ARTICLE ONE: AN OVERVIEW
A year ago, we told the stories of Kevin Mitnick and Herbert Zinn, two hackers
who had been sent to prison. It was then, and still is today, a very disturbing
chain of events: mischief makers and explorers imprisoned for playing with the
wrong toys and for asking too many questions. We said at the time that it was
important for all hackers to stand up to such gross injustices. After all, they
couldn't lock us all up.
It now appears that such an endeavor may indeed be on the agendas of some very
powerful U.S. governmental agencies. And even more frightening is the
realization that these agencies don't particularly care who or what gets swept
up along with the hackers, as long as all of the hackers get swept up.
Apparently, we're considered even more of a threat than we had previously
In retrospect, this doesn't come as a great deal of a surprise. In fact, it now
seems to make all too much sense. You no longer have to be paranoid or of a
particular political mindset to point to the many parallels that we've all been
witnesses to. Censorship, clampdowns, "voluntary" urine tests, lie detectors,
handwriting analysis, surveillance cameras, exaggerated crises that invariably
lead to curtailed freedoms…. All of this together with the overall view that
if you're innocent, you've got nothing to hide. And all made so much more
effective through the magic of high tech. Who would you target as the biggest
potential roadblock if not the people who understand the technology at work? It
appears the biggest threats to the system are those capable of manipulating it.
What we're about to tell you is frightening, plain and simple. You don't have
to be a hacker to understand this. The words and ideas are easily translatable
to any time and any culture.
"We can now expect a crackdown…I just hope that I can pull through this one
and that my friends can also. This is the time to watch yourself. No matter
what you are into…. Apparently the government has seen the last straw in
their point of view…. I think they are going after all the 'teachers'…and
so that is where their energies will be put: to stop all hackers, and stop
people before they can become threats."
This was one of the reactions on a computer bulletin board to a series of raids
on hackers, raids that had started in 1989 and spread rapidly into early 1990.
Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York were major targets in what was then an
This in itself wouldn't have been especially alarming, since raids on hackers
can almost be defined as commonplace. But this one was different. For the very
first time, a hacker newsletter had also been shut down.
Phrack was an electronic newsletter published out of St. Louis and distributed
worldwide. It dealt with hacker and phone phreak matters and could be found on
nearly all hacker bulletin boards. While dealing with sensitive material, the
editors were very careful not to publish anything illegal (credit card
numbers, passwords, Sprint codes, etc.). We described "Phrack World News" (a
regular column of Phrack) in our Summer 1989 edition as "a must-read for many
hackers". In many ways Phrack resembled 2600, with the exception of being sent
via electronic mail instead of U.S. Mail. That distinction would prove to be
It now turns out that all incoming and outgoing electronic mail used by Phrack
was being monitored by the authorities. Every piece of mail going in and every
piece of mail coming out. These were not pirated mailboxes that were being
used by a couple of hackers. These had been obtained legally through the
school the two Phrack editors were attending. Privacy on such mailboxes,
though not guaranteed, could always be assumed. Never again.
It's fairly obvious that none of this would have happened, none of this could
have happened had Phrack been a non-electronic magazine. A printed magazine
would not be intimidated into giving up its mailing list as Phrack was. Had a
printed magazine been shut down in this fashion after having all of their mail
opened and read, even the most thick-headed sensationalist media types would
have caught on: hey, isn't that a violation of the First Amendment?
Those media people who understood what was happening and saw the implications
were very quickly drowned out in the hysteria that followed. Indictments were
being handed out. Publisher/editor Craig Neidorf, known in the hacker world as
Knight Lightning, was hit with a seven count indictment accusing him of
participating in a scheme to steal information about the enhanced 911 system
run by Bell South. Quickly, headlines screamed that hackers had broken into
the 911 system and were interfering with emergency telephone calls to the
police. One newspaper report said there were no indications that anyone had
died or been injured as a result of the intrusions. What a relief. Too bad it
In actuality there have been very grievous injuries suffered as a result of
these intrusions. The intrusions we're referring to are those of the
government and the media. The injuries have been suffered by the defendants
who will have great difficulty resuming normal lives even if all of this is
And if it's not forgotten, Craig Neidorf could go to jail for more than 30
years and be fined $122,000. And for what? Let's look at the indictment:
"It was… part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf, utilizing a computer at
the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri would and did receive a copy
of the stolen E911 text file from defendant [Robert J.] Riggs [located in
Atlanta and known in the hacker world as Prophet] through the Lockport
[Illinois] computer bulletin board system through the use of an interstate
computer data network.
"It was further part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf would and did edit
and retype the E911 Practice text file at the request of the defendant Riggs
in order to conceal the source of the E911 Practice text file and to prepare
it for publication in a computer hacker newsletter.
"It was further part of the scheme that defendant Neidorf would and did
transfer the stolen E911 Practice text file through the use of an interstate
computer bulletin board system used by defendant Riggs in Lockport, Illinois.
"It was further part of the scheme that the defendants Riggs and Neidorf would
publish information to other computer hackers which could be used to gain
unauthorized access to emergency 911 computer systems in the United States and
thereby disrupt or halt 911 service in portions of the United States."
Basically, Neidorf is being charged with receiving a stolen document. There is
nothing anywhere in the indictment that even suggests he entered any computer
illegally. So his crimes are receiving, editing, and transmitting.
Now what is contained in this document? Information about how to gain
unauthorized access to, disrupt, or halt 911 service? Hardly. The document
(erroneously referred to as "911 software" by the media which caused all kinds
of misunderstandings) is quoted in Phrack Volume 2, Number 24 and makes for
one of the dullest articles ever to appear in the newsletter. According to the
indictment, the value of this 20k document is $79,449. [See story that follows t
Shortly after the indictments were handed down, a member of the Legion of Doom
known as Erik Bloodaxe issued a public statement. "[A group of three hackers]
ended up pulling files off [a Southern Bell system] for them to look at. This
is usually standard procedure: you get on a system, look around for
interesting text, buffer it, and maybe print it out for posterity. No member
of LOD has ever (to my knowledge) broken into another system and used any
information gained from it for personal gain of any kind…with the exception
of maybe a big boost in his reputation around the underground. [A hacker] took
the documentation to the system and wrote a file about it. There are actually
two files, one is an overview, the other is a glossary. The information is
hardly something anyone could possibly gain anything from except knowledge
about how a certain aspect of the telephone company works."
He went on to say that Neidorf would have had no way of knowing whether or not
the file contained proprietary information.
Prosecutors refused to say how hackers could benefit from the information, nor
would they cite a motive or reveal any actual damage. In addition, it's widely
speculated that much of this information is readily available as reference
In all of the indictments, the Legion of Doom is defined as "a closely knit
group of computer hackers involved in: a) disrupting telecommunications by
entering computerized telephone switches and changing the routing on the
circuits of the computerized switches; b) stealing proprietary computer source
code and information from companies and individuals that owned the code and
information; c) stealing and modifying credit information on individuals
maintained in credit bureau computers; d) fraudulently obtaining money and
property from companies by altering the computerized information used by the
companies; e) disseminating information with respect to their methods of
attacking computers to other computer hackers in an effort to avoid the focus
of law enforcement agencies and telecommunication security experts."
Ironically, since the Legion of Doom isn't a closely knit group, it's unlikely
that anyone will be able to defend the group's name against these charges –
any defendants will naturally be preoccupied with their own defenses.
(Incidentally, Neidorf was not a part of the Legion of Doom, nor was Phrack
a publication of LOD, as has been reported.)
The Hunt Intensifies
After learning of the Phrack electronic mail surveillance, one of the system
operators of The Phoenix Project, a computer bulletin board in Austin, Texas,
decided to take action to protect the privacy of his users. "I will be adding
a secure encryption routine into the e-mail in the next 2 weeks - I haven't
decided exactly how to implement it, but it'll let two people exchange mail
encrypted by a password only known to the two of them…. Anyway, I do not
think I am due to be busted…I don't do anything but run a board. Still,
there is that possibility. I assume that my lines are all tapped until proven
otherwise. There is some question to the wisdom of leaving the board up at
all, but I have personally phoned several government investigators and invited
them to join us here on the board. If I begin to feel that the board is
putting me in any kind of danger, I'll pull it down with no notice - I hope
everyone understands. It looks like it's sweeps-time again for the feds. Let's
hope all of us are still around in 6 months to talk about it."
The new security was never implemented. The Phoenix Project was seized within
And the clampdown intensified still further. On March 1, the offices of Steve
Jackson Games, a publishing company in Austin, were raided by the Secret
Service. According to the Associated Press, the home of the managing editor
was also searched. The police and Secret Service seized books, manuals,
computers, technical equipment, and other documents. Agents also seized the
final draft of a science fiction game written by the company. According to the
Austin American-Statesman, the authorities were trying to determine whether
the game was being used as a handbook for computer crime.
Callers to the Illuminati bulletin board (run by Steve Jackson Games), received
the following message:
"Before the start of work on March 1, Steve Jackson Games was visited by agents
of the United States Secret Service. They searched the building thoroughly,
tore open several boxes in the warehouse, broke a few locks, and damaged a
couple of filing cabinets (which we would gladly have let them examine, had
they let us into the building), answered the phone discourteously at best, and
confiscated some computer equipment, including the computer that the BBS was
running on at the time.
"So far we have not received a clear explanation of what the Secret Service was
looking for, what they expected to find, or much of anything else. We are
fairly certain that Steve Jackson Games is not the target of whatever
investigation is being conducted; in any case, we have done nothing illegal
and have nothing whatsoever to hide. However, the equipment that was seized is
apparently considered to be evidence in whatever they're investigating, so we
aren't likely to get it back any time soon. It could be a month, it could be
"To minimize the possibility that this system will be confiscated as well, we
have set it up to display this bulletin, and that's all. There is no message
base at present. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we wish we dared do
more than this."
Apparently, one of the system operators of The Phoenix Project was also
affiliated with Steve Jackson Games. And that was all the authorities needed.
Raids continued throughout the country with reports of more than a dozen
bulletin boards being shut down. In Atlanta, the papers reported that three
local LOD hackers faced 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
Another statement from a Legion of Doom member (The Mentor, also a system
operator of The Phoenix Project) attempted to explain the situation:
"LOD was formed to bring together the best minds from the computer underground
- not to do any damage or for personal profit, but to share experiences and
discuss computing. The group has always maintained the highest ethical
standards…. On many occasions, we have acted to prevent abuse of systems….
I have known the people involved in this 911 case for many years, and there
was absolutely no intent to interfere with or molest the 911 system in any
manner. While we have occasionally entered a computer that we weren't supposed
to be in, it is grounds for expulsion from the group and social ostracism to
do any damage to a system or to attempt to commit fraud for personal profit.
"The biggest crime that has been committed is that of curiosity…. We have
been instrumental in closing many security holes in the past, and had hoped to
continue to do so in the future. The list of computer security people who
count us as allies is long, but must remain anonymous. If any of them choose
to identify themselves, we would appreciate the support."
And The Plot Thickens
Meanwhile, in Lockport, Illinois, a strange tale was unfolding. The public UNIX
system known as Jolnet that had been used to transmit the 911 files had also
been seized. What's particularly odd here is that, according to the electronic
newsletter Telecom Digest, the system operator, Rich Andrews, had been
cooperating with federal authorities for over a year. Andrews found the files
on his system nearly two years ago, forwarded them to AT&T, and was
subsequently contacted by the authorities. He cooperated fully. Why, then, was
his system seized as well? Andrews claimed it was all part of the
investigation, but added, "One way to get [hackers] is by shutting down the
sites they use to distribute stuff."
The Jolnet raid caused outrage in the bulletin board world, particularly among
administrators and users of public UNIX systems.
Cliff Figallo, system administrator for The Well, a public UNIX system in
California, voiced his concern. "The assumption that federal agents can seize
a system owner's equipment as evidence in spite of the owner's lack of proven
involvement in the alleged illegal activities (and regardless of the
possibility that the system is part of the owner's livelihood) is scary to me
and should be to anyone responsible for running a system such as this."
Here is a sampling of some of the comments seen around the country after the
"As administrator for Zygot, should I start reading my users' mail to make
sure they aren't saying anything naughty? Should I snoop through all the files
to make sure everyone is being good? This whole affair is rather chilling."
"From what I have noted with respect to Jolnet, there was a serious crime
committed there – by the [federal authorities]. If they busted a system with
email on it, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act comes into play.
Everyone who had email dated less than 180 days old on the system is entitled
to sue each of the people involved in the seizure for at least $1,000 plus
legal fees and court costs. Unless, of course, the [authorities] did it by the
book, and got warrants to interfere with the email of all who had accounts on
the systems. If they did, there are strict limits on how long they have to
inform the users."
"Intimidation, threats, disruption of work and school, 'hit lists', and
serious legal charges are all part of the tactics being used in this
'witch-hunt'. That ought to indicate that perhaps the use of pseudonyms wasn't
such a bad idea after all."
"There are civil rights and civil liberties issues here that have yet to be
addressed. And they probably won't even be raised so long as everyone acts on
the assumption that all hackers are criminals and vandals and need to be
squashed, at whatever cost…."
"I am disturbed, on principle, at the conduct of at least some of the federal
investigations now going on. I know several people who've taken their systems
out of public access just because they can't risk the seizure of their
equipment (as evidence or for any other reason). If you're a Usenet site, you
may receive megabytes of new data every day, but you have no common carrier
protection in the event that someone puts illegal information onto the Net and
thence into your system."
But despite the outpourings of concern for what had happened, many system
administrators and bulletin board operators felt compelled to tighten the
control of their systems and to make free speech a little more difficult, for
their own protection.
Bill Kuykendall, system administrator for The Point, a public UNIX system in
Chicago, made the following announcement to the users of his system:
"Today, there is no law or precedent which affords me… the same legal rights
that other common carriers have against prosecution should some other party
(you) use my property (The Point) for illegal activities. That worries me….
"I fully intend to explore the legal questions raised here. In my opinion, the
rights to free assembly and free speech would be threatened if the owners of
public meeting places were charged with the responsibility of policing all
conversations held in the hallways and lavatories of their facilities for
references to illegal activities.
"Under such laws, all privately owned meeting places would be forced out of
existence, and the right to meet and speak freely would vanish with them. The
common sense of this reasoning has not yet been applied to electronic meeting
places by the legislature. This issue must be forced, or electronic bulletin
boards will cease to exist.
"In the meantime, I intend to continue to operate The Point with as little risk
to myself as possible. Therefore, I am implementing a few new policies:
"No user will be allowed to post any message, public or private, until his name
and address has been adequately verified. Most users in the metropolitan
Chicago area have already been validated through the telephone number
directory service provided by Illinois Bell. Those of you who received
validation notices stating that your information had not been checked due to a
lack of time on my part will now have to wait until I get time before being
allowed to post.
"Out of state addresses cannot be validated in the manner above…. The short
term solution for users outside the Chicago area is to find a system closer to
home than The Point.
"Some of the planned enhancements to The Point are simply not going to happen
until the legal issues are resolved. There will be no shell access and no file
upload/download facility for now.
"My apologies to all who feel inconvenienced by these policies, but under the
circumstances, I think your complaints would be most effective if made to your
state and federal legislators. Please do so!"
These restrictions were echoed on other large systems, while a number of
smaller hacker bulletin boards disappeared altogether. We've been told by some
in the hacker world that this is only a phase, that the hacker boards will be
back and that users will once again be able to speak without having their words
and identities "registered". But there's also a nagging suspicion, the feeling
that something is very different now. A publication has been shut down.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of names have been seized from mailing lists and
will, no doubt, be investigated. The facts in the 911 story have been twisted
and misrepresented beyond recognition, thanks to ignorance and sensationalism.
People and organizations that have had contact with any of the suspects are
open to investigation themselves. And, around the country, computer operators
and users are becoming more paranoid and less willing to allow free speech. In
the face of all of this, the belief that democracy will triumph in the end
seems hopelessly naive. Yet, it's something we dare not stop believing in. Mere
faith in the system, however, is not enough.
We hope that someday we'll be able to laugh at the absurdities of today. But,
for now, let's concentrate on the facts and make sure they stay in the
=⇒ Were there break-ins involving the E911 system? If so, the entire story
must be revealed. How did the hackers get in? What did they have access to?
What could they have done? What did they actually do? Any security holes that
were revealed should already have been closed. If there are more, why do they
still exist? Could the original holes have been closed earlier and, if so, why
weren't they? Any hacker who caused damage to the system should be held
accountable. Period. Almost every hacker around seems to agree with this. So
what is the problem? The glaring fact that there doesn't appear to have been
any actual damage. Just the usual assortment of gaping security holes that
never seem to get fixed. Shoddiness in design is something that shouldn't be
overlooked in a system as important as E911. Yet that aspect of the case is
being side-stepped. Putting the blame on the hackers for finding the flaws is
another way of saying the flaws should remain undetected.
=⇒ Under no circumstance should the Phrack newsletter or any of its editors be
held as criminals for printing material leaked to them. Every publication of
any value has had documents given to them that were not originally intended
for public consumption. That's how news stories are made. Shutting down Phrack
sends a very ominous message to publishers and editors across the nation.
=⇒ Finally, the privacy of computer users must be respected by the government.
It's ironic that hackers are portrayed as the ones who break into systems,
read private mail, and screw up innocent people. Yet it's the federal
authorities who seem to have carte blanche in that department. Just what did
the Secret Service do on these computer systems? What did they gain access to?
Whose mail did they read? And what allowed them to do this?
It's very easy to throw up your hands and say it's all too much. But the facts
indicate to us that we've come face to face with a very critical moment in
history. What comes out of this could be a trend-setting precedent, not only
for computer users, but for the free press and every citizen of the United
States. Complacency at this stage will be most detrimental.
We also realize that one of the quickest ways of losing credibility is to be
shrill and conspiracy-minded. We hope we're not coming across in this way
because we truly believe there is a significant threat here. If Phrack is
successfully shut down and its editors sent to prison for writing an article,
2600 could easily be next. And so could scores of other publications whose
existence ruffles some feathers. We cannot allow this to happen.
In the past, we've called for people to spread the word on various issues. More
times than not, the results have been felt. Never has it been more important
than now. To be silent at this stage is to accept a very grim and dark future.
ARTICLE TWO: A REVIEW OF THE E911 DOCUMENT ITSELF
Documentation on the E911 System
$79,449, 6 pages
Bell South Standard Practice
Review by Emmanuel Goldstein
It otherwise would have been a quickly forgotten text published in a hacker
newsletter. But due to all of the commotion, the Bell South E911 document is
now very much in the public eye. Copies are extremely easy to come by, despite
Bell South's assertion that the whole thing is worth $79,449.
While we can't publish the actual document, we can report on its contents since
it's become a news story in itself. But don't get excited. There really isn't
all that much here.
Certain acronyms are introduced, among them Public Safety Answering Point
(PSAP), also known as Emergency Service Bureau (ESB). This is what you get (in
telco lingo) when you dial 911. The importance of close coordination between
these agencies is stressed. Selective routing allows the 911 call to be routed
to the proper PSAP. The 1A ESS is used as the tandem office for this routing.
Certain services made available with E911 include Forced Disconnect,
Alternative Routing, Selective Routing, Selective Transfer, Default Routing,
Night Service, Automatic Number Identification, and Automatic Location
We learn of the existence of the E911 Implementation Team, the brave men and
women from Network Marketing who help with configuration in the difficult
cutover period. This team is in charge of forming an ongoing maintenance
subcommittee. We wouldn't want that juicy tidbit to get out, now would we?
We learn that the Switching Control Center (SCC) "is responsible for E911/1AESS
translations in tandem central offices". We're not exactly shocked by this
We also find out what is considered a "priority one" trouble report. Any link
down to the PSAP fits this definition. We also learn that when ANI fails, the
screens will display all zeroes.
We could go on but we really don't want to bore you. None of this information
would allow a hacker to gain access to such a system. All it affords is a
chance to understand the administrative functions a little better. We'd like to
assume that any outside interference to a 911 system is impossible. Does Bell
South know otherwise? In light of their touchiness on the matter, we have to
We'd be most interested in hearing from people with more technical knowledge on
the subject. What does this whole escapade tell us? Please write or call so the
facts can be brought forward.
2600 MAGAZINE WANTS TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS AS WELL AS ANY ADDITIONAL FACTS YOU
MAY BE ABLE TO SHARE WITH US. POST PUBLIC COMMENTS HERE. YOU CAN SEND PRIVATE
MAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org OR 2600 EDITORIAL DEPARTMENT, P.O. BOX 99, MIDDLE
ISLAND, NY 11953. IF YOU WANT TO CALL US, OUR PHONE NUMBERS ARE:
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