Chapter 3-1
Hacker Crackdown

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Of the various anti-hacker activities of 1990, "Operation Sundevil"
had by far the highest public profile.  The sweeping, nationwide
computer seizures of May 8, 1990 were unprecedented in scope and highly,
if rather selectively, publicized.

Unlike the efforts of the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force,
"Operation Sundevil" was not intended to combat "hacking" in the sense
of computer intrusion or sophisticated raids on telco switching stations.
Nor did it have anything to do with hacker misdeeds with AT&T's software,
or with Southern Bell's proprietary documents.

Instead, "Operation Sundevil" was a crackdown on those traditional scourges
of the digital underground:  credit-card theft and telephone code abuse.
The ambitious activities out of Chicago, and the somewhat lesser-known
but  vigorous anti-hacker actions of the New York State Police in 1990,
were never a part of "Operation Sundevil" per se, which was based in Arizona.

Nevertheless, after the spectacular May 8 raids, the public, misled by
police secrecy, hacker panic, and a puzzled national press-corps,
conflated all aspects of the nationwide crackdown in 1990 under
the blanket term "Operation Sundevil."  "Sundevil" is still the best-known
synonym for the crackdown of 1990.  But the Arizona organizers of "Sundevil"
did not really deserve this reputation--any more, for instance, than all
hackers deserve a reputation as "hackers."

There was some justice in this confused perception, though.
For one thing, the confusion was abetted by the Washington office
of the Secret Service, who responded to Freedom of Information Act
requests on "Operation Sundevil" by referring investigators
to the publicly known cases of Knight Lightning and the Atlanta Three.
And "Sundevil" was certainly the largest aspect of the Crackdown,
the most deliberate and the best-organized.  As a crackdown on electronic
fraud, "Sundevil" lacked the frantic pace of the war on the Legion of Doom;
on the contrary, Sundevil's targets were picked out with cool deliberation
over an elaborate investigation lasting two full years.

And once again the targets were bulletin board systems.

Boards can be powerful aids to organized fraud.  Underground boards carry
lively, extensive, detailed, and often quite flagrant "discussions" of
lawbreaking techniques and lawbreaking activities.  "Discussing" crime
in the abstract, or "discussing" the particulars of criminal cases,
is not illegal--but there are stern state and federal laws against
coldbloodedly conspiring in groups in order to commit crimes.

In the eyes of police, people who actively conspire to break the law
are not regarded as "clubs," "debating salons," "users' groups," or
"free speech advocates."  Rather, such people tend to find themselves
formally indicted by prosecutors as "gangs," "racketeers," "corrupt
organizations" and "organized crime figures."

What's more, the illicit data contained on outlaw boards goes well beyond
mere acts of speech and/or possible criminal conspiracy.  As we have seen,
it was common practice in the digital underground to post purloined telephone
codes on boards, for any phreak or hacker who cared to abuse them.  Is posting
digital booty of this sort supposed to be protected by the First Amendment?
Hardly--though the issue, like most issues in cyberspace, is not entirely
resolved.  Some theorists argue that to merely RECITE a number publicly
is not illegal--only its USE is illegal.  But anti-hacker police point out
that magazines and newspapers (more traditional forms of free expression)
never publish stolen telephone codes (even though this might well
raise their circulation).

Stolen credit card numbers, being riskier and more valuable,
were less often publicly posted on boards--but there is no question
that some underground boards carried "carding" traffic,
generally exchanged through private mail.

Underground boards also carried handy programs for "scanning" telephone
codes and raiding credit card companies, as well as the usual obnoxious
galaxy of pirated software, cracked passwords, blue-box schematics,
intrusion manuals, anarchy files, porn files, and so forth.

But besides their nuisance potential for the spread of illicit knowledge,
bulletin boards have another vitally interesting aspect for the
professional investigator.  Bulletin boards are cram-full of EVIDENCE.
All that busy trading of electronic mail, all those hacker boasts,
brags and struts, even the stolen codes and cards, can be neat,
electronic, real-time recordings of criminal activity.
As an investigator, when you seize a pirate board, you have
scored a coup as effective as tapping phones or intercepting mail.
However, you have not actually tapped a phone or intercepted a letter.
The rules of evidence regarding phone-taps and mail interceptions are old,
stern and well-understood by police, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.
The rules of evidence regarding boards are new, waffling, and understood
by nobody at all.

Sundevil was the largest crackdown on boards in world history.
On May 7, 8, and 9, 1990, about forty-two computer systems were seized.
Of those forty-two computers, about twenty-five actually were running boards.
(The vagueness of this estimate is attributable to the vagueness of
(a) what a "computer system" is, and (b) what it actually means to
"run a board" with one--or with two computers, or with three.)

About twenty-five boards vanished into police custody in May 1990.
As we have seen, there are an estimated 30,000 boards in America today.
If we assume that one board in a hundred is up to no good with codes
and cards (which rather flatters the honesty of the board-using community),
then that would leave 2,975 outlaw boards untouched by Sundevil.
Sundevil seized about one tenth of one percent of all computer
bulletin boards in America.  Seen objectively, this is something less
than a comprehensive assault.  In 1990, Sundevil's organizers--
the team at the Phoenix Secret Service office, and the Arizona
Attorney General's office-- had a list of at least THREE HUNDRED
boards that they considered fully deserving of search and seizure warrants.
The twenty-five boards actually seized were merely among the most obvious
and egregious of this much larger list of candidates.  All these boards
had been examined beforehand--either by informants, who had passed printouts
to the Secret Service, or by Secret Service agents themselves, who not only
come equipped with modems but know how to use them.

There were a number of motives for Sundevil.  First, it offered
a chance to get ahead of the curve on wire-fraud crimes.
Tracking back credit-card ripoffs to their perpetrators
can be appallingly difficult.  If these miscreants
have any kind of electronic sophistication, they can snarl
their tracks through the phone network into a mind-boggling,
untraceable mess, while still managing to "reach out and rob someone."
Boards, however, full of brags and boasts, codes and cards,
offer evidence in the handy congealed form.

Seizures themselves--the mere physical removal of machines--
tends to take the pressure off.  During Sundevil, a large number
of code kids, warez d00dz, and credit card thieves would be deprived
of those boards--their  means of community and conspiracy--in one swift blow.
As for the sysops themselves (commonly among the boldest offenders)
they would be directly stripped of their computer equipment,
and rendered digitally mute and blind.

And this aspect of Sundevil was carried out with great success.
Sundevil seems to have been a complete tactical surprise--
unlike the fragmentary and continuing seizures of the war on the
Legion of Doom, Sundevil was precisely timed and utterly overwhelming.
At least forty "computers" were seized during May 7, 8 and 9, 1990,
in Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Phoenix, Tucson,
Richmond, San Diego, San Jose, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
Some cities saw multiple raids, such as the five separate raids
in the New York City environs.  Plano, Texas (essentially a suburb of
the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, and a hub of the telecommunications industry)
saw four computer seizures.  Chicago, ever in the forefront, saw its own
local Sundevil raid, briskly carried out by Secret Service agents
Timothy Foley and Barbara Golden.

Many of these raids occurred, not in the cities proper,
but in associated white-middle class suburbs--places like
Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Clark Lake, Michigan.
There were a few raids on offices; most took place in people's homes,
the classic hacker basements and bedrooms.

The Sundevil raids were searches and seizures, not a group of mass arrests.
There were only four arrests during Sundevil.  "Tony the Trashman,"
a longtime teenage bete noire of the Arizona Racketeering unit,
was arrested in Tucson on May 9.  "Dr. Ripco," sysop of an outlaw board
with the misfortune to exist in Chicago itself, was also arrested--
on illegal weapons charges.  Local units also arrested a 19-year-old
female phone phreak named "Electra" in Pennsylvania, and a male juvenile
in California.  Federal agents however were not seeking arrests, but computers.

Hackers are generally not indicted (if at all) until the evidence
in their seized computers is evaluated--a process that can take weeks,
months--even years.  When hackers are arrested on the spot, it's generally
an arrest for other reasons.  Drugs and/or illegal weapons show up in a good
third of anti-hacker computer seizures (though not during Sundevil).

That scofflaw teenage hackers (or their parents) should have marijuana
in their homes is probably not a shocking revelation, but the surprisingly
common presence of illegal firearms in hacker dens is a bit disquieting.
A Personal Computer can be a great equalizer for the techno-cowboy--
much like that more traditional American "Great Equalizer,"
the Personal Sixgun.  Maybe it's not all that surprising
that some guy obsessed with power through illicit technology
would also have a few illicit high-velocity-impact devices around.
An element of the digital underground particularly dotes on those
"anarchy philes," and this element tends to shade into the crackpot milieu
of survivalists, gun-nuts, anarcho-leftists and the ultra-libertarian

This is not to say that hacker raids to date have uncovered any
major crack-dens or illegal arsenals; but Secret Service agents
do not regard "hackers" as "just kids."  They regard hackers as
unpredictable people, bright and slippery.  It doesn't help matters
that the hacker himself has been "hiding behind his keyboard"
all this time.  Commonly, police have no idea what he looks like.
This makes him an unknown quantity, someone best treated with
proper caution.

To date, no hacker has come out shooting, though they do sometimes brag on
boards that they will do just that.  Threats of this sort are taken seriously.
Secret Service hacker raids tend to be swift, comprehensive, well-manned
(even over-manned);  and agents generally burst through every door
in the home at once, sometimes with drawn guns.  Any potential resistance
is swiftly quelled. Hacker raids are usually raids on people's homes.
It can be a very dangerous business to raid an American home;
people can panic when strangers invade their sanctum.  Statistically speaking,
the most dangerous thing a policeman can do is to enter someone's home.
(The second most dangerous thing is to stop a car in traffic.)
People have guns in their homes.  More cops are hurt in homes
than are ever hurt in biker bars or massage parlors.

But in any case, no one was hurt during Sundevil,
or indeed during any part of the Hacker Crackdown.

Nor were there any allegations of any physical mistreatment of a suspect.
Guns were pointed, interrogations were sharp and prolonged; but no one
in 1990 claimed any act of brutality by any crackdown raider.

In addition to the forty or so computers, Sundevil reaped floppy disks
in particularly great abundance--an estimated 23,000 of them, which
naturally included every manner of illegitimate data:  pirated games,
stolen codes, hot credit card numbers, the complete text and software
of entire pirate bulletin-boards.  These floppy disks, which remain
in police custody today, offer a gigantic, almost embarrassingly
rich source of possible criminal indictments.  These 23,000 floppy disks
also include a thus-far unknown quantity of legitimate computer games,
legitimate software, purportedly "private" mail from boards,
business records, and personal correspondence of all kinds.

Standard computer-crime search warrants lay great emphasis on seizing
written documents as well as computers--specifically including photocopies,
computer printouts, telephone bills, address books, logs, notes,
memoranda and correspondence.  In practice, this has meant that diaries,
gaming magazines, software documentation, nonfiction books on hacking
and computer security, sometimes even science fiction novels, have all
vanished out the door in police custody.  A wide variety of electronic items
have been known to vanish as well, including telephones, televisions, answering
machines, Sony Walkmans, desktop printers, compact disks, and audiotapes.

No fewer than 150 members of the Secret Service were sent into
the field during Sundevil.  They were commonly accompanied by
squads of local and/or state police.  Most of these officers--
especially  the locals--had never been on an anti-hacker raid before.
(This was one good reason, in fact, why so many of them were invited along
in the first place.)  Also, the presence of a uniformed police officer
assures the raidees that the people entering their homes are, in fact, police.
Secret Service agents wear plain clothes.  So do the telco security experts
who commonly accompany the Secret Service on raids (and who make no particular
effort to identify themselves as mere employees of telephone companies).

A typical hacker raid goes something like this.  First, police storm in
rapidly, through every entrance, with overwhelming force,
in the assumption that this tactic will keep casualties to a minimum.
Second, possible suspects are immediately removed from the vicinity
of any and all computer systems, so that they will have no chance
to purge or destroy computer evidence.  Suspects are herded into a room
without computers, commonly the living room, and kept under guard--
not ARMED guard, for the guns are swiftly holstered, but under guard
nevertheless.  They are presented with the search warrant and warned
that anything they say may be held against them.  Commonly they have
a great deal to say, especially if they are unsuspecting parents.

Somewhere in the house is the "hot spot"--a computer tied to a phone
line (possibly several computers and several phones).  Commonly it's
a teenager's bedroom, but it can be anywhere in the house;
there may be several such rooms.  This "hot spot" is put in charge
of a two-agent team, the "finder" and the "recorder."  The "finder"
is computer-trained, commonly the case agent who has actually obtained
the search warrant from a judge.  He or she understands what is being sought,
and actually carries out the seizures: unplugs machines, opens drawers,
desks, files, floppy-disk containers, etc.  The "recorder" photographs
all the equipment, just as it stands--especially the tangle of
wired connections in the back, which can otherwise be a real nightmare
to restore.  The recorder will also commonly photograph every room
in the house, lest some wily criminal claim that the police had robbed him
during the search.  Some recorders carry videocams or tape recorders;
however, it's more common for the recorder to simply take written notes.
Objects are described and numbered as the finder seizes them, generally
on standard preprinted police inventory forms.

Even Secret Service agents were not, and are not, expert computer users.
They have not made, and do not make, judgements on the fly about potential
threats posed by various forms of equipment.  They may exercise discretion;
they may leave Dad his computer, for instance, but they don't HAVE to.
Standard computer-crime search warrants, which date back to the early 80s,
use a sweeping language that targets computers, most anything attached
to a computer, most anything used to operate a computer--most anything
that remotely resembles a computer--plus most any and all written documents
surrounding it. Computer-crime investigators have strongly urged agents
to seize the works.

In this sense, Operation Sundevil appears to have been a complete success.
Boards went down all over America, and were shipped en masse to the computer
investigation lab of the Secret Service, in Washington DC, along with the
23,000 floppy disks and unknown quantities of printed material.

But the seizure of twenty-five boards, and the multi-megabyte mountains
of possibly useful evidence contained in these boards (and in their owners'
other computers, also out the door), were far from the only motives for
Operation Sundevil.  An unprecedented action of great ambition and size,
Sundevil's motives can only be described as political.  It was a
public-relations effort, meant to pass certain messages, meant to make
certain situations clear:  both in the mind of the general public,
and in the minds of various constituencies of the electronic community.

 First --and this motivation was vital--a "message" would be sent from
law enforcement to the digital underground.  This very message was recited
in so many words by Garry M. Jenkins, the Assistant Director of the
US Secret Service, at the Sundevil press conference in Phoenix on
May 9, 1990, immediately after the raids.  In brief, hackers were
mistaken in their foolish belief that they could hide behind the
"relative anonymity of their computer terminals."  On the contrary,
they should fully understand that state and federal cops were
actively patrolling the beat in cyberspace--that they were
on the watch everywhere, even in those sleazy and secretive
dens of cybernetic vice, the underground boards.

This is not an unusual message for police to publicly convey to crooks.
The message is a standard message; only the context is new.

In this respect, the Sundevil raids were the digital equivalent
of the standard vice-squad crackdown on massage parlors, porno bookstores,
head-shops, or floating crap-games.  There may be few or no arrests in a raid
of this sort; no convictions, no trials, no interrogations.  In cases of this
sort, police may well walk out the door with many pounds of sleazy magazines,
X-rated videotapes, sex toys, gambling equipment, baggies of marijuana. . . .

Of course, if something truly horrendous is discovered by the raiders,
there will be arrests and prosecutions.  Far more likely, however,
there will simply be a brief but sharp disruption of the closed
and secretive world of the nogoodniks.  There will be "street hassle."
"Heat."  "Deterrence."  And, of course, the immediate loss of the seized goods.
It is very unlikely that any of this seized material will ever be returned.
Whether charged or not, whether convicted or not, the perpetrators will
almost surely lack the nerve ever to ask for this stuff to be given back.

Arrests and trials--putting people in jail--may involve all kinds of
formal legalities; but dealing with the justice system is far from the only
task of police. Police do not simply arrest people.  They don't simply
put people in jail.  That is not how the police perceive their jobs.
Police "protect and serve." Police "keep the peace," they "keep public order."
Like other forms of public relations, keeping public order is not an
exact science.  Keeping public order is something of an art-form.

If a group of tough-looking teenage hoodlums was loitering on a street-corner,
no one would be surprised to see a street-cop arrive and sternly order
them to "break it up."  On the contrary, the surprise would come if one
of these ne'er-do-wells stepped briskly into a phone-booth,
called a civil rights lawyer, and instituted a civil suit
in defense of his Constitutional rights of free speech
and free assembly.  But something much  along this line
was one of the many anomolous outcomes of the Hacker Crackdown.

Sundevil also carried useful "messages" for other constituents of
the electronic community.  These messages may not have been read
aloud from the Phoenix podium in front of the press corps,
but there was little mistaking their meaning.  There was a message
of reassurance for the primary victims of coding and carding:
the telcos, and the credit companies.  Sundevil was greeted with joy
by the security officers of the electronic business community.
After years of high-tech harassment and spiralling revenue losses,
their complaints of rampant outlawry were being taken seriously by
law enforcement.  No more head-scratching or dismissive shrugs;
no more feeble excuses about "lack of computer-trained officers" or
the low priority of "victimless" white-collar telecommunication crimes.

Computer-crime experts have long believed that computer-related offenses
are drastically under-reported.  They regard this as a major open scandal
of their field.  Some victims are reluctant to come forth, because they
believe that police and prosecutors are not computer-literate,
and can and will do nothing.  Others are embarrassed by
their vulnerabilities, and will take strong measures
to avoid any publicity; this is especially true of banks,
who fear a loss of investor confidence should an embezzlement-case
or wire-fraud surface.  And some victims are so helplessly confused
by their own high technology that they never even realize that
a crime has occurred--even when they have been fleeced to the bone.

The results of this situation can be dire.
Criminals escape apprehension and punishment.
The computer-crime units that do exist, can't get work.
The true scope of computer-crime:  its size, its real nature,
the scope of its threats, and the legal remedies for it--
all remain obscured.

Another problem is very little publicized, but it is a cause
of genuine concern.  Where there is persistent crime,
but no effective police protection, then vigilantism can result.
Telcos, banks, credit companies, the major corporations who
maintain extensive computer networks vulnerable to hacking
--these organizations are powerful, wealthy, and
politically influential.  They are disinclined to be
pushed around by crooks (or by most anyone else,
for that matter).  They often maintain well-organized
private security forces, commonly run by
experienced veterans of military and police units,
who have left public service for the greener pastures
of the private sector.  For police, the corporate
security manager can be a powerful ally; but if this
gentleman finds no allies in the police, and the
pressure is on from his board-of-directors,
he may quietly take certain matters into his own hands.

Nor is there any lack of disposable hired-help in the
corporate security business.  Private security agencies--
the `security business' generally--grew explosively in the 1980s.
Today there are spooky gumshoed armies of "security consultants,"
"rent-a- cops," "private eyes," "outside experts"--every manner
of shady operator who retails in "results" and discretion.
Or course, many of these gentlemen and ladies may be paragons
of professional and moral rectitude.  But as anyone
who has read a hard-boiled detective novel knows,
police tend to be less than fond of this sort
of private-sector competition.

Companies in search of computer-security have even been
known to hire hackers.  Police shudder at this prospect.

Police treasure good relations with the business community.
Rarely will you see a policeman so indiscreet as to allege
publicly that some major employer in his state or city has succumbed
to paranoia and gone off the rails.  Nevertheless,
police --and computer police in particular--are aware
of this possibility.  Computer-crime police can and do
spend up to half of their business hours just doing
public relations:  seminars, "dog and pony shows,"
sometimes with parents' groups or computer users,
but generally with their core audience: the likely
victims of hacking crimes.  These, of course, are telcos,
credit card companies and large computer-equipped corporations.
The police strongly urge these people, as good citizens,
to report offenses and press criminal charges;
they pass the message that there is someone in authority who cares,
understands, and, best of all, will take useful action
should a computer-crime occur.

But reassuring talk is cheap.  Sundevil offered action.

The final message of Sundevil was intended for internal consumption
by law enforcement.  Sundevil was offered as proof that the community
of American computer-crime police  had come of age.  Sundevil was
proof that enormous things like Sundevil itself could now be accomplished.
Sundevil was proof that the Secret Service and its local law-enforcement
allies could act like a well-oiled machine--(despite the hampering use
of those scrambled phones).  It was also proof that the Arizona Organized
Crime and Racketeering Unit--the sparkplug of Sundevil--ranked with the best
in the world in ambition, organization, and sheer conceptual daring.

And, as a final fillip, Sundevil was a message from the Secret Service
to their longtime rivals in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By Congressional fiat, both USSS and FBI formally share jurisdiction
over federal computer-crimebusting activities.  Neither of these groups
has ever been remotely happy with this muddled situation.  It seems to
suggest that Congress cannot make up its mind as to which of these groups
is better qualified.  And there is scarcely a G-man or a Special Agent
anywhere without a very firm opinion on that topic.