Computer underground Digest Fri, Feb 28, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 09 Editors: Jim Thomas and
Computer underground Digest Fri, Feb 28, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 09
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Associate Editor: Etaion Shrdlu
CONTENTS, #4.09 (Feb 28, 1992)
File 1: Message related to craig's problem (RE to CuD 4.08)
File 2: Legal Costs, Attys, and why $60 doesn't go far
File 3: Response to Craig Neidorf's Legal Expenditures
File 4: TV station and BBS registration
File 5: Review of INTERTEK MAGAZINE (Newsbytes Reprint)
File 6: Bury Usenet (Intertek Reprint)
File 7: Mitch Kapor Response to "Bury Usenet" (Intertek Reprint)
File 8: A Comment on Amateur Action BBS
File 9: 'Michelangelo' Scare (Washington Post abstract)
Issues of CuD can be found in the Usenet alt.society.cu-digest news
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789-4210, and by anonymous ftp from ftp.cs.widener.edu (184.108.40.206),
chsun1.spc.uchicago.edu, and ftp.ee.mu.oz.au. To use the U. of
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quotes) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Date: Mon, 17 Feb 92 22:25:07 -0500
From: an288@CLEVELAND.FREENET.EDU(Mark Hittinger)
Subject: File 1--Message related to craig's problem (RE to CuD 4.08)
A poster in CuD 4.08 wrote:
>Craig needs our help in defraying the costs of a battle from which we
>all benefited. Even $5 would help. Just a 29 cent stamp and a $5
Mine is on its way. Thanks to the CuD guys for making us aware of
this. Those of us that can (and would) help can't unless we are made
aware of the need. Many of us are older and draw good incomes from
the cyberchaos. Lets not call it cyberspace yet!
Debates over issues and principles are fine but they need to occur
after the practical matters of life are dealt with. In our less than
ideal world we still need to get the rent paid (and even the lawyers'
fees *DAMN*). I have been somewhat disillusioned by the activities of
various new frontier organizations. Lets fix the practical matters
first in real time and then debate the principles later in virtual
> ... Ironically, if the
>principle of honor were not so important, Craig arguably would have
>been better off to plead guilty rather than defend his honor. It would
>have saved him time, money, and bother. When the costs of pleading
>guilty to crimes of which one is innocent becomes the best way of
>avoiding devastating consequences, we cannot agree that the system
Lets not forget than Len Rose caved in and took the plea bargain
route. We can argue about what he did or didn't do, but he still
needs to get his rent paid, feed his kids, and rebuild his life when
he gets out (soon).
I'm sure that there will be similar needs in the upcoming cases that
have been discussed in recent CuD articles. I wish that it was as
easy to send a $5 check as it is to argue - but I know that it is not.
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 1992 11:25:31 -0500
From: Craig Neidorf
Subject: File 2--Legal Costs, Attys, and why $60 doesn't go far
The readers should remember that my case was one of first instance.
In most court cases, the law or precedent is much more clear and
understood. Usually cases that go to court deal a lot with
determining the facts instead of determining the law.
Katten, Muchin, & Zavis bills Sheldon Zenner's time at $210/hour. In
addition to Zenner, they had Ken Kliebard (an associate) and two law
students working on my case over a 7 month period.
There were multiple court appearances including two arraignments and
the submission of all sorts of motions (for discovery, for release of
beneficial evidence, for all sorts of things).
There were all sorts of meetings -- with the government and with our
witnesses. There were flights to Atlanta to have meetings with Robert
Riggs and to St. Louis to meet with me (for a while I was not allowed
to leave the State other than for court appearances). There was a lot
of time spent in finding experts, interviewing them, and then learning
from what they had to say.
There was a vast abundance of evidence that had to be read, cataloged,
and understood (stacks of email printouts, Phrack issues, other
similar publications, and magazines about the telephone industry). My
attorneys had to learn about computers and Unix systems).
The fact that they first indicted me on one set of charges and then
turned around and re-indicted me on another set of charges added a lot
more time and money to my expenses. Every item of evidence that the
government photocopied for us cost tons of money (since they bill
photocopies at a very high rate (like $.15 per copy) and there were
thousands of pages.
The main problem was that the government had brought me up on charges
that had never been used before in a computer case like this one.
That meant there had to be a lot more research than perhaps would have
been ordinarily needed.
Finally there was the actual five full days of trial. This does not
imply the hours of 9 to 5, it was more like 5 am to 11pm. Hours like
these were not uncommon for Zenner during the entire 7 month period.
The bottom line here is that I am a bit outraged by the questions
posed by Mr. Moore of where the money was spent. I happen to know
that certain steps were taken to keep my bill a lot lower than it
might have been. I have learned for example that by referring a lot
of the work to the summer associates, KMZ was able to bill those hours
at a considerably lower rate. Furthermore, experts like John Nagle
and Dorothy Denning refused to accept payment for their testimony.
Ordinarially, expert witnesses like them would receive several
thousand dollars each + expenses in return for their testimony.
Don't you think my family and I scrutinized the bill ourselves to find
some errors that would bring the total down?
Finally, I feel that I received the absolute finest representation and
counseling from Sheldon Zenner. The legal expenses were checked and
re-checked by us and by him. I consider him a true friend and I trust
him without any hesitation or doubts whatsoever.
I'd rather checks be sent to Zenner because:
A. I don't want the money being sent to my name because I don't want a
stream of deposits in my bank accounts to irk IRS or anybody else.
B. I'd rather not net-broadcast my home address.
C. I tend to move around a lot since I live in rented housing and the
US Post Office is not the greatest at forwarding mail. The KMZ
address is the most reliable.
Mr. Moore writes that "The high price of legal help is arguably as
much of the problem as the reckless disregard for law and due process
demonstrated by the government." I don't disagree, but don't make me
responsible for the flaws in the system. Letters like yours victimize
me all over again.
ps- The net total of donations based on my most recent public notice
stands at $60. $10 from one person, $20 from one person, and $30 from
one person. All of whom were people I generally knew before and were
not really among the 26,000 readers of CUD. People talk a good game,
but the money is not where their mouths are. The grand total of
donations received overall since day one (and excluding Kapor)
doesn't even hit the $1,000 mark.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 1992 16:47:38 -0500
From: Mike Godwin
Subject: File 3--Response to Craig Neidorf's Legal Expenditures
In article <1992Feb21.email@example.com> Keith Moore
>I have read repeated pleas on various networked discussion groups for
>readers to help defray Craig's legal expenses. While I sympathize
>with his position and am in fact willing to help, I'm sure many of the
>readers would like to know what all of that money was spent for. I
>want to help Craig, but I don't like the idea of giving over money to
>lawyers. The high price of legal help is arguably as much of the
>problem as the reckless disregard for law and due process demonstrated
>by the government.
Most of the cost of Craig's defense is attributed to preparation for
trial. This means researching the law relevant to the charges,
understanding the evidence, and finding out what the government's
witnesses are likely to say as well as preparing your own witnesses.
I cannot dispute that legal help is costly. But it seems to me that a
failure to help Craig because legal help is costly promotes any
lowering of the cost of legal help. It does, however, increase the
personal burden on Craig.
It is a fact that when one sets out to fight the federal government in
court, legal expenses tend to skyrocket. But this is not Craig's
>Also, why are we asked to send money directly to the law firm that
>defended Craig, and not to Craig himself?
Because that's where the money is owed. If the money were solicited
for Craig himself, countless net.critics would be calling it a scam on
Craig's part, and they'd be demanding guarantees that the money go to
his legal bills. One of the things that becomes apparent when you
spend enough time on the Net is that some people will be critical of
you no matter what you do.
>Perhaps the computer underground, realizing how
>much we are at the mercy of both lawyers and the government, would
>find it in its interest to act to curtail their powers.
It is certainly in everybody's interest to lower the cost of legal
representation. It is unclear to me how failing to help Craig Neidorf
does this. Do you really suppose that defense lawyers will watch Craig
go bankrupt and conclude "Ah, well, guess we set our fees too high"?
Isn't it asking a lot of Craig that he go bankrupt in order to
articulate your criticism of the legal system?
I believe there are plenty of reasons to be critical of the system,
but it seems heartless to me to ask Craig to bear the burden while we
sit back and pontificate about it. That's why I contributed money to
Craig's legal expenses, and I hope you do too.
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 92 3:32:05 CST
From: bei@DOGFACE.AUSTIN.TX.US(Bob Izenberg)
Subject: File 4--TV station and BBS registration
Here's something that you might find interesting... from
misc.legal.computing. I've enclosed (most of) my reply to the
[ start ]
A local television reporter did a report on the 10pm news about
teenagers getting access to adult .gif files on computer bulletin
He explains how many sites with adult gifs require proof-of-age (e.g.,
copies of driver's license) for registration, but some merely print a
"you must be over 21 to register" message before on-line registration.
No problem, except he then claims you can lie and still become
registered -- which he proceeds to do on camera.
Isn't this a violation of Federal law regarding computer access? The
sysop of the BBS clearly requested identifying information, as is his
right before granting system access, which the reporter deliberately
refused to provide yet accepted system access?
This TV station is getting a bad reputation for overzealous reporters--
a few years ago one star reporter actually paid for pit-bull fights
that she subsequently reported on. She was ultimately fired from the
station and charged with a felony.
I don't expect things to go this far in this situation -- but neither
do I want to sit by as the TV station implies it's okay to lie during
on-line registration for BBSes.
Any comments or suggestions?
BTW, the reporter was Jim Benemann of KCNC in Denver. I can post the
Station Manager's name if other people wish to contact the station.
[ and my reply: ]
>Subject: Re: Stupid TV reporter tricks
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org> you write:
>Any comments or suggestions?
Work with the station on producing an editorial. Ask them what
criteria they use to authenticate news sources, and what their policy
is on providing air time to an individual who is immediately or
eventually proven to have faked their identity. Mention that access
rules for on-line systems, large or small, are often more strict than
those legally required of adult magazines: A signed statement that
you're over a certain age. The system's owner was complying with a
tradition of law that applies to similar adult-oriented media. The
question of whether the reporter's misrepresentation of their
identity, which treads close to the phone company's definition of
fraud, was justified is one that the station's news management is
invited to discuss publicly. After all, they were presented with a
policy for authentication that matches legal proof employed by related
media, and they bypassed it. If the station's position is that people
must be honest for a system of age-oriented access restriction to
work, they're right. If the station insists on providing a clear
example of how to defeat the owner's intent to comply with the law, it
is hardly the system owner that is in the wrong. Take the editorial
to competing stations if you need to. Of course, this is a lot of
swimming upstream for people to do, and there may be a better way that
I haven't thought of... In any case, I'm interested in hearing what,
if anything, comes of this.
From: John F. McMullen (email@example.com)
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 1992 10:39:11 PST
Subject: File 5--Review of INTERTEK MAGAZINE (Newsbytes Reprint)
REVIEW OF: Intertek
From: Intertek, 325 Elwood Beach #3, Goleta, CA 93117; Telephone:
805 685-6557; Online - firstname.lastname@example.org
Price: Current issue (Volume 3.3) ---- $4.00; Back issues (Volumes
3.1 & 3.2) - $5.00 ea; Subscription (4 issues) - $14,00
PUMA Rating 3.6 on a scale 1=lowest to 4=highest
Reviewed by Newsbytes by Barbara E. McMullen & John F. McMullen
Summary: Intertek is a semi-annual magazine that explores the social,
legal, ethical and technological issues confronting those in the on-line
Intertek is a surprisingly professional semi-annual glossy magazine
dealing with issues relating to telecommunications, computer crime
and first amendment concerns. We say "surprisingly professional"
because the editor and publisher, Steve Steinberg, is still an
undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The
current issue, Volume 3.3 - Winter 1992, is, in our judgement, of a
quality that one would expect to find in a more commercial
While the publication has developed a following among those lucky
enough to know of its existence (generally those who have already
been actively interested in the issues dealt with by Intertek), it
does not have the widespread newsstand distribution that it deserves
--although Steinberg informed us that it is distributed in Europe and
should be appearing domestically in Tower Books locations. The only
way, however, at this time to be sure of obtaining a copy is to
subscribe ($14 for 2 years - 4 issues).
After reading every available Intertek (Volumes 3.1, 3.2, & 3.3), we
think that Steinberg has hit on a extremely good pattern in his
production of the publication:
- each issue is narrowly focused on a specific topic (3.1 - "The Hacker
Issue"; 3.2 - "The Ethics Issue"; 3.3 - "Virtual Communities").
- Steinberg has attracted a well-known group of experts who also have
a fine command of language and style top either write specifically
for Intertek or to allow republication of previously material that is
germane to the topic under discussion. The three issues mentioned
include pieces by (or interviews with) John Perry Barlow, Bruce
Sterling, Brenda Laurel, Mitch Kapor, Peter Denning, Katie Hafner,
John Quarterman, Gail Thackeray, John Markoff, and Gordon Meyer. Each
of these writers bring a perspective to the topic that is both well
thought out and well presented.
- Steinberg himself writes well. He is also skillful enough as an
editor to put together pieces on provocative topics with responses
from knowledgeable individuals on the same topic -- a superior
method in our judgement than publishing the piece in one issue and
the responses in subsequent one, particular when speaking of a
semi-annual publication. An example of this technique is found in
the current issue where Steinberg has written a piece entitled "Bury
Usenet" and packaged it with responses from Mitch Kapor, Electronic
Frontier Foundation co-founder; John S. Quarterman, author of The
Matrix (Digital Press) and publisher of the Matrix News; Peter J.
Denning, computer science chair at George Mason University and
former president of the ACM; and Bruce Sterling, journalist author.
Other articles in the Winter 1992 issue include "Electropolis:
Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat" by Elizabeth
M. Reid; "Social Organization of the Computer Underground" by
Gordon R. Meyer; "Real World Kerberos: Authentication and Privacy
on a Physically Insecure Network"; and "Mudding: Social Phenomena
in Text-Based Virtual Realities" by Pavel Curtis.
There is also a 3 page section entitled "Newsflash" that does, despite
the difficulties of providing real news in a semi-annual publication,
contain some interesting items that we had not seen elsewhere.
The centerfold of the publication presents a snapshot of both stock
prices in the technology industries and prices of hardware, new and
used. Although the information is dated (almost 2 months old when
we got it), it is presented nicely with graphs and charts and is
accompanied by a short piece by New York Times technology writer
John Markoff. While this two-page section presents nothing that is
really new, Markoff's piece is well-done, the display is attractive and
there are certainly worse things that can be put in a centerfold.
If you have any interest in acquiring a greater understanding of the
issues surrounding global telecommunications (and, in our
judgement, everyone should have such interest - particularly
Newsbytes readers!), Intertek is worth your investment. It is lively,
informative, and well-written. In short, buy the magazine!
PERFORMANCE/PRICE: 4. Intertek sets out to fill a niche not found in
other publications relating to on-line life. Not as folksy as Boardwatch or
as "techie" as 2600, Intertek deals with issues normally only discussed at
conferences like CFP-1 or on an on-line service such as the WELL. In our
judgement, it fulfills its mission well. At $14, for people with these
interests, it's a bargain.
USEFULNESS: 4. In an informal survey that we did with a number of
readers, the only complaints that we heard were that it should have more
pages or come out more often. That seems to be heady praise from a
AVAILABILITY: 3. Tough to get if you don't subscribe. You won't find
Intertek in your local B. Dalton or Walden sitting next to Computer
Shopper or Byte. Although the problem is easy to solve by subscribing,
many won't because they haven't actually seen a copy .. and they'll be
missing out on a good thing.
(Barbara E. McMullen & John F. McMullen/19920218)
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 92 17:33:29 PST
Subject: File 6--Bury Usenet (Intertek Reprint)
(Reprinted from _Intertek_, Winter (Vol 3.3), Winter, 1992. Pp 1-3.)
Bury USENET by Steve Steinberg
The concept of USENET, a global electronic bulletin board on which any
person can post messages on topics ranging from nanotechnology to
weightlifting and reach other interested people, sounds terrific. It
seems like a step towards the magical future which we are all brought
up to believe is right around the corner; the future of Hugo Gernsback
in which the entire bustling globe is united in productivity and
prosperity. But, just as genetic engineering and nuclear power have
turned out to cause more problems than they solve, we now see that
USENET improves productivity and our quality of life about as much as
TV does. True, there are thousands of people who enjoy reading
USENET, just as there are millions who enjoy watching TV; however this
is not proof of the quaility of the medium but instead is indicative
of the lack of alternatives. It is therefore important to understand
why USENET fails as a medium so that we can avoid further blunders in
The three general uses that a medium such as USENET should facilitate
are: directed information seeking, browsing, and collaboration.
Directed information seeking is when someone is trying to find out a
specific piece of information. Browsing is an exploratory
information-seeking strategy that is used when the problem is
ill-defined or when the user simply wants to become more familiar with
an area of knowledge. Lastly, collaboration, for the purposes of this
paper, refers to a group of people sharing what they know and posing
questions to each other about a particular subject so as to increase
the knowledge and ability of everyone involved.
USENET fails at all of these uses, and we can lump the reasons for the
failures into three main categories: USENET's asynchronous nature, its
small bandwidth, and the large amount of noise.
By asynchronous nature I simply mean that communications on USENET is
not in real time as it is with a telephone but instead is more like
conventional mail. Being asynchronous is not a problem with mail
because we communicate with relatively few people, so there are only a
small number of letters we need to remember and keep track of.
However, when we read hundreds of different messages by different
people on different subjects, we quickly get lost and forget what the
status is of all the various topic threads. A technique people use on
USENET to minimize the drawbacks of asynchronous communications is to
begin each message with the relevant portion of the message to which
they are replying. This repetition helps to some degree however each
message will still only contain some subset of the previous messages
(depending on which earlier messages caught the current writer's
attention) and so does not give a complete picture of what has been
determined on a particular topic. The asynchronous nature of USENET
makes collaboration very difficult. A topic will often start with a
question and then receive several messages in reply, each of which in
turn will spawn several replies. The topic will then quickly
degenerate into discussions of trivial points and multiple digressions
leaving the poster of the original question, and other readers, more
confused than helped. It is the sheer size of USENET, where a topic
thread can last for thousands of messages and many months, that makes
this problem so intractable.
In these post-MTV proto-multimedia days the idea of people writing to
each other seems almost quaint. Indeed one often hears professional
writers lament that the death of writing has occurred now that the
telephone has supplanted the letter. Hence, it might seem at first
blush that USENET is a good thing and will cause the rebirth of the
written letter. Unfortunately, as someone who has waded through tens
of thousands of USENET messages, I can say with some certitude that
this rebirth has not occurred, nor does it appear likely. To write
clearly and concisely requires skill as well as time. Because most
people lack one or the other of these requirements, messages posted to
USENET are usually confusingly worded, difficult to read, and prone to
misinterpretation. This is what I was referring to when I said in the
beginning that one of the fundamental problems with USENET is its
small bandwidth. When we express our feelings on a subject or explain
a detailed technical matter, we usually use many cues and tools in
order to make ourselves understood. These include tone of voice, body
language, and pictures or diagrams. When we try instead to compress
our thoughts into 80-column ASCII, we leave behind many of the
nuances. This makes any use of USENET--whether it be searching or
collaborating--difficult since we often do not understand what a
message is really trying to say.
One solution to the problem of small bandwidth that seems likely to
catch on in a big way soon (it already has to some degree) is to allow
graphics to be viewed over USENET. This would allow a user to include
a drawn or digitized picture inside the message he or she posts.
Multimedia messages seem like a good idea, and you can easily imagine
the good uses possible such as diagrams to clearly indicate how
something works. However, I have no doubts, based on how people have
used USENET so far, that the main results would be an outbreak of
pornography and a rash of garish signatures.
Reading USENET is like drinking from a firehose, you'll get very wet
but you probably will still be thirsty. The problem is that there are
thousands of messages posted each day, but only a few of these will be
of interest to any one reader. Searching through this haystack of
messages is a tedious and laborious task with no sure method of
success. Many people end up spending (some would say wasting) several
hours a day reading USENET in order to find the few items of interest
and importance to them. What further complicates the task of searching
for information, making it near impossible as well as unpleasant, is
the huge amount of noise -- lengthy messages which say nothing useful,
messages that are personal attacks on someone, and messages that are
Anyone with access to a UNIX machine that has a USENET feed can post a
message on any subject, no matter how unqualified the author may be.
The result is usually chaotic and unenlightening. Even when the poster
is humble enough to prefix his or her message with "I'm no lawyer
/scientist /doctor but...", a clear signal that we may save time and
skip this message, we only continue on to ten more messages by other
unqualified people berating the first poster for inaccuracies. The
dichotomy which is being exposed here is between a medium which
informs and a medium for general discussion. If we think USENET should
be the former, then there is no place for messages by unqualified
people. If USENET should be for discussion, then indeed anyone should
be allowed to offer their opinion. Unfortunately USENET isn't very
good at this either due to the phenomena known as "flaming" in which
users attack other persons' views far more quickly and violently than
would occur with any other medium. Because users are safely hidden
behind their terminal, and can not see who they are talking to,
standard social customs concerning conversation do not seem to apply.
The result is that even the most innocent comment can provoke typed
vitriol from someone who feels offended. Flaming is undoubtedly the
most virulent form of noise, and there is nothing more unpleasant than
having to wade through messages of infantile bickering. So, although
USENET tries to be both a medium for informing as well as discussion,
it succeeds at neither.
The concept of a moderated newsgroup is a simple solution to the noise
problem, but it leads to a problem of a different kind. In a
moderated newsgroup a user sends messages to the person in charge of
the newsgroup, and this moderator then picks only the messages he or
she feels are relevant. Sometimes this works well as in the often
cited example of Peter Neumann's RISK digest. However, there is the
insidious danger of moderator bias. The specter of this problem has
risen in conjunction with the TELECOM digest which is moderated by the
rather opinionated Patrick Townsend. Whether Townsend actually censors
messages he disagrees with is not important. The perception--and the
To summarize, USENET's asynchronous nature makes collaboration
difficult, its small bandwidth makes messages difficult to understand
and easy to misinterpret, and the high amount of noise makes searching
for interesting messages time consuming and unpleasant.
I wish I could end by presenting five easy steps to improve USENET.
Unfortunately, the only ones which seem feasible, such as news readers
which use artificial intelligence techniques to filter out noise, are
merely stopgap measures which do not address all of the fundamental
problems. Before we can fix USENET we must first understand how we
learn and how groups work together. Until this has been determined our
tools are as likely to hinder our productivity as they are to help us.
As has been amply demonstrated by television over the last fifty
years, some mediums, no matter how much of a good idea they may seem,
just don't work. I hope we quickly learn to see USENET as a noble but
failed experiment so that we can research other directions in order to
find new mediums that really do enhance our communications and our
quality of life.
Date: Sat, 15 Feb 92 17:33:29 PST
From: Mitch Kapor
Subject: File 7--Mitch Kapor Response to "Bury Usenet" (Intertek Reprint)
Somewhere between the intimacy of island universe conferencing systems
like the WELL (an electronic bulletin board in California) and the
anarchic ocean of USENET lies the future of computer conferencing.
USENET's problems are legion and unlikely to go away. What may succeed
are new generations of software and conferencing systems built upon
the lessons and experience, both positive and negative, of a
multiplicity of existing systems.
The WELL works much better than USENET as a source of informed
discourse for several reasons:
o It's hosted on a single system, avoiding the lag of distributed
o People pay to be there. This weeds out the single largest source
o Conferences are all hosted, which acts as a loose control
o The management of the system realizes it's running a digital
The WELL has problems too. It's insular, its user interface is nothing
to be proud of and its telecommunications access cost is excessive if
you don't live in the Bay Area.
If these problems were addressed, there's no reason in principle why
the example of the WELL couldn't be more widely applied. It wouldn't
be USENET, but maybe that's OK.
I envision a system which is on the Internet and thus reachable from
anywhere on the Internet, a system which has a graphical user
interface (in addition to whatever the hardcore users want), whose
conferences are hosted, and which charges a nominal--say a dollar an
hour--usage charge. This software may have many separate
instantiations, in different locations, serving different needs and
In fact, this is a brief sketch of a design idea for a development
project we hope to begin within the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF) in 1992.
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 1992 11:31:22 PST
From: Ann O'Nonymous
Subject: File 8--A Comment on Amateur Action BBS
Bob Thomas has been having trouble with his kids. They are
experiencing emotional and behavior problems they've never had before.
The police officers they had learned in school to trust came to their
house one morning and unceremoniously took away their computer. The
police were rude. They offered no explanation for why they took the
kids' games and schoolwork. The half-dozen plain-clothes cops were not
related to Officer Friendly, and the children were confused,
frightened, and hurt. These police weren't THEIR friends!
So was Bob Thomas. He ran AMATEUR ACTION BBS in San Jose, Calif.,
which specialized in adult gif files. Local police (no federal agents)
burst in at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, January 20 with a search warrant
alleging grand theft, trafficking in obscene material, and child
pornography. Bob doesn't recall if the officers had their guns drawn.
The affidavit supporting the warrant is sealed, so the justification
for the raid may never be known. Bob was stunned by the accusations,
and he and his family watched in horror as the police carted away his
486, three 386s, videos, and all the tools he needed to run his two
electronics businesses and BBS business. The police also took all
hardcopy business records and other materials.
The raid resulted in seizure of over $30,000 worth of equipment. Bob
estimated that he also lost over $15,000 in lost business revenue and
legal fees. He also missed a major trade show. His children lost
their innocence. Society lost another round in the battle to maintain
a semblance of civil liberties in cyberspace.
Bob's attorney communicated with EFF and the officers were made aware
of federal and other laws relating to seizure. No charges have been
filed, and there is no indication that any will be. When I spoke with
Bob on February 24, he was expecting the return of most, hopefully
all, of the equipment by that evening, or within a day or two. He has
no explanation for why the police raided him, but suspected it might
be connected to the problems of America Online, which faced a similar
Amateur Action (408-263-3393) specialized in adult gif files (over
4,600) using amateur rather than commercial models. Bob also used it
to distribute adult videos. There were no action or other files. It
was simply an adult BBS with a modest message base. Bob has
established a reputation for aggressively attempting to keep children
off his adult BBS, and we have neither heard nor seen any evidence
that his board contained child pornography. The different levels of
access cost from $29 to $69 a year.
Amateur Action is back up, running Wildcat. The $69 annual rate will
earn you a meg-a-day download privilege with no upload obligation.
A Visa/Mastercard sub gives immediate access.
Unless evidence appears to the contrary, this is another instance of
police mishandling a seizure, confiscating first and asking questions
later, and not being quite sure of what they're doing. What do Steve
Jackson, Bob Thomas, and deja vous have in common?
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 92 15:36:33 EST
From: "garbled header"
Subject: File 9--'Michelangelo' Scare (Washington Post abstract)
"'Michelangelo' Scare Stirs Fears About Computer Viruses"
Author: John Burgess
Source: Washington Post, Feb 17, 1992, p. A1
A new and unusually destructive type of computer "virus" -- a
software program that enters a computer surreptitiously and destroys
data there en masse -- has reignited concern over these electronic
Security experts have dubbed the virus "Michelangelo," because after
entering a computer it lies dormant until March 6, the Italian
Renaissance artist's birthday. Then it springs to life and wipes out
data stored on the computer's memory disk.
In November, a copy of Michelangelo turned up at the Gaithersburg
offices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, hiding
on the data disk of a computer that had been returned after being on
loan to another federal agency.
Using special software, institute technicians found the virus and
removed it after receiving a tip from the other agency. That agency
had found the virus on its computers and warned the institute to
make sure its computers hadn't been infected too.
Michelangelo got national attention last month after Leading Edge
Products Inc., a manufacturer of personal computers compatible with
those of International Business Machines Corp., confirmed that it had
shipped about 500 machines that contained the virus. The manufacturer
sent customers special software designed to neutralize it.
Because the triggering date lies in the future, no one is known to
have lost data due to the virus, which was created by an unknown
programmer and has spread from computer to computer through the
exchange of infected floppy disks.
But security experts, using special software that scans computer
disks to detect viruses, have been finding copies of Michelangelo
since last summer and removing them before they activate.
It remains unclear whether large numbers of computers contain
undetected copies of the virus, though estimates of millions of
machines have been published in the news media. Michelangelo affects
only IBM-compatible personal computers, but there are about 60
million of these in existence.
Past scares about viruses often have proven to be overblown. But due
to Michelangelo's unusually destructive nature, as well as the
potential presence of other viruses, some computer experts are
suggesting that personal computer users take no chances over getting
caught by a virus.
"When it hits, it's dramatic," said Lance Hoffman, a professor of
computer science at George Washington University.
Computer users can protect themselves by making additional electronic
copies of information they cannot afford to lose, by reducing the
exchange of floppy disks and the transmission of software over phone
lines, and by obtaining special software that detects viruses.
Viruses are a surprise byproduct of the computer age. Complex sets
of computer instructions, they are usually written by anonymous
programmers as pranks, or in the case of Michelangelo, in a deliberate
effort to destroy the information of people the programmer has never
Fighting the virus writers is a coalition of software companies,
academics, researchers and users of personal computers. The two play
a constant cat-and-mouse game -- virus writers sometimes send their
creations to the experts as a challenge.
If an infected floppy disk is put into a computer, the virus orders
the machine to copy it onto any other disk that the computer
contains, generally without the operator knowing that this is taking
place. Or a virus may enter a computer when its operator receives
infected software programs from a computer "bulletin board" reached
Many viruses are considered benign, doing little more than flashing
whimsical messages on the screen or playing a tune. But others, like
Michelangelo, are engineered to seek out stored data and destroy it,
sometimes on a specific date.
That can be devastating. Companies might lose all of their account
records, for instance, or an author using a home computer might lose
the entire manuscript of a novel.
To dissect Michelangelo and find out how it works, security experts
have deliberately introduced the virus into test computers and
advanced their internal clocks to March 6 to trigger the virus.
Michelangelo-infected machines that are not functioning on March 6
will not activate the virus, according to experts. By the same
token, the virus can be kept dormant by shifting the clock on the
machine so that it never reads March 6.
Computer experts agree that getting hit by a virus -- more than
1,000 types have been identified over the years -- can be devastating
as society progressively puts more and more reliance on computers.
But there is continuing debate as to how prevalent the programs really
"I'm finding virus catastrophes everywhere," said Martin Tibor, a
data recovery consultant in San Rafael, Calif., whose repeated calls
to the media after the Leading Edge incident helped publicize
Michelangelo. "These things are replicating like crazy."
David Stang, director of research at the National Computer Security
Association, offers a more conservative assessment. While stressing
the danger of viruses, he puts the probability of a virus residing in
a given computer at a large company at about 1 in 1,000.
Michelangelo constitutes a tiny fraction of those viruses, he said.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has 5,000 personal
computers and has detected about one to three viruses a month since
In contrast, Total Control Inc., an Alexandria computer security
firm, said that about 70 percent of the 300 personal computers at one
unnamed federal agency have been found to have Michelangelo.
San Jose research firm Dataquest Inc. surveyed 600 large U.S.
companies late last year and found that 63 percent had found a virus
on at least one company computer. However, it noted that these
companies often operated hundreds of computers.
Antiviral software has created a thriving new niche for the personal
computer software industry. Such products can be purchased in
software stores or obtained for free or at a nominal cost through
on-line computer networks.
Antiviral software is not foolproof, however. "You can't write a
generic program that detects every virus, " said Hoffman, noting that
new strains are always appearing.
Some computer users suggest that the antiviral software companies
want to stoke fear to build a market for their products.
Consultant Tibor conceded that the calls he made to the media about
Michelangelo were in part motivated by hopes of bringing business his
way -- it in fact brought in only one client, he said. But his main
motivation, Tibor said, was to get the word out about a serious
"I see the victims of viruses all the time," he said. He calls viruses
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank