I Was A Teenage Hacker
by Frank Drake
My descent into a life of computer crime began on my 13th birthday when I scored my very first modem-a 300-baud Novation AppleCat. The year was 1983 and that modem was the passport to a shadowy electronic realm where I learned how to break into military computer systems, listen into telephone calls, and eventually earn my keep as a member of the legendary hacker group Legion of Doom. I kept a seedy, nocturnal existence-a secret life spent under the alias Frank Drake.
Not that it was all fun and games at first. The first few weeks after I hooked up my modem were spent calling lame local bulletin boards where people sat around talking about BASIC programming and trolling for girls. But then I stumbled onto the Mines of Moria.
From the opening screen, with its warning that "Only The Elite May Enter", it was clear that this was not an ordinary BBS. After somehow convincing the sysop that I was not a Fed (my 13-year- old voice may have helped), and that I knew about hacking (which I didn't), I spent the rest of the night reading all the back messages. And what messages! Mysterious people like "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Intruder" had left notes containing MCI credit card numbers, passwords to DEC's internal computer system, and technical schematics for "blue boxes" that enabled the user to make toll-free calls…all the time. I felt like I was rummaging through a treasure chest. I was hooked.
I'd wait until my parents had gone to sleep, and then stay up all night posting messages, using stolen credit card numbers to call other hackers across the country, and breaking into systems bit by bit. I came to specialize in Unix, chosen because it was the operating system used by telephone company computers-the ultimate target of any hacker.
As I started to post on the BBS what I had learned from my electronic travels the night before, my reputation spread. It was a heady time, but I wasn't trying to make a statement or a profit by hacking. It was just a competitive hobby, like cars or sports, but it happened to be illegal. Still, I wasn't prepared for actually getting The Call.
The Call was from Lex Luthor, the head of Legion of Doom, and one of the most feared and envied hackers of all. Part of Lex's mystique was that NOBODY knew where he lived. All hackers hid behind aliases, but once they trusted you they would let you know their phone number so you could call. But not Lex. He always called YOU.
When Lex told me that I had been voted into LOD, my ego swelled to the size of a small planet. I was now in the elite of the elite. When I posted messages, I signed them with the words "Member, Legion of Doom". That stamp implied almost limitless authority. But more importantly, membership in LOD granted me access to their private bulletin board.
And that blew my mind. I was suddenly among legendary hackers like Bill From RNOC (who could social engineer a root password out of a telephone technician at the drop of a hat), Erik Bloodaxe (who has now parlayed his life in LOD into a successful career as a computer security consultant), and Phucked Agent 004. These guys were heavy. They controlled most of the telephone switches in California, Florida, and New York and could monitor lines in these areas at will.
My trophy case became a notebook listing the dozens of computer systems I had cracked. Many were choice targets-either telco systems or the sites of computer security researchers whose mail we routinely monitored. I'd reveal more, but the statute of limitations hasn't run out yet on most of those hacks.
I was having a sick amount of fun, but things began to fell apart in 1988 when a bunch of top people got busted, including Bill From RNOC, Oryan Quest and The Prophet. I remember finding out my colleagues had been nabbed and immediately taking all my stuff-my lists of passwords, my purloined telephone company manuals-and dropping them at a friends house for safe- keeping. I was sure I was next.
I never was busted, although soon after I received a call from the Secret Service warning me that they knew who I was. That was pretty scary, but the real reason I ended up dropping out of hacking, and LOD, was that I started college that fall (Computer Science, of course) and no longer had the time to be a computer criminal.
Looking back, some of what I did seems a little juvenile. I remember the hacker fights we used to get into. We'd change people's home phones into payphones that would demand money every time they made a call, pull our enemies' credit reports, and trash BBSs. But I'm still glad I hacked. We explored the Internet from an unparalleled vantage point without walls, impenetrable barriers, or securely-locked doors to obstruct our view. Hackers are the only ones who really know what cyberspace looks like.