Chapter 2-8
Hacker Crackdown

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We must now turn our attention to Steve Jackson Games itself,
and explain what SJG was, what it really did, and how it had
managed to attract this particularly odd and virulent kind of trouble.
The reader may recall that this is not the first but the second time
that the company has appeared in this narrative; a Steve Jackson game
called GURPS was a favorite pastime of Atlanta hacker Urvile,
and Urvile's science-fictional gaming notes had been mixed up
promiscuously with notes about his actual computer intrusions.

First, Steve Jackson Games, Inc., was NOT a publisher of "computer games."
SJG published "simulation games," parlor games that were played on paper,
with pencils, and dice, and printed guidebooks full of rules and
statistics tables.  There were no computers involved in the games themselves.
When you bought a Steve Jackson Game, you did not receive any software disks.
What you got was a plastic bag with some cardboard game tokens,
maybe a few maps or a deck of cards.  Most of their products were books.

However, computers WERE deeply involved in the Steve Jackson Games business.
Like almost all modern publishers, Steve Jackson and his fifteen employees
used computers to write text, to keep accounts, and to run the business
generally.  They also used a computer to run their official bulletin board
system for Steve Jackson Games, a board called Illuminati.  On Illuminati,
simulation gamers who happened to own computers and modems could associate,
trade mail, debate the theory and practice of gaming, and keep up with the
company's news and its product announcements.

Illuminati was a modestly popular board, run on a small computer
with limited storage, only one phone-line, and no ties to large-scale
computer networks.  It did, however, have hundreds of users,
many of them dedicated gamers willing to call from out-of-state.

Illuminati was NOT an "underground" board.  It did not feature hints
on computer intrusion, or "anarchy files," or illicitly posted
credit card numbers, or long-distance access codes.
Some of Illuminati's users, however, were members of the Legion of Doom. 
And so was one of Steve Jackson's senior employees--the Mentor.
The Mentor wrote for Phrack, and also ran an underground board,
Phoenix Project--but the Mentor was not a computer professional.
The Mentor was the managing editor of Steve Jackson Games and
a professional game designer by trade.  These LoD members did not
use Illuminati to help their HACKING activities.  They used it to
help their GAME-PLAYING activities--and they were even more dedicated
to simulation gaming than they were to hacking.

"Illuminati" got its name from a card-game that Steve Jackson himself,
the company's founder and sole owner, had invented.  This multi-player
card-game was one of Mr Jackson's best-known, most successful,
most technically innovative products.  "Illuminati" was a game
of paranoiac conspiracy in which various antisocial cults warred
covertly to dominate the world.  "Illuminati" was hilarious,
and great fun to play, involving flying saucers, the CIA, the KGB,
the phone companies, the Ku Klux Klan, the South American Nazis,
the cocaine cartels, the Boy Scouts, and dozens of other splinter groups
from the twisted depths of Mr. Jackson's professionally fervid imagination.
For the uninitiated, any public discussion of the "Illuminati" card-game
sounded, by turns, utterly menacing or completely insane.

And then there was SJG's "Car Wars," in which souped-up armored hot-rods
with rocket-launchers and heavy machine-guns did battle on the American
highways of the future.  The lively Car Wars discussion on the Illuminati
board featured many meticulous, painstaking discussions of the effects
of grenades, land-mines, flamethrowers and napalm.  It sounded like
hacker anarchy files run amuck.

Mr Jackson and his co-workers earned their daily bread by supplying people
with make-believe adventures and weird ideas.  The more far-out, the better.

Simulation gaming is an unusual pastime, but gamers have not
generally had to beg the permission of the Secret Service to exist.
Wargames and role-playing adventures are an old and honored pastime,
much favored by professional military strategists.  Once little-known,
these games are now played by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts
throughout North America, Europe and Japan.  Gaming-books, once restricted
to hobby outlets, now commonly appear in chain-stores like B. Dalton's
and Waldenbooks, and sell vigorously.

Steve Jackson Games, Inc., of Austin, Texas, was a games company
of the middle rank.  In 1989, SJG grossed about a million dollars.
Jackson himself had a good reputation in his industry as a talented
and innovative designer of rather unconventional games, but his company
was something less than a titan of the field--certainly not like the
multimillion-dollar TSR Inc., or Britain's gigantic "Games Workshop."
SJG's Austin headquarters was a modest two-story brick office-suite,
cluttered with phones, photocopiers, fax machines and computers.
It bustled with semi-organized activity and was littered with
glossy promotional brochures and dog-eared science-fiction novels.
Attached to the offices was a large tin-roofed warehouse piled twenty feet
high with cardboard boxes of games and books.  Despite the weird imaginings
that went on within it, the SJG headquarters was quite a quotidian,
everyday sort of place.  It looked like what it was:  a publishers' digs.

Both "Car Wars" and "Illuminati" were well-known, popular games.
But the mainstay of the Jackson organization was their Generic Universal
Role-Playing System, "G.U.R.P.S."  The GURPS system was considered solid
and well-designed, an asset for players.  But perhaps the most popular
feature of the GURPS system was that it allowed gaming-masters to design
scenarios that closely resembled well-known books, movies, and other works
of fantasy.  Jackson had  licensed and adapted works from many science fiction
and fantasy authors.  There was GURPS Conan, GURPS Riverworld,
GURPS Horseclans, GURPS Witch World, names eminently familiar
to science-fiction readers.  And there was GURPS Special Ops,
from the world of espionage fantasy and unconventional warfare.

And then there was GURPS Cyberpunk.

"Cyberpunk" was a term given to certain science fiction writers
who had entered the genre in the 1980s.  "Cyberpunk," as the label implies,
had two general distinguishing features.  First, its writers had a compelling
interest in information technology, an interest closely akin
to science fiction's earlier fascination with space travel.
And second, these writers  were "punks," with all the
distinguishing features that that implies:  Bohemian artiness,
youth run wild, an air of deliberate rebellion, funny clothes and hair,
odd politics, a fondness for abrasive rock and roll; in a word, trouble.

The "cyberpunk" SF writers were a small group of mostly college-educated
white middle-class litterateurs, scattered through the US and Canada.
Only one, Rudy Rucker, a professor of computer science in Silicon Valley,
could rank with even the humblest computer hacker.  But, except for
Professor Rucker, the "cyberpunk" authors were not programmers
or hardware experts; they considered themselves artists
(as, indeed, did Professor Rucker).  However, these writers
all owned computers, and took an intense and public interest
in the social ramifications of the information industry.

The cyberpunks had a strong following among the global generation
that had grown up in a world of computers, multinational networks,
and cable television. Their outlook was considered somewhat morbid,
cynical, and dark, but then again, so was the outlook of their
generational peers.  As that generation matured and increased
in strength and influence, so did the cyberpunks.
As science-fiction writers went, they were doing
fairly well for themselves.  By the late 1980s,
their work had attracted attention from gaming companies,
including Steve Jackson Games, which was planning a cyberpunk
simulation for the flourishing GURPS gaming-system.

The time seemed ripe for such a product, which had already been proven
in the marketplace.  The first games- company out of the gate,
with a product boldly called "Cyberpunk" in defiance of possible
infringement-of-copyright suits, had been an upstart group called
R. Talsorian.  Talsorian's Cyberpunk was a fairly decent game,
but the mechanics of the simulation system left a lot to be desired.
Commercially, however, the game did very well.

The next cyberpunk game had been the even more successful Shadowrun
by FASA Corporation.  The mechanics of this game were fine, but the
scenario was rendered moronic by sappy fantasy elements like elves,
trolls, wizards, and  dragons--all highly ideologically-incorrect,
according to the hard-edged, high-tech standards of cyberpunk science fiction.

Other game designers were champing at the bit.  Prominent among them
was the Mentor, a gentleman who, like most of his friends in the
Legion of Doom, was quite the cyberpunk devotee.  Mentor reasoned
that the time had come for a REAL cyberpunk gaming-book--one that the
princes of computer-mischief in the Legion of Doom could play without
laughing themselves sick.  This book, GURPS Cyberpunk, would reek
of culturally on-line authenticity.

Mentor was particularly well-qualified for this task.
Naturally, he knew far more about computer-intrusion
and digital skullduggery than any previously published
cyberpunk author.  Not only that, but he was good at his work.
A vivid imagination, combined with an instinctive feeling
for the working of systems and, especially, the loopholes
within them, are excellent qualities for a professional game designer.

By March 1st, GURPS Cyberpunk was almost complete, ready to print and ship.
Steve Jackson expected vigorous sales for this item, which, he hoped,
would keep the company financially afloat for several months.
GURPS Cyberpunk, like the other GURPS "modules," was not a "game"
like a Monopoly set, but a BOOK:  a bound paperback book the size
of a glossy magazine, with a slick color cover, and pages full of text,
illustrations, tables and footnotes.  It was advertised as a game,
and was used as an aid to game-playing, but it was a book,
with an ISBN number, published in Texas, copyrighted,
and sold in bookstores.

And now, that book, stored on a computer, had gone out the door
in the custody of the Secret Service.

The day after the raid, Steve Jackson visited the local Secret Service
headquarters with a lawyer in tow.  There he confronted Tim Foley
(still in Austin at that time) and demanded his book back.  But there
was trouble.  GURPS Cyberpunk, alleged a Secret Service agent to astonished
businessman Steve Jackson, was "a manual for computer crime."

"It's science fiction," Jackson said.

"No, this is real."

This statement was repeated several times, by several agents.
Jackson's ominously accurate game had passed from pure,
obscure, small-scale fantasy into the impure, highly publicized,
large-scale fantasy of the Hacker Crackdown.

No mention was made of the real reason for the search.
According to their search warrant, the raiders had expected
to find the E911 Document stored on Jackson's bulletin board system.
But that warrant was sealed; a procedure that most law enforcement agencies
will use only when lives are demonstrably in danger.  The raiders'
true motives were not discovered until the Jackson search-warrant
was unsealed by his lawyers, many months later.  The Secret Service,
and the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force,
said absolutely nothing to Steve Jackson about any threat
to the police 911 System.  They said nothing about the Atlanta Three,
nothing about Phrack or Knight Lightning, nothing about Terminus.

Jackson was left to believe that his computers had been seized because
he intended to publish a science fiction book that law enforcement
considered too dangerous to see print.

This misconception was repeated again and again, for months,
to an ever-widening public audience.  It was not the truth of the case;
but as months passed, and this misconception was publicly printed again
and again, it became one of the few publicly known "facts" about
the mysterious Hacker Crackdown.  The Secret Service had seized a computer
to stop the publication of a cyberpunk science fiction book.

The second section of this book, "The Digital Underground,"
is almost finished now.  We have become acquainted with all
the major figures of this case who actually belong to the
underground milieu of computer intrusion.  We have some idea
of their history, their motives, their general modus operandi.
We now know, I hope, who they are, where they came from,
and more or less what they want.  In the next section of this book,
"Law and Order," we will leave this milieu and directly enter the
world of America's computer-crime police.

At this point, however, I have another figure to introduce:  myself.

My name is Bruce Sterling.  I live in Austin, Texas, where I am
a science fiction writer by trade:  specifically, a CYBERPUNK
science fiction writer.

Like my "cyberpunk" colleagues in the U.S. and Canada,
I've never been entirely happy with this literary label--
especially after it became a synonym for computer criminal.
But I did once edit a book of stories by my colleagues,
called  Mirrorshades:  the Cyberpunk Anthology, and I've
long been a writer of literary-critical cyberpunk manifestos.
I am not a "hacker" of any description, though I do have readers
in the digital underground.

When the Steve Jackson Games seizure occurred, I naturally took
an intense interest.  If "cyberpunk" books were being banned
by federal police in my own home town, I reasonably wondered
whether I myself might be next.  Would my computer be seized
by the Secret Service?  At the time, I was in possession
of an aging Apple IIe without so much as a hard disk.
If I were to be raided as an author of computer-crime manuals,
the loss of my feeble word-processor would likely provoke more
snickers than sympathy.

I'd known Steve Jackson for many years.  We knew
one another as colleagues, for we frequented
the same local science-fiction conventions.
I'd played Jackson games, and recognized his cleverness;
but he certainly had never struck me as a potential mastermind
of computer crime.

I also knew a little about computer bulletin-board systems.
In the mid-1980s I had taken an active role in an Austin board
called "SMOF-BBS," one of the first boards dedicated to science fiction.
I had a modem, and on occasion I'd logged on to Illuminati,
which always looked entertainly wacky, but certainly harmless enough.

At the time of the Jackson seizure, I had no experience
whatsoever with underground boards.  But I knew that no one
on Illuminati talked about breaking into systems illegally,
or about robbing phone companies.  Illuminati didn't even
offer pirated computer games.  Steve Jackson, like many creative artists,
was markedly touchy about theft of intellectual property.

It seemed to me that Jackson was either seriously suspected
of some crime--in which case, he would be charged soon,
and would have his day in court--or else he was innocent,
in which case the Secret Service would quickly return his equipment,
and everyone would have a good laugh.  I rather expected the good laugh.
The situation was not without its comic side.  The raid, known
as the "Cyberpunk Bust" in the science fiction community,
was winning a great deal of free national publicity both
for Jackson himself and the "cyberpunk" science fiction
writers generally.

Besides, science fiction people are used to being misinterpreted.
Science fiction is a colorful, disreputable, slipshod occupation,
full of unlikely oddballs, which, of course, is why we like it.
Weirdness can be an occupational hazard in our field.  People who
wear Halloween costumes are sometimes mistaken for monsters.

Once upon a time--back in 1939, in New York City--
science fiction and the U.S. Secret Service collided in
a comic case of mistaken identity.  This weird incident
involved a literary group quite famous in science fiction,
known as "the Futurians," whose membership included
such future genre greats as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl,
and Damon Knight.  The Futurians were every bit as
offbeat and wacky as any of their spiritual descendants,
including the cyberpunks, and were given to communal living,
spontaneous group renditions of light opera, and midnight fencing
exhibitions on the lawn.  The Futurians didn't have bulletin
board systems, but they did have the technological equivalent
in 1939--mimeographs and a private printing press.  These were
in steady use, producing a stream of science-fiction fan magazines,
literary manifestos, and weird articles, which were picked up
in ink-sticky bundles by a succession of strange, gangly,
spotty young men in fedoras and overcoats.

The neighbors grew alarmed at the antics of the Futurians
and reported them to the Secret Service as suspected counterfeiters.
In the winter of 1939, a squad of USSS agents with drawn guns burst into
"Futurian House," prepared to confiscate the forged currency and illicit
printing presses.  There they discovered a slumbering science fiction fan
named George Hahn, a guest of the Futurian commune who had just arrived
in New York.  George Hahn managed to explain himself and his group,
and the Secret Service agents left the Futurians in peace henceforth.
(Alas, Hahn died in 1991, just before I had discovered this astonishing
historical parallel, and just before I could interview him for this book.)

But the Jackson case did not come to a swift and comic end.
No quick answers came his way, or mine; no swift reassurances
that all was right in the digital world, that matters were well
in hand after all.  Quite the opposite.  In my alternate role
as a sometime pop-science journalist, I interviewed Jackson
and his staff for an article in a British magazine.
The strange details of the raid left me more concerned than ever.
Without its computers, the company had been financially
and operationally crippled.  Half the SJG workforce,
a group of entirely innocent people, had been sorrowfully fired,
deprived of their livelihoods by the seizure.  It began to dawn on me
that authors--American writers--might well have their computers seized,
under sealed warrants, without any criminal charge; and that,
as Steve Jackson had discovered, there was no immediate recourse for this.
This was no joke; this wasn't science fiction; this was real.

I determined to put science fiction aside until I had discovered
what had happened and where this trouble had come from.
It was time to enter the purportedly real world of electronic
free expression and computer crime.  Hence, this book.
Hence, the world of the telcos; and the world of the digital underground;
and next, the world of the police.