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Computers, Hackers, And Phreaks

The Internet is a wondrous place. Practically anything you could ever want is available on the Net. It’s like a big city, it has the highly prestigious areas, and the sex-ridden slums (Mitchell). It has the upstanding citizens, and it has the criminals. On the Net, crime is more abundant than in a large city, though, mainly because of the difficulties in tracking and prosecuting offenders. Even from its beginnings, the Internet has always been a battlefield between phreaks and administrators. The Internet hasn’t always been a public forum.

In fact, the Internet has een around for years. The Internet is just a new fad (Larson). The Internet originally began as DARPANET, a government-created network, which was designed for defense communications. The Net structure is such that it could survive a nuclear war (Mitchell). The creation of the Net can not be blamed for the existence of hackers though, hackers are older than the Net itself, but the Net is the largest ‘hacker haven’ today (Spencer). The growth of the Net since its creation has been nothing less than astounding.

In the 25-plus years since its creation, the Net now has over thirty million users using four million sites world wide. Estimates rate the growth of the Net anywhere from ten to fifteen percent per month (Spencer). The Internet was first released to major universities in the United States of America. Since then, the universities have offered connections to small business, service providers, and even to the individual user. Sometimes these connections cost a fortune, and sometimes they can be obtained for free (Larson).

Although some of the original universities have dropped off the Net for various easons, every major university in the United States, and now, most others in the world, have a connection to the Internet (Quittner). Although it isn’t easy for an individual to get a direct connection to the Net, many private institutions are getting direct access. This is mainly due to the fact that in order to support the very high speed of the Net, a fast computer is needed and a fast connection. A fast computer can cost in the thousands of dollars, at least, and a quick connection can cost hundreds dollars or more.

Individuals can still get on the Net through these private institutions. The private institution spoon-feeds the Net to the slower computers over their delayed connection lines (Jones). The Internet began very high-class, due to the fact that only super intelligent college students and professors could access it. The discussions tended to stay intellectual, with very little, if any, disturbance (Larson). However, relatively recent changes in the availability of the Net have changed that atmosphere.

Now, almost anyone can access the Internet. Internet access is offered by every major online service (Himowitz). The fact that the major online services harge for their use keeps many people away from them. Those people simply turn to public dial-ups, which are free connections offered by universities that are available to the general public (Spencer). Because accessing the Net is easier, and a lot more people are doing it, naturally the amount of information on the Net is increasing at the same rate, if not faster.

In what is often referred to by Net users as the Resource Explosion, the amount of information circulating the Internet has increased with the number of users (Jones). Of all the other factors contributing to the large percent of online rimes, perhaps the most influential is the design structure of the Internet. Experts agree that the underlying structure with no central hub, where each computer is equally powerful, gives unchecked power to the undeserving (Miller). The design also makes controlling the frequency of break-ins almost impossible as well.

Both politicians and so-called ‘experts’ believe the Internet as a whole will be regulated in the next five years. Hackers disagree, using the arguments that the Internet was designed to be uncontrollable, that the basic structure doesn’t support regulation (Banja). In a network run by its users, which is designed to be impervious to attack, not even the government has much muscle there. In fact, the Internet is one of the few places that the government has little power.

Because the Net is international, any regulations forced upon domestic computer users can be circumvented by routing through an overseas computer(Savage). The government doesn’t have the power to completely shut down the Net. In order to do that, every one of the millions of computers on the Net must be disconnected. Even if only two remain, the Net will continue to exist (Miller). The ease of adding something to the Net is also a factor preventing the total regulation of the Net. A new site can be added to the Net in a matter of seconds, and can be removed just as quickly.

It takes authorities considerable time to trace a connection back to it’s physical address, and if it disappears, it makes tracking it all that more difficult. (Johnson) Once a resource becomes widespread, removing it from the Internet is almost impossible. Each site that has the resource must be found and the resources moved. If even one site has the resource, it can spread to cover the Net easily (Himowitz). Some computer criminals go by the term Phreaks, or Hackers. With all these things leaving the Internet open to phreaking, is it any wonder that so many computer law breakers exist?

The United States government has all of its computer systems on the Internet, yet many universities have better security than the government computers containing confidential information (Spencer). A majority of break-ins occur in university computers, mainly because of the stiff penalties for being caught in a government computer (Fisher). Over 10,000 break-ins that have occurred in recent months are lamed on The Posse, a group of young phreaks (Quittner). If break-ins are done on universities, then how secure are the government’s secrets?

Both hackers and phreakers tend to stay away from heavy-duty government hacking, though. Exploring innocently and generally harmless pranks are done the most, and many hacks/phreaks don’t limit themselves to the Internet, or even to a computer (Spencer). The next step up for a good computer hack/phreak is to ‘field phreaking’, which covers many various activities, but mainly using telephone company boxes to make free calls and other various things, but most field hreaking is somehow technically related to their computer skills (Jackson). Field phreaking does happen, and it does happen quite a lot.

For example, when two bachelors rented a billboard in hopes of finding a mate, a phreak broke into their voice mail box and changed the message to a “‘perverted’ sexually suggestive message” (Jones) More recently, a hacker obtained tens of thousands of passwords using a Trojan horse program, which records the first 128 keystrokes when someone connects to the Internet. These 128 keystrokes normally contain the user’s name and their password (Himowitz). Kevin Lee Poulsen was featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1991 for charges including tampering with the telephone network and stealing government documents, all via computer.

Because of this appearance, he was captured by two bag-boys in a Hughes Supermarket who saw his picture on the show (Fisher). Tonya Harding’s E-mail in the Olympic computers was “open to the public since she never changed her password from it’s default, 1112, which corresponds to her birthday, December 11th” (Nevius). Mark Abene, whom many believe to be the greatest phreak ever, who is known online as Phiber Optik, was sentenced to one ear in prison, a stiff punishment for his charge of breaking into a telephone network (Johnson).

Although the job is hard, there are groups devoted to stopping violations committed online. One such group, the Computer Emergency Response Team, or CERT, a government-funded team at Carnegie-Mellon University gives advisories and support to systems that have been broken into or are at risk of being broken into (Mitchell). Another method of preventing break-ins are new security measures. Almost every day, another operating system or communication protocol omes out which covers holes found in previous copies of the software.

This is good as a temporary solution, but as soon as the new software comes out, a new hole is found and the game continues (Larson). Stopping computer hacking is probably impossible, although undoubtedly stopping hacking altogether is impossible. Why? Because many professionals spend millions of dollars to prevent break-ins, but smaller systems don’t spend anything. Free security will never be able to hold everyone out. FtS Productions said it best in “Avoiding Detection”: “Free SecurityYou get what you pay for. “

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