Preaks vs. Administrators

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 prestigiousareas, and the sex-ridden slums. It has the upstanding citizens, and it hasthe criminals. On the Net, crime is more abundant than in a large city,though, mainly because of the difficulties in tracking and prosecutingoffenders. Even from its beginnings, the Internet has always been abattlefield between phreaks and administrators. The Internet hasn’t always been a public forum.

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In fact, the Internet has beenaround for years. The Internet is just a new fad (“The More I Learn” A1). TheInternet originally began as DARPANET, a government-created network, which wasdesigned for defense communications. The Net structure is such that it couldsurvive a nuclear war (“Internet History”). The creation of the Net can not beblamed for the existence of hackers though, hackers are older than the Netitself, but the Net is the largest ‘hacker haven’ today (Spencer, “HackingMcDonalds” 6).

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 millionusers using four million sites worldwide. Estimates rate the growth of the Netanywhere from ten to fifteen percent per month (Spencer, “Hacking McDonalds”6). 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 (“Internet History”). Although some of the original universities have droppedoff the Net for various reasons, every major university in the United States,and now, most others in the world, have a connection to the Internet (Quittner61). Although it isn’t easy for an individual to get a direct connection to the Net,many private institutions are getting connections. This is mainly due to thefact that in order to support the very high speed of the Net, a fast computeris needed and a fast connection.

A fast computer can cost in the tens ofthousands of dollars, at least, and a fast connection can cost twenty thousand dollars or more, followed by a few thousand dollars a year. Individuals can still get on the Net through these private institutions. The privateinstitution spoon-feeds the Net to the slower computers over their slowerconnection lines (Spencer, “Stranglehold” 8). The Internet began very high-class, due to the fact that only superintelligentcollege students and professors could access it. The discussions tended tostay intellectual, with very little, if any, disturbance (“Internet History”).

However, relatively recent changes in the availability of the Net have changedthat atmosphere. Now, almost anyone can access the Internet. Internet accessis offered by every major online service (Himowitz A1). The fact that themajor online services charge for their use keeps many people away from them. Those people simply turn to public dial-ups, which are free connections offeredby universities that are available to the general public (Spencer, “Know YourTerritory” 27). 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 ResourceExplosion, the amount of information circulating the Internet has increasedmore than proportionately with the number of users (Spencer, “HackingMcDonalds” 6). Of all the other factors contributing to the large percent of online crimes,perhaps the most influential is the design structure of the Internet. Expertsagree that the underlying structure with no central hub, where each computer isequally powerful, gives unchecked power to the undeserving (Spencer, “Stranglehold” 8).

The design also makes controlling the frequency of break-ins almost impossibleas well. Both politicians and so-called ‘experts’ believe the Internet as awhole will be regulated in the next five years. Hackers disagree, using thearguments that the Internet was designed to be uncontrollable, that the basicstructure doesn’t support regulation (Spencer, “Stranglehold” 8). I mustagree. In a network run by its users, which is designed to be impervious toattack, not even the government has much muscle there. In fact, the Internet is one of the few places that the government has littlepower.

Because the Net is international, any regulations forced upon domesticcomputer users can be circumvented by routing through an overseas computer(Savage). The government doesn’t have the power to completely shut down theNet. 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 (Spencer, “Hacking McDonalds” 6). To ease of adding something to the Net is also a factor preventing the totalregulation of the Net. A new site can be added to the Net in a matter ofseconds, and can be removed just as quickly.

It takes authorities considerabletime to trace a connection back to it’s physical address, and if it disappears,it makes tracking it all that more difficult (FtS, “Avoiding”). Once a resource becomes widespread, removing it from the Internet is almostimpossible. Each site that has the resource must be found and the resourceremoved. If even one site has the resource, it can spread to cover the Neteasily (Spencer, “Stranglehold” 8). With all these things leaving the Internet open to phreaking, is it any wonderthat so many phreaks exist?

The United States Government has all of itscomputer systems on the Internet, yet many universities have better securitythan government computers containing confidential information (Spencer, “Know”27). A majority of break-ins occur in university computers, mainly because ofthe stiff penalties for being caught in a government computer (FtS,”Avoiding”). Over 10,000 break-ins that have occurred in recent months areblamed on The Posse, a group of young phreaks (Quittner 61). If break-ins aredone on universities, then how secure are the government’s secrets?

Both hackers and phreakers tend to stay away from heavy-duty governmenthacking, though. Exploring innocently and generally harmless pranks are donethe most, and many hacks/phreaks don’t limit themselves to the Internet, oreven to a computer (Spencer, “Hacking McDonalds” 6). The next step up for agood computer hack/phreak is to ‘field phreaking’, which covers many variousactivities, but mainly using telephone company boxes to make free calls andother various things, but most field phreaking is somehow technically relatedto their computer skills (FtS, “Field Phreaking”). 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 brokeinto their voice mail box and changed the message to a “‘perverted’ sexually suggestive message” (UPI). More recently, a hacker obtained tens of thousands of passwords using a Trojanhorse program, which records the first 128 keystrokes when someone connects tothe Internet. These 128 keystrokes normally contain the user’s name and theirpassword (AP). Kevin Lee Poulsen was featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1991 for chargesincluding tampering with the telephone network and stealing governmentdocuments, all via computer.

Because of this appearance, he was captured bytwo bag-boys in a Hughes Supermarket who saw his picture on the show (Fine 62). Tonya Harding’s E-mail in the Olympic computers was “open to the public sinceshe never changed her password from it’s default, 1112, which corresponds toher birthday, December 11th” (Nevius). Mark Abene, whom many believe to be the greatest phreak ever, who is knownonline as Phiber Optik, was sentenced to one year in prison, a stiff punishmentfor his charge of breaking into a telephone network (Deadkat).

Although the job is hard, there are groups devoted to stopping violationscommitted online. One such group, the Computer Emergency Response Team, orCERT, a government-funded team at Carnegie-Mellon University gives advisoriesand support to systems that have been broken into or are at risk of beingbroken into (“Internet History”). Another method of preventing break-ins are new security measures. Almost every day, another operating system or communication protocol comes 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 andthe game continues (FtS, “Avoiding”). Stopping computer hacking is probably impossible, although undoubtedly stoppinghacking altogether is impossible. Why? Because many professionals spendmillions of dollars to prevent break-ins, but smaller systems don’t spendanything. Free security will never be able to hold everyone out. FtSProductions said it best in “Avoiding Detection”: “Free Security—You get whatyou pay for. “

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