Chapter 1-1
Hacker Crackdown

On January 15, 1990, AT&T's long-distance telephone switching system crashed.

This was a strange, dire, huge event.  Sixty thousand people lost
their telephone service completely.  During the nine long hours
of frantic effort that it took to restore service, some seventy million
telephone calls went uncompleted.

Losses of service, known as "outages" in the telco trade,
are a known and accepted hazard of the telephone business.
Hurricanes hit, and phone cables get snapped by the thousands.
Earthquakes wrench through buried fiber-optic lines.
Switching stations catch fire and burn to the ground.
These things do happen.  There are contingency plans for them,
and decades of experience in dealing with them.
But the Crash of January 15 was unprecedented.
It was unbelievably huge, and it occurred for
no apparent physical reason.

The crash started  on a Monday afternoon in a single
switching-station in Manhattan.  But, unlike any merely
physical damage, it spread and spread.  Station after
station across America collapsed in a chain reaction,
until fully half of AT&T's network had gone haywire
and the remaining half was hard-put to handle the overflow.

Within nine hours, AT&T software engineers more or less
understood what had caused the crash.  Replicating the
problem exactly, poring over software line by line,
took them a couple of weeks.  But because it was hard
to understand technically, the full truth of the matter
and its implications were not widely and thoroughly aired
and explained.  The root cause of the crash remained obscure,
surrounded by rumor and fear.

The crash was a grave corporate embarrassment.
The "culprit" was a bug in AT&T's own software--not the
sort of admission the telecommunications giant wanted
to make, especially in the face of increasing competition.
Still, the truth WAS told, in the baffling technical terms
necessary to explain it.

Somehow the explanation failed to persuade
American law enforcement officials and even telephone
corporate security personnel.  These people were not
technical experts or software wizards, and they had their
own suspicions about the cause of this disaster.

The police and telco security had important sources
of information denied to mere software engineers.
They had informants in the computer underground and
years of experience in dealing with high-tech rascality
that seemed to grow ever more sophisticated.
For years they had been expecting a direct and
savage attack against the American national telephone system.
And with the Crash of January 15--the first month of a
new, high-tech decade--their predictions, fears,
and suspicions seemed at last to have entered the real world.
A world where the telephone system had not merely crashed,
but, quite likely, BEEN crashed--by "hackers."

The  crash created a large dark cloud of suspicion
that would color certain people's assumptions and actions
for months.  The fact that it took place in the realm of
software was suspicious on its face.  The fact that it
occurred on Martin Luther King Day, still the most
politically touchy of American holidays, made it more
suspicious yet.

The  Crash of January 15  gave the Hacker Crackdown
its sense of edge and its sweaty urgency.  It made people,
powerful people in positions of public authority,
willing to believe the worst.  And, most fatally,
it helped to give investigators a willingness
to take extreme measures and the determination
to preserve almost total secrecy.

An obscure software fault in an aging switching system
in New York was to lead to a chain reaction of legal
and constitutional trouble all across the country.