Golden age of the nefarious hacker.

I’ve been listening to Cory Doctorow reading Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown. It’s a non-fiction work that at its core describes the actions and environment that lead up to the huge crackdown by the Secret Service, FBI, and the telco companies against the “hacker threat” during the early 90’s. The work takes a fascinating look at the entire development of the telephone industry and the mentality that lead up to the weaknesses and flaws that allowed crackers and phreakers to take advantage of the system–and the subsequent draconian crackdown.

Listening to it really reminded me of early computer experience. I’ve been working with computers since the Apple II around the mid-80’s, but I didn’t get a modem until about 1994, when the Golden Age was on its decline. Bulletin Board Services (BBS) were still around and I played around on them quite a bit, bit the commercial interests were exploding: AOL, Compuserve, etc. I was a hacker in the sense I loved to play around with systems, tweaking my system, figuring out how to modify programs and write my own scripts, and find out as much information as I could. So while I never became hardcore, I did find a lot of interesting security info, some things like this:

<> The Legion of Doom/Hackers Technical Journal

Information like these “journals” were passed around FIDO and BITNet and the BBS file archives. I remember scanning UUnet and piecing together binary files, and spending ridiculous hours at night with my computer dialed up to remote systems, downloading text files and programs and other stuffs. Then my wife and I discovered things like IRC and I started Web scripting, and I stopped spending as much time learning about cracking and the computer underground. (Although as late at 2001 I was still keeping tabs on the goings-on of groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and L0pht.

In some ways I wish I had been more hardcore and not just a putterer–I might have a comfy high paying corporate security gig right now. 🙂 But this is OK too, being a bit more eclectic and diversified. But boy, does listening to The Hacker Crackdown bring back some memories.