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could not rest until they had contacted the underground --
or, failing that, created their own.
In the mid-80s, underground boards sprang up like
digital fungi. ShadowSpawn Elite. Sherwood Forest I, II,
and III. Digital Logic Data Service in Florida, sysoped by
no less a man than "Digital Logic" himself; Lex Luthor of
the Legion of Doom was prominent on this board, since it
was in his area code. Lex's own board, "Legion of Doom,"
started in 1984. The Neon Knights ran a network of Apple-
hacker boards: Neon Knights North, South, East and
West. Free World II was run by "Major Havoc." Lunatic
Labs is still in operation as of this writing. Dr. ъipco
Chicago, an anything-goes anarchist board with an
extensive and raucous history, was seized by Secret
Service agents in 1990 on Sundevil day, but up again
almost immediately, with new machines and scarcely
The St. Louis scene was not to rank with major centers
of American hacking such as New York and L.A. But St.
Louis did rejoice in possession of "Knight Lightning" and
"Taran King," two of the foremost *journalists* native to
the underground. Missouri boards like Metal Shop,
Metal Shop Private, Metal Shop Brewery, may not have
been the heaviest boards around in terms of illicit
expertise. But they became boards where hackers could
exchange social gossip and try to figure out what the heck
was going on nationally -- and internationally. Gossip
from Metal Shop was put into the form of news files, then
assembled into a general electronic publication, *Phrack,*
a portmanteau title coined from "phreak" and "hack." The
*Phrack* editors were as obsessively curious about other
hackers as hackers were about machines.
*Phrack,* being free of charge and lively reading,
began to circulate throughout the underground. As Taran
King and Knight Lightning left high school for college,
*Phrack* began to appear on mainframe machines linked
to BITNET, and, through BITNET to the "Internet," that
loose but extremely potent not-for-profit network where
academic, governmental and corporate machines trade
data through the UNIX TCP/IP protocol. (The "Internet
Worm" of November 2-3,1988, created by Cornell grad
student ъobert Morris, was to be the largest and best-
publicized computer-intrusion scandal to date. Morris
claimed that his ingenious "worm" program was meant to
harmlessly explore the Internet, but due to bad
programming, the Worm replicated out of control and
crashed some six thousand Internet computers. Smaller-
scale and less ambitious Internet hacking was a standard
for the underground elite.)
Most any underground board not hopelessly lame
and out-of-it would feature a complete run of *Phrack* --
and, possibly, the lesser-known standards of the
underground: the *Legion of Doom Technical Journal,*
the obscene and raucous *Cult of the Dead Cow* files,
*P/HUN* magazine, *Pirate,* the *Syndicate ъeports,*
and perhaps the highly anarcho-political *Activist Times
Possession of *Phrack* on one's board was prima
facie evidence of a bad attitude. *Phrack* was seemingly
everywhere, aiding, abetting, and spreading the
underground ethos. And this did not escape the attention
of corporate security or the police.
We now come to the touchy subject of police and
boards. Police, do, in fact, own boards. In 1989, there
police-sponsored boards in California, Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and Virginia:
boards such as "Crime Bytes," "Crimestoppers," "All
Points" and "Bullet-N-Board." Police officers, as private
computer enthusiasts, ran their own boards in Arizona,
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri,
Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee
and Texas. Police boards have often proved helpful in
community relations. Sometimes crimes are reported on
Sometimes crimes are *committed* on police
boards. This has sometimes happened by accident, as
naive hackers blunder onto police boards and blithely
begin offering telephone codes. Far more often, however,
it occurs through the now almost-traditional use of "sting
boards." The first police sting-boards were established in
1985: "Underground Tunnel" in Austin, Texas, whose
sysop Sgt. ъobert Ansley called himself "Pluto" -- "The
Phone Company" in Phoenix, Arizona, run by Ken
MacLeod of the Maricopa County Sheriff's office -- and
Sgt. Dan Pasquale's board in Fremont, California. Sysops
posed as hackers, and swiftly garnered coteries of ardent
users, who posted codes and loaded pirate software with
abandon, and came to a sticky end.
Sting boards, like other boards, are cheap to operate,
very cheap by the standards of undercover police
operations. Once accepted by the local underground,
sysops will likely be invited into other pirate boards,
they can compile more dossiers. And when the sting is
announced and the worst offenders arrested, the publicity
is generally gratifying. The resultant paranoia in the
underground -- perhaps more justly described as a
"deterrence effect" -- tends to quell local lawbreaking for
quite a while.
Obviously police do not have to beat the underbrush
for hackers. On the contrary, they can go trolling for
Those caught can be grilled. Some become useful
informants. They can lead the way to pirate boards all
across the country.
And boards all across the country showed the sticky
fingerprints of *Phrack,* and of that loudest and most
flagrant of all underground groups, the "Legion of Doom."
The term "Legion of Doom" came from comic books.
The Legion of Doom, a conspiracy of costumed super-
villains headed by the chrome-domed criminal ultra-
mastermind Lex Luthor, gave Superman a lot of four-color
graphic trouble for a number of decades. Of course,
Superman, that exemplar of Truth, Justice, and the
American Way, always won in the long run. This didn't
matter to the hacker Doomsters -- "Legion of Doom" was
not some thunderous and evil Satanic reference, it was not
meant to be taken seriously. "Legion of Doom" came
from funny-books and was supposed to be funny.
"Legion of Doom" did have a good mouthfilling ring
to it, though. It sounded really cool. Other groups, such
the "Farmers of Doom," closely allied to LoD, recognized
this grandiloquent quality, and made fun of it. There was
even a hacker group called "Justice League of America,"
named after Superman's club of true-blue crimefighting
But they didn't last; the Legion did.
The original Legion of Doom, hanging out on Quasi
Moto's Plovernet board, were phone phreaks. They
weren't much into computers. "Lex Luthor" himself (who
was under eighteen when he formed the Legion) was a
COSMOS expert, COSMOS being the "Central System for
Mainframe Operations," a telco internal computer
network. Lex would eventually become quite a dab hand
at breaking into IBM mainframes, but although everyone
liked Lex and admired his attitude, he was not considered
a truly accomplished computer intruder. Nor was he the
"mastermind" of the Legion of Doom -- LoD were never
big on formal leadership. As a regular on Plovernet and
sysop of his "Legion of Doom BBS," Lex was the Legion's
cheerleader and recruiting officer.
Legion of Doom began on the ruins of an earlier
phreak group, The Knights of Shadow. Later, LoD was to
subsume the personnel of the hacker group "Tribunal of
Knowledge." People came and went constantly in LoD;
groups split up or formed offshoots.
Early on, the LoD phreaks befriended a few
computer-intrusion enthusiasts, who became the
associated "Legion of Hackers." Then the two groups
conflated into the "Legion of Doom/Hackers," or LoD/H.
When the original "hacker" wing, Messrs. "Compu-
Phreak" and "Phucked Agent 04," found other matters to
occupy their time, the extra "/H" slowly atrophied out of
the name; but by this time the phreak wing, Messrs. Lex
Luthor, "Blue Archer," "Gary Seven," "Kerrang Khan,"
"Master of Impact," "Silver Spy," "The Marauder," and
"The Videosmith," had picked up a plethora of intrusion
expertise and had become a force to be reckoned with.
LoD members seemed to have an instinctive
understanding that the way to real power in the
underground lay through covert publicity. LoD were
flagrant. Not only was it one of the earliest groups, but
members took pains to widely distribute their illicit
knowledge. Some LoD members, like "The Mentor," were
close to evangelical about it. *Legion of Doom Technical
Journal* began to show up on boards throughout the
*LoD Technical Journal* was named in cruel parody
of the ancient and honored *AT&T Technical Journal.*
The material in these two publications was quite similar --
much of it, adopted from public journals and discussions
in the telco community. And yet, the predatory attitude of
LoD made even its most innocuous data seem deeply
sinister; an outrage; a clear and present danger.
To see why this should be, let's consider the following
(invented) paragraphs, as a kind of thought experiment.
(A) "W. Fred Brown, AT&T Vice President for
Advanced Technical Development, testified May 8 at a
Washington hearing of the National Telecommunications
and Information Administration (NTIA), regarding
Bellcore's GAъDEN project. GAъDEN (Generalized
Automatic ъemote Distributed Electronic Network) is a
telephone-switch programming tool that makes it possible
to develop new telecom services, including hold-on-hold
and customized message transfers, from any keypad
terminal, within seconds. The GAъDEN prototype
combines centrex lines with a minicomputer using UNIX
operating system software."
(B) "Crimson Flash 512 of the Centrex Mobsters
reports: D00dz, you wouldn't believe this GAъDEN
bullshit Bellcore's just come up with! Now you don't even
need a lousy Commodore to reprogram a switch -- just log
on to GAъDEN as a technician, and you can reprogram
switches right off the keypad in any public phone booth!
You can give yourself hold-on-hold and customized
message transfers, and best of all, the thing is run off
(notoriously insecure) centrex lines using -- get this --
standard UNIX software! Ha ha ha ha!"
Message (A), couched in typical techno-
bureaucratese, appears tedious and almost unreadable.
(A) scarcely seems threatening or menacing. Message
(B), on the other hand, is a dreadful thing, prima facie
evidence of a dire conspiracy, definitely not the kind of
thing you want your teenager reading.
The *information,* however, is identical. It is
information, presented before the federal government in
an open hearing. It is not "secret." It is not
It is not even "confidential." On the contrary, the
development of advanced software systems is a matter of
great public pride to Bellcore.
However, when Bellcore publicly announces a project
of this kind, it expects a certain attitude from the public
something along the lines of *gosh wow, you guys are
great, keep that up, whatever it is* -- certainly not
mimickry, one-upmanship and outrageous speculations
about possible security holes.
Now put yourself in the place of a policeman
confronted by an outraged parent, or telco official, with a
copy of Version (B). This well-meaning citizen, to his
horror, has discovered a local bulletin-board carrying
outrageous stuff like (B), which his son is examining with a
deep and unhealthy interest. If (B) were printed in a book
or magazine, you, as an American law enforcement officer,
would know that it would take a hell of a lot of trouble to
anything about it; but it doesn't take technical genius to
recognize that if there's a computer in your area harboring
stuff like (B), there's going to be trouble.
In fact, if you ask around, any computer-literate cop
will tell you straight out that boards with stuff like (B)
the *source* of trouble. And the *worst* source of trouble
on boards are the ringleaders inventing and spreading
stuff like (B). If it weren't for these jokers, there
*be* any trouble.
And Legion of Doom were on boards like nobody
else. Plovernet. The Legion of Doom Board. The Farmers
of Doom Board. Metal Shop. OSUNY. Blottoland.
Private Sector. Atlantis. Digital Logic. Hell Phrozen
LoD members also ran their own boards. "Silver Spy"
started his own board, "Catch-22," considered one of the
heaviest around. So did "Mentor," with his "Phoenix
Project." When they didn't run boards themselves, they
showed up on other people's boards, to brag, boast, and
strut. And where they themselves didn't go, their philes
went, carrying evil knowledge and an even more evil
As early as 1986, the police were under the vague
impression that *everyone* in the underground was
Legion of Doom. LoD was never that large --
considerably smaller than either "Metal
Communications" or "The Administration," for instance --
but LoD got tremendous press. Especially in *Phrack,*
which at times read like an LoD fan magazine; and
*Phrack* was everywhere, especially in the offices of telco
security. You couldn't *get* busted as a phone phreak, a
hacker, or even a lousy codes kid or warez dood, without
the cops asking if you were LoD.
This was a difficult charge to deny, as LoD never
distributed membership badges or laminated ID cards. If
they had, they would likely have died out quickly, for
turnover in their membership was considerable. LoD was
less a high-tech street-gang than an ongoing state-of-
mind. LoD was the Gang That ъefused to Die. By 1990,
LoD had *ruled* for ten years, and it seemed *weird* to
police that they were continually busting people who were
only sixteen years old. All these teenage small-timers
were pleading the tiresome hacker litany of "just curious,
no criminal intent." Somewhere at the center of this
conspiracy there had to be some serious adult
masterminds, not this seemingly endless supply of myopic
suburban white kids with high SATs and funny haircuts.
There was no question that most any American
hacker arrested would "know" LoD. They knew the
handles of contributors to *LoD Tech Journal,* and were
likely to have learned their craft through LoD boards and
LoD activism. But they'd never met anyone from LoD.
Even some of the rotating cadre who were actually and
formally "in LoD" knew one another only by board-mail
and pseudonyms. This was a highly unconventional
profile for a criminal conspiracy. Computer networking,
and the rapid evolution of the digital underground, made
the situation very diffuse and confusing.
Furthermore, a big reputation in the digital
underground did not coincide with one's willingness to
commit "crimes." Instead, reputation was based on
cleverness and technical mastery. As a result, it often
seemed that the *heavier* the hackers were, the *less*
likely they were to have committed any kind of common,
easily prosecutable crime. There were some hackers who
could really steal. And there were hackers who could
really hack. But the two groups didn't seem to overlap
much, if at all. For instance, most people in the
underground looked up to "Emmanuel Goldstein" of
*2600* as a hacker demigod. But Goldstein's publishing
activities were entirely legal -- Goldstein just printed
dodgy stuff and talked about politics, he didn't even hack.
When you came right down to it, Goldstein spent half his
time complaining that computer security *wasn't strong
enough* and ought to be drastically improved across the
Truly heavy-duty hackers, those with serious
technical skills who had earned the respect of the
underground, never stole money or abused credit cards.
Sometimes they might abuse phone-codes -- but often,
they seemed to get all the free phone-time they wanted
without leaving a trace of any kind.
The best hackers, the most powerful and technically
accomplished, were not professional fraudsters. They
raided computers habitually, but wouldn't alter anything,
or damage anything. They didn't even steal computer
equipment -- most had day-jobs messing with hardware,
and could get all the cheap secondhand equipment they
wanted. The hottest hackers, unlike the teenage
wannabes, weren't snobs about fancy or expensive
hardware. Their machines tended to be raw second-hand
digital hot-rods full of custom add-ons that they'd cobbled
together out of chickenwire, memory chips and spit. Some
were adults, computer software writers and consultants by
trade, and making quite good livings at it. Some of them
*actually worked for the phone company* -- and for those,
the "hackers" actually found under the skirts of Ma Bell,
there would be little mercy in 1990.
It has long been an article of faith in the
underground that the "best" hackers never get caught.
They're far too smart, supposedly. They never get caught
because they never boast, brag, or strut. These demigods
may read underground boards (with a condescending
smile), but they never say anything there. The "best"
hackers, according to legend, are adult computer
professionals, such as mainframe system administrators,
who already know the ins and outs of their particular
brand of security. Even the "best" hacker can't break in
just any computer at random: the knowledge of security
holes is too specialized, varying widely with different
software and hardware. But if people are employed to run,
say, a UNIX mainframe or a VAX/VMS machine, then
they tend to learn security from the inside out. Armed
with this knowledge, they can look into most anybody
else's UNIX or VMS without much trouble or risk, if they
want to. And, according to hacker legend, of course they
want to, so of course they do. They just don't make a big
deal of what they've done. So nobody ever finds out.
It is also an article of faith in the underground that
professional telco people "phreak" like crazed weasels.
*Of course* they spy on Madonna's phone calls -- I mean,
*wouldn't you?* Of course they give themselves free long-
distance -- why the hell should *they* pay, they're running
the whole shebang!
It has, as a third matter, long been an article of
that any hacker caught can escape serious punishment if
he confesses *how he did it.* Hackers seem to believe
that governmental agencies and large corporations are
blundering about in cyberspace like eyeless jellyfish or
cave salamanders. They feel that these large but
pathetically stupid organizations will proffer up genuine
gratitude, and perhaps even a security post and a big
salary, to the hot-shot intruder who will deign to reveal to
them the supreme genius of his modus operandi.
In the case of longtime LoD member "Control-C,"
this actually happened, more or less. Control-C had led
Michigan Bell a merry chase, and when captured in 1987,
he turned out to be a bright and apparently physically
harmless young fanatic, fascinated by phones. There was
no chance in hell that Control-C would actually repay the
enormous and largely theoretical sums in long-distance
service that he had accumulated from Michigan Bell. He
could always be indicted for fraud or computer-intrusion,
but there seemed little real point in this -- he hadn't
physically damaged any computer. He'd just plead guilty,
and he'd likely get the usual slap-on-the-wrist, and in the