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   unlike Electron's talks with Phoenix, conversations with Erik weren't

   only about hacking. They chatted about life, about what Australia was

   like, about girls, about what was in the newspaper that day. It was

   easy to talk to Erik. He had a big ego, like most hackers, but it was

   inoffensive, largely couched in his self-effacing humour.

  

   Phoenix often made Erik laugh. Like the time he got Clifford Stoll, an

   astronomer, who wrote The Cuckoo's Egg. The book described his pursuit

   of a German hacker who had broken into the computer system Stoll

   managed at Lawrence Berkeley Labs near San Francisco. The hacker had

   been part of the same hacking ring as Pengo. Stoll took a hard line on

   hacking, a position which did not win him popularity in the

   underground. Both Phoenix and Erik had read Stoll's book, and one day

   they were sitting around chatting about it.

  

   `You know, it's really stupid that Cliffy put his email address in his

   book,' Phoenix said. `Hmm, why don't I go check?'

  

   Sure enough, Phoenix called Erik back about a day later. `Well, I got

   root on Cliffy's machine,' he began slowly, then he burst out

   laughing. `And I changed the message of the day. Now it reads, "It

   looks like the Cuckoo's got egg on his face"!'

  

   It was uproariously funny. Stoll, the most famous hacker-catcher in

   the world, had been japed! It was the funniest thing Erik had heard in

   weeks.

  

   But it was not nearly so amusing as what Erik told Phoenix later about

   the New York Times. The paper had published an article on 19 March

   suggesting a hacker had written some sort of virus or worm which was

   breaking into dozens of computers.

  

   `Listen to this,' Erik had said, reading Phoenix the lead paragraph,

   `"A computer intruder has written a program that has entered dozens of

   computers in a nationwide network in recent weeks, automatically

   stealing electronic documents containing users' passwords and erasing

   files to help conceal itself."'

  

   Phoenix was falling off his chair he was laughing so hard. A program?

   Which was automatically doing this? No. It wasn't an automated

   program, it was the Australians! It was the Realm hackers! God, this

   was funny.

  

   `Wait--there's more! It says, "Another rogue program shows a

   widespread vulnerability". I laughed my ass off,' Erik said,

   struggling to get the words out.

  

   `A rogue program! Who wrote the article?'

  

   `A John Markoff,' Erik answered, wiping his eyes. `I called him up.'

  

   `You did? What did you say?' Phoenix tried to gather himself together.

  

   `"John," I said, "You know that article you wrote on page 12 of the

   Times? It's wrong! There's no rogue program attacking the Internet."

   He goes, "What is it then?" "It's not a virus or a worm," I said.

   "It's PEOPLE."'

  

   Erik started laughing uncontrollably again.