Computer Underground Digest--Fri Sept 8, 1991 (Vol #3.32) Moderators: Jim Thomas and Gordo

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Computer Underground Digest--Fri Sept 8, 1991 (Vol #3.32) Moderators: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET) -> SPECIAL ISSUE: REVIEW OF _CYBERPUNK_ <- CONTENTS, #3.32 (September 8, 1991) File 1--CYBERPUNK Review File 2--Review of _CYBERPUNK_ File 3--_CYBERPUNK_ Review File 4--Newsweek review CYBERPUNK File 5--Review of _CYBERPUNK_ Issues of CuD can be found in the Usenet news group, on CompuServe in DL0 and DL4 of the IBMBBS SIG, DL1 of LAWSIG, and DL0 and DL12 of TELECOM, on Genie, on the PC-EXEC BBS at (414) 789-4210, and by anonymous ftp from,, and To use the U. of Chicago email server, send mail with the subject "help" (without the quotes) to COMPUTER UNDERGROUND DIGEST is an open forum dedicated to sharing information among computerists and to the presentation and debate of diverse views. CuD material may be reprinted as long as the source is cited. Some authors do copyright their material, and they should be contacted for reprint permission. It is assumed that non-personal mail to the moderators may be reprinted unless otherwise specified. Readers are encouraged to submit reasoned articles relating to the Computer Underground. Articles are preferred to short responses. Please avoid quoting previous posts unless absolutely necessary. DISCLAIMER: The views represented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the moderators. Digest contributors assume all responsibility for ensuring that articles submitted do not violate copyright protections. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 08 Sep 91 15:20:16 EDT From: Gordon Meyer <72307.1502@COMPUSERVE.COM> Subject: File 1--CYBERPUNK Review ((Moderators Note: REVIEWS OF: CYBERPUNK: OUTLAWS AND HACKERS ON THE COMPUTER FRONTIER. by Katie Hafner and John Markoff. New York: Simon and Schuster. 336 pp. $22.95 pb. The Hafner and Markoff book has not, to our knowledge, received a bad, or even mediocre, review, so we invited a few readers to see if the hype is justified. It is, but don't take our word for it. Grab a copy and read it!)) Reviewed by: Gordon R. Meyer September 8, 1991 ++++++++++++++++++ The promotional materials for _CYBERPUNK_ describe the book using these words: A fascinating and revealing account of the world of hackers and the threat they pose in the age of computer networks. (....) With society completely dependent on computer networks, Hafner and Markoff reveal how real a threat these hackers represent, and address what we should or can do about them. While I certainly agree that _CYBERPUNK_ is fascinating and revealing, I found little about "the world of hackers," and even less about what should be done about 'them'. I realize authors often have little, if any, control over the jacket copy of their books, however as this is a mass-market publication the jacket copy does indeed play a role in influencing the perception and positioning of this volume in marketplace. Also, as an observational aside, it is interesting to note the phrase "...what we should or can do about them." A small semantic twist that focuses attention on those who engage in the behavior, and not the problem itself. _CYBERPUNK_ focuses on three "infamous" computer hackers that have risen into the public consciousness in the last few years. The stories of Kevin Mitnick, "Pengo," and Robert Morris are presented in a fast-paced, narrative manner. It is a very enjoyable romp through their lives, and the events that brought them into the public eye. The first chapter of the book concerns Mitnick, and is entitled "Kevin: The dark-side hacker." As indicated in the authors' reference notes, they were unable to contact Mitnick directly, therefore this chapter appears to construct events based on third and second-party interviews, and police/court documents. Despite this handicap, Hafner and Markoff have created a very intriguing narrative of some of Mitnick's activities. It is unfortunate that they were unable to talk to Mitnick himself, as a more balanced, or rather "inside," perspective on the events would improve this chapter. In some ways it is a bit like reading a historical account of a person who is long since dead. Here's hoping that someday Mitnick will himself fill in some of the missing parts of the story. It was probably a wise decision to begin the book with the Mitnick story. It certainly has the most "common man" angle to it. Mitnick, while a skilled computerist, is closer to the average 'man on the street' then Pengo, who was involved with the KGB, or Morris, son of a computer scientist. Mitnick, excluding his computer related activity, is not unlike other young men in many respects. This leads the reader to conclude that anyone, perhaps the kid next door, could also be involved in Mitnick-like activity. And certainly Mitnick's propensity to taking computerized revenge against his 'enemies' will entertain those who would daydream of, but never enact, such schemes. This chapter does exhibit one peculiar tendency, that was thankfully absent from the rest of the chapters. Specifically, there is somewhat of a focus on Kevin's weight, and on the the authors, was an active phone phreak/hacker in the early days of the computer underground. She plays a prominent role in the first part of the Mitnick story, then quickly fades from the scene. This was puzzling, as Hafner and Markoff treat us to stories of her days as a prostitute, (and the time she was thrown out of drug rehab for fellating a staff member in the restroom), then after numerous descriptions of her "unusually large hips and buck teeth" she quietly fades from the story, exiting into a life of professional tournament poker. While physical descriptions are important in helping the reader form mental images of the characters, the focus on was a bit too sharp on the physical attributes of the actors in Mitnick's story. Luckily this propensity was dropped as the book continued. However, I'm still hoping for _CYBERPUNK 2: The Return Of Thunder_ . An interesting picture emerges from the story of the police investigation into Mitnick. CuD readers will be familiar with the steps taken by Secret Service agents executing warrants in the Sun Devil investigations. In Mitnick's story we are treated to the image of the L.A. Police following Mitnick from classroom to classroom, and various fast-food restaurants, using a "tag team" of twelve officers, sometimes leaping from roof top to roof top, or driving at speeds in excess of one hundred miler per hour, all to ensure they didn't lose sight of the evil hacker. Mitnick's story ends with his arrest, by the FBI, in a parking garage. While we are later given a brief postscript stating that he currently lives in Las Vegas, I would was left wanting more regarding not only the trial, but also his wife Bonnie Mitnick, his co-hacker-turned-snitch Lenny, and the various other people connected with Mitnick's story. Admittedly, I found the section on Mitnick to be the most interesting aspect of _CYBERPUNK_, and it left me wanting more. Others may be more than satisfied with what is already offered. However, I did not have the same feeling regarding the story of Hans Heinrich, "Pengo and Project Equalizer." I felt the story was well-covered, with adequate details regarding Pengo's association with "Hagbard Celine," all the way up to the ensuing trial, and aftermath. Hafner and Markoff present essentially the same story as Cliff Stoll's _The Cuckoo's Egg_, but from the other side of the phone, so to speak. It also brings some interesting questions to light regarding the interaction of the FBI, CIA, NSA, West German officials, and Laszlo, the Philadelphian who ultimately requested Stoll's bogus SDINet information. Fascinating stuff, and after reading this section I immediately wanted to re-read Stoll's book, just to form a better picture of the situation. For anyone wanting to understand what all the fuss was over the incident described in _The Cuckoo's Egg_, but not wanting to read Stoll's account, _CYBERPUNK_ offers a cogent, and equally compelling summary of the events. Anyone who has read Stoll's book, should be equally interested in this section as well. The final focus of _CYBERPUNK_ is on Robert T. Morris, author of the so-called "Internet Worm." Here the authors' offer some insight into the Morris family, and the actions taken by Robert and his associates as the Worm was working its way throughout the Internet. As an accounting of the trial, and documentation of the questions and issues the Justice Department needed to confront in attending to this case, it is more than worthwhile reading. There has been much written on the actions of the Worm, and the aftermath of its release. Hafner and Markoff give us a peek behind the scenes and illustrate that many of the questions and issues raised by the actions of Morris, are as of yet unanswered. In conclusion, _CYBERPUNK_ is very enjoyable and quite entertaining. I highly recommend it to CuD readers, it is worth the minimal time required to read it. I found myself disappointed that it offered no insights into the computer underground per se, and in fact I would argue that it is not a book about the computer underground, or as the dust jacket puts it "the computer frontier" at all. It is an interesting account of three talented individuals, who each happen to have used computers as their tools of choice. Is _CYBERPUNK_ a definitive peek into the world of computer hackers? It is not. Does it provide insight and raise questions for the student of the computer underground? Absolutely. Read it. ------------------------------ From: joeholms@DORSAI.COM(Joseph Holmes) Subject: File 2--Review of _CYBERPUNK_ Date: Mon, 24 Jun 91 15:38:40 PDT "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier," is journalism's second mainstream book on hackers, although since 1984 when Steven Levy wrote his "Hackers," the definition has certainly changed. Cyberpunk is the story of three groups of "outlaw" hackers -- Kevin Mitnick, whom the authors call the "darkside" hacker, and his friends in California, Pengo and the other West German hackers who were pursued by Cliff Stoll in "The Cuckoo's Egg," and Robert Morris, the author of the worm that took down the Internet in 1988. The authors, Katie Hafner, technology and computer reporter for "Business Week," and John Markoff, computer industry reporter for "The New York Times," live up to both the best and the worst of journalism. The good news is that they've assembled a ton of new details, including the days leading up to Robert Morris's release of his worm into the Internet, and lots of information about Pengo, Hagbard Celine, and the other West German hackers visiting their Soviet connection. For that reason alone, the book is sure to sell well. On the other hand, there are passages in the book that leave the reader more than a little skeptical about the reporters' accuracy. Pittsburgh's Monroeville mall, for example, did not serve as the "set for the cult film 'Night of the Living Dead'"--that was "Dawn of the Dead." While that's hardly an important detail, such inattention does nothing to inspire confidence. And unfortunately, very little of the detail is put to any interesting use, since the book offers almost no analysis of the facts. There's no suggestion offered as to why Pengo, Mitnick, or Robert Morris did what they did (the authors could take a lesson from "The Falcon and the Snowman"--the book, that is, not the movie). Instead, Hafner and Markoff have apparently drawn their own conclusions about the Mitnick, Pengo, and Morris, and they seem to have written Cyberpunk to convince us that Kevin Mitnick is a shallow, vindictive, and dangerous genius, while Robert Morris is an innocent, misunderstood genius, more scapegoat than outlaw. While those conclusions might easily be true, we're never trusted to discover that from the facts alone. As they tell about the dangerous pranks and hacks by Mitnick, for example, they seem always ready to pass along every scary anecdote about his power over everything from computers to the phone company to security guards. No matter what the source (and it's usually impossible to tell what their sources were), they apparently believe every story they're told, even when the stories are obviously the bragging of the participants. On the other hand, when they discuss Morris, he gets the benefit of every possible doubt as they trace him from his loving upbringing through his trial and sentence. They mention, for example, Robert Morris's habit of ranging throughout various networks and computers using decyphered or stolen passwords, and they note, "Robert made a practice of breaking into only the computers of people he knew wouldn't mind." Incredibly, this is stated without the slightest bit of irony or skepticism. I myself have long believe that Morris was something of a scapegoat, but what I'd like to learn from a book like Cyberpunk are the facts to help me make up my mind about Morris, not apologies and half-baked conclusions. Cyberpunk is ostensibly about the people involved, not the science, so computer and science readers will be disappointed to find that it avoids explaining how phreaking and hacking works. I sorely miss Cliff Stoll's ability to clearly explain to nonprogrammers the technology behind all these exploits. Stoll, for example, easily explained how a hacker with a dictionary and a little patience could figure out a slew of encrypted passwords using simple logic rather than brute force. Because Cyberpunk doesn't bother to delve into such details, it misses the opportunity to involve the reader more deeply. The writing style will win no awards (Hugh Kenner's review of the book in the July Byte calls it "sledgehammer prose"). But of course, Cyberpunks will nevertheless be gobbled up by all the computer-literates -- the users and the hackers -- as well as a public ready to be scared by news of the new evil breed of young computer masterminds who are about to take over the world. Or at least the world's credit ratings. ------------------------------ Date: Wed, 10 Jul 1991 19:37:22 -0400 From: Brendan Kehoe Subject: File 3--_CYBERPUNK_ Review A capsule & review by Brendan Kehoe. "Cyberpunk", by Katie Hafner and John Markoff, provides the reader with a peek inside the very real world of the computer "hacker". Labeled members of a "counterculture", these people, generally in their teens and early twenties, have added a sharp tint to the normally bland design of the computing world. Divided into three contrasting sections, "Cyberpunk" provides an insight into what drives a hacker, from the extreme to the accidental. (To allay any complaints, I'll use hacker in its common vernacular; as Steven Bellovin said a couple of years ago, "the battle is over, and the purists have lost." For our purposes, "hacker" will imply "criminal".) Kevin Mitnick, a overweight and markedly shy youth, satisfied many of the stereotypes that have been developed over the years regarding hackers. He ran the full gamut of "evil deeds," from altering credit ratings to turning off telephones at will. Remarkably adept at social engineering, Mitnick could talk himself into (or out of) nearly any situation. In one escapade, Mitnick and his compatriots ("Roscoe", "Susan", and a third phreak) managed to enter, raid, and leave a PacBell COSMOS center (where much of PacBell's main computing takes place for things like billing), leaving with a wealth of door-lock codes and, more importantly, manuals. All with the PacBell guard's unwitting permission. (They were later turned in by Susan, who is described as a very vindictive and dangerous young woman.) All adventure aside, Kevin had a serious problem. He was, by clinical definition, addicted to hacking of any sort. It became impossible for him to stop. Even after incidents with USC, GTE, Pierce College, and the Santa Cruz Operation (makers of SCO Unix), Mitnick kept following the endless road of systems to be conquered. He disappeared for a year (purportedly to Israel, but in reality only a few miles outside of San Francisco), to return after his warrant for the SCO incidents had been dropped. He immediately looked up his friend Lenny DiCiccio, who had spent a number of his teenage years following Kevin as a trainee might follow a mentor. Lenny found himself increasingly unhappy, as the fevered hacker's hold upon him returned. Mitnick insisted that he be allowed to come to Lenny's office (a small software company) after hours to hack. Under normal circumstances, such constant imposition would lead to some sort of objection---but Lenny couldn't help himself. Kevin appealed to the criminal in him that normally lay dormant. With Kevin, he could do things he had previously only schemed about. After a few months, Kevin and Lenny happened upon a virtual gold mine: Digital's Star development cluster in Nashua, New Hampshire, where their most proprietary systems development takes place. Since DEC's VMS operating system was their favorite, they couldn't have been happier. Or more greedy. "Kevin had always approached his illicit computing as a serious project [ ... his ] project for 1988 was downloading Digital's VMS source code." In the course of following Mitnick's tale, Hafner and Markoff do an excellent job of drawing the reader into Kevin's never-ending search for the "perfect hack." The eventual outcome of their Digital exploits, and the end of their (illegal) hacking careers (to slip out of the vernacular for just a moment), is nothing short of amazing. The authors' depiction is both disturbing as it is riveting. By now, many people are acquainted with the story of the "Wily Hacker", the electronic intruder that skyrocketed Cliff Stoll, an astronomer by degree who found himself a system manager, into wide-spread notoriety as an authority on computer security. Stoll's paper in the Communications of the ACM, "Stalking the Wily Hacker", graduated to become the book "The Cuckoo's Egg", which was on the best seller lists for weeks, and also took the form of a Nova documentary. This all, however, was presented from Stoll's point of view. Hafner and Markoff now afford people the opportunity to see the "other side" of the whole affair---from the world of Markus Hess, Pengo, and the German hacking underground. Hans Huebner went by the name "Pengo" in his youth, and is the main character in the second part of "Cyberpunk". Pengo grew from a Commodore 64 and BASIC programming to a network "cowboy" in a matter of months. Video games (including the one that provided his namesake) were his first passion---he could spend hours upon hours completely engrossed in the tiny world that exposed itself before him. Then a friend introduced him to using a modem, and the vast web of computers only a phone call or network connection away. He found in hacking an excitement and adrenaline rush normal video games could only attempt to equal. Pengo's world was strewn with drugs---one of his fellow hackers, Karl Koch (nicknamed "Hagbard Celine", for the protagonist in the Illuminatus! trilogy), regularly abused hashish and LSD. All members of their small group (with the exception of Markus Hess) spent a substantial amount of time in a chemical haze. Peter Carl and Dirk-Otto Brzezinski (aka "Dob") also played a major role in Germany's hacking scene. It was ultimately Carl who introduced a new angle to their computer crimes---the potential for making money by selling their knowledge to the Soviets. Starved for technology, the pre-Glastnost Russian republic absorbed the booming computer industry with relish at every opportunity. Members of the KGB worked with agents around the world, smuggling electronics and high-tech computers into the Soviet Union. The hackers, particularly Carl and Dob, wanted in. Carl approached one KGB agent with an offer to provide the fruits of their hacking ventures in exchange for one million German marks. After small rewards, it became clear that they would never reach their lofty goal---they received at best a few thousand marks for a copy of the source code to Berkeley Unix. Often, they sold what was otherwise public domain software, much to the Soviets' chagrin. Eventually, internal struggles drew the hackers apart---Pengo, for not being able to "produce" often enough for Carl; Hagbard, falling further and further into an incoherent world only he knew; Dob, who went to prison for weeks because Pengo forgot to pay a bill; and Hess, who became increasingly wary about how much he should share with the others, until he rarely heard from them. Pengo, growing weary of the entire KGB ordeal, let the secret slip during a routine interview with the local media. The German press was habitually interested in the darkly intriguing German hackers. When the reporters realized the magnitude of the story that Pengo mentioned so casually, they felt society draw its breath at the idea that espionage, considered inevitable by many, had actually been demonstrated in the computer underground. "Cyberpunk" spends a good deal of time describing the aftermath of the exposure of the KGB dealings. The arduous ordeal of deciding who was responsible for what crime(s), trying to educate a computer illiterate court in the intricacies of computer networks and use in general, and the conflicting stories of each of the hackers would make a normal writer's head spin. Hafner and Markoff demonstrate an ability to organize the entire matter into a sensible, and interesting, counterplay. At the closing of the final section, we learn of a truly unexpected casualty of the entire affair. Finally, probably the most widely known case of computer malfeasance, the story of Robert Tappan Morris (aka "RTM") and his Internet worm of 1988 is described. The section begins in a room at Berkeley called the "fishbowl", where Phil Lapsley notices a strange process running on his system. It soon becomes clear that many of the computers on the campus display similar characteristics to Phil's. They later discover that it's not confined to Berkeley---it's happening all over the Internet. Morris, a Cornell graduate student in computer science, had written a program that would "reproduce" itself from computer to computer, in a relatively benign way (inasmuch as it didn't destroy any information). He made some careless errors, however, which made the program go out of control. He released it on Wednesday afternoon, November 2, 1988. Rather than replicate itself only after a long period of time on the same system, it did so at a rate so fast that the computer soon became unusable. When Morris returned from dinner only an hour later, it had already ground hundreds of systems to a halt. It traveled the network by exploiting holes in certain Unix systems' software. Teams at Berkeley and MIT spent all night studying a copy of his program, trying to return it to its original source form. Slowly "patches" for the holes were worked together, and sent out to system administrators and posted to the Usenet news network. Unfortunately, many systems had completely disconnected themselves from the Internet as soon as the worm hit, so they didn't get the fixes until days later. Robert Morris, RTM's father and a computer scientist for the National Security Agency, stood by his son while he went to trial and faced reprimand for the results of his actions. Hafner and Markoff portray the young Morris as an extremely bright student who probably only now realizes the full effect of his relatively small programming errors. What happened behind the scenes of the whole incident completes the story given by the news media and various technical and electronic journals. (As a note, also included is the story of how the senior Morris came to work for the NSA.) "Cyberpunk" brings to the forefront an issue facing computer professionals and enthusiasts alike---the legal systems of the world are sorely lacking in appropriate investigation and treatment of cases like the three detailed in this book. Oftentimes the punishments and results of captures are far too harsh--other times, they're lenient enough to be laughable. "Do young people who illegally enter computers really represent such a menace? We hope that from reading the following stories readers will learn that the answer isn't a simple one." Throughout the book, the authors never let the reader forget that they're describing real people and real consequences, not fictional events. In all, I found "Cyberpunk" to be an excellent read (I devoured it in about 4 days, coupled with work and other things) that anyone remotely connected with computers, or intrigued by the computer underground in general, will find truly fascinating. As an aside, I think the first section on Kevin Mitnick would make an absolutely fantastic docu-drama. ------------------------------ Date: 04 Aug 91 19:54:15 EDT From: Gordon Meyer <72307.1502@COMPUSERVE.COM> Subject: File 4--Newsweek review CYBERPUNK "Inside the Head of the Hacker" Reviewed by John Schwartz, NEWSWEEK July 29, ((Moderators' note: the following is a excerpt/adaptation from Schwartz's review. Interested readers should review the complete text of the article.)) ... [ John ] Markoff's story [ on Morris' Internet worm ] was the first of a journalistic flood. But for all the ink spilled over the Cornell graduate student's case, little insight into his personality emerged. Computer-security experts would later try to paint Morris as a menacing rebel; Abu Nidal at the keyboard. Some journalists probed the irony of a computer-security expert's son-turned-security-threat, ham-handedly coming up with a dark psychological portrait, an Oedipus Techs. If you ever wanted a clearer picture of the nerd who brought down the network, a new book, "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier," delivers him, and the entire Morris family, up in rich detail. ... "Cyberpunk" throws a spotlight on two other computer fanatics whose acts took them over the line of law. One is Kevin Mitnick, an obsessive system cracker... The other, West German Hans Hu\"bner, attempted to sell information from his Internet trespasses to the KGB... Like the Morris story, each is told in a full context that, while not justifying criminal acts, goes a long way toward explaining them. Though readers who know a modem from a Model T have a head start, the authors offer lucid explanations of just enough technology to make the stories work, even for the computer illiterate. If the prose sometimes seems a bit workmanlike, there's plenty of juicy detail to keep the narrative moving. Hafner and Markoff, like the dedicated, intense cyberpunks they illuminate, appear to have stopped at nothing to hack their way into the cyberpunk subculture. ------------------------------ Date: Tue, 2 Sep 91 13:31:51 CDT From: Subject: File 5--Review of _CYBERPUNK_ (Reviewed by Jim Thomas) I'm always suspicious of books highly praised by competent reviewers and _Cyberpunk_ (CP) was no exception. Layfolk and professionals alike have found it provocative and accurate, and the closest I've seen to criticism is Walter Mosely's review in the NYT Book Review (Aug 11, p. 15). He calls it "overlong, a bit melodramatic and repetitive," and adds "If you do't know much about the power of computers, what you learn here may frighten you." Mosely's cavil is far overshadowed by his praise. Discussions with others who had read the volume range from favorable to hysterically enthusiastic. Even though I find John Markoff to be a consistently competent and incisive journalist, I refused to believe that any book can be *that* good. I was wrong. _Cyberpunk_ *is* that good. The stories are uneven, some potentially helpful detail is omitted, and the book is outrageously mistitled. Yet, it remains a captivating volume that, once begun, cannot be put down. Hafner and Markoff are story tellers, but their stories are not simply about hackers or the computer underground. The tales of each character are used as a prism through which to view human fraility, excess, and amoralism. Unlike some prosecutorial accounts that have been egocentric and judgmental, Hafner and Markoff let their data do the talking, and we no longer see "good guys" and "bad guys," but just an array of different personalities caught up in their own agendas for their own interests. Most readers find the title objectionable, and I am tentatively inclined to agree. My dissatisfaction with "_Cyberpunk_" (as a title) is mainly that cyberculture simply isn't what the book is about. In the BBS culture, cyberpunk reflects a particular style of activity and communication, and the trilogy doesn't mirror the culture of such BBSs as Demon Roach Underground, Cyberpunk 'zine, the heavy-metal influenced youth boards, or the yippie-like anarchists' disregard of social convention. To do that, a strong contextualizing chapter would have helped, coupled with conceptual links illustrating how each of the subjects served as an exemplar for one thread in the cyberpunk mosaic. To consider Hafner and Markoff's' subjects as "cyberpunkers" expands the meaning of the term such that any member of the computer underground could be included within the ambit of techno-outlaw. My concern isn't, as it is for some, that the title distorts the meaning of the term cyberpunk, an issue over which it is difficult to generate much emotion. By contrast, the definition of "hacker" is important because of its use by law enforcement to stigmatize and weave guild-laden associative rhetorical threads from a rather strained syllogism: "Hackers are evil; you are a hacker; ergo..." This was the line used in some of the search affidavits and indictments, and the terms "cyberpunk" and "hacker" were used interchangeably by some prosecutors. As a consequence, the stakes over precise definitions of the term "hacker" are much higher than for "cyberpunk." _Cyberpunk_ isn't even about "hackers and outlaws." This objection isn't a quibble about the meaning of words, but about matching a title to its contents, and the tendency of marketeers to sacrifice "art" to enterprise. The fact that the characters are hackers is incidental to the primary subject and sub-themes, which include (in my reading) the antinomy between new forms of social meanings (eg, definitions of crime, ethics), new ways to express one's individuality (computer intrusion), and the ways that "newness" transforms basic existential dilemmas into (in this case) self-destructive behaviors. The narratives are about real people, and Hafner and Markoff convey all characters as complex, a refreshing change from the cartoon characters portrayed by law enforcement and most media. The unifying thread binding the characters is an amoral fascination for computer technology and the ways in which the intrusion caused by this fascination disrupt not only computer systems but the lives of those involved. The first story of the trilogy, "Kevin: The Dark-Side Hacker," describes the exploits *as well as the lives* of Kevin Mitnick and his associates. Mitnick gained national notoriety through his ability to break into almost any system by combining technological prowess with social engineering (or "conning"), and for his equal inability to restrain himself from hacking, which led one California judge to revoke his bail because the "pathology" made Mitnick a major "social menace." The "dark-side" subtitle may cause some to wince in recognition that it seems to sensationalize the deeds of Mitnick & Co. But as the narrative evolves, an alternative reading would interpret "dark-side" as refering instead to the psyches, not the behavior, of the drama's front-stage characters. Roscoe, a talented but errant phreak, is depicted as a self-centered and manipulative twit lusted after by Susan Thunder, an equally manipulative lanky and unstable run-away who moved through a succession of jobs ranging from prostitution to computer security with equal facility. Lenny DiCicco, a compulsive button pusher and gadget meddler, seemed to lack a strong persona or will of his own and was vulnerable to Mitnick's manipulation. He ultimately freed himself by betraying Mitnick to the FBI. Finally, Mitnick himself appears center-stage as a talented cracker and phreak whose obsession with telephone and computer technology provided the existence of this fat, troubled youth with some meaning. If one reads _Cyberpunk_ only for the hacking exploits, the pathos of these characters will be lost. In most ways that count, they share a fatal flaw: None is able to control their passions or to redirect them toward less intrusive actions. Kevin, Lenny, and Susan constantly display mutual vindictiveness, jealousy, suspicion, insecurity, betrayal, and an amazing inability to step back from situations that bring each to the brink of existential disaster. These people are neither evil nor dangerous. They are pathetic social nuisances unable to utilize their own talents or move beyond the cycle of errant behavior that characterizes rebels without a cause. The dark side of their behavior lies not in the consequences of their "crimes," but in their failure to act in their own or society's interests. _Cyberpunk's_ remaining two narratives are competent, informative, and detailed, but they lack the rich texture of the first. The second tale relates the escapades of Pengo, Peter Carl, Markus Hess, Hagbard, and others, whose most notorious exploit was selling relatively worthless information and software to the Russians (although the real names of Hagbard and Pengo are given in the book, they are generally referred to by their handles). The characters range from reasonably normal students leading somewhat normal lives to the totally whacked-out Hagbard, who believed he was fighting an international conspiracy. The group is loosely-knit, with dramatically different individual motivations, skills, ideologies, and intents. The group named its self-appointed mission "Project Equalizer" because it was believed that a balance of political power--and thus world peace--could be obtained by technological parity between the super-powers. However, despite the name, none of the members appeared to have any coherent political sophistication or interests, and one can readily believe that it was the "thrill of game" that provided the primary motivation. Peter Carl kept the bulk of the modest sum provided by the Russians, sharing relatively little with his friends. Although Carl is depicted as the most mercenary of the lot, and both he and Hagbard needed funds to support their drug habit, the others seemed unaffected by the lure of money. These are not "evil hackers," and unlike the Mitnick saga, these people, with the exception of Hagbard, are neither pathetic nor particularly unusual. Their passions are controlled if misdirected, and most seem to lead reasonably normal lives. Their flaw is not felonious predations, but gross lack of perspective and judgement. They were engaged in behaviors they did not fully understand and of which they were unable to see the consequences. The final tale describes the unleashing of the Internet worm by Robert Morris. The most matter-of-fact journalistic account of the trilogy, Hafner and Markoff depict a bright college student whose primary crime was grossly screwing up an intrusive software program. Son of brilliant computer scientist Bob Morris, the junior Morris learned computers and programming as a child and was fascinated by computer bugs that allowed system entry. The Internet worm was the result of an attempt to see how many computers he could reach with a software program, and was intended to be a harmless network security probe. Due to a minor programming error with major consequences, the worm, once inside another computer, wildly replicated itself, slowing down and filling up systems, and ultimately causing many to crash, some to be brought back up only to crash again. The worm itself did not destroy programs or data, but did disrupt system use. Morris intended no harm, but the havoc his program created grabbed media attention and raised the visibility of hackers. The Morris incident flamed the calls for setting punitive examples to these social menaces. Hafner and Markoff cite one national computer expert who went so far as to incharitably call for an industry-wide boycott of any computer company that would hire Morris. But, Morris is not depicted as a nasty, dangerous character in need of punishment. On the contrary: He comes across as a frightened young man who realizes too late the consequences of his act and is terribly concerned about it. Of the primary characters in _Cyberpunk_, only Mitnick served prison time (one year in a federal prison and mandatory psychiatric counselling). DiCicco pled guilty to one felony count and received a sentence of 5 years probation, 750 hours of community service, and a $12,000 restitution order to Digital. All charges were dropped against Pengo, and his attorney negotiated with DEC to avoid a civil suit. Hagbard apparently committed suicide by self-immolation in a German forest. Peter Carl received two years and a 3,000 mark fine, Hess was was sentenced to 20 months with a 10,000 mark fine, but the prison sentences were changed to probation. For the worm, Morris received three years probation, a $10,000 fine, and 400 hours of community service. Perhaps, on reconsidering, _Cyberpunk_ is aptly named after all. John Brunner's 1975 _Shockwave Rider_, generally considered the original model for the genre, depicted a world in which technological information was used to control the masses, and Nickie Haflinger, the protagonist/anti-hero, was both outlaw and savior. He used his talents cynically and manipulatively until dramatic events added wisdom and maturity to his world vision. The cyberpunk characters possess knowledge, but not wisdom. Little distinguishes Pengo, Mitnick or Susan Thunder from Case, William Gibson's cybernaut in _Neuromancer_. They all share social marginality and the amoral cynicism often found among bright, alienated youth short on political consciousness and vision, but long on passion for techno-thrills. Like the world Bruce Stirling portrays in _Islands in the Net_, contemporary society is increasingly dominated by those with the ability to control knowledge, global boundaries are dissolving, and computer technology is a form of oppression. However, in the cyberpunk genre, the protagonists attain salvation by turning techno-power against itself through illegal incursions into its realm. They challenge the authority of those who control, unleash the potentially emancipating power of chaos, and ultimately save the world for a presumably brighter tomorrow. In their own way, each of Hafner's and Markoff's characters has done the same. Their actions, for better or ill, have raised the question of the relationship of information control to social welfare, revealed the gap between law and a changing society, and, along with numerous others who live on the limits of the cybercrest, through their actions have brought to center stage the problems that computer technology poses for individual rights of speech, privacy, and property. In Eco's _The Name of the Rose_, Brother William stumbles into a monastery mystery during an era when entrenched conventional ideas are challenged by a renaissance in knowledge. Confronted with the the danger of being labelled a heretic, he painstakingly assembles, through interviews and documents, images of a diverse community from which he can ultimately make sense of the strange events surrounding him. Hafner and Markoff do the same: Their matter-of-fact, non-judgmental portrayal may seem heretical to some law-and-order advocates, but they neither laud nor condemn, but display each character in a naturalistic mirror in which we vicariously re-live the events. We see Mitnick's transgressions, Lenny's betrayal, and Morris's terror just as we experience the pettiness of FBI agent Joe O'Brien's mean-spirited insensitivity toward two witnesses and prosecutor Mark Rasch's continued mispronunciation of Morris's name as Robert "Tap-in" (instead of "Tappan") Morris. The image of hackers permeating _Cyberpunk_ is not one of dangerous predators who should be locked up. They are confused, not-yet-mature, and insensitive to the issues in which they were involved. There actions were wrong and the consequences unacceptable. But after reading Hafner and Markoff, one doubts the value of punishment and wonders if, perhaps, part of the problem might not lie not so much in individual transgressors, but rather with a social system that has sacrificed casuistry on the alter of technology and materialism. _Cyberpunk_ brought to mind the words of the cynical preacher in Steinbeck's _Grapes of Wrath_: "There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There' just stuff people do. It's all part of the nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say." ------------------------------ End of Computer Underground Digest #3.32 ************************************


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