An era that started in 1990 and continued until about 2000. The early 1990s saw the beginnings of the Hacker War between two hacker clubhouses, the Legion of Doom and the Masters of Deception. Also in the early 1990s, hackers could finally have computers at home that were equal in power and in storage capacity to the minicomputers of a decade before. This opportunity arose because of the newer, lower-cost, and better-enabling PCs having the Intel 386 chip. Unfortunately, affordable software was still not available.
By the mid-1990s, Kevin Mitnick was imprisoned (yet again) for cybertheft involving 20,000 credit card numbers. During his arrest, Mitnick was shown on television being led off by police in chains and shackles, and in April 1996 he pleaded guilty to illegally using stolen cell phones. His notoriety as a repeat cracker earned him the nickname “the lost boy of cyberspace.”
Elsewhere around the globe in the mid-1990s, crackers were arrested for their exploits, and the media jumped on these opportunities to spread the word about the evils of “hacking” (which was the incorrect citing of the more accurate term cracking).
One of the most featured cases worldwide during the mid-1990s was that of Julf (a.k.a. Johan Helsinguis), a Finnish hacker who ran the popular anonymous remailer “penet.fi” on a run-of-the-mill 486 computer with a 200 MB hard drive. In 1995, Julf’s premises were invaded by police following a complaint by the Church of Scientology that a “penet.fi” client was posting the church’s “secrets” on the Internet. After much debate, the Finnish court eventually ruled that Julf must reveal the customer’s email address.
In Canada in the mid-1990s, another hacking media blitz was in action. The Brotherhood, a hacking group, became enraged at hackers’ being falsely labeled by the media of cyber stalking a Canadian family. For this reason, The Brotherhood cracked the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Website and placed on it this message: “The media are liars.” At the end of the media flurry, police discovered that the family’s own 15-year-old-son—who apparently was seeking attention from Mom and Dad—was the family’s cyberstalker.
At about this same time, the popular press jumped on the story of a cyber gang masterminded by a Russian who cracked Citibank’s computers and illegally transferred more than $10 million from clients’ bank accounts. Though Citibank eventually recovered all but about $400,000 of the illegally transferred funds, the happy ending of this story did not seem to make front-page news.
In the mid-1990s, controversial legislation also appeared. For example, during 1994-1995, White Hats’ hacktivism squashed the Clipper proposal, which would have allowed the U.S. government to control strong encryption.
Also by the mid-1990s, the anti-criminal CyberAngels started to appear online to fight cyberstalking and cyberpornography.
The development of HURD, the free UNIX kernel, was not forthcoming until 1996—when Linus Torvald’s efforts led to the development of Linux, a full-featured version of UNIX with free and redistributable sources. By the late 1990s, the main activity of the White Hat hacker labs was the development of Linux and the delivery of the Internet to mainstream society.
In 1998, the United States Justice Department unveiled its National Infrastructure Protection Center to protect the critical infrastructures technology from the exploits of Black Hats and terrorists. This same year, the hacker group L0pht testified before the U.S. Congress warning that it could bring down the nation’s access to the Internet in less than a half hour.
In the late 1990s, female hacker Carmin Karasic, a software engineer and digital artist with almost 20 years of experience in information systems applications and software development, became known in the hacker community for helping to write FloodNet, the tool used by the Electronic Civil Disobedience group to protest U.S. support of the suppression of Mexican rebels in the southern portion of Mexico.
With the new millennium came more hacking and cracking news stories and more hacktivism. One of the more exciting hacktivism cases to make headlines was the Internet free speech and copyright civil court case involving 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and Universal Studios. Here, issues emerged around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and 2600’s publication of and linking to a computer program called DeCSS, DVD decryption software. After a lengthy court battle, 2600 lost the case.
See Also: Black Hats; Clipper Proposal or Capstone Project; Cyberstalkers; Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD); Hacker Quarterly Magazine (a.k.a. 2600); Hackers; Internet; Kernel; Legion of Doom (LoD); Linux; L0Pht; Masters of Doom (MoD); Mitnick, Kevin (a.k.a. Condor); National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC); Torvalds, Linus; UNIX; White Hats or Ethical Hackers or Samurai Hackers.
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.