Riding the BoardzZz
A Guided Tour of the Underground
(An article taken from MONDO 2000 Issue 8)
You are going to hear the Real Voice of the kid down the block. He's
handsome, what they call clean cut. He has a way to go before he passes the law's marginal threshold of eighteen years, and he's been online for over two years. You'd never guess that he can talk like this.
He starts out talking tough, and ends with high idealism that teachers
hope to generate in their kids. But his contempt for the education that America offers him is total. His education is taking place on the wire. He's growing up in cyberspace, growing up literate in a text-based culture that the kids have created for themselves. And at school, he says, the computer illiterates are grooming him for the car wash. Does he scare you? Very good. This is what the best young minds are hacking from what they percive to be present reality. And as one of the Boards tells you as you log in: Future? No future! Listen now.
- St. Jude
I dial… and at the delicious sound of the tone… punch in the magic numbers that will permit me to make thousands of dollors worth of calls, courtesy of my new-found host. Another night on the line.
For me, this all started a few years back, at reform skewl. A very good
phriend introduced me to the wonderful world of Cybercrime. He dazzled me with tales of breaking into files of the head of the skewl and forwarding telephone calls for Grand Central to the homes of disliked acquaintances. Being the mischievous little fucker that I was, and having the fortune to be blessed with a sharp mind, I saw a golden oppertunity: to wreak havoc in a new and intellectually stimulating way. When I obtained a computer the following year, I had no trouble keeping myself occupied.
The top of one of my favorite anarchist newspapers reads, "Information
Is Strength. Knowledge Is Power"-truer than ever in what we're told is the Information Age. Fortunately, by the time I had learned enough to be a significant threat, I had also learned to be fairly responsible.
As you know, the hacker-as-villain was invented by the currupt swine in
our government, and perpetuated by our media. As most of you probably also know, the government is full of shit. Our old buddies in office fight to keep people over those they supposedly serve. America truly is a melting pot - the scum rises to the top and everyone on the bottom gets burned. But I digress…
Anyway, there are very few hackers who fit the villain description.
Those hackers who are belligerent and destructive are generally ostracized by the rest of the HP (Hack/Preak) community. There was a recent post on a board by some idiot who stated that you should juice a system for all it's worth and then crash it, destroy everything on there. The responses he got from other hackers ranged from insults to outright threats. Assholes like this represent a problem not only to victims they abuse, but also to the rest of the underground community.
That settled, we can get on with this. When you enter the world of the
computer undergound, you're going to have to nevigate through a virtual ocean of jargon. A term which you may not know is "phreak." The word is "ph" as in phone + freak. It comes from that ancient time of Peace, Love and Happiness (not to mention Grass, Acid and Fellatio) known to us as the late 60's. Everyone who was anyone back then was some kind of freak - so we're told. Those freaks who were fond of abusing the telephone system were Phreaks.
Probably the most famous phreak was Cap'n Crunch, who placed a phone
call around the world to himself using the wonderful (and now obsolete for most U.S. phonelines) Blue Box. While I'd love to tell you about Cap'n Crunch and the phorephathers of phreaking, I'm merely going off on a tangent. If you'd like to learn more, get yourself a copy of "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," which appeared in Esquire in 1971.
Anyway, a phreak is to phones as a hacker is to computers. Phreaking
includes breaking into and dialing out from PBXs, tapping phones, ETF (Electronic Toll Fraud), and most other exploratory or experimental activity involving phonelines or phone networks.
A phreak is one who phreaks. OK. Here are some other terms:
BBS or Board - a computer Bulletin Board System. An underground BBS is a place where members of the computer underground can call and exchange files, as well as infomation.
boxing - Using a "box." Boxes are devices made to manipulate the phone system. The Black Box allows anyone calling a similarly equipped phone to avoid any charges. The Red Box simulates the tones made by a pay phone to indicate that money has been inserted, thus allowing unlimited phree calls from many payphones. There is a multi-use everything box, the Rainbow Box, which is most useful in Europe, available from our Dutch friends.
codez - Phone numbers and authorization codes allowing one to make free phone calls by way of extenders, such as PBXs.
codez kid - A term used for people who exist in the computer inderground merely to find codes for making free calls. They are looked down upon by real hackers and phreaks, because of their ignorance.
carding - Purchasing with a fraudulent credit card.
HPCAV - An abbreviation for Hack Phreak Card Anarchy Virus, which sums up major interests in the computer underground. Virus, of course, refers to computer viruses and Trojan horses. Another popular term is HP, Hack/Phreak.
pirate - (Also called a cracker) One who cracks the copy protection on copyrighted software.
PBX - Private Branch Exchange, a local phone network usually internal to a corporation. Phreakers find an access number into a PBX, then dial an authorization code to get an outside line, for unlimited planetwide calls, toll-phree.
social engineering - Conning favors or infomation (such as passwords or codes) from authorized personnel by pretending to be a fellow employee or a hapless customer. Contrary to popular belief, this is the way many accounts, passwords, and other nice things sought by hackers are obtained, rather than by brute-force hacking.
VMB - Voice Mail Box. You know what this is. Hackers/Phreaks/codez kidz use them several ways. One, this is a way others can contact hir, since a hacker will never give out hir real number - that would blow hir anonymity, the most sacred thing to any HP. Second is for codelines. A codeline is a VMB that is run by a phreak/codez kid who puts voice messages with news, calling card and credit card numbers, codes, accounts on various systems, and other current goodies.
There are several varieties of underground boards. First, there are the
HP boards. On a good HP board, one would expect to find many HPCAV files to download. This sort of board also supports a message base where one can correspond with other members of the computer underground on everything from hacking to music.
These message bases are by no means limited to the board itself, either.
There are scores of nets in exstence, linking only a few local boards, or dozens of boards all over the country. There are even some nets in the underground that are international - linking underground bulletin boards from countries all over the world.
The other main type of board you will find in the computer underground
is the Pirate or "Warez" board. A "Ware" is copyrighted software, and the warez boards are centered around software collecting, cracking, cracking groups, and related activities, with less of an emphasis on HP. I will go into more detail about "warez dOOdz" and their little subculture later. Most of them are even more ingnorant than codez kids.
Not all boards fall solely into one of those categories; many have
aspects of both. There are also boards that are more specific than the above, like boards that deal stricly with viruses and Trojan horses. And, while there are many people who are interested in both HP and also like to play games, there is an element of antipathy in the HP scene toward people who devote all their time to getting more games and who really don't know jack-shit about anything else. Also, there's the hardware elitism factor.
You see, games distributed in the pirate world are often huge - we're
talking upwards of half a dozen megs a pop for some of them. This places importance on high speed (9600bps and up, preferably HST or dual standard) modems and extremely obese (from a few hundred megs to up in the gigabytes) hard drives. What has happened is that users are restricted on the pirate boards just because of there data rate. I know people who would be among the most productive there, but are denied membership because they transfer files at 2400 bps. Not only that, but it seems that any rug rat with parents rich/stupid enough to shell out $900-$1200 for a modem is immediately eligible for membership. This is ridiculous. I've seen supposedly elite warez dOOdz who can't even operate their fucking PCs without a menu-driven shell program. Pathetic, eh? I shit you not. I think the intelligentsia of the pirate community better do something about this crap before it's too late.
Now, in the pirate scene and all its lameness, there is an island of
intelligence. This is the people who crack the games. Cracking is the process of removing or defeating a copy protect or other protection from copyrighted software. On any decent pirate board, all the games and other software will be cracked - most of this thanks to cracking groups who compete with each other. This competition guarantees both a wide variety of new games for the warez geeks and losses of millions of dollors for the software companies who should be getting something out of this, but don't. If you log onto any decent pirate board, you will see captions such as "0 day warez," which means that many of the games sold down at your local Softdick Software store are available to pirates as soon as or even BEFORE they are available to customers. Heh heh, it's good to be a computer criminal, yes?
Now that I've covered the quality underground boards, I should probably
fill you in on what I refer to as the "SubLame" scene. I call it that because in the underground, there is elite at one end of the spectrum and there's lame at the other. Codez kids and warez dOOdz are examples of lameness. A great hacker who really knows his shit is elite. Technically only the top 2 to 5% qualify as elite, but in a real sense, elite means any high-caliber hacker. In the SubLame scene, they don't even make it onto the spectrum.
Picture a sublamer: you enter the room of a junior high/high school
male. Clothes and garbage hide the floor. The walls are shingled with bullshit band posters. In one corner of the room, you can hear the slow peck-peck of a keyboard - the little geek has never really learned to type. Look over there and see the back of a head of scraggly long hair, and a neck full of pimples. You can almost see his breath. Congratulations, you've met him in the flesh. Lucky you.
Ofcourse this is only a stereotype. There are girls - few and far
between - even some genuinely cool people. Who knows, there may even be some people who read MONDO and therefore must be cool, right? I myself started out by calling these boards, but I've evolved.
These boards are the easiest to find and get onto. There are billions of
them out there, kinda like mosquitoes. They are generally put up by some local kid without much to do. One way to distinguish them from decent HP and Pirate boards is the precentage of LD - long distance - users. HP and Pirate boards will have more than 50% LD users. Sublamer boards are populated almost entirely by local callers. Many of the users have met and know each other personally. They even get together for social events organized through the BBS, meet at the mall, or go to the movies.
Another thing about these boards is that most of them are warez
wanna-bes. They generally have copyrighted stuff online and always try to get new warez. Most of them have "security," which translates into not letting you have access to the "elite" shit unless they "know yer cool." This means they call you voice (rare) or you sound cool to them in your application for access. They want to make sure "you're not a Fed or anything, dude," because they seem to think that the average federal agent has nothing better to do than go after fourteen-year-olds trading copyrighted games. Man, do they live dangerously.
As for the message subs (subjects), the content of the conversation will
obviously be geared to what they devote thier time to, such as who won the ballgame last night, how far they've gotton with their (usually fictitious) girl friends, who can kick whose ass, and bif Madonna's tits are. But there is a characteristic unique to the sublame boards, and that is warring.
Warring is, ofcourse, the arguments and insults exchanged between users
on a board. Sysops on most underground boards will tolerate varying amounts of this and will penalize or kick users off if it gets out of hand. However, in the realm of sublameness, warring is encouraged. Many have a WAR Sub, which is a message sub board which exists exclusively for users to insult each other (and their mothers). To give you a little insight into the psyche of the average sublamer, let me tell you that on many boards the WAR sub gets as many messages as all the other message bases put together.
This scene is mildly amusing nonetheless. And they do have a few ties to
the real computer underground. Every now and then you will see one of them on a supposedly elite board. The geek in question either slipped through security due to a careless sysop or managed to get access to a warez board because his parents bought him a 12-million-baud modem. These few people are usually the ones who get the "Elite Warez," which are uploaded to all the local boards.
THE WRITER SPEAKS SERIOUSLY:
You know, a few years ago I could not change directory in dos. I knew nothing about computers, nor phones, nor did I have a clue about the workings of our high-tech society. Then I got a computer, and along with it - a modem. That modem was the door to a universe of pure infomation, a frontier just waiting to be explored.
A hacker is a pioneer, traversing packet-switched networks, bridges,
outdials and trunks all over the physical world. The hacker explores and maps out this virtual universe for hirself and hir peers, so that they may reap the knowledge that is there in unspeakable abundence. Every underground board is an outpost, a spot where the pioneers can rest, exchange infomation, form groups and hear the current news.
This is how we learn. The traditional concepts of learning and teaching
are rapidly becoming irrelevent in this society. All the years of school with all the bullshit of my brainwashed peers and ignorant "teachers" - we all know what a farce this has become. Especially in a country that is continually whittling away the meager budget for education so it can have more bombs for murder, more satellites and agencies for spying on its own people. This is a new school: a learning environment where everyone can work at hir own pace, and no one is "graded" by biased or unfair "teachers." This is a place where people exist without skin color, creed or physical disabilities; where you are judged on one thing alone: your mind.
Next time you see in the news that some fifteen-year-old kid had his
door kicked in and his family held at gunpoint while the Secret Service took away his computers and other possessions, which will never be returned, remember this article. Think about Steve Jackson Games. Think about a hole generation of young people confused by this fucked-up world, who just want to learn, just want to understand how things work, what makes things tick. Think about all that, and then you decide who the criminals are.