In Britain, the term “criminal hacker” was announced first and fueled the public’s fears about crackers in April 1986 with the convictions of Robert Schifreen and Steven Gold. The pair became known as the crackers of the BT Prestel Service, which was an information-retrieval system accessible by modem over the public-switched telephone system. The information retrieved on the BT Prestel could be viewed by users on a PC or on a television screen. Some of the information on it was provided free; other information pages charged a fee.
To access the system, users were given a unique identification number, much like PIN numbers used at automated teller machines (ATMs). This pair’s crime was cracking into the system and leaving a message for the Duke of Edinburgh on his BT Prestel mailbox. Schifreen and Gold were charged under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act of 1981 and were imprisoned. By April 1988, however, their convictions were set aside after an appeal to the House of Lords. The case of Schifreen and Gold was instrumental in getting a bill through the British parliament that eventually became the Computer Misuse Act of 1990.
Schell, B.H., Dodge, J.L., with S.S. Moutsatsos. The Hacking of America: Who’s Doing It, Why, and How. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 2002.