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My great aunt used to paint underwater.

Piling on the weighty diving gear used in 1939 and looking like something out of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lucie slowly sank below the surface, with palette, special paints and canvas in hand. She settled on the ocean floor, arranged her weighted painter's easel and allowed herself to become completely enveloped by another world. Red and white striped fish darted around fields of blue-green coral and blue-lipped giant clams. Lionfish drifted by, gracefully waving their dangerous feathered spines. Striped green moray eels peered at her from their rock crevice homes.

Lucie dived and painted everywhere. The Sulu Archipelago. Mexico. Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Hawaii. Borneo. Sometimes she was the first white woman seen by the Pacific villagers she lived with for months on end.

As a child, I was entranced by her stories of the unknown world below the ocean's surface, and the strange and wonderful cultures she met on her journeys. I grew up in awe of her chosen task: to capture on canvas the essence of a world utterly foreign to her own.

New technology--revolutionary for its time--had allowed her to do this. Using a compressor, or sometimes just a hand pump connected to air hoses running to the surface, human beings were suddenly able to submerge themselves for long periods in an otherwise inaccessible world. New technology allowed her to both venture into this unexplored realm, and to document it in canvas.

I came upon the brave new world of computer communications and its darker side, the underground, quite by accident. It struck me somewhere in the journey that followed that my trepidations and conflicting desires to explore this alien world were perhaps not unlike my aunt's own desires some half a century before. Like her journey, my own travels have only been made possible by new technologies. And like her, I have tried to capture a small corner of this world.

This is a book about the computer underground. It is not a book about law enforcement agencies, and it is not written from the point of view of the police officer. From a literary perspective, I have told this story through the eyes of numerous computer hackers. In doing so, I hope to provide the reader with a window into a mysterious, shrouded and usually inaccessible realm.

Who are hackers? Why do they hack? There are no simple answers to these questions. Each hacker is different. To that end, I have attempted to present a collection of individual but interconnected stories, bound by their links to the international computer underground. These are true stories, tales of the world's best and the brightest hackers and phreakers. There are some members of the underground whose stories I have not covered, a few of whom would also rank as world-class. In the end, I chose to paint detailed portraits of a few hackers rather than attempt to compile a comprehensive but shallow catalogue.

While each hacker has a distinct story, there are common themes which appear throughout many of the stories. Rebellion against all symbols of authority. Dysfunctional families. Bright children suffocated by ill-equipped teachers. Mental illness or instability. Obsession and addiction.

I have endeavoured to track what happened to each character in this work over time: the individual's hacking adventures, the police raid and the ensuing court case. Some of those court cases have taken years to reach completion.

Hackers use `handles'--on-line nicknames--that serve two purposes. They shield the hacker's identity and, importantly, they often make a statement about how the hacker perceives himself in the underground. Hawk, Crawler, Toucan Jones, Comhack, Dataking, Spy, Ripmax, Fractal Insanity, Blade. These are all real handles used in Australia.

In the computer underground, a hacker's handle is his name. For this reason, and because most hackers in this work have now put together new lives for themselves, I have chosen to use only their handles. Where a hacker has had more than one handle, I have used the one he prefers.

Each chapter in this book is headed with a quote from a Midnight Oil song which expresses an important aspect of the chapter. The Oilz are uniquely Australian. Their loud voice of protest against the establishment--particularly the military-industrial establishment--echoes a key theme in the underground, where music in general plays a vital role.

The idea for using these Oilz extracts came while researching Chapter 1, which reveals the tale of the WANK worm crisis in NASA. Next to the RTM worm, WANK is the most famous worm in the history of computer networks. And it is the first major worm bearing a political message. With WANK, life imitated art, since the term computer `worm' came from John Brunner's sci-fi novel, The Shockwave Rider, about a politically motivated worm.

The WANK worm is also believed to be the first worm written by an Australian, or Australians.

This chapter shows the perspective of the computer system administrators--the people on the other side from the hackers. Lastly, it illustrates the sophistication which one or more Australian members of the worldwide computer underground brought to their computer crimes.

The following chapters set the scene for the dramas which unfold and show the transition of the underground from its early days, its loss of innocence, its closing ranks in ever smaller circles until it reached the inevitable outcome: the lone hacker. In the beginning, the computer underground was a place, like the corner pub, open and friendly. Now, it has become an ephemeral expanse, where hackers occasionally bump into one another but where the original sense of open community has been lost.

The computer underground has changed over time, largely in response to the introduction of new computer crime laws across the globe and to numerous police crackdowns. This work attempts to document not only an important piece of Australian history, but also to show fundamental shifts in the underground --to show, in essence, how the underground has moved further underground.

Suelette Dreyfus

March 1997

Contents | Previous: ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS | Next: Chapter 1 -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1