The Secret Service, UUCP,and The Legion of Doom by Kevin Mullet, University of North Texas (KEV@VAXB.ACS.UNT.EDU)
UUCP and UNT
Back in 1978, a couple of bright fellows at AT&T's Bell Labs, where the Unix operating system was developed, wondered if computer files could just be copied from one computer to another over a cable. State of the art data transfer back then meant writing data to paper cards or magnetic tape and reading them in on another computer.
The chaps with the bright idea were M.E. Lesk and A.S. Cohen and the program they wrote to implement the idea was Unix to Unix Copy, or UUCP. The idea caught on just about the same time Unix was taking off in popularity.
As the number of computers that could UUCP to each other grew, the first wide-area network was born. It slowly grew to the size it has today of over 11,000 nodes, or individual computers. The UUCP network, named after the primary software used for communication across the network in its early days, now provides much more than simple file copying. The UUCP network now provides electronic mail, network-based news services and, of course, file transfer services between each computer on the network.
Electronic mail, or e-mail, is a kind of computer-based postal system where people can send messages back and forth to each other electronically without ever having to print them out on paper.
UUCP news is not unlike e-mail. The network of computers where people read, write and distribute news is called Usenet. Most, although not all, of this service takes place on UUCP. Because of its popularity, though, the service is also available from the NSF-Internet and BITNET wide area networks. Usenet news is comprised of several hundred newsgroups. These newsgroups are forums for ongoing discussions on an endless variety of topics ranging from specific computer languages and architectures to cooking, horseback riding, politics and religion. When a person sends e-mail to a news group, the message is automatically sent out to every computer on the network that subscribes to that particular news group. That way, each person who reads and posts to a news group is literally carrying on a dialogue with hundreds, often thousands, of other people at the same time.
At NT, the most popular way to be a part of these Usenet news groups is with the ANU program on the VAX Cluster. Through ANU, anyone with a VAX Cluster userid can take part in up to 366 different newsgroups. Messages from all over the world can be read from the user's terminal.
Usually this system works flawlessly, but a few weeks ago something happened. A computer and UUCP network node partially operated by AT&T called ATTCTC was seized by the US Secret Service as evidence in an ongoing nation-wide investigation of data piracy, credit card and long distance dialing abuse, and computer security violation called Operation Sun Devil. When that happened, the umbilical cord between NT and UUCP was severed.
An understanding of why this impacted NT requires an understanding of how UUCP works. The great strength and weakness of many wide area networks is their reliance on "store and forward" technology. Wide area networks which use store and forward schemes typically communicate only with computers, or nodes, that are geographically close to them. If a node on one side of the world has some e-mail, news or a file to send to a node on the other end of the world, it simply passes the data to a computer close to it along with instructions about the eventual destination. That computer, in turn, passes the data on to a computer close to it until, many nodes later, the e-mail, news or files reach their intended destination.
The great strength of this scheme lies in its economy. Any particular site need only pay for connections to a nearby neighbor to access the rest of the world. This way, a large number of sites can affordably interconnect in a global wide area network.
The frailty of this technology is its weakness. On a network where the cost is so low to connect, many sites don't arrange redundant routing in case a critical node goes down. NT was such a site. When ATTCTC was seized, all the nodes "downstream" from it, including NT, lost their UUCP access. All these sites had to scramble to contact other geographically close UUCP nodes that were "upstream" of ATTCTC to arrange for new UUCP access. Three days later, thanks to the Computer Science department at the University of Texas at Austin, NT was back online to UUCP, but for some other sites on the UUCP network, the story was just beginning.
The rest of the story
This account is based largely on the grand jury indictments against alleged Legion of Doom members and accounts by actual Legion of Doom members who posted to the Usenet group comp.dcom.telcom
Sometime in December of 1988, Robert Riggs, a 20 year-old student of DeVry Technical School, hacked his way into a computer at Bell South telephone company headquarters in Atlanta. Bell South provides telephone service for Alabama, Missippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
Riggs was a member of a group called the Legion of Doom. Members of this organization are hackers who illegally compromise the security of various computer and telecommunications installations on a regular basis in order to enhance their reputation within the computer underground.
Once he gained access to the Bell South computer, Riggs stole a document describing some of the workings of the emergency 911 service. On 23 January, 1989 Riggs copied the file through the UUCP network to Jolnet, a public access Unix system in Lockport, Illinois and made it available to Craig Neidorf, an editor of an underground on-line magazine for hackers and phreakers (hackers who specialize in compromising telecommunications security).
Phrack, the magazine edited by Neidorf, is published electronically through the UUCP and NSF-Internet networks and on numerous BBS's across the country which specialize in disseminating information about hacking and phreaking. The magazine, a mainstream publication in the computer underground, is generally considered required reading for hackers and phreakers. The content of Phrack ranges from actual and fictional accounts of breaking into computer systems to technical details of computer security and telecommunications systems. Sources close to the Phrack publishers assert that the magazine has always been careful to avoid publishing anything that was overtly illegal.
Neidorf, a 19 year old political science major at the University of Missouri, used his userid on a school unix system to retrieve the Bell South 911 file from Jolnet. Once he got the file, he edited it, as advised by Riggs, to conceal its source. Neidorf and Riggs intended to eventually write an article about the 911 system in Phrack.
The actual 911 file in question is a six page, 20 kilobyte document describing some technical and administrative details of the emergency 911 system that Bell South uses for its nine state service area.
Through the 911 system, Bell South customers can dial 911 and be instantly connected with a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Computers called Electronic Switching Systems (ESS's) are critical to telephone routing. Once someone in the Bell South service area calls 911, an ESS ensures they are connected with an appropriate PSAP. The 911 system then allows an emergency operator to determine automatically what number and address the caller is calling from and alert the appropriate emergency service dispatchers.
Obviously, the details of security around such a system should be very closely guarded. The potential for loss of life and property if such a system were maliciously compromised is enormous.
The Plot Thickens
Unknown to Riggs and Neidorf, Richard Andrews, the system administrator of Jolnet discovered the Bell South 911 file on his computer soon after it was transferred there. Andrews sent a copy of the file through the UUCP network to another computer system called "Killer" that was owned and operated by an AT&T employee, Charles Boykin. Andrews requested that Boykin forward the file to the appropriate authorities. Andrews didn't prevent further access to the file, delete it or frustrate the efforts of Riggs and Neidorf. He also kept a copy of the file for himself.
Several months later, Andrews received a call from someone at AT&T who asked for another copy of the file. Not soon after that, the United States Secret Service came paid him a visit. Andrews has been cooperating with the authorities ever since. It is largely through his cooperation that federal indictments have been returned against five alleged members of the Legion of Doom: Robert Riggs, Craig Neidorf, Adam Grant, Franklin Darden, Jr., and Leonard Rose.
On February 3rd, 1990, after receiving Andrews' cooperation for over a year, the Secret Service raided Jolnet and seized it as evidence.
In 1989, the privately-owned UUCP node known as Killer, through which Richard Andrews alerted AT&T of the stolen 911 file, was moved to the Dallas Infomart. It was used by its owner, Charles Boykin and AT&T as a public demonstration system. It was given a new name, AT&T Customer Technology Center, or ATTCTC. In the years since 1985, when it began operation, Killer/ATTCTC became a critical node on the national UUCP backbone. Computers throughout the southwest, and people who used them, depended on ATTCTC for Usenet news, electronic mail and UUCP file transfer services. On the 20th of February, 1990, without any advance notice, ATTCTC was permanently shut down, leaving NT with no UUCP access.
AT&T claims that the closure was due to lack of funds, although the system was privately owned and operated by Charles Boykin. Sources close to the Texas Unix community assert that ATTCTC was shut down and seized by the US Secret Service because two of its userids belonged to suspected members of the Legion of Doom. Various credit card numbers and long distance dialing codes were allegedly found in files owned by these userids.
The Next Dominoes to Fall
In Austin, there's a small company called Steve Jackson Games that makes role playing games (a kind of grown-up make believe). In their offices, SJG ran a computer called Illuminati. This system was used by staff and customers to develop new game ideas. SJG ran a BBS on Illuminati though which customers could provide feedback based on testing of potential new games. One of these games was called GURPS Cyberpunk, named after the Cyberpunk genre of science fiction in which the plot often involves extensive penetration of computer security.
The author of GURPS Cyberpunk, Loyd Blankenship, researched ways in which to lend a realistic "look and feel" to his game. In his research, he developed extensive contacts with the hacker and phreaker underground, and acquired a comprehensive library of Phrack magazines, which he stored on Illuminati.
On the morning of March 1st, 1990, the staff of Steve Jackson Games arrived at work to find that the Secret Service had forced their way into the building and were searching and seizing "computer hardware and software and records relating to computer hardware and software" for evidence in a "nationwide data piracy case" which Steve Jackson later learned was the Bell South 911 case.
When all was said and done that day, the Secret Service had taken the Illuminati computer, all staff personal computers and printers, modems, software, spare hardware, all material related to GURPS Cyberpunk, a laser printer, a bag of nuts and bolts and some candy off the desk of Creede Lambard, who ran the Illuminati BBS.
On the 20th of February, a member of the Legion of Doom who identified himself as "Erik Bloodaxe" posted an anonymous electronic mail message to the Usenet news group Comp.dcom.telcom saying, among other things, that:
"Frank [Darden, Jr.], Rob [Riggs] and Adam [Grant] were all definately [sic] into very hairy systems. The had basically total control of a packet-switched network owned by Southern Bell (SBDN) ... through this network they had access to every computer Southern Bell owned [...]"
On April 1st, in New York Newsday, a story appeared saying:
"A government affidavit alleged that in June hackers believed to be Legion of Doom members planted software ""time bombs"" in AT&T's 5 ESS switching computers in Denver, Atlanta and New Jersey. These programs . . . were defused by AT&T security personnel before they could disrupt phone service."
Elsewhere, Leonard Rose, sysop of a computer system called Netsys, was out driving his car one day when federal authorities pulled him over and arrested him. On the 15th of May, he was indicted with five felony counts and charged with various violations of interstate transportation laws and the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse act. Federal prosecutors allege that Rose hacked his way into an AT&T computer and stole some of the source code for version 3.2 of the Unix operating system. He is also charged with distributing two "trojan horse" programs that would infiltrate a Unix computer and replace the legitimate login program. Once in place, the trojan horses acquired a valid userid and password each time a new person logged into the system. Rose, it is alleged, would later retrieve the list of stolen userids and passwords and gain any degree of access to a system that he wanted.
So far, during the course of their investigation, the US Secret Service and the FBI have raided 27 computer sites across the US and have seized the equivalent of 23,000 computer disks from suspects accused of contributing to over $50 million in system thefts and damages. The investigation continues into people who have violated the security of federal research centers, schools and private businesses, and extends far beyond the theft of a single six page text file from Bell South headquarters.
Craig Neidorf, the 19 year old University of Missouri student who allegedly received the 911 file from Robert Riggs, has pleaded not guilty to charges of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.
Charlie Boykin, the AT&T employee who ran Killer/ATTCTC and was initially alerted by Richard Andrews about the 911 file theft was previously an active member of the Texas Unix community. He hasn't been seen at any Unix function since the closure of ATTCTC.
According to the Associated Press, U.S. Attorney William Cook was granted a motion to prevent the 911 text file from becoming part of the public record during the trial. The trial of Riggs and Neidorf began on April 16, 1990.
The Austin-based company Steve Jackson Games has been devastated by this affair. In the days since the Secret Service seizure, SJG has suffered a monetary loss of $100,000, had to lay off 8 of their 17 staffers, and cancel sixty percent of their 1990 product releases. Jackson has approached the American Civil Liberties Union for assistance.
The Real Issues: What's the big deal?
That depends on who you ask.
The Secret Service would probably tell you that any violation of computer security is a serious affair. Unfortunately, the current criminal justice system evaluates all property crime in monetary terms: if it doesn't cost a lot of money, then there's not a big crime involved.
The Chicago indictment against Riggs and Neidorf charges them with the theft and interstate transport of something valued over $5,000, namely the 911 file. In other words, the crime lies in stealing something worth a lot of money, not potentially endangering the safety of people in nine states. Typically, computer crime is only investigated if a large monetary loss can be proven.
Some users and system operators of networked large multi-user systems would probably tell you that the big deal is that such computer systems aren't traditionally covered by common carrier statutes. Common Carrier laws are the laws that say if someone plots a crime over the telephone or through the US mail, the telephone company and the US Postal System cannot be held accountable for what was plotted over their common carrier.
This is not the case with computer bulletin boards and network nodes, however. Federal authorities are placing a burden of responsibility on owners and operators of such computers to know the legality of everything stored on their computer system. On a system such as the NT VAX Cluster, that means knowing completely what's on 4.3 gigabytes of disk storage, and reading over 100 megabytes of wide area network traffic each week. In other words, someone would have to read up to sixty four thousand pages of text each week in order to be completely appraised just on new information that is either stored on the VAX cluster or passes through it on their way to another computer each week. If the NT Computing Center employed five people who could read 100 words a second to do this, and they worked twenty four hours a day without stopping, it would still take them twenty three days to read a week's worth of wide-area network traffic.
And to make matters worse, NT is, for all practical purposes, an end node on the wide area network circuit. Most traffic that passes through here is eventually bound for someone at NT. For most wide area network nodes, this is not the case. A site like UT at Austin, or Rice University has traffic passing through it, briefly being stored before being forwarded, for many national as well as international sites. For those sites, not only would they need to hire many more people, but they would need to be foreign language interpreters as well.
Imagine a company that owns a telecommunications satellite being held responsible for all the conversations in all the languages that are going through it at all times. It's a ridiculous thought and no legal authority would expect that of RCA or NASA. However, the equivalent is expected of every BBS in the country and every wide area network node at this moment.
Unless lawmakers grant the same legal protection to computer bulletin boards and network nodes as the US Mail and telephone carriers, computer users in the not-to-distant future will only be able to look back at the age of electronic mail and Usenet news.
People like the Legion of Doom have forced federal authorities to make apply existing laws to computers before they have sufficient technical preparation to do so. Unfortunately, it looks like the only solution to inappropriate seizures of computers by the Secret Service and FBI is the education that lawmakers and law enforcers will receive through the courts. Once more phreakers and hackers are arrested and tried will it become apparent that seizing the computers they use as conduits makes as much practical sense as seizing the laser printer at Steve Jackson Games not to mention the candy on Creede Lambard's desk.
In the case of computer security, the best and only effective offense is a good defense. No computer system is impregnable, but there is a point at which every hacker will decide that penetrating a system is more trouble than it's worth. It is especially important that all managers and system administrators of computer BBS's and network nodes be mindful of this.
Just as barbed wire spawned a burgeoning wire cutter market, the popularity and usefulness of computer-based communication will ensure that there are always going to be hackers and phreakers. There is a fine line between making a computer secure enough to avoid compromise by a hacker, and accessible enough not to discourage legitimate use. The best managers of computer systems will continue to walk that line without disturbing the network of trust that makes such systems the powerful tools they are.