Hacker, Cracker, Watchman, Spy

Some old-school Valley hackers grew up to be high-tech cat burglars. Some went to work for the man. Some just never grew up.

"I could feel I was next, and I just realized one day that, here I was, paranoid all the time, making $4.45 an hour at some stupid job, living at home, and riding by bike to work. I decided to make money from my skills."

Rather than answer a want ad, Jackiewicz hacked into a local Internet Service Provider--a company that sells Internet access to the public--and stole the system's root password. "Then I called them and said, 'Hi. I'm not going to tell you my name until I see how you react, but here's your root password. I'd like to secure your machines for you.'" The ISP, NetZone, hired Jackiewicz as its security chief. He's since moved up. Last year, Jackiewicz accepted a job as head of systems administration for GoodNet, a major Valley ISP that recently absorbed NetZone. On the side, Jackiewicz does freelance "Tiger Team" work: For "usually about $3,000," he'll assemble a team of hackers to attack a client's network using every trick in the book and follow up with a diagnostic report (Robert Redford played the leader of a Tiger Team in the 1992 movie Sneakers).

Gambit and Jackiewicz are both old-school. They learned to hack before the Internet was hip, cheap and easy. Before yuppies put e-mail addresses on their business cards and commercial Web pages exploded like popcorn. Now they represent opposing archetypes for hackers hitting their 20s who've turned their back on the hacker code and gone mercenary in the computer revolution. They are thief and sentry, but Gambit says they're more alike than different.

"I admire the white-hat guys for creating their own job market," he says. "But come on. They're still hackers. They're just taking protection money."

Hacker: someone who enjoys exploring the details of programming systems and how to stretch their capabilities; one who programs enthusiastically, even obsessively.

--the New Hacker's Dictionary, 1994

Jackiewicz slides a security card through a magnetic reader. The electronic lock goes pop, and he pushes open a door. "Well, this is where I work." The monolithic Financial Center building in downtown Phoenix was designed to look like an old mainframe-computer punch card. GoodNet's offices take up the 17th floor.

As soon as he sits down at his desk, Jackiewicz is under siege with demands for his attention from four different media--e-mail, pager, telephone and humans, often with harried looks on their faces that relax once Jackiewicz tells them everything's cool. Underneath his desk is a pillow made from packing foam wrapped in a crinkled, metallic-gray plastic bag. Tacked to one wall of his cubicle is a picture of a badass Mickey Mouse growling a word balloon that says "Buff my dome, G-man." Next to Mick is a postcard of a pinup blonde in a yellow bikini. Two co-workers toss a miniature Earth ball overhead as GoodNet's security chief talks about selling out to the man.

"I even wear a suit now sometimes," he says. "I used to think that if I was good enough at what I did, I could have long hair and wear whatever I wanted." Jackiewicz says he used to have a multicolored ponytail and show up for meetings at NetZone in thrift-store wear. "Then I reached a level where I was like, 'You know what? I want to advance, I want to impress my managers, but if I keep showing up to meetings in a powder-blue Naugahyde leisure suit, they may not be able to get past the clothes.' They should, but they may not be able to. So I tried to look more normal."

Now Jackiewicz's office wear looks like it came off the casual-Fridays rack at L.L. Bean, except for a pair of truly crisp, vintage two-tone leather shoes. Two months ago, Jackiewicz was the guest speaker at an interagency law enforcement conference on computer crime organized by Maricopa County prosecutor Gail Thackeray, a computer-crime specialist who helped bust several of Jackiewicz's NSA friends in the past.

"The first thing she said when I walked in was, 'Well, Tom, I see you're not wearing black fingernail polish anymore.'"

Seven years ago, Thackeray spearheaded an interagency hacker bust called Operation Sun Devil. On May 8, 1990, 150 federal agents and hundreds of state and local police took part in raids in 14 cities across the U.S. Forty computers and 23,000 discs were seized. Most of the charges resulting from the sweep were quietly dropped, however, and in the end, Sun Devil only netted three hackers who took plea-bargain deals. Still, Thackeray is one of the most prominent anti-hacker law enforcement agents in the country. In 1995, she was the featured guest speaker at DefCon, an annual hacker convention in Las Vegas.

Thackeray refers to the National Security Anarchist hackers as "our alumni." Besides Jackiewicz, she says, there are two other NSA hackers who claim to have gone straight and now work in computer jobs with access to sophisticated hardware and high-speed Internet connections. One, who went by Dark Druid, works at Northern Arizona University. The other, Merc, does research and security consulting for Genuity, another Valley ISP.

"I'm very concerned that places hire these guys and then absolutely do not monitor them appropriately," Thackeray says. "Hackers have a higher recidivism rate than alcoholics. I don't think any of these guys ever retire totally." Thackeray says she once asked a manager at Genuity what early-warning devices were in place to monitor its ex-hacker employee. The answer was none. "It was basically the same response I got from GoodNet about Tom [Jackiewicz]: They said, 'Well, we've given them a lot of responsibility, and some of the best tools in the world, and we're counting on them to see it's to their advantage to go straight.' They're calling it a position of trust. I take a more cynical view. I think they're being incredibly naive."

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