If you want to crack the crackers, you have to be "kewl". Simon, a technical investigator for Novell, does not look like a teenage hacker, but he knows how to talk, or at least type, like one. He spends his days roaming the Internet and Bulletin Board System, posing as a warez-seeking schoolboy or a twentysomething pirating professional. He would never write "see you later", but "l8ter".

His adversaries would be jealous if they could see his office - piled high with flashing servers, monitors and hard drives. His aim is to find pirated Novell products, bring down the sites and, hopefully, trace the perpetrators. A quick search for "warez" on Alta Vista brings up thousands of sites, each with indexes to hundreds of pirated products. But the really tricky detective work is on the bulletin boards.

"The hardcore sites are never advertised," he says. "You have to talk to people on the smaller sites and do a bit of social engineering." Once he has built up their trust, they will tell him where to go for the most sought-after, newly uploaded software.

"When you go into a new system they can be really aggressive, and if you go there only once, to download something, it will spook them. So I keep going back, even if I've already got the evidence." He videos whatever he finds, as sites get blown up the minute they suspect someone is on to them. But he rarely gets rumbled.

A lot of the people Simon talks to are just dabbling in the pirating underworld, like naughty school kids. The ones he is after are often members of legendary, highly organised gangs - Pirates With Attitude, Malice, Genesis. One women's gang has a motto: "it's not just eggs we donate". But as far as they all know, he is a friend.

"It can get really personal," he says. "They ask what I do, what I've been watching on TV. You almost feel sorry for them, because you know what's about to hit them"

Milly Jenkins