Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Have a Secret (Part One): Those who don't know history...

One day, They came a-callin'.

A dozen armed men, brandishing automatic weapons and a warrant still hot off the press, stormed the front door and moved throughout the house.

They grabbed Dad's briefcase and threw him to the ground.

Mom screamed in terror as two large men piled on top of him.

Another grabbed Mom roughly and slapped her across the face, telling her to shut up before throwing her to the ground as well.

Sis was dragged screaming from her room into the main hallway.  "What's happening?!" she cried.

The remaining eight men charged into the bedroom at the end of the hall.  The sole teenaged occupant cowered in a corner.

"Where is it?" barked the leader, "Where's the computer?"

The teenager leapt to his feet, intending to show them the way.  Instead, he felt his ribs crack as the rifle butt hit him in his side.

"Don't fucking move!", yelled the nearest agent.

Crumpling to the floor, he lay in a fetal position, gurgling... possibly from a punctured lung.

"I asked you a question!", the leader screamed, "Where's the fucking computer?!"

"B..b..basement...", the kid gurgled.

"Watch him!", the leader ordered two of his men, while he and his remaining men headed to the basement.

***

The family was gathered and told to keep silent as they were held at gunpoint, prisoners in their own living room.  The teenager held his side in agony as he leaned against his mother on the couch.

Twenty minutes later, the men emerged.  They each carried armloads of computer and electronic equipment, storage media, books, notes, and pages-upon-pages of printouts.

While the equipment was being loaded into a waiting armored car, a man entered the house.  He identified himself as a member of the FBI.

"Young man," he said, "I am placing you under arrest."

"Why?" cried Mom hysterically, "What could he have possibly have done?!  He's just a kid!"

"Madam, this 'kid' is engaging in serious criminal activity online," the man explained, "We've been monitoring his computer traffic online and, based on what we've seen, he may be facing a lengthy sentence."



Paranoid fantasy?

In light of the recent Ed Snowden case, revelations of NSA spying, and tech companies such as Cisco, Apple, Facebook et al collaborating with spying efforts, you could accuse me of being paranoid.

Yeah, ol' CJ must have been reading Orwell again.

No, upon first hearing the news that the NSA has been spying on the general populace, actively cracking SSL encryption, VPN, TOR, and secure communications, and coercing the tech giants into helping their cause, my reaction was a complete lack of surprise.

You see, it's happened before.  The incident at the beginning of this post actually took place, many times over.

Back in the late 80s, there was a perceived increase in so-called computer crime: the unauthorized copying (and illegal distribution) of copyrighted software, the electronic trading of stolen credit card numbers, generation of fake credit card numbers, the dissemination of information on how to defraud the phone company by manipulating the phone system itself, and info on how to hack into corporate computer systems.

While some of the software and information was exchanged between people in person, via the disk or by samizdat, the vast majority of information was exchanged electronically via the phone lines on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS for short).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with (or too young to have experienced) BBSes, they ran on modest hardware on most of the computers of the day.  Most had message bases (forums) to converse with other users, online games, and file sections to upload and download files.

There were literally thousands of BBSes worldwide... most were stand-alone affairs, while others were parts of larger interconnected networks.

BBSes made it easy to disseminate information and trade files and, while the vast majority of BBS operators and users were using the systems legally (a term interpreted loosely here), there was a small section of people using the systems for more salient purposes.

It didn't take long for the authorities to catch on.  Task forces were formed, and the FBI and Secret Service (hereafter referred to as the nebulous They or Them), with the backing of the phone company, began surveillance in earnest.  They would join BBSes surreptitiously to monitor communications, gather evidence, and to learn how these people were plying their trade.  In rare occasions, They did so with the tacit approval or support of the BBS's Sysop (SYStem OPerator).

Once enough evidence was gathered, the raids began.  Computers were seized, Sysops and users were jailed, and many more scrutinized and/or cautioned.  While many such raids occurred, one of the most (in)famous raids in the hacker world was Operation Sundevil, which you can read about here.


- End Part One -


CJ's note:  This is only the first part of a multi-part post.  It'll be ongoing for the next week or so.  Please refrain from commenting, either here or via social media, until the final part has been posted.  Chances are, any questions, concerns, or rebukes will have been dealt with by the time all is said and done.