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.

Both Lippard and Jackiewicz say hackers have broken into their systems. "I would say that's true of any major commercial ISP in the country," Lippard says. "The best hackers collect access like mountain climbers collect summits."

Luckily, Jackiewicz says, the best hackers are the least likely to do damage. "My primary goal is keep out the 14-year-old kids who want to get in and nuke all the files." Such vandals get no respect from Jackiewicz. "They have no elegance," he says. "Look at it this way--if you come home and someone has broken into your house and stolen all your furniture and there's a big urine spot on your carpet, it's just boring. But if you come home to find all of your furniture hanging by strings from the ceiling, with a polite note advising you to lock a certain window the next time you leave, well, that's a little more interesting."

Often mythologized as folk heroes by the mass media, these self-styled cyberpunks possess an equal abundance of nerve and naivete, espousing a quasi-utopic science-fiction vision that scoffs at convention. In cyberspace, they argue, the rules of society should not apply.

--the Washington Times, May 8, 1995

Gambit says the first job he got hacking for money was with a small private-investigations firm on the East Coast. "I helped track down people who'd skipped bail and did background checks. If you know the right numbers to dial, you can track someone from their birth certificate to their death certificate, with all their criminal offenses, name changes, car purchases, speeding tickets, marriages, divorces, pet licenses, business licenses, inheritances and bankruptcies in between. It was all public records and newspaper library stuff. It was all legal."

Then one day the PI firm asked if it could refer Gambit to a larger investigations company that specialized in corporate espionage. "They told me the money was good, but it might involve going into--as it was phrased to me--some 'legal gray areas.' I said it was okay for someone to ring me up."

The next day, Gambit says, a man from the new firm called. "I asked him if he was a PI, and he said no, he was a security consultant," says Gambit. "I asked him what that meant and he ignored me." The man wanted to know if Gambit could access the current month's payroll records from a well-known West Coast graphic-design firm. Gambit said maybe, why? The man replied that some people wanted to target underpaid designers and lure them away. "I told him I might have to break a few laws, but he said he didn't want to hear about it, to just get him the records and he would give me the money. And that was it."

The graphic-design firm had a Web page, back when they were still a novelty. Open to the public by design, the Web server--the computer system that runs a Web page--was connected to the firm's office network with no "firewall" security measure in place to police traffic between the two. "It was pathetic," Gambit says. "An eeny-weeny baby hack." He got paid $400 for stealing the data. "The guy who called me probably got five times that."

Gambit says he has taken almost a hundred jobs since then, each paying between $300 and $3,000. He says he made more than $60,000 last year. And he paid taxes on it. "I'm on their payroll." His job title? Gambit has to laugh. "Security consultant."

In hacker culture, Gambit is a "Cracker," a knight who has sold his sword, who hacks for money instead of knowledge and freedom.

In his 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, author Steven Levy summarized the six basic tenets of the hacker code:

1) Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
2) All information should be free.
3) Mistrust authority--promote decentralization.

4) Hackers shall be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race or position.

5) You can create art and beauty on a computer.
6) Computers can change your life for the better.
That was the old-school manifesto. Now it's a new world. The Internet has gone supernova, and in the 1997 hacker underground, the way of the masters is an obscure art. Back in the day, you had to be a programmer before you could be a hacker. One navigated the Net with arcane UNIX text commands, not a point-and-click Web browser with graphic interface. Also, target systems were fewer and more worthy. Five years ago, the Net was still primarily the domain of the military and academia, whose networks had been hammered on for years and understood the concept of security. You had to be good to get in. Now, commercial companies are flocking to the Net like lemmings, clueless to the risks of the plunge they're taking. Cyberspace is riddled with insecure systems, and bulletin boards where 25 years of hacker techniques and programs are free for the taking.

"There are now many more hackers than there used to be," says Merc. "Everyone on the Internet these days seems to consider themselves a hacker of some sorts." You can practically see the "god hacker" sniffing in the air, but he has a point. Fourteen-year-old kids who would have been throwing eggs at the schoolbus five years ago are now hacking just for the malicious thrill, using tools they don't understand. Most of them have no respect for the how of hacking, and care little for the why. The golden days of the NSA and groups like it are gone forever, their members scattered, either gone straight or walking the underground alone.

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