Computer underground Digest Sun July 11 1993 Volume 5 : Issue 51
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Copy Editor: Etaoin Shrdlu, Seniur
CONTENTS, #5.51 (July 11 1993)
File 1--Introduction to the AIS BBS Controversy
File 2--Response to RISKS' Anonymous Post attacking AIS BBS
File 3--Response to Anonymous: AIS BBS
File 4--A User's View of AIS BBS
File 5--Fear and Loathing: On the Virus Code Trail at AIS
File 6--Media, Anti-virus personnel, Ethics, and AIS
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Date: Thu, 8 July 1993 21:39:01 CDT
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 1--Introduction to the AIS BBS Controversy
A recent (Vol 14, #58) issue of Risks Digest contained an anonymous
post that attacked AIS BBS and it's sysop, Kim Clancy. The AIS board
is a service of the U.S. Department of Treasury's Bureau of Public
Debt. "AIS' is an acronym for "Automated Information System," and the
board provides security-related information to its users.
AIS downloadable files included a broad range of texts files related
to computer security, "hacker" culture, and computer technology, along
with other files readily available on any public access system. A few
anti-virus folk complained about the virus source code that was
available on the board. According to CuD sources, at least one British
anti-virus specialist publicly condemned the board and urged
colleagues to voice complaints.
An "anonymous" poster, later revealed to be Paul Ferguson, an
anti-virus specialist, wrote the anonymous Risks post. The story was
picked up by Joel Garreau of the Washington Post a few weeks later,
and on July 6 prompted Edward J. Markey, Chair of the House
Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, to contact Lloyd
Bentsen, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, to voice
concerns (see forthcoming CuD 5.52 for comments from Rep. Markey's
office) about the AIS BBS.
In my view, this incident has been blown out of proportion by some of
the anti-virus crowd and their supporters, by the media, and
especially by Rep. Markey. In this issue, we examine the background
of the incident as it began in Risks, and include some commentary.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 22:54:12 CDT
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 2--Response to RISKS' Anonymous Post attacking AIS BBS
((The following appeared in Risks Digest, #14.68, ten issues after
the original post appeared)).
In Risks (Vol 14 #58) appeared a post, part of which is reprinted
below, that makes us appreciate freedom of speech and information
exchange we enjoy in the U.S. The primary risk I've learned after
reading the post is that anonymous posters with an axe to grind are
potential threats to freedom of expression.
Two anonymous posters falsely depict AIS BBS, a bulletin board run by
Dept of Treasury/Office of Public Debt personnel as a public
information service, as a board engaged in "unethical, immoral, and
possibly illegal activities:"
>Date: Fri, 7 May 93 11:18:17 -0500
>X-Notice: This message was forwarded by a software-
> automated anonymous remailing service.
>This text was forwarded to me by a friend and professional colleague
>in the UK. I am dismayed that this type of activity is being condoned
>by an American Governmental Agency. I can only hope that this
>operation is shut down and the responsible parties are reprimanded. I
>am extremely disturbed by the thought that my tax money is being used
>for, what I consider, unethical, immoral and possibly illegal
> ---- begin forwarded message -------------
>AIS BBS Capture log.
>To: all interested parties, especially Americans who may wish to ask
>relevant questions of relevant people.
>Capture log from a BBS that claims to be run by the US Treasury
>Department, Bureau of the Public Debt. Notice - I have not verified
>that the US government is actually running this BBS, only that the BBS
>claims that it is.
The remainder of the anonymous post presents screen captures of
directories and files to which the poster objects. Especially
troublesome for the anonymous accusers are virus-oriented files.
AIS is a reputable and professionally run open-access BBS.
It has one of most extensive collections of text and other files
related to all aspects of security in the country. Some may object
to some of the materials, just as some might object to RISKS DIGEST or
CuD being "funded" with taxpayers money. It strikes me as
reprehensible to take selected material out of context and piece
together an image of immorality or worse by presenting a misleading
image of the materials on the BBS and the purposes for which those
materials are intended. That the accusers make their claims while
hiding behind the cloak of anonymity strikes me as the type of
cowardice associated with witch hunts.
The anonymous posters seem to be bothered by the existence of virus
source code on the board. I wager one would learn far more about virus
writing and distribution tactics from VIRUS-L than from the AIS files,
but the two anonymous posters seem to be part of a handful of strident
pseudo-moral entrepreneurs who feel that only the information they
judge as appropriate for public consumption should be made available.
I'm surprised that the anonymous critics did not also include a demand
that public libraries also be closed.
It is one thing to disagree with the position of another and raise the
contentious issues as a matter of public debate. It is quite another
to engage in the cowardly act of anonymously distorting the function
of a legitimate and widely-used BBS by insinuating "unethical,
immoral, and possibly illegal activities."
CuD ran an interview with the AIS BBS personnel (CuD 4.37, 1992), and
a few excerpts may put the purposes of AIS BBS in perspective:
*** begin excerpts ***
Q: What is this Board? (name, number, who runs it (dept & sysop).
What kind of software are you using? When did the Board go
A: The Bulletin Board System (BBS) is run by the Bureau of the
Public Debt's, Office of Automated Information System's Security
Branch. The mission of the Bureau is to administer Treasury's
debt finance operations and account for the resulting debt. The
OAIS security branch is responsible for managing Public Debt's
computer systems security. The AIS BBS is open to the public and
the phone number for the Board is (304) 420-6083. There are
three sysops, who manage the Remote Access software. The BBS
operates on a stand-alone pc and is not connected to any of other
Public Debt systems. The Board is not used to disseminate
sensitive information, and has been up operating for the past 15
Q: What are the goals and purposes of the Board?
A: The BBS was established to help manage Public Debt's security
program. Security managers are located throughout Public Debt's
offices in Parkersburg, WV and Washington DC. The security
programmers saw a need to disseminate large amounts of
information and provide for communication between program
participants in different locations. Because the Board was
established for internal purposes, the phone number was not
published. However, the number was provided to others in the
computer security community who could provide information and
make suggestions to help improve the bureau's security program.
Gradually, others became aware of the Board's existence.
Q: What kinds of files and/or programs do you have on the Board?
Why/how do you choose the files you have on-line?
A: There is a wide variety of files posted. In the beginning, we
posted policy documents, newsletter articles from our internal
security newsletter, bulletins issued by CERT, such as virus
warnings, and others for internal use. I located some
"underground" files that described techniques for circumventing
security on one of the systems we manage. The information, from
Phrack magazine, was posted for our security managers to use to
strengthen security. When we were called by others with the same
systems, we would direct them to those files as well.
Unexpectedly, the "hacker" that had written the file contacted me
through our BBS. In his article he mentioned several automated
tools that had helped him take advantage of the system. I
requested that he pass on copies of the programs for our use. He
agreed. This is how our "hacker file areas" came to be. Other
hackers have done the same, and have we also received many files
that may be useful. It is, indeed, an unusual situation when
hackers and security professionals work together to help secure
systems. However, this communication has been beneficial in
strengthening an already secure system.
Q: How did you get the idea to set it up?
A: The security branch accesses many BBSs on a daily basis for
research purposes, information retrieval and to communicate with
others. Since our security program is decentralized, the BBS
seemed to be an effective way of communicating with program
participants in diverse locations.
Perhaps the anonymous accusers are correct: Some types of information
may pose a risk if abused. But, in an open democracy, the potential
for abuse has been neither a necessary nor a sufficient justification
to silence those with whom we disagree. If potential for abuse were a
primary criterion for suppressing the flow of information and freedom
of expression, we would live in a rather silent world, and there would
likely be no RISKS digest (which arguably subverts the national
interest by undermining faith in computers and in government, all of
which is largely done with public funding).
Hiding behind anonymity to reduce the risks of accounting for their
accusations, the anonymous posters call not only for silencing, but
for sanctions against the sysops.
This suggests several risks:
1) Posters who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their
claims are more able to distort information in ways that
leave the target vulnerable and unable to face their accusers.
2) Anonymous posters who call for silencing and sanctions on the
basis of unexamined and questionable claims create a chilling
effect on freedom of expression.
3) Anonymous posters with an apparent axe to grind contribute to
poisoning the well of free information and reduce the opportunity to
openly discuss and debate issues.
Our society can far more readily tolerate the existence of information
that some may find inappropriate than we can risk the censorship of
information because it offends a few zealots engaged in a form of
cyber-guerilla warfare by making anonymous claims.
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
Date: Thu, 13 May 93 12:46:19 EDT
From: Frank Tirado
Subject: File 3--Response to Anonymous: AIS BBS
I'm concerned about the implications of message contributed by
"Anonymous" on the AIS BBS. The message implies that surely any
"right-thinking" person would agree with the statements presented. So
sorry! I have a totally different opinion as regards the conclusions
presented by "Anonymous".
First, lets get a few things out in the open:
a. The AIS BBS is a real BBS run by the Bureau of Public Debt.
b. Its phone number is (304)420-6083
c. While the BBS does post virus source code, these comprise at most
about 40 files, a minute fraction of the files available on the
board. (In fact, I have several HUNDRED virus sources in my
collection, none of them acquired from the AIS BBS)
Both "Anonymous" and his/her UK colleague decry the fact that virus
source code is available from the BBS and label it a virus exchange
board. The truth is that the board provides these and other files to
individuals who are for the most part security professionals who have
a very real interest in the workings of viruses and other types of
"But", you say, "there's no security! Anyone could get on the board
and get access to all that nasty source code!" Well, its possible but
so what? What about all those underground boards where it is possible
to leech entire file bases of virus source code AND live viruses?! By
comparison, attacking a board which serves mainly security
professionals is a purely picayune endeavor. Besides, almost to a one
those who frequent virus exchange boards are leery of the AIS BBS
because its a FEDERAL BOARD! It just HAS to be a sting!
"Anonymous" expresses concern about what he/she considers "unethical,
immoral and possibly illegal activities". This is simply an opinion;
obviously, my opinion is diametrically opposite, and just as strongly
held as that of "Anonymous". Who's to say who's right, who's wrong?
Besides, the law that says viruses are illegal has yet to be passed,
not to mention formulated, here in the US. In addition, "Anonymous"
neglects to point out in what way virus source code is immoral and
unethical. I imagine that falls under the category of what every
right-thinking person "knows".
"Anonymous" and his/her colleague pretend to remain anonymous for
reasons of privacy and fear of reprisals. Let's be real here! Is the
Bureau of Public Debt going to send the BBS police to their homes to
rip out their PC's?; hire a squad of Palestinian hitmen to shoot them
full of holes? For having simply expressed their opinions? Not at
all. The only possible reason for anonymity is that they have some
kind of vested interest in shutting down this BBS. The original
message was forwarded to "Anonymous" by his/her colleague in the UK.
The UK? Gee, that's odd. At a recent conference in New York, Alan
Solomon specifically targeted the AIS BBS. Could it be these two
individuals are one and the same?....... Perhaps if "Anonymous" and
colleague reveal their real names we'll have a better idea of their
Then again, maybe I'm the one who's wrong. I should join them and
after we shut down the AIS BBS we can shut down the boards which carry
hacker files. We can follow that up by shutting down the ones which
provide information on how to build explosive devices. We can
continue with the libraries, because they're bound to have something
Knowledge is not going to go away just because we don't like it or
because we don't want it in someone else's hands. Shutting down a BBS
simply because it carries source code is, in this case, at best petty.
Shutting down the AIS BBS for this reason will deny security
professionals a valuable resource. Most importantly, shutting down the
AIS BBS will do nothing to stop the proliferation of virus source and
live viruses. "Anonymous" and his/her colleague will have achieved
nothing, no one will have benefited.
Date: Thu, 20 May 93 11:52:18 EDT
From: Paul Melka
Subject: File 4--A User's View of AIS BBS
After reading the Risks 14.58 issue concerning the US Treasury
Department's Bureau of Public Debt BBS, AIS BBS, I feel like I must
respond to some of the claims of the anonymous writer. First, as a
security professional, I have found the information on the AIS BBS
extremely helpful to me in the performance of my job. This
information is provided primarily for the use of the BPD, and is made
available upon request to other interested parties. This board is not
the only security-related board in the country. There are a number of
other boards, such as ComSec, that provide similar information to
Second, although the board does provide virus disassemblies and hacker
files, this information is for the use of security professionals to
help in their understanding of the inner workings of viruses, or to
see possible security holes in their systems that are common knowledge
to crackers and phreakers. This information is of little or no use to
budding virus writers or hackers because there already are a plethora
of virus exchange boards or hacking boards that are very easy to get
access to. In fact you can go to your local book store and order a
copy of Mark Ludwig's Little Black Book of Computer Viruses. This
book would be much more helpful in learning about how to write a
computer virus, than any disassembly could possibly be. Maybe we
should go back to book burnings too!
Third, the board provides a neutral area for security professionals
and "hackers" to have the opportunity to exchange view points. All
someone has to do is scan the user list to see the number of security
professionals and anti-virus professionals that have been on the
board. If this board is so tainted, what are all these respected
professionals doing on the board?
Finally, the anonymous writer's fear of reprisal is ridiculous. The
last thing that the FBI or Secret Service or anyone else is going to
worry about is a board that is legitimately helping to increase the
level of security awareness among professionals. What is the Treasury
Department going to do to this individual - raise his taxes?
This board is very professionally run and is one of the most positive
benefits of my tax dollars that I have seen. The anonymous sender
ends by asking, "Who watches the watchers?" and I can only respond,
each and every one of us. If this board were as evil as we are led to
believe, there would be such an outcry from security professionals all
over the country to shut it down. But when hundreds of people are
getting positive benefits from it and only a handful of people have a
problem with it, I say leave it alone. The AIS BSS was designed to be
used by security professionals and security professionals are
benefiting from it. Certainly the anonymous sender is entitled to his
opinion and feelings, but so are the rest of us.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 21:18:31 EDT
From: Urnst Kouch <70743.1711@COMPUSERVE.COM>
Subject: File 5--Fear and Loathing: On the Virus Code Trail at AIS
((Urnst Kouch is editor of CRYPT NEWSLETTER. Additional details on the
background of the incident and those involved can be found
in CRYPT NEWSLETTER #16)).
FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE VIRUS CODE TRAIL AT AIS
On Saturday, June 19, the national press suddenly reared up and
without warning, mangled the reputation of one of the finest, most
professional security experts I know, Kim Clancy of the Bureau of
Public Debt's Security Branch.
I rolled out of bed Saturday morning, plugged into Compuserve's
Today's News and was promptly crushed by the brazen stupidity of
reporter Charles Bowen's newspiece, "GOVERNMENT BBS SAID TO HAVE AIDED
COMPUTER INTRUDERS AND VANDALS".
Bowen plagiarized the lead, "A government spokesman says an obscure
bulletin board system run by a federal agency apparently helped
computer vandals commit electronic sabotage," directly from a same-day
Associated Press story called "Dial-A-Virus".
But neither Bowen nor the AP offered a solitary shred of proof, other
than this outrageously leading statement, loosely attributed to Public
Debt spokesman Peter Hollenbach, that Kim Clancy's AIS BBS has ever
been responsible for abetting documented cases of hacker intrusion or
computer vandalism by virus.
Further, Bowen reported, "The [Washington] Post says that among the
visitors to the system were computerists using handles such as 'The
Internet Worm,' 'Satan's Little Helper' and 'Dark Avenger's Mutation
Engine.'" The Washington Post story, reported by Joel Garreau, said
nothing of the kind, leading me to believe Bowen is either a
functional illiterate or willfully slack. Indeed, anyone who has
visited AIS knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the system NEVER
supported handles of such nature. [Of course, Bowen can respond by
blaming it on a copy editor and/or tight deadline, the last, best
defense of lazy, inaccurate newsmen the country over.]
These vague insinuations, however, were as nothing compared to the
wellspring of the controversy, Garreau's "Treasury Exposed Computer
Virus Info; Whistleblowers Halted Display Available To Anyone With A
Modem" which brought into the public glare the chain of events that
resulted in the removal of hacker tools, text files and commented
virus source code from AIS.
Although Garreau's story attempted to present a number of sides it was
packaged so that a general reader would get a picture of a mad-dog
government agency, finally "muzzled" after distributing dangerous code
to "every maladjusted sociopath with Coke-bottle-bottom glasses." More
savagely irresponsible was the sideborn statement that treasury
officials had neglected to "discipline" Clancy, instead merely
removing the dangerous information from her system.
It was a real rabbit punch; a cheapjack, ham-handed slam on Kim
Clancy, successful in portraying her as someone who spends her
worktime beta-testing intrusion software against her own department so
that hackers might optimize their methods for computer subversion and
vandalism. This is hair-raising stuff, to be sure, for a general
readership, but not the real truth. It is my understanding, and
something I've seen Kim Clancy make clear in lectures to many computer
workers, that the whole point of working with hackers on the
development of "Tone-Loc" software was so that it COULD and WOULD be
supplied to interested security personnel who would use it to gain an
understanding of how to harden their systems against tools employing
This is emphatically not the handiwork of someone who should be
disciplined or professionally tarred, but the work of someone who
Bruce Sterling, not me, says is "probably THE BEST THERE IS [emphasis
mine] in the federal government who's not military or NSA. Probably
better than most CIA."
Unfortunately, Sterling's appraisal was buried near the end of the
story, after all the cracked shouting about aiding hackers and
But I've walked away from the real nut of the matter: the presence of
commented virus source code at AIS. The significance of this is, in
my opinion, beyond the current ability of mainstream journalists to
evaluate simply because the vast majority of them have little
technical grasp of the byzantine reality of computer security, what
viruses are, how they work and don't work and where you find virus
source code. Certainly, The Washington Post story did nothing to
Consider these statements from The Post and some stony facts:
>>According to software writers, with the AIS information
"relative amateurs, could create new viruses."
This is dangerously misleading. As point of fact, relative amateurs
DO, not could, create new viruses from source code and they've done so
for a long time before the advent of AIS. That AIS would be
responsible for such a development, which is already fact, is frankly
>>Virus source code at AIS "is worse than making live
viruses available. A person without the skill to write
a brand new virus could nonetheless produce a variation
on an existing one . . . If sufficiently mutated, the
virus might slip past anti-virus programs designed to
look for known products."
This presumes that most virus-writers, would-be virus-writers and
"Coke-bottle glasses-variety sociopaths" have little access to source
code. This is not even close to being true. Virus source code is now
commonplace on professional, semi-professional and amateur BBS's run
by every stripe of user across the country. In fact, it is almost as
common as pirated software and pornography in some locales.
Surprisingly, the higher quality virus disassemblies stocked on such
BBS's are often the handiwork of anti-virus researchers and software
developers. Strangely, this has never been reported by a mainstream
newsman, perhaps because "designated experts" often come from the same
pool of researchers and developers.
". . . some computer professionals minimize the risk, saying
the software on [AIS] was acquired through the computer
underground in the first place, and thus has always been
available to miscreants with sufficient contacts, tenacity and
This is a particularly nasty one because its presented as
justification by those attacked and seems true. It's not. It
requires NO tenacity or particular skill to get hundreds of viruses
and assorted source code listings. Unlike the stunt of hacking a
mainframe from a dial-up, which often requires great patience, a
brute-force approach or some technical skill as substitute, from
teenagers to middle-age men, anyone with a PC and a modem can dig up a
BBS devoted to virus code in almost no time. Yes, they are that
Why should this be? Where have all those live viruses come from?
Paradoxically, many of the virus files on these BBS's bear the
electronic mark of software developers like Certus International, S&S
International and security organizations such as the National Computer
Security Association. Damn. How DO "relative amateurs" get ahold of
those samples? Of course, they could all be forgeries, the work of
some dangerous psychopath. Yeah, right.
In any case, the only people who can't access the hacker files anymore
are the security people. And the real story may boil down to what I
call the "You dunno this information, it's too dangerous and and you
don't have any business knowing about viruses and hacker files so
leave it to us anonymous security experts and anti-virus researchers
because we're here to serve and protect and we'll take care of all
that stuff, thank you" explanation. It is the very essence of
professional arrogance and hubris, in my estimation.
There is, obviously, much more which should have been addressed by the
mainstream media. Why hasn't it, then? Because it's not as sexy a
story as the visceral blurt of noble civil servant whistleblowers
bringing down a renegade government security BBS pursuing new ways to
pervert the public trust out on the rim of cyberspace. And it would
take time; it's a story that couldn't be researched and rushed into
print in a week. It's complex, you see, and would be a great deal
longer than the piece which ran in America's finest newspaper, The
Washington Post. So maybe we should all forget about fairness,
because if it can't get into print at The Post, where will it?
I hope Kim can continue her fine work and I'm angry at the stupid
treatment this controversy has received at the hands of the newsmedia,
so I'm writing to you about it because if I don't, I just might have
Date: Thu, 9 July 1993 23:11:17 CDT
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 6--Media, Anti-virus personnel, Ethics, and AIS
There are no winners in the AIS BBS incident. The sysop, considered an
exceptionally professional and helpful security specialist, is known
for attempting to bridge barriers between competing groups, such as
law enforcement and "hackers," in the belief that one way to reduce
abuses by all sides is through education. The anonymous poster(s) won
a short-term victory in that the "underground" files were removed from
the board. Peter Hollenbeck, Department of Treasury spokesperson for
the incident, indicated that there were no plans to take the board
down. However, he explained that after a review of the board's
mission, it was decided that "underground" files, which included Cu
Digest, would be removed. As of 11 July, AIS was still functioning,
and the following log-in screen appeared:
+++ begin login screen +++
> U.S. Department of the Treasury >
mmmmmmmmmm9 Bureau of the Public Debt lmmmmmmmmmm
> Office of Automated Information Systems >
mmmmmmmmmm9 A.I.S. Security Branch lmmmmmmmmmm
> On-Line Information System >
mmmmmmmmmm9 (call 304-480-6083 after 6/21/93) lmmmmmmmmmm
We recently reviewed the information posted on this bulletin board. As a
result of this review we have decided to remove the "underground" files and
will not post similar information in the future.
We concluded that making this type of information available through this
facility is not in the best interest of the Bureau of the Public Debt.
+++ end login screen +++
Should the AIS BBS have made available to the public so-called
"underground" files that included virus source code? Persuasive
arguments can be made on both sides. My intent here isn't to recreate
those arguments, but to briefly examine the process by which the
incident evolved. Here are a few points overlooked by the media and
First, according to CuD sources, attacks on the AIS BBS began as early
as March, 1993, at the IEEE Computer Security seminar in New York
City. One vocal participant, believed by many to be one of the
anonymous Risks Digest posters, encouraged his listeners to "do
something" about AIS BBS. The tandem "anonymous" posts were less than
honest to the extent that, according to one AIS BBS user who did
periodic log captures, the name of at least one of the posters, Paul
Ferguson, had been listed in user files well before the anonymous
post. Assuming that the "Paul Ferguson" on AIS BBS and the Paul
Ferguson of the anonymous post are the same, the cryptic posturing of
the anonymous Risks posts would seem dramatically deceptive. The
feigned ignorance about aspects of the BBS, the professed fear of
"retaliation," and the vengeful (and anonymous) call for punitive
sanctions against the sysop seem more in line with an intentionally
planned assault than with an ethical attempt to raise issues and
No doubt that Paul Ferguson is sincere in his concerns about the
"ethics" of making certain types of files available on a government
BBS. However, it should also be noted that Paul Ferguson may stretch
the ethical boundaries of truth when it suits him. For example, CuD
has been informed that a letter over the sig of "Paul Ferguson" in
which "reply" reached the same Paul Ferguson who acknowledged writing
the anonymous Risks post, appeared to misrepresent himself in
attempting to solicit information from a government employee. To
establish credibility, he allegedly claimed to be working with the EFF
and CPSR on issues that affect the computer and networking public at
large. CuD contacted officials in both organizations, and the
responses ranged form "we don't know him" to "it's news to us."
Anonymous postings calling for retributive sanctions and seemingly false
misrepresentation of affiliations do not generally give one
A Fidonet reader forwarded a post that we find interesting. In a FIDO
Virus_Info post under Paul Ferguson's header, the following appeared
in response to a CRYPT NEWSLETTER article:
Date: 12:38 pm Sun Jun 27, 1993 Number : 408 of 418 From:
Paul Ferguson Base : FIDO - VIRUS_INFO To :
All Refer #: None Subj: AIS debate
(part 1) Replies: None Stat: Sent
Origin : 26 Jun 93 00:45:00
Mr. Corey Tucker sent an "advance" copy article written by George
Smith (aka Urnst Kouch) which implied several items which were
conjectured and seemingly allusions. I posted a prior response,
but additionally, I'd like to post an article also written by
Kouch which outlines Clancy in the CRYPT newsletter #13, in which
more altruistic mentalities are discussed. I believe this is
valid; it reflects the entirety in which this whole fiasco
Additionally, I am also posting the Washington Post article, in
its entirety, for information purposes.
If the truth be known, Mr. Smith did the most damage to Kim
Clancy's underground organiztion (and BBS) than anyone who maay
have followed, by the publication of this very article.
No need to call this number, it ain't there anymore. Not only did
Mr. Smith (Kouch) nail Clancy's coffin, he enabled others to do
so on his behalf.
Several questions arise, including the following:
First, what is the "underground organization" that Kim Clancy
allegedly "has"? From law enforcement indictments, search/seizure
affidavits and warrants, and press releases that we have seen in the
past, such a phrase could, for the clueless, constitute felonious
conspiracy. This is neither neutral nor innocent wording. It is the
type of irresponsible accusation that (as we've seen from media
accounts such as the Washington Post or Rep. Markey's letter to
Secretary Bentsen) assumes a reality of its own. Is Paul Ferguson
suggesting, as the post implies, that Kim Clancy runs an "underground"
organization? Does Paul Ferguson actually believe that Kim Clancy is
involved with illegal activity? Judging from his anonymous post, he
actually so-believes. If so, perhaps he could present evidence of
illegal activity or "underground" leadership as he implies. If he
cannot, then he owes Kim Clancy a public apology for subjecting her to
the type of innuendo that has tarnished the reputation and threatened
the career of a dedicated civil servant.
Second, Paul Ferguson strongly suggests that the board is no longer in
service. Consider this wording:
No need to call this number, it ain't there anymore. Not only did
Mr. Smith (Kouch) nail Clancy's coffin, he enabled others to do
so on his behalf.
Let's keep some facts straight. "Mr. Smith (Kouch)" did *not* "nail
Clancy's coffin." Paul Ferguson and his friends did with anonymous
inflammatory posts and with other posts that irresponsibly suggest
illegal and "underground" activity. Contrary to Paul Ferguson's
claim, the board remains operative. Notices, announcements, and other
information sources over the past few months alerted callers to the
Parkersburg Bureau of Public Debt offices that the old prefix would
be changed to "480." One CuD informant indicated that Ferguson knew of
this change prior to the date listed on the above post. If so, the
wording of the passage cited above is duplicitous. If Paul Ferguson
did not know of the change, then his professed knowledge of AIS BBS is
less than credible.
Now, let's examine the Washington Post article (June 19, P. 1) that
covered the story. Joel Garreau, the author, is reputable and has
established his credentials as a fair journalist. We have no doubt
that he tried to present a balanced view of what he considered a
newsworthy story. However, there are several troubling aspects of the
The story begins:
*Treasury* Told Computer Virus Secrets Whistleblowers Halted
Display Available to Anyone With a Modem.
The Washington Post, June 19, 1993, FINAL Edition
By: Joel Garreau, Washington Post Staff Writer
Section: A SECTION, p. a01
For more than a year, computer virus programs that can
wreak havoc with computer systems throughout the world
were made available by a U.S. government agency to
anyone with a home computer and a modem, officials
acknowledged this week.
At least 1,000 computer users called a Treasury
Department telephone number, spokesmen said, and had
access to the virus codes by tapping into the department's
Automated Information System bulletin board before it was
muzzled last month.
The bulletin board, run by a security branch of the
Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg, W.Va., is aimed at
professionals whose job it is to combat such malicious
destroyers of computer files as "The Internet Worm,"
"Satan's Little Helper" and "Dark Avenger's Mutation
Engine." But nothing blocked anyone else from gaining access
to the information.
Let's look at just a few issues. First, there is considerable room for
legitimate disagreement over whether this is a newsworthy story.
However, if it is deemed newsworthy that one government agency
provides information that some see as "dangerous," then the same
standards of newsworthyness ought be applied to all other government
agencies that release "sensitive" information in a variety of
documents that is equally "dangerous." In fact, what the reporter
completely ignored in the story is the issue of accessibility to all
types of information. If we are going to "muzzle" a single information
source, then why not "muzzle" government-funded libraries as well?
Where does the "muzzling" line end? Who makes the decisions and by
Second, the story emphasizes the concerns of AIS critics and
despite interviews with persons who minimized the dangers and
significance of the AIS BBS files, the counter interpretation was
Third, this was not a "whistleblowing" incident any more than would be
a similar incident when an irate member of the public complains
anonymously about the local public library carrying Playboy.
Framing it as such distorts events.
Fourth, and although minor but not insignificant, the wording of the
article is less than neutral. Exaggerating the "virus" dangers,
framing the incident as "whistleblowing," referring to "hacker tools"
without also explaining their relatively innocuous nature and public
availability of these specific "tools," and other rhetorical ploys
seemed to pander to public virus hysteria. Further, although a small
point, it is not insignificant that a major quote was wrong. The
anonymous post in the Post article was reprinted as follows:
"I am dismayed that this type of activity
is being condoned by an American governmental
agency. I am extremely disturbed by the thought that
my tax money is being used for what I consider
unethical, immoral and possibly illegal
The original post read:
I am dismayed that this type of activity is being condoned
by an American Governmental Agency. I can only hope that
this operation is shut down and the responsible parties are
reprimanded. I am extremely disturbed by the thought that
my tax money is being used for, what I consider, unethical,
immoral and possibly illegal activities.
A seemingly minor alteration, but the elimination of the second
sentence (without an elide or other indication) that calls for
silencing and sanctions against the sysop omits a crucial bit of
It's also worth noting that the story refers to CuD as The magazine
"...followed by those interested in the murky world of
"hackers, crackers and phone phreaks. It is edited by Jim
Thomas, of the sociology and criminal justice department of
Northern Illinois University."
This would be akin to saying that The Washington Post is the preferred
paper of drug kingpins interested in following the predatory exploits
of their competition....while perhaps true in some vague sense, it
conveys a grossly inaccurate image of both publications. CuD, as I
carefully explained to the reporter, is read by a conservatively
estimated readership of 80,000, most of whom are computer
professionals, journalists, attorneys, academics, law enforcement, and
others who are primarily interested in computer culture. CuD is read,
as near as I can determine, by those looking for news, book reviews,
conference information, research articles, debates, computer-related
legislation, and information on virtually *all* aspects of computer
culture. And, "Jim Thomas" and not simply "of" the sociology/criminal
justice department at NIU, but a full professor with a credible list
of books and articles on his vita, which I explicitly told the
reporter. I'm normally quite modest about such things. However, the
wording of the Post article is deceptively glib and irresponsibly
distorts both the editorial purpose and content of CuD and the
editor's status. This might sound picky. Sadly, we've seen the Post
article cited in Rep. Markey's letter to Treasury Secretary Bentsen,
and I'd hate to have some "whistleblower" come unglued thinking that
NIU is making hacker information (or worse) available to the public.
The story also errs (despite information the reporter was given) in
claiming that the AIS BBS revealed its number in CuD last November.
This is simply wrong. CuD possessed the number and contacted board
personnel for an interview. The interview was cleared through the
appropriate supervisors and spokespersons prior to publishing, and it
was *NOT* revealed at the initiative of AIS personnel as the story
claims. The reporter presumably had this information.
Another small error, but one recreated in Rep. Markey's letter to
Treasury Secretary Bentsen with a demand for accountability for the
act, which in fact did not occur.
These are not the only errors or problems with the story.
Individually, they are relatively minor faux pas. But, in the
aggregate, they create an inaccurate image of events and exaggerate
the significance of the "story." Because of the visibility of the
Post, the story became national news and was carried on, among other
outlets, CNN and the Associated Press wires. For some, appearance of
"facts" in national media are sufficient to verify accuracy, and
little attempt is made to dig below the surface. Although the Post
reporter was far more conscientious than most media folk, and although
he was sincere in his attempt to present a balanced story, the final
product was questionable. To my mind, this may say more about the
nature of media and the emphasis on a "sexy" slant and the appropriate
discourse for such a slant than on the abilities of the reporter, Joel
Garreau, for whom I have considerable personal and professional
A final point is worth noting. The Post article quotes the anonymous
risk poster (Paul Ferguson) early in the story. Then, in the paragraph
immediately following, it quotes Paul Ferguson to give credibility to
and elaborate on the anonymous post without mentioning that Paul
Ferguson was the anonymous poster. The reporter was told by voice and
by e-mail *prior* to the story that Ferguson and the anonymous poster
were the same. Yet, no mention was made, and the two quotes were
sequenced as if they were separate voices. Others can judge the
ethical implications of this for themselves.
Because of the Risks post and the Post story, the AIS BBS incident
has assumed a significance beyond any reasonable reality.
One writer of "cyberspace" fiction and non-fiction reportedly called
Kim Clancy the "Cyber Joan of Arc." It fits. Ms. Clancy is not a
politician, not a political activist, and not a trouble-making
bureaucrat. She is a sensitive, dedicated government official who
believes that sharing legal information and engaging in dialogue is
the best way to curtail computer abuse. Her "crime" was in
over-estimating the good-will of others and in assuming that her
critics preferred dialogue to mean-spirited action. This incident is
not one of a "victimized" class resisting the tyrany of a powerful
government official. Instead, it reflects a sad situation in which
some persons, both intentionally and inadvertently, combined to create
a nasty situation based on innuendo and misinformation to create a
drama in which there are only losers.
Sadly, I must make one final comment. It's said that some people,
angered at this affair, are planning to retaliate against those judged
responsible. This would be an ethically bankrupt response. Predatory
behavior decivilizes cyberspace just as it does the "real world." The
best response to cyber-conflict usually is to air disputes in public
and debate them aggressively and honestly. We need fewer, not more,
razorblades in the sand if we're to create a civilized environment.
End of Computer Underground Digest #5.51