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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   Mendax had seen many flat structures before, but never on this scale.

   It was bizarre. In hierarchical structures, it is easier to tell where

   the most important computer systems--and information--are kept. But

   this structure, where every system was virtually equal, was going to

   make it considerably more difficult for the hackers to navigate their

   way through the network. Who could tell whether a system housed the

   Christmas party invite list or the secret designs for a new NorTel



   The NorTel network was firewalled, which meant that there was

   virtually no access from the outside world. Mendax reckoned that this

   made it more vulnerable to hackers who managed to get in through

   dial-ups. It appeared that security on the NorTel network was

   relatively relaxed since it was virtually impossible to break in

   through the Internet. By sneaking in the backdoor, the hackers found

   themselves able to raid all sorts of NorTel sites, from St Kilda Road

   in Melbourne to the corporation's headquarters in Toronto.


   It was fantastic, this huge, trusting network of computer sites at

   their fingertips, and the young hackers were elated with the

   anticipation of exploration. One of them described it as being `like a

   shipwrecked man washed ashore on a Tahitian island populated by 11000

   virgins, just ripe for the picking'.


   They found a YP, or yellow pages, database linked to 400 of the

   computer sites. These 400 sites were dependent on this YP database for

   their password files. Mendax managed to get root on the YP database,

   which gave him instant control over 400 computer systems. Groovy.


   One system was home to a senior NorTel computer security administrator

   and Mendax promptly headed off to check out his mailbox. The contents

   made him laugh.


   A letter from the Australian office said that Australia's Telecom

   wanted access to CORWAN, NorTel's corporate wide area network. Access

   would involve linking CORWAN and a small Telecom network. This seemed

   reasonable enough since Telecom did business with NorTel and staff

   were communicating all the time.


   The Canadian security admin had written back turning down the request

   because there were too many hackers in the Telecom network.


   Too many hackers in Telecom? Now that was funny. Here was a hacker

   reading the sensitive mail of NorTel's computer security expert who

   reckoned Telecom's network was too exposed. In fact, Mendax had

   penetrated Telecom's systems from NorTel's CORWAN, not the other way



   Perhaps to prove the point, Mendax decided to crack passwords to the

   NorTel system. He collected 1003 password files from the NorTel sites,

   pulled up his password cracking program, THC, and started hunting

   around the network for some spare computers to do the job for him. He

   located a collection of 40 Sun computers, probably housed in Canada,

   and set up his program on them.


   THC ran very fast on those Sun4s. The program used a 60000 word

   dictionary borrowed from someone in the US army who had done a thesis

   on cryptography and password cracking. It also relied on `a

   particularly nice fast-crypt algorithm' being developed by a