FIRST-HAND : `I can probably get into 70 per cent of all computer syste ms'

One boy has allegedly hacked into US defence systems. Fungus, another B ritish `cracker', explains why they do it
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Indy Lifestyle Online
LIKE most hackers I have always enjoyed taking things apart to see how they work: from an early age I would adjust my toys so that they would go faster. With that kind of mindset, computers become your greatest challenge because the programs are a lways changing.

I became interested in computers in my last year at school and got my first computer when I was about 20. I worked incredibly hard for it and it remains the single largest expense in my life. In those days you either played the few games available or picked up a programming skill. For instance you'd get into the mind of the game and alter the number of lives you had to make it last longer. This was hacking in its earliest form.

As the games got more complex and the programs changed, there were fewer hackers, but I stayed with it. My family thought that I was mad since I had a full-time job, but I would come home and work on my computer for hours.

Then the modem came along, and with it the challenge of hacking into someone else's system 500 miles away. At this stage security was unheard of because no one assumed that people would be dialling into their computers to read their information. Once thesecurity tightened I was hooked. It's a massive buzz - you keep trying to break in, then suddenly the whole screen changes and you know you're in.

Good hacking, or rather cracking as we like to call it, is not just a question of sitting at a terminal and getting into a system, it also involves groundwork - which hackers call "social engineering". For example, you manipulate people into giving theircomputer passwords over the phone. In 1989 I gained access to all the codes of the DHSS's computers in this way - I just wanted to see how lax they really were.

Because of my DHSS crack I was invited to join a large hacking circle. We'd hold two huge annual meetings, called copy parties, masquerading as computer clubs, in hired halls in London with hackers from all over Europe and swap information and software.

I was still thirsty for more knowledge, so three years ago, having worked as a computer installer and programmer as well as a fitter, I went to study computer science at university. There I met two of the UK's finest crackers, nicknamed Booyaa and Macara, and we pooled our experience to form a trio. We work separately and together, and every now and then we do structured cracks for general interest, for example trying to crack British Telecom codes for free transatlantic calls. Sometimes I hack on my own until three in the morning, and if there's something I'm trying to crack I will submerge myself in it for maybe three months. But most of the time I have an ordinary social life. If I wasn't into computers I think I might have become a teacher to shareknowledge. I'd be a geek if I spent all my private life with computers.

I'm 30 now and I've taken a year out of university in order to work for a computer company. My employers know that I'm into computing but they don't know that I'm a hacker or a cracker; they would probably fire me if they knew. Although in the eyes of the law cracking is illegal I think that many laws are impeding progress so I want to take a stand for what I believe in.

I've never known anyone to gain money through cracking, however I have been employed by companies to secure their systems. A famous example of this was when a hacker called Robert Gold cracked into Prince Philip's E-mail box by chance. He didn't discloseany information but wrote to Prince Philip saying that his system was not secure. As a result he now runs his own security consultancy. This is quite common practice and demonstrates that the majority of hackers are not thieves or industrial spies.

Right now I am at a level with the trio where we can get into 70 per cent of computer systems across the board but we do know people who can get into almost anything bar banking systems. It's fascinating how many systems you can gain access to. However, banks and other big companies will pay people £50,000 a year just to develop their security so I'd have more success standing on my roof and waiting for Father Christmas than cracking their systems. But hackers are working on it - information wants to befree.

There's a witch hunt going on against hackers but really only one per cent of hackers are vandals. Instead, hackers are often responsible for developing systems. I think that many of the people who get hold of protected information do so by working from,or gaining information from, the inside, rather than cracking from the outside, and claim that they are hackers as a cover-up. New computer systems should be in the public domain so that they can be improved on. When you're cracking you see lots of underhand things going on: you wonder what's happening at the really protected levels.

Interview by Katie Sampson