had little to do with the girl. The thing that made him angry was the disrespect. This guy knew the girl was with Anthrax. The attempted rape was like spitting in his face.

Perhaps that's what appealed to Anthrax about Islam--the importance of respect. At sixteen he found Islam and it changed his life. He discovered the Qu'raan in the school library while researching an assignment on religion. About the same time, he began listening to a lot of rap music. More than half the American rappers in his music collection were Muslim, and many sang about the Nation of Islam and the sect's charismatic leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan. Their songs described the injustices whites inflicted on blacks. They told blacks to demand respect.

Anthrax found a magazine article about Farrakhan and began reading books like the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Then he rang up the Nation of Islam head office in Chicago and asked them to send some information. The Final Call, the NOI newsletter, arrived one day, followed by other literature which began appearing around Anthrax's home. Under the TV guide. On the coffee table. Amid the pile of newspapers. On top of his computer. Anthrax often took time to read articles aloud to his mother while she did housework.

In the middle of 1990, when Anthrax was in year 11, his father suggested the boy attend Catholic boarding school in Melbourne. The school was inexpensive and the family could scrape and save to pay the fees. Anthrax disliked the idea, but his father insisted.

Anthrax and his new school proved a bad match. The school thought he asked too many questions, and Anthrax thought the school answered too few of them. The hypocrisy of the Catholic church riled Anthrax and pushed him further into the arms of NOI. How could he respect an institution which had sanctioned slavery as a righteous and progressive method of converting people? The school and Anthrax parted on less than friendly terms after just one semester.

The Catholic school intensified a feeling of inferiority Anthrax had felt for many years. He was an outsider. The wrong colour, the wrong size, too intelligent for his school. Yet, NOI's Minister Farrakhan told him that he wasn't inferior at all. `I know that you have been discriminated against because of your colour,' Farrakhan told Anthrax from the tape player. `Let me tell you why. Let me tell you about the origins of the white race and how they were put on this earth to do evil. They have shown themselves to be nothing but an enemy of the East. Non-whites are the original people of the earth.'

Anthrax found some deep veins of truth in NOI's teachings. Interracial marriages don't work. A white man marries a non-white woman because he wants a slave, not because he loves and respects her. Islam respects women in more meaningful ways than Western religions. Perhaps it wasn't the type of respect that Western men were used to giving women, but he had seen that kind of respect in his own home and he didn't think much of it.

Anthrax read the words of the Honourable Elijah Muhammad, founder of NOI: `The enemy does not have to be a real devil. He could be your father, mother, brother, husband, wife or children. Many times they're in your own household. Today is the great time of separation of the righteous Muslim and the wicked white race.' Anthrax looked inside his own household and saw what seemed to be a devil. A white devil.

NOI fed Anthrax's mind. He followed up the lists of literature included in every issue of The Final Call. Books like Black Athena by Martin Bernel and Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky had common themes of conspiracy and oppression by the haves against the have-nots. Anthrax read them all.

The transformation of Anthrax occurred over a period of six months. He didn't talk about it much with his parents. It was a private matter. But his mother later told him his adoption of the religion didn't surprise her. His great-grandfather had been a Muslim scholar and cleric in India. It was fate. His conversion presented a certain sense of closure, of completing the circle.

His interest in Islam found secular outlets. A giant black and white poster of Malcolm X appeared on Anthrax's bedroom wall. A huge photo of Los Angeles Black Panther leader Elmer Pratt followed soon after. The photo was captioned, `A coward dies a million deaths, a brave man dies but one'. The last bit of wall was covered in posters of hip-hop bands from ceiling to floor. A traditional Indian sword adorned the top of one of the many bookcases. It complemented the growing collection of books on martial arts. A well-loved copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu sat on the shelf next to Homer's Ulysses, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, a few old Dungeons and Dragons books, works of mythology from India and Egypt. The shelves did not contain a single work of science fiction. Anthrax shaved his head. His mother may not have been surprised by the conversion to Islam, but the head shaving went a bit over the top.

Anthrax pursued NOI with the same vigour with which he attacked hacking. He memorised whole speeches of Farrakhan and began speaking like him, commenting casually on `those caucasian, blue-eyed devils'. He quoted people he had discovered through NOI. People who described the US Federal Reserve Bank as being controlled by Jews. People who spoke of those hooked-nose, bagel-eating, just-crawled-out-of-a-cave Jews. Anthrax denied the existence of the Holocaust.

`You're shaping up to be quite a little Hitler,' his father told Anthrax.

His father disliked the NOI literature showing up at the house. It seemed to frighten him. Receiving blueprints in the mail for overthowing governments didn't sit well with the neighbours in the quiet suburban street of the provincial town.

`Watch out,' he warned his son. `Having these thing turn up in your mailbox can be dangerous. It will probably earmark you for some sort of investigation. They will follow you around.'

The traffic raced. The ethernet cables attached to System X were a regular speedway. People whizzed in and out of the mystery site like a swarm of bees. In only twelve hours, the sniffer file topped 100 k.

Many of the connections went from System X to the major telecommunications company. Anthrax headed in that direction.

He considered how to route the attack. He could go through a few diverters and other leapfrog devices to cover his trail, thus hitting the company's system from a completely separate source. The advantage of this route was anonymity. If the admin managed to detect his entry, Anthrax would only lose access to the phone company's system, not to System X. Alternatively, if he went in to the company through the gateway and System X, he risked alarms being raised at all three sites. However, his sniffer showed so much traffic running on this route, he might simply disappear in the flow. The established path was obviously there for a reason. One more person logging into the gateway through System X and then into the company's machine would not raise suspicions. He chose to go through System X.

Anthrax logged into the company using a sniffed username and password. Trying the load-module bug again, he got root on the system and installed his own login patch. The company's system looked far more normal than System X. A few hundred users. Lots of email, far too much to read. He ran a few key word searches on all the email, trying to piece together a better picture of the project being developed on System X.

The company did plenty of defence work, mostly in telecommunications. Different divisions of the company seemed to be working on different segments of the project. Anthrax searched through people's home directories, but nothing looked very interesting because he couldn't get a handle on the whole project. People were all developing different modules of the project and, without a centralised overview, the pieces didn't mean much.

He did find a group of binary files--types of programs--but he had no idea what they were for. The only real way to find out what they did was to take them for a test drive. He ran a few binaries. They didn't appear to do anything. He ran a few more. Again, nothing. He kept running them, one after another. Still no results. All he received was error messages.

The binaries seemed to need a monitor which could display graphics. They used XII, a graphical display common on Unix systems. Anthrax's inexpensive home computer didn't have that sort of graphical display operating system. He could still run the binaries by telling System X to run them on one of its local terminals, but he wouldn't be able to see the output on his home computer. More importantly, it was a risky course of action. What if someone happened to be sitting at the terminal where he chose to run the binary? The game would be up.

He leaned away from his keyboard and stretched. Exhaustion was beginning to set in. He hadn't slept in almost 48 hours. Occasionally, he had left his computer terminal to eat, though he always brought the food back to the screen. His mother popped her head in the doorway once in a while and shook her head silently. When he noticed her there, he tried to ease her concerns. `But I'm learning lots of things,' he pleaded. She was not convinced.

He also broke his long hacking session to pray. It was important for a devout Muslim to practice salat--to pray at least five times a day depending on the branch of Islam followed by the devotee. Islam allows followers to group some of their prayers, so Anthrax usually grouped two in the morning, prayed once at midday as normal, and grouped two more at night. An efficient way to meet religious obligations.

Sometimes the time just slipped away, hacking all night. When the first hint of dawn snuck up on him, he was invariably in the middle of some exciting journey. But duty was duty, and it had to be done. So he pressed control S to freeze his screen, unfurled the prayer mat with its built-in compass, faced Mecca, knelt down and did two sets of prayers before sunrise. Ten minutes later he rolled the prayer mat up, slid back into his chair, typed control Q to release the pause on his computer and picked up where he left off.

This company's computer system seemed to confirm what he had begun to suspect. System X was the first stage of a project, the rest of which was under development. He found a number of tables and reports in System X's files. The reports carried headers like `Traffic Analysis', `calls in' and `calls out', `failure rate'. It all began to make sense to Anthrax.

System X called up each of the military telephone exchanges in that list. It logged in using the computer-generated name and password. Once inside, a program in System X polled the exchange for important statistics, such as the number of calls coming in and out of the base. This information was then stored on System X. Whenever someone wanted a report on something, for example, the military sites with the most incoming calls over the past 24 hours, he or she would simply ask System X to compile the information. All of this was done automatically.

Anthrax had read some email suggesting that changes to an exchange, such as adding new telephone lines on the base, had been handled manually, but this job was soon to be done automatically by System X. It made sense. The maintenance time spent by humans would be cut dramatically.

A machine which gathers statistics and services phone exchanges remotely doesn't sound very sexy on the face of it, until you begin to consider what you could do with something like that. You could sell it to a foreign power interested in the level of activity at a certain base at a particular time. And that is just the beginning.

You could tap any unencrypted line going in or out of any of the 100 or so exchanges and listen in to sensitive military discussions. Just a few commands makes you a fly on the wall of a general's conversation to the head of a base in the Philippines. Anti-government rebels in that country might pay a pretty penny for getting intelligence on the US forces.

All of those options paled next to the most striking power wielded by a hacker who had unlimited access to System X and the 100 or so telephone exchanges. He could take down that US military voice communications system almost overnight, and he could do it automatically. The potential for havoc creation was breathtaking. It would be a small matter for a skilled programmer to alter the automated program used by System X. Instead of using its dozen or more modems to dial all the exchanges overnight and poll them for statistics, System X could be instructed to call them overnight and reprogram the exchanges.

What if every time General Colin Powell picked up his phone, he was be automatically patched through to some Russian general's office? He wouldn't be able to dial any other number from his office phone. He'd pick up his phone to dial and there would be the Russian at the other end. And what if every time someone called into the general's number, they ended up talking to the stationery department? What if none of the phone numbers connected to their proper telephones? No-one would be able to reach one another. An important part of the US military machine would be in utter disarray. Now, what if all this happened in the first few days of a war? People trying to contact each other with vital information wouldn't be able to use the telephone exchanges reprogrammed by System X.

THAT was power.

It wasn't like Anthrax screaming at his father until his voice turned to a whisper, all for nothing. He could make people sit up and take notice with this sort of power.

Hacking a system gave him a sense of control. Getting root on a system always gave him an adrenalin rush for just that reason. It meant the system was his, he could do whatever he wanted, he could run whatever processes or programs he desired, he could remove other users he didn't want using his system. He thought, I own the system. The word `own' anchored the phrase which circled through his thoughts again and again when he successfully hacked a system.

The sense of ownership was almost passionate, rippled with streaks of obsession and jealousy. At any given moment, Anthrax had a list of systems he owned and that had captured his interest for that moment. Anthrax hated seeing a system administrator logging onto one of those systems. It was an invasion. It was as though Anthrax had just got this woman he had been after for some time alone in a room with the door closed. Then, just as he was getting to know her, this other guy had barged in, sat down on the couch and started talking to her.

It was never enough to look at a system from a distance and know he could hack it if he wanted to. Anthrax had to actually hack the system. He had to own it. He needed to see what was inside the system, to know exactly what it was he owned.

The worst thing admins could do was to fiddle with system security. That made Anthrax burn with anger. If Anthrax was on-line, silently observing the admins' activities, he would feel a sudden urge to log them off. He wanted to punish them. Wanted them to know he was into their system. And yet, at the same time, he didn't want them to know. Logging them off would draw attention to himself, but the two desires pulled at him from opposite directions. What Anthrax really wanted was for the admins to know he controlled their system, but for them not to be able to do anything about it. He wanted them to be helpless.

Anthrax decided to keep undercover. But he contemplated the power of having System X's list of telephone exchange dial-ups and their username-password combinations. Normally, it would take days for a single hacker with his lone modem to have much impact on the US military's communications network. Sure, he could take down a few exchanges before the military wised up and started protecting themselves. It was like hacking a military computer. You could take out a machine here, a system there. But the essence of the power of System X was being able to use its own resources to orchestrate widespread pandemonium quickly and quietly.

Anthrax defines power as the potential for real world impact. At that moment of discovery and realisation, the real world impact of hacking System X looked good. The telecommunications company computer seemed like a good place to hang up a sniffer, so he plugged one into the machine and decided to return in a little while. Then he logged out and went to bed.

When he revisited the sniffer a day or so later, Anthrax received a rude shock. Scrolling through the sniffer file, he did a double take on one of the entries. Someone had logged into the company's system using his special login patch password.

He tried to stay calm. He thought hard. When was the last time he had logged into the system using that special password? Could his sniffer have logged himself on an earlier hacking session? It did happen occasionally. Hackers sometimes gave themselves quite a fright. In the seamless days and nights of hacking dozens of systems, it was easy to forget the last time you logged into a particular system using the special password. The more he thought, the more he was absolutely sure. He hadn't logged into the system again.

Which left the obvious question. Who had?

Sometimes Anthrax pranked, sometimes he punished. Punishment could be severe or mild. Generally it was severe. And unlike pranking, it was not done randomly.

Different things set him off. The librarian, for example. In early 1993 Anthrax had enrolled in Asia-Pacific and Business Studies at a university in a nearby regional city. Ever since he showed up on the campus, he had been hassled by a student who worked part-time at the university library. On more than one occasion, Anthrax had been reading at a library table when a security guard came up and asked to search his bags. And when Anthrax looked over his shoulder to the check-out desk, that librarian was always there, the one with the bad attitude smeared across his face.

The harassment became so noticeable, Anthrax's friends began commenting on it. His bag would be hand-searched when he left the library, while other students walked through the electronic security boom gate unbothered. When he returned a book one day late, the librarian--that librarian--insisted he pay all sorts of fines. Anthrax's pleas of being a poor student fell on deaf ears. By the time exam period rolled around at the end of term, Anthrax decided to punish the librarian by taking down the library's entire computer system.

Logging in to the library computer via modem from home, Anthrax quickly gained root privileges. The system had security holes a mile wide. Then, with one simple command, he deleted every file in the computer. He knew the system would be backed up somewhere, but it would take a day or two to get the system up and running again. In the meantime, every loan or book search had to be conducted manually.

During Anthrax's first year at university, even small incidents provoked punishment. Cutting him off while he was driving, or swearing at him on the road, fit the bill. Anthrax would memorise the licence plate of the offending driver, then social engineer the driver's personal details. Usually he called the police to report what appeared to be a stolen car and then provided the licence plate number. Shortly after, Anthrax tuned into to his police scanner, where he picked up the driver's name and address as it was read over the airways to the investigating police car. Anthrax wrote it all down.

Then began the process of punishment. Posing as the driver, Anthrax rang the driver's electricity company to arrange a power disconnection. The next morning the driver might return home to find his electricity cut off. The day after, his gas might be disconnected. Then his water. Then his phone.

Some people warranted special punishment--people such as Bill. Anthrax came across Bill on the Swedish Party Line, an English-speaking telephone conference. For a time, Anthrax was a regular fixture on the line, having attempted to call it by phreaking more than 2000 times over just a few months. Of course, not all those attempts were successful, but he managed to get through at least half the time. It required quite an effort to keep a presence on the party line, since it automatically cut people off after only ten minutes. Anthrax made friends with the operators, who sometimes let him stay on-line a while longer.

Bill, a Swedish Party Line junkie, had recently been released from prison, where he had served time for beating up a Vietnamese boy at a railway station. He had a bad attitude and he often greeted the party line by saying, `Are there any coons on the line today?' His attitude to women wasn't much better. He relentlessly hit on the women who frequented the line. One day, he made a mistake. He gave out his phone number to a girl he was trying to pick up. The operator copied it down and when her friend Anthrax came on later that day, she passed it on to him.

Anthrax spent a few weeks social engineering various people, including utilities and relatives whose telephone numbers appeared on Bill's phone accounts, to piece together the details of his life. Bill was a rough old ex-con who owned a budgie and was dying of cancer. Anthrax phoned Bill in the hospital and proceeded to tell him all sorts of personal details about himself, the kind of details which upset a person.

Not long after, Anthrax heard that Bill had died. The hacker felt as though he had perhaps gone a bit too far.

The tension at home had eased a little by the time Anthrax left to attend university. But when he returned home during holidays he found his father even more unbearable. More and more, Anthrax rebelled against his father's sniping comments and violence. Eventually, he vowed that the next time his father tried to break his arm he would fight back. And he did.

One day Anthrax's father began making bitter fun of his younger son's stutter. Brimming with biting sarcasm, the father mimicked Anthrax's brother.

`Why are you doing that?' Anthrax yelled. The bait had worked once again.

It was as though he became possessed with a spirit not his own. He yelled at his father, and put a fist into the wall. His father grabbed a chair and thrust it forward to keep Anthrax at bay, then reached back for the phone. Said he was calling the police. Anthrax ripped the phone from the wall. He pursued his father through the house, smashing furniture. Amid the crashing violence of the fight, Anthrax suddenly felt a flash of fear for his mother's clock--a much loved, delicate family heirloom. He gently picked it up and placed it out of harm's way. Then he heaved the stereo into the air and threw it at his father. The stereo cabinet followed in its wake. Wardrobes toppled with a crash across the floor.

When his father fled the house, Anthrax got a hold of himself and began to look around. The place was a disaster area. All those things so tenderly gathered and carefully treasured by his mother, the things she had used to build her life in a foreign land of white people speaking an alien tongue, lay in fragments scattered around the house.

Anthrax felt wretched. His mother was distraught at the destruction and he was badly shaken by how much it upset her. He promised to try and control his temper from that moment on. It proved to be a constant battle. Mostly he would win, but not always. The battle still simmered below the surface.

Sometimes it boiled over.

Anthrax considered the possibilities of who else would be using his login patch. It could be another hacker, perhaps someone who was running another sniffer that logged Anthrax's previous login. But it was more likely to be a security admin. Meaning he had been found out. Meaning that he might be being traced even as he leap-frogged through System X to the telecommunications company's computer.

Anthrax made his way to the system admin's mailboxes. If the game was up, chances were something in the mailbox would give it away.

There it was. The evidence. They were onto him all right, and they hadn't wasted any time. The admins had mailed CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon University, reporting a security breach. CERT, the nemesis of every Internet hacker, was bound to complicate matters. Law enforcement would no doubt be called in now.

It was time to get out of this system, but not before leaving in a blaze of glory. A prank left as a small present.

CERT had written back to the admins acknowledging the incident and providing a case number. Posing as one of the admins, Anthrax drafted a letter to CERT. To make the thing look official, he added the case number `for reference'. The letter went something like this:

`In regard to incident no. XXXXX, reported on this date, we have since carried out some additional investigations on the matter. We have discovered the security incident was caused by a disgruntled employee who was fired for alcoholism and decided to retaliate against the company in this manner.

`We have long had a problem with alcohol and drug abuse due to the stressful nature of the company environment. No further investigation is necessary.'

At his computer terminal, Anthrax smiled. How embarrassing was that going to be? Try scraping that mud off. He felt very pleased with himself.

Anthrax then tidied up his things in the company's computer, deleted the sniffer and moved out.

Things began to move quickly after that. He logged into System X later to check the sniffer records, only to find that someone had used his login patch password on that system as well. He became very nervous. It was one thing goofing around with a commercial site, and quite another being tracked from a military computer.

A new process had been added to System X, which Anthrax recognised. It was called `-u'. He didn't know what it did, but he had seen it before on military systems. About 24 hours after it appeared, he found himself locked out of the system. He had tried killing off the -u process before. It disappeared for a split-second and reappeared. Once it was in place, there was no way to destroy it.

Anthrax also unearthed some alarming email. The admin at a site upstream from both System X and the company's system had been sent a warning letter: `We think there has been a security incident at your site'. The circle was closing in on him. It was definitely time to get the hell out. He packed up his things in a hurry. Killed off the remaining sniffer. Moved his files. Removed the login patch. And departed with considerable alacrity.

After he cut his connection, Anthrax sat wondering about the admins. If they knew he was into their systems, why did they leave the sniffers up and running? He could understand leaving the login patch. Maybe they wanted to track his movements, determine his motives, or trace his connection. Killing the patch would have simply locked him out of the only door the admins could watch. They wouldn't know if he had other backdoors into their system. But the sniffer? It didn't make any sense.

It was possible that they simply hadn't seen the sniffer. Leaving it there had been an oversight. But it was almost too glaring an error to be a real possibility. If it was an error, it implied the admins weren't actually monitoring the connections in and out of their systems. If they had been watching the connections, they would probably have seen the sniffer. But if they weren't monitoring the connections, how on earth did they find out his special password for the login patch? Like all passwords on the system, that one was encrypted. There were only two ways to get that password. Monitor the connection and sniff it, or break the encryption with a brute-force attack.

Breaking the encryption would probably have taken millions of dollars of computer time. He could pretty well rule that option out. That left sniffing it, which would have alerted them to his own sniffer. Surely they wouldn't have left his sniffer running on purpose. They must have known he would learn they were watching him through his sniffer. The whole thing was bizarre.

Anthrax thought about the admins who were chasing him. Thought about their moves, their strategies. Wondered why. It was one of the unsolved mysteries a hacker often faced--an unpleasant side of hacking. Missing the answers to certain questions, the satisfaction of a certain curiosity. Never being able to look over the fence at the other side.

Contents | Previous: Chapter 9 -- Operation Weather | Next: Chapter 11 -- The Prisoner's Dilemma