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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   into it.

  

   Minerva was special for a number of reasons. Although it was in

   Sydney, the phone number to its entry computer, called an X.25 pad,

   was a free call. At the time Mendax lived in Emerald, a country town

   on the outskirts of Melbourne. A call to most Melbourne numbers

   incurred a long-distance charge, thus ruling out options such as the

   Melbourne University dial-out for breaking into international computer

   systems.

  

   Emerald was hardly Emerald City. For a clever sixteen-year-old boy,

   the place was dead boring. Mendax lived there with his mother; Emerald

   was merely a stopping point, one of dozens, as his mother shuttled her

   child around the continent trying to escape from a psychopathic former

   de facto. The house was an emergency refuge for families on the run.

   It was safe and so, for a time, Mendax and his exhausted family

   stopped to rest before tearing off again in search of a new place to

   hide.

  

   Sometimes Mendax went to school. Often he didn't. The school system

   didn't hold much interest for him. It didn't feed his mind the way

   Minerva would. They Sydney computer system was a far more interesting

   place to muck around in than the rural high school.

  

   Minerva was a Prime computer, and Primes were in. Force, one of the

   more respected hackers in 1987-88 in the Australian computer

   underground, specialised in Primos, the special operating system used

   on Prime computers. He wrote his own programs--potent hacking tools

   which provided current usernames and passwords--and made the systems

   fashionable in the computer underground.

  

   Prime computers were big and expensive and no hacker could afford one,

   so being able to access the speed and computational grunt of a system

   like Minerva was valuable for running a hacker's own programs. For

   example, a network scanner, a program which gathered the addresses of

   computers on the X.25 network which would be targets for future

   hacking adventures, ate up computing resources. But a huge machine

   like Minerva could handle that sort of program with ease. Minerva also

   allowed users to connect to other computer systems on the X.25 network

   around the world. Better still, Minerva had a BASIC interpreter on it.

   This allowed people to write programs in the BASIC programming

   language--by far the most popular language at the time--and make them

   run on Minerva. You didn't have to be a Primos fanatic, like Force, to

   write and execute a program on the OTC computer. Minerva suited Mendax

   very well.

  

   The OTC system had other benefits. Most major Australian corporations

   had accounts on the system. Breaking into an account requires a

   username and password; find the username and you have solved half the

   equation. Minerva account names were easy picking. Each one was

   composed of three letters followed by three numbers, a system which

   could have been difficult to crack except for the choice of those

   letters and numbers. The first three letters were almost always

   obvious acronyms for the company. For example, the ANZ Bank had

   accounts named ANZ001, ANZ002 and ANZ002. The numbers followed the

   same pattern for most companies. BHP001. CRA001. NAB001. Even OTC007.

   Anyone with the IQ of a desk lamp could guess at least a few account

   names on Minerva. Passwords were a bit tougher to come by, but Mendax

   had some ideas for that. He was going to have a crack at social

   engineering. Social engineering means smooth-talking someone in a