Blumenthal, Ralph. "Going Undercover in the Computer Underworld," New York Times, 26

 

Blumenthal, Ralph. "Going Undercover in the Computer Underworld," New York Times, 26
January 1993, pp. B1, B2.

Here is an announcement that local law enforcement is going after hackers. Everyone knows that
hackers are the object of federal investigations by the FBI and the Secret Service but this is new:
there a local law enforcement agents prowling the BBs which (as they identify them here) deal in
stolen telephone access codes and credit cards as well as child pornography.

The star of this report is Phrakr Trakr (pronounced FRACK-er TRACK-er), a computer
enthusiast who not always spends official time tracking hackers but has, by his own admission,
spent $4,000 of his own money on computers and telephone bills building up a net of fellow
officers (again at the local level) who work the 30,000 bulletin boards across the country. He
publishes a newsletter, called "FBI" for Find ‘em, Bust ‘em, and Incarcerate ‘em.

This "undercover agent" is not identified here but is described as a 36 year-old with suspenders
and a passion for double-breasted suits who "works in the organized crime, racketeering and
narcotics bureau of a large law-enforcement agency in the East." (p. B2)

He is trying to make cops aware of hi-tech crime which, he insists, is organized crime. He further
suggests that the hackers he is investigating are not teenage computer whizzes but organized
criminals. These criminals prey on ATT, MCI and Sprint, the telephone giants and can squander
huge sums: the New York Post was "hit" for $40,000 in just one month on false phone charges.

"In addition, many experts say, the more secretive boards have become forums for pedophiles
and other sexual predators who also inhabit cyberspace, that unfixable geography where
disembodies strangers known only by the pseudonyms, or ‘handles' chat by computer and phone
lines. Pornography, even moving pictures from overseas, are stored as files that can be
downloaded by minors into home computers at will.

"Chief Alfred O. Olsen of the Warwick Township Police Department in Lititz, Pa., who has
worked with the police high-tech crime group and its founder, and in a recent report that he
became aware of the nefarious uses of some of the bulletin boards as a result of a rape case in
which the suspect met victims through a computer bulletin board." (p. B2)

Phrakr Trakr insists he is aware of the rights of free speech and he explains: "‘If you want to
write how to kill your parents, that's O.K.', he said, citing a bulletin board ‘phile' on how to
dispose of a murdered parent's body. ‘But selling credit cards is something else.'" (p. B2)

"Them it was time for him (Phrakr Trakr) to log onto his own bulletin board - protected by his
own high-security measures - to check the mail from fellow members of the Hi-Tech Crime
Network.

"Time left a message saying he had found that a bulletin board he was investigating concealed an
even more interesting underground board. ‘I'm in the process of getting elite access now,' he
wrote. ‘Hope it works.'

"But, Time wanted to know, what if he was asked to provide card numbers in return."

"‘Always put them on the defensive,' counseled Phrakr Trakr. ‘Let them know you're interested
but come across as being cautious. They will understand that. Upload some of the files you got
from this board and that should give you credibility. Have an attitude. Most hackers do.'"