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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: hackers1.txt

A news article on a hacking issue

                           AMATEUR HACKERS TRIPPED UP
                              By Danna Dykstra Coy

This article appeared in the Telegram-Tribune Newspaper, San Luis Obispo, CA.  
March 23, 1991. Permission to electronically reproduce this article was given 
by the newspaper's senior editor.  


San Luis Obispo police have cracked a case of computer hacking.  Now they've 
got to work out the bugs.  Officers were still interviewing suspects late 
Friday linked to a rare case of computer tampering that involved at least four 
people, two of them computer science majors from Cal Poly.  

The hackers were obvious amateurs, according to police.  They were caught 
unknowingly tapping into the computer system in the office of two local 
dermatologists.  The only information they would have obtained, had they 
cracked the system's entry code, was patient billing records.  

Police declined to name names because the investigation is on-going.  They 
don't expect any arrests, though technically, they say a crime has been 
committed.  Police believe the tampering was all in fun, though at the expense 
of the skin doctors who spent money and time fixing glitches caused by the 
electronic intrusion.  

"Maybe it was a game for the suspects, but you have to look at the bigger 
picture," said the officer assigned to the case, Gary Nemeth.  "The fact they 
were knowingly attempting to access a computer system without permission is a 
crime."  Because the case is rare in this county, police are learning as they 
go along.  "We will definitely file complaints with the District Attorney's 
Office," said Nemeth.  "They can decide whether we've got enough of a case to 
go to trial." 

Earlier this month San Luis dermatologists James Longabaugh and Jeffrey Herten 
told police they suspected somebody was trying to access the computer in the 
office they share at 15 Santa Rosa St.  The system, which contains patient 
records and billing information, continually shut down.  The doctors were 
unable to access their patients' records, said Nemeth, and paid a computer 
technician at least $1,500 to re-program their modem.  

The modem is a device that allows computers to communicate through telephone 
lines.  It can only be accessed when an operator "dials" its designated number 
by punching the numbers on a computer keyboard.  The "calling" computer then 
asks the operator to punch in a password to enter the system.  If the operator 
fails to type in the correct password, the system may ask the caller to try 
again or simply hang up.  Because the doctors' modem has a built-in security 
system, several failed attempts causes the system to shut down completely.  

The technician who suspected the problems were more than mechanical, advised 
the doctors to call the police.  "We ordered a telephone tap on the line, which 
showed in one day alone 200 calls were made to that number," said Nemeth.  "It 
was obvious someone was making a game of trying to crack the code to enter the 
system."  The tap showed four residences that placed more than three calls a 
day to the doctors' computer number.  Three of the callers were from San Luis 
Obispo and one was from Santa Margarita.  From there police went to work.  

"A lot of times I think police just tell somebody in a situation like that to 
get a new phone number," said Nemeth, "and their problem is resolved.  But 
these doctors were really worried.  They were afraid someone really wanted to 
know what they had in their files.  They wondered if it was happening to them, 
maybe it was happening to others.  I was intrigued." 

Nemeth, whose training is in police work and not computer crimes, was soon 
breaking new ground for the department.  "Here we had the addresses, but no 
proper search warrant.  We didn't know what to name in a search warrant for a 
computer tampering case."  A security investigator for Pacific Bell gave Nemeth 
the information he needed: disks, computer equipment, stereos and telephones, 
anything that could be used in a computer crime.  

Search warrants were served at the San Luis Obispo houses Thursday and Friday.  
Residents at the Santa Margarita house have yet to be served.  But police are 
certain they've already cracked the case.  At all three residences that were 
searched police found a disk that incorrectly gave the doctors' phone number as 
the key to a program called "Cygnus XI".  "It was a fluke," said Nemeth.  
"These people didn't know each other, and yet they all had this same program".  
Apparently when the suspects failed to gain access, they made a game of trying 
to crack the password, he said.  "They didn't know whose computer was hooked up 
to the phone number the program gave them," said Nemeth.  "So they tried to 
find out." 

Police confiscated hundreds of disks containing illegally obtained copies of 
software at a residence where two Cal Poly students lived, which will be turned 
over to a federal law enforcement agency, said Nemeth.  

Police Chief Jim Gardner said he doesn't expect this type of case to be the 
department's last, given modern technology.  "What got to be a little strange 
is when I heard my officers talk in briefings this week.  It was like `I need 
more information for the database'."  "To think 20 years ago when cops sat 
around and talked all you heard about was `211' cases and dope dealers." 

                          COMPUTER CASE TAKES A TWIST
                          By Danna DykstraCoy

This article appeared in the Telegram-Tribune Newspaper, San Luis Obispo, CA.  
March 29, 1991. Permission to electronically reproduce this article was given 
by the newspaper's senior editor.  


A suspected computer hacker says San Luis Obispo police overreacted when they 
broke into his house and confiscated thousands of dollars of  equipment.  "I 
feel violated and I'm angry" said 34-year-old engineer Ron Hopson.  All of 
Hopson's computer equipment was seized last week by police who believed he may 
have illegally tried to "hack" his way into an office computer belonging to two 
San Luis Obispo dermatologists.  Police also confiscated equipment belonging 
to three others.  

"If police had known more about what they were doing, I don't think it would 
have gone this far," Hopson said.  "They've treated me like a criminal, and I 
was never aware I was doing anything wrong.  It's like a nightmare."  Hopson, 
who has not been arrested in the case, was at work last week when a neighbor 
called to tell him there were three patrol cars and two detective cars at his 
house.  Police broke into the locked front door of his residence, said Officer 
Gary Nemeth, and broke down a locked door to his study where he keeps his 
computer.  "They took my stuff, they rummaged through my house, and all the 
time I was trying to figure out what I did, what this was about.  I didn't have 
any idea." 

A police phone tap showed three calls were made from Hopson's residence this 
month to a computer at an office shared by doctors James Longabaugh and Jeffery 
Herten.  The doctors told police they suspected somebody was trying to access 
the computer in their office at 15 Santa Rosa St.  Their system, which contains 
patient records and billing information, kept shutting down.  The doctors were 
unable to access their patients' records, said Nemeth.  They had to pay a 
computer technician at least $1,500 to re-program their modem, a device that 
allows computers to communicate through telephone lines.  

Hopson said there is an easy explanation for the foul-up.  He said he was 
trying to log-on to a public bulletin board that incorrectly gave the doctors 
number as the key to a system called "Cygnus XI".  Cygnus XI enabled people to 
send electronic messages to one another, but the Cygnus XI system was 
apparently outdated.  The person who started it up moved from the San Luis 
Obispo area last year, and the phone company gave the dermatologists his former 
number, according to Officer Nemeth.  

Hopson said he learned about Cygnus XI through a local computer club, the SLO-
BYTES User Group. "Any of the group's 250 members could have been trying to tap 
into the same system", said Robert Ward, SLO-BYTES club secretary and computer 
technician at Cal Poly.  In addition, he suspects members gave the phone number 
to fellow computer buffs and could have been passed around the world through 
the computer Bulletin-Board system.  "I myself might have tried to access it 
three or four times if I was a new user," he said.  "I'd say if somebody tried 
50 times, fine, they should be checked out, but not just for trying a couple of 

Police said some 200 calls were made to the doctors modem during the 10 days 
the phone was tapped.  "They say, therefore, its obvious somebody is trying to 
make a game of trying to crack the computer code", said Hopson.  "The only 
thing obvious to me is a lot of people have that published number.  Nobody's 
trying to crack a code to gain illegal access to a system.  I only tried it 
three times and gave up, figuring the phone was no longer in service." 

Hopson said he tried to explain the situation to the police.  "But they took me 
to an interrogation room and said I was lying.  They treated me like a big-time 
criminal, and now they won't give me back my stuff."  Hopson admitted he owned 
several illegally obtained copies of software confiscated by police.  "But so 
does everybody," he said, "and the police have ever right to keep them, but I 
want the rest of my stuff." 

Nemeth, whose training is in police work and not computer crimes, said this is 
the first such case for the department and he learning as he goes along.  He 
said the matter has been turned over to the District Attorney's Office, which 
will decide whether to bring charges against Hopson and one other suspect.  

The seized belongings could be sold to pay restitution to the doctors who paid 
to re-program their system.  Nemeth said the police are waiting for a printout 
to show how many times the suspects tried to gain access to the doctors' modem.  
"You can try to gain access as many times as you want on one phone call.  The 
fact a suspect only called three times doesn't mean he only tried to gain 
access three times." 

Nemeth said he is aware of the bulletin board theory.  "The problem is we 
believe somebody out there intentionally got into the doctors' system and shut 
it down so nobody could gain access, based on evidence from the doctors' 
computer technician," said Nemeth.  "I don't think we have that person, because 
the guy would need a very sophisticated system to shut somebody else's system 
down."  At the same time, he said, Hopson and the other suspects should have 
known to give up after the first failed attempt.  "The laws are funny.  You 
don't have to prove malicious intent when you're talking about computer 
tampering.  The first attempt you might say was an honest mistake.  More than 
once, you have to wonder." 

Police this week filled reports with the District Attorney's Office regarding 
their investigation of Hopson and another San Luis Obispo man suspected of 
computer tampering.  Police are waiting for Stephen Brown, a deputy district 
attorney, to decide whether there is enough evidence against the two to take 
court action.  If so, Nemeth said he will file reports involving two other 
suspects, both computer science majors from Cal Poly.  All computers, 
telephones, computer instruction manuals, and program disks were seized from 
three houses in police searches last week.  Hundreds of disks containing about 
$5,000 worth of illegally obtained software were also taken from the suspects' 

Police and the District Attorney's Office are not naming the suspects because 
the case is still under investigation.  However, police confirmed Hopson was 
one of the suspects in the case after he called the Telegram-Tribune to give 
his side of the story.  

                              By Danna Dykstra Coy

This article appeared in the Telegram-Tribune Newspaper, San Luis Obispo, CA.  
April 12, 1991. Permission to electronically reproduce this article was given 
by the newspaper's senior editor.  


Two San Luis Obispo men suspected of computer tampering will not be charged 
with any crime.  They will get back the computer equipment that was seized 
from their homes, according to Stephen Brown, a deputy district attorney who 
handled the case.  "It appears to have been a case of inadvertent access to a 
modem with no criminal intent," said Brown.  San Luis Obispo police were 
waiting on Brown's response to decide whether to pursue an investigation that 
started last month.  They said they would drop the matter if Brown didn't file 
a case.  

The officer heading the case, Gary Nemeth, admitted police were learning as 
they went along because they rarely deal with computer crimes.  Brown said he 
dosen't believe police overreacted in their investigation.  "They had a 
legitimate concern." 

In early March two dermatologists called police when the computer system 
containing patient billing records in their San Luis Obispo office kept 
shutting down.  They paid a computer technician about $1,500 to re-program 
their modem, a device that allows computers to communicate through the 
telephone lines.  The technician told the doctors it appeared someone was 
trying to tap into their system.  The computer's security system caused the 
shutdown after several attempts to gain access failed.  

Police ordered a 10-day phone tap on the modem's line and, after obtaining 
search warrants, searched four residences where calls were made to the skin 
doctors' modem at least three times.  One suspect, Ron Hopson, said last week 
his calls were legitimate and claimed police overreacted when they seized his 
computer, telephone, and computer manuals.  Hopson could not reached Thursday 
for comment.  

Brown's investigation revealed Hopson, like the other suspects, was trying to 
log-on to a computerized "bulletin-board" that incorrectly gave the doctors' 
number as the key to a system called "Cygnus XI".  Cygnus XI enabled computer 
users to electronically send messages to one another.  Brown said while this 
may not be the county's first computer crime, it was the first time the 
District Attorney's Office authorized search warrants in a case of suspected 
computer fraud using telephone lines.  Police will not be returning several 
illegally obtained copies of software also seized during the raids, he said.  

       A Case for Mistaken Identity... Who's Privacy was Really Invaded?

By Jim Bigeloww

According to the San Luis Obispo County (California) Telegram-Tribune, dated  
Saturday, March 23, 1991, the San Luis Obispo Police raided the homes of two  
Cal Poly students and two other residents including one in Santa Margarita for  
alleged computer crimes, "hacking." The suspects had, through their computer  
modems, unknowingly tried to access a  computer owned by a group of local 
dermatologists. That same number had previously belonged to a popular local 
bulletin board, Cygnus XI. The police were alerted by the dermatologists and 
their computer technician who was afraid someone was trying to access their 
patient records. The police put a phone tap on the computer line for 10 days 
which showed over 200 calls placed to that number in one 24 hour period.  

Armed with a search warrant, police went to the house of the first suspect who 
later said he only called that number 3 times in a 24 hour period (I wonder who 
made the other 197 calls?).  Unfortunately he was not home... this cost him two 
broken doors as the police had to enter the house some way.  All computer 
equipment, disks and computer related equipment was "seized" and taken to 
police headquarters.  Follow-up articles reveal that the individual had not  
committed local crimes, that no charges would be filed and that the computers .
would be returned. Disks which were determined to contain illegally copied 
commercial software were to be turned over to Federal authorities.   
Like most personal home computer users I have interviewed, I didn't think much .
of this matter at first, but I am now becoming alarmed. I am a 64İyear old  
senior citizen, perhaps a paranoid senior.  I think most seniors are a bit  
paranoid. I am a strong supporter of law enforcement, an ex-peace officer, a  
retired parole agent, and as a senior I want law enforcement protection.
In this situation, according to the Tribune report, the police "had legitimate  
concern." But, apparently they didn't know what they were doing as the officer  
in charge stated "We are learning as we go."   
Accessing a modem is not easy. I, with five years of computer experience, find ?
it difficult and frustrating to set up  a computer and keep it operating, to  
understand a manual well enough to get the software to operate, to set the )
switches and jumpers on a modem, and then contact a BBS, and in the midst of  
their endless questions, coupled with my excitability and fumbling, answer them  
and get on line. I have many times tried to connect to BBS's only to be  
disconnected because I typed my name or code incorrectly. I have dialed wrong  
numbers and gotten a private phone.   
I do not want to be considered an enemy of law enforcement merely because I own  
a computer. I do not like to be called a "hacker," and especially because I  
contacted a BBS 3 times. The word, "hacker" originally applied to a computer  
user, now has become a dirty word. It implies criminality, a spy, double  
agents, espionage, stealing government secrets, stealing business codes, etc.  
Certainly, not that of a law abiding and law supporting, voting senior citizen,  
who has found a new hobby, a toy and a tool to occupy his mind. Computers are  
educational and can and do assist in providing community functions. I hope that  
the name "personal computer user" doesn't become a dirty word. 
The "hacker" problem seems to be viewed by law enforcement as one in which "we  
learn as we go." This is an extremely costly method as we blunder into a  
completely new era, that of computerization.  It causes conflicts between  
citizens and law enforcement. It is costly to citizens in that it causes great  
distress to us, to find ourselves possible enemies of the law, the loss of our  
computers and equipment, telephones and reputation by being publicly called  
hackers and criminals. It causes more problems when we attempt to regain our  
reputation and losses by suing the very agencies we have been so diligently  
supporting, for false arrest, confiscation of our most coveted possession and  
uninvited and forced entrance into our homes, causing great emotional  
disturbances (and older people are easily upset).   
I have a legal question I would like answered. Who is obligated in this  
incident: the owners and operators of Cygnus XI for failure to make a public  
announcement of the discontinuance of their services? or the phone company for  
issuing the number to a private corporation with a modem? the police for not  
knowing what they are doing? the computer user? It is not a problem of being  
more cautious, ethical, moral, lawİabiding. It is a matter of citizen rights.    
The "hacker" problem now applies not only to code breakers, secret and document  
stealers, but to me, even in my first attempts to connect with a BBS. Had I  
tried to contact Cygnus XI my attempts would have put me under suspicion of the  
police and made me liable for arrest, confiscation of my computer, equipment,  
disks, and subsequent prosecution. I am more than a little bewildered.
And, am I becoming a paranoid senior citizen, not only because of criminals,  
but of the police also? Am I running a clandestine operation by merely owning a  
computer and a modem, or am I a solid senior citizen, which may well imply that  
I don't own "one of those computers?" Frankly, I don't know. Even though my  
computer is returned, and I am not arrested or prosecuted, I wonder what  
condition it now is in after all the rough handling. (Police who break down  
doors do not seem to be overly gentle, and computers and their hard disk drives  
are very fragile instruments). Just who and how many have scrutinized my  
computer? its contents?  and why? my personal home business transactions? and  
perhaps I supplement my income with the aid of my computer (I am a writer)? my  
daily journal? my most private and innermost thoughts? my letters? my daily  
activities? (This is exactly why personal computers and their programs were  
designed, for personal use. My personal computer is an extension of my self, my  
mind, and my personal affairs.)   
Can the police confiscate all my software claiming it is stolen, merely because  
they don't find the originals? (I, at the suggestion of the software companies,  
make backup copies of the original disks, and then place the originals  
elsewhere for safekeeping.) Do I need to keep all receipts to "prove" to the  
police that I am innocent of holding bootleg software? Is there a new twist in  
the laws that applies to personal computer users? 
Also any encoding of my documents or safeguarding them with a password, such as  
my daily journal, my diary, I have read in other cases, is viewed by law  
enforcement as an attempt to evade prosecution and virtually incriminates me.  
("If it wasn't criminal why did the "suspect" encode it?") 
This recent incident arouses complex emotions for me. What will the future  
bring for the home and personal computer user? I do not care to fear the  
police. I do not want to have to register my computer with the government. Will  
it come to that in our country? I do not want to have to maintain an impeccable  
record of all of my computer usages and activities, imports and exports, or to  
be connected to a state police monitoring facility, that at all times monitors  
my computer usage. The year "1984" is behind us. Let's keep it that way.    
This matter is a most serious problem and demands the attention of all  
citizens. As for myself, I wasn't the one involved, but I find it disturbing  
enough to cause me to learn of it and do something about it.   


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