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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   Australian hacking community. Soon they had drawn a tight circle

   around themselves. They talked only to each other.

  

   Watching the Realm hackers go down hadn't deterred the next generation

   of hackers. It had only driven them further underground.

  

   In the spring of 1991, Prime Suspect and Mendax began a race to get

   root on the US Department of Defense's Network Information Center

   (NIC) computer--potentially the most important computer on the

   Internet.

  

   As both hackers chatted amiably on-line one night, on a Melbourne

   University computer, Prime Suspect worked quietly in another screen to

   penetrate ns.nic.ddn.mil, a US Department of Defense system closely

   linked to NIC. He believed the sister system and NIC might `trust'

   each other--a trust he could exploit to get into NIC. And NIC did

   everything.

  

   NIC assigned domain names--the `.com' or `.net' at the end of an email

   address--for the entire Internet. NIC also controlled the US

   military's own internal defence data network, known as MILNET.

  

   NIC also published the communication protocol standards for all of the

   Internet. Called RFCs (Request for Comments), these technical

   specifications allowed one computer on the Internet to talk to

   another. The Defense Data Network Security Bulletins, the US

   Department of Defense's equivalent of CERT advisories, came from the

   NIC machine.

  

   Perhaps most importantly, NIC controlled the reverse look-up service

   on the Internet. Whenever someone connects to another site across the

   Internet, he or she typically types in the site name--say,

   ariel.unimelb.edu.au at the University of Melbourne. The computer then

   translates the alphabetical name into a numerical address--the IP

   address--in this case 128.250.20.3. All the computers on the Internet

   need this IP address to relay the packets of data onto the final

   destination computer. NIC decided how Internet computers would

   translate the alphabetical name into an IP address, and vice versa.

  

   If you controlled NIC, you had phenomenal power on the Internet. You

   could, for example, simply make Australia disappear. Or you could turn

   it into Brazil. By pointing all Internet addresses ending in

   `.au'--the designation for sites in Australia--to Brazil, you could

   cut Australia's part of the Internet off from the rest of the world

   and send all Australian Internet traffic to Brazil. In fact, by

   changing the delegation of all the domain names, you could virtually

   stop the flow of information between all the countries on the

   Internet.

  

   The only way someone could circumvent this power was by typing in the

   full numerical IP address instead of a proper alphabetical address.

   But few people knew the up-to-twelve-digit IP equivalent of their

   alphabetical addresses, and fewer still actually used them.

  

   Controlling NIC offered other benefits as well. Control NIC, and you

   owned a virtual pass-key into any computer on the Internet which

   `trusted' another. And most machines trust at least one other system.

  

   Whenever one computer connects to another across the Net, both

   machines go through a special meet-and-greet process. The receiving