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            Chapter 8 -- The International Subversives

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     All around

     an eerie sound

    

   -- from `Maralinga', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil

  

   Prime Suspect rang Mendax, offering an adventure. He had discovered a

   strange system called NMELH1 (pronounced N-Melly-H-1) and it was time

   to go exploring. He read off the dial-up numbers, found in a list of

   modem phone numbers on another hacked system.

  

   Mendax looked at the scrap of paper in his hand, thinking about the

   name of the computer system.

  

   The `N' stood for Northern Telecom, a Canadian company with annual

   sales of $8 billion. NorTel, as the company was known, sold thousands

   of highly sophisticated switches and other telephone exchange

   equipment to some of the world's largest phone companies. The `Melly'

   undoubtedly referred to the fact that the system was in Melbourne. As

   for the `H-1', well, that was anyone's guess, but Mendax figured it

   probably stood for `host-1'--meaning computer site number one.

  

   Prime Suspect had stirred Mendax's interest. Mendax had spent hours

   experimenting with commands inside the computers which controlled

   telephone exchanges. In the end, those forays were all just

   guesswork--trial and error learning, at considerable risk of

   discovery. Unlike making a mistake inside a single computer,

   mis-guessing a command inside a telephone exchange in downtown Sydney

   or Melbourne could take down a whole prefix--10000 or more phone

   lines--and cause instant havoc.

  

   This was exactly what the International Subversives didn't want to do.

   The three IS hackers--Mendax, Prime Suspect and Trax--had seen what

   happened to the visible members of the computer underground in England

   and in Australia. The IS hackers had three very good reasons to keep

   their activities quiet.

  

   Phoenix. Nom. And Electron.

  

   But, Mendax thought, what if you could learn about how to manipulate a

   million-dollar telephone exchange by reading

   the manufacturer's technical documentation? How high was

   the chance that those documents, which weren't available to the

   public, were stored inside NorTel's computer network?

   

   Better still, what if he could find NorTel's original source code--the

   software designed to control specific telephone switches, such as the

   DMS-100 model. That code might be sitting on a computer hooked into

   the worldwide NorTel network. A hacker with access could insert his

   own backdoor--a hidden security flaw--before the company sent out

   software to its customers.

  

   With a good technical understanding of how NorTel's equipment worked,

   combined with a backdoor installed in every piece of software shipped

   with a particular product, you could have control over every new