Page 226

Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.



                  Chapter 9 -- Operation Weather




     The world is crashing down on me tonight

     The walls are closing in on me tonight


   -- from `Outbreak of Love' on Earth and Sun and Moon by Midnight Oil


   The AFP was frustrated. A group of hackers were using the Royal

   Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) as a launchpad for hacking

   attacks on Australian companies, research institutes and a series of

   overseas sites.


   Despite their best efforts, the detectives in the AFP's Southern

   Region Computer Crimes Unit hadn't been able to determine who was

   behind the attacks. They suspected it was a small group of

   Melbourne-based hackers who worked together. However, there were so

   much hacker activity at RMIT it was difficult to know for sure. There

   could have been one organised group, or several. Or perhaps there was

   one small group along with a collection of loners who were making

   enough noise to distort the picture.


   Still, it should have been a straightforward operation. The AFP could

   trace hackers in this sort of situation with their hands tied behind

   their backs. Arrange for Telecom to whack a last party recall trace on

   all incoming lines to the RMIT modems. Wait for a hacker to logon,

   then isolate which modem he was using. Clip that modem line and wait

   for Telecom to trace that line back to its point of origin.


   However, things at RMIT were not working that way. The line traces

   began failing, and not just occasionally. All the time.


   Whenever RMIT staff found the hackers on-line, they clipped the lines

   and Telecom began tracking the winding path back to the originating

   phone number. En route, the trail went dead. It was as if the hackers

   knew they were being traced ... almost as if they were manipulating

   the telephone system to defeat the AFP investigation.


   The next generation of hackers seemed to have a new-found

   sophistication which frustrated AFP detectives at every turn. Then, on

   13 October 1990, the AFP got lucky. Perhaps the hackers had been lazy

   that day, or maybe they just had technical problems using their

   traceless phreaking techniques. Prime Suspect couldn't use Trax's

   traceless phreaking method from his home because he was on a

   step-by-step exchange, and sometimes Trax didn't use the technique.

   Whatever the reason, Telecom managed to successfully complete two line

   traces from RMIT and the AFP now had two addresses and two names.

   Prime Suspect and Trax.


   `Hello, Prime Suspect.'


   `Hiya, Mendax. How's tricks?'


   `Good. Did you see that RMIT email? The one in Geoff Huston's

   mailbox?' Mendax walked over to open a window as he spoke. It was

   spring, 1991, and the weather was unseasonably warm.