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               Chapter 3 -- The American Connection




     US forces give the nod

     It's a setback for your country


   -- from `US Forces', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil1


   Force had a secret. The Parmaster wanted it.


   Like most hackers, The Parmaster didn't just want the secret, he

   needed it. He was in that peculiar state attained by real hackers

   where they will do just about anything to obtain a certain piece of

   information. He was obsessed.


   Of course, it wasn't the first time The Parmaster craved a juicy piece

   of information. Both he and Force knew all about infatuation. That's

   how it worked with real hackers. They didn't just fancy a titbit here

   and there. Once they knew information about a particular system was

   available, that there was a hidden entrance, they chased it down

   relentlessly. So that was exactly what Par was doing. Chasing Force

   endlessly, until he got what he wanted.


   It began innocently enough as idle conversation between two giants in

   the computer underground in the first half of 1988. Force, the

   well-known Australian hacker who ran the exclusive Realm BBS in

   Melbourne, sat chatting with Par, the American master of X.25

   networks, in Germany. Neither of them was physically in Germany, but

   Altos was.


   Altos Computer Systems in Hamburg ran a conference feature called

   Altos Chat on one of its machines. You could call up from anywhere on

   the X.25 data communications network, and the company's computer would

   let you connect. Once connected, with a few brief keystrokes, the

   German machine would drop you into a real-time, on-screen talk session

   with anyone else who happened to be on-line. While the rest of the

   company's computer system grunted and toiled with everyday labours,

   this corner of the machine was reserved for live on-line chatting. For

   free. It was like an early form of the Internet Relay Chat. The

   company probably hadn't meant to become the world's most prestigious

   hacker hang-out, but it soon ended up doing so.


   Altos was the first significant international live chat channel, and

   for most hackers it was an amazing thing. The good hackers had cruised

   through lots of computer networks around the world. Sometimes they

   bumped into one another on-line and exchanged the latest gossip.

   Occasionally, they logged into overseas BBSes, where they posted

   messages. But Altos was different. While underground BBSes had a

   tendency to simply disappear one day, gone forever, Altos was always

   there. It was live. Instantaneous communications with a dozen other

   hackers from all sorts of exotic places. Italy. Canada. France.

   England. Israel. The US. And all these people not only shared an

   interest in computer networks but also a flagrant contempt for

   authority of any type. Instant, real-time penpals--with attitude.


   However, Altos was more exclusive than the average underground BBS.

   Wanna-be hackers had trouble getting into it because of the way X.25