Networking and Telecommunication Management “The AT&T long-distance networks crashes and millions of calls go unanswered. A computer hacker reprograms a switching station and calls to a Florida probation office are shunted to a New York phone-sex hotline. An illegal computer bulletin board publishes a pilfered BellSouth document on the 911 emergency system, which made it available to anyone who dials up”. The above incidents are described in Bruce Sterlings book “The Hacker Crackdown, Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, copyrighted in 1992. Bruce Sterling authored this book which seeks to explain the “people of cyberspace”.
Bruce Sterling digs into the bizarre world of electronic communications. The world of electronic communication or cyberspace has no physical location, because it exists only in the network. Cyberspace is not normal space; it is the space on your computers. Mr. Sterling writes about electronic communication in the early 90s between computers and telephone lines. The space that Mr. Sterling speaks of is about 130 years old.
The current cyberspace is where a telephone conversation occurs. You may think you are conversing into a phone line, the device in your hand against your ear. No, not really, but its the place between the phones, yes, the indefinite space out there. Sterling attempts to inform, compel and appall his readers, the hackers, law officers and civil libertarians. In the 1990, a nationwide legal battle took place against computer hackers, yes criminal charges all across the United States.
The Secret Service, telephone company security and state and local law enforcement agencies across the country joined to bring down the U. S. underground electronic coup. While the underground and legal computer community fought strongly against the same agencies who threaten their electronic civil liberties. Mr. Sterling gave the reader the fact surrounding the AT&T long distance telephone switching system crash on January 15, 1990. Roughly 60,000 customers lost service for approximately nine hours and 70 million calls went uncompleted! What happen to the contingency plan? The crashes in the early 90s occurred with no physical reasoning. There was no apparent damage, but the problem spread and spread.
There was station after station across the United States that collapsed like dominoes, until half of AT&T network went amuck and the other half was put to the test. The AT&T software engineers knew what caused the crashed in the system, yes; the crash was a grave corporate embarrassment. It was a bug in AT&T own software code, not the thing that a board members wanted to hear with competition being as fierce as it was. It was easier to believe that some evil person or hacker had done it, a virus, a Trojan horse or a software bomb placed in the network. In July 91, BellSouth had a similar crash in their computer software which disrupted the Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas, 12 million folks were affected by this crash. Executives of the phone company didnt want to rule out hackers involvement but experience from the previous year leaned toward software error. Sure enough, the Software Company from Plano, Texas owned up to the glitches in the “signal transfer point” that were assigned to Bell Atlantic and Pacific Bell.
The real problem was a mistyped character, in a single line of code, which ultimately deprives the capitol of phone service. Mr. Sterling again proves that the cyberspace and the folks involved in it are no longer unprecedented, nor it is not odd at all to experience phone system crashes. Software built by human has flaws even if no one tampers with the codes. I can remember that day in January 1990, I tried to call my mom, because it was her birthday, how in despair I felt when I couldnt get through, imagine all the folks who had important calls that day also. But the irony of the situation was even transparent to me.
I was totally oblivious about what cause the delay. Like many, we thought that the phone just wasnt working, not that there was a bug running rampantly throughout AT&T network. Well, I had been snowed like million of other phone users. The law enforcement officials and the telephone corporate security personnel were not, nor were they totally persuaded that the software glitch was not that of hackers. Their informants in the computer underground alluded for years, predicted and feared that this could happen. Not only did the crash take place in the realm of the software, but also on Martin Luther King Day, a political touchy holiday.
This only proved to worsen their suspicion of known computer crimes. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 and other acts all were on the book, but each had flaws and failed to keep up to date with the real world of elegant software. “The hackers and code thieves were wily prey”. Yes, hid away in their bedrooms and basements and quick to destroy any incriminating evidence at the first hint of trouble, which were technical and difficult to describe even to the police. Mr. Sterling demonstrated through this book how the law enforcement officials attempted to crack down on illegal computer hacking activities, known as “Operation Sundevil” out in Phoenix, AZ.
There were twenty-seven search warrants with three arrests and 150 agents in twelve cities across America. The questions asked repeatedly by the agencies “who are these guys”, where did they come from”, what do they want”, were they mischievous? Are they dangerous? And how widespread was this thing. Hackers are far the most mysterious computer enthusiasts who enjoy manipulating networks, and other easy targets. Many companies today in search of computer security are hiring hackers in hopes to keep their network secure. Why, because criminals catch on fast. There isnt a lot expertise and practice required, imagine the new gadgets that exist, pagers, cellular phones, faxes, Federal Express were all pioneered by rich people and criminals.
Consider the early years of pagers and beepers, dope dealers had to have them as if they represented some God like supremacy. Mr. Sterling makes his point about the control that must be place on the electronic cyberspace and he does it well. Our society is becoming more dependent on electronic technology, which means more electronic crimes. The culprits dont want the service, or the knowledge, its the thrill of the power. They steal and it gratifies their vanities, but most criminal minds think alike.
Mr. Sterlings book portrayed every aspect of the criminal sabotage that is so prevalent and what the government plans to do about it. Yes, there still exist problem in fighting computer crimes. Our law enforcement community must continue to wage war against them until it become not near so glamorous. All computer users must do their part as well and help not spread virus or be snowed by phone phreaks.
Whether we want computers or not, we will find that we need them. Hacker Crackdown serves to remind us that with any good invention, be prepare for the bad that goes with it. Read this book, it is lengthy and some pages mundane, but by the end of the book you will be rooting for the law enforcement community. The Hacker Crackdown, Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, Bantam Books, November 1992, by Bruce Sterling The book is hard cover with 313 pages not including the index or the glossary. Bruce Sterling has written several books, he co-authored “The Difference Engine” with William Gibson.
Mr. Sterling researched thoroughly about this topic, outlaws, cops, bureaucrats, rebels, geniuses and grifters, people in cyberspace, a fascinating new frontier. This book hit the target and is a good tool for beginners to understand how hackers operate and what the law community is doing to stop them. Quotation from the book—“Cash is fading in importance today as money has become electronic”. Yes the Secret Service moved from fighting the counterfeiting of paper currency and the forging of checks, to the protection of funds transferred by wire. This book is good for recommended reading, I am not so sure it would make for a good textbook.
The book is informative that is the good point, it is boring in many of the chapters. It was not a book that I couldnt put down.