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Greetings from Mr_Sweet, AntiChrist, Devil-C, s0ften, 139_r00ted, FUBY, flipz, fuqrag, GOD, bl0wteam, v00d00, Hi-Tech Hate, hackernews.com, and all the others I miss. #:0)

— hacked website of Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity (sima), San Diego, by Pakistan Hackerz Club, October 30, 1999.

i shit on you i shit on interpol i shit on the israeli’s who are looking for me i shit on interpol who are looking for me i shit on blackdog because he talks to much ..trace me find me and finally 0wn me -eth1cal.

— hacked website of Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, San Diego, www.facsfacsd.navy.mil, by eth1cal, on February, 7, 2001.

From archives of www.attrition.org


After my conversations with Hulton and Gula, I mostly forgot about hackers. One night, I logged onto eBay and, instead of its home page, I saw an ugly cartoon face and the caption “HACKED!” (Startled, I instantly logged out. When I logged back in, a few minutes later, it was gone.) Still, I didn’t think hackers’ activities would ever affect me. If I thought about them at all, it was in the same vague way that I thought about burglars. I have a burglar alarm installed in my house and Norton AntiVirus software installed on my computer. The horn on my house, I know, is loud, and once, after I mistakenly triggered the silent alarm that alerts the police down at the station, they arrived. That was reassuring. I sometimes wondered if Norton would actually protect me from a virus. Eventually, I found out. I began to receive virus-laden e-mail attachments, and the system started deflecting them. I received viruses more than once a week, sometimes more than once a day. Most of the accompanying messages were written by people who couldn’t speak English very well. “I would like you nice surprise,” one said. “Hope you enjoy this girlie-girls,” said another. Sometimes the e-mail senders were, ostensibly, people I knew; that is, a familiar name was in the sender line. Occasionally, the subject line reflected an interest of mine or my husband’s. (Bob is a clockmaker, and one bogus subject line said, “Nice Clock Website.”) Norton always warned me to delete these e-mails without opening them, which, of course, I already knew I should.

Then, one day last summer, Bob was at Home Depot using our credit card when a cashier told him the transaction had been rejected. Bob paid for the item in cash and called the company. The card had been canceled, the representative said. Some unusual and hefty purchases had been made with it. Bob was asked if he had bought $10,000 worth of items from Emperor Clothes in the Netherlands. He was asked about a few more recent charges. Some were our purchases; others weren’t. The representative said we would receive a new card in the mail shortly. She was so matter-of-fact, we figured this must be a fairly common situation. We wondered if it was related to our Internet use and what we could do to prevent it from happening again.

Since the events of September 11, there have been news commentaries about the possibility of cyberterrorism. That has made me additionally wonder: Could computer-savvy terrorists knock out water supplies or electrical grids? Could they disrupt air traffic or the 911 emergency system? And will it be up to hackers to prevent them?

I called Hulton, who didn’t return my phone call for a while; he was on vacation in Hawaii and not checking his messages much. Business must be good, I said. He laughed his economical heh-heh-heh-heh in reply. I began to ask questions about hackers — too many to be answered in a single phone call. Hulton suggested I attend ToorCon 2002; the press was welcome. Could he give me a list of San Diego–based hackers to interview beforehand? He told me to start with his new business partner, Tim Minh Huynh (the last name was pronounced “win,” he said) at Nightfall’s downtown office.


The building at 906 Tenth Avenue was formerly a Baptist church. Even without the crosses, its architecture would have an ecclesiastical look. Maybe former occupants had holy protectors; the new ones wanted visitors to be buzzed in. My appointment, for 10:00 a.m., had been arranged by Hulton from Hawaii. The buzzer got me no answer, but someone entering the building let me enter with him, and I found suite 101 at basement level.

That morning’s Wall Street Journal lay at the door. Huynh must not have arrived yet. Or maybe he’d arrived before the paper was delivered. I knocked. No answer. Hadn’t he got word of the appointment from Hulton? Finally, a sleepy Huynh appeared.

He looked like a renegade monk. His head was shaved, giving his wide, round face a Buddha look, but his T-shirt said something about tequila. He wore black shorts and black running shoes without socks. If he’d been barefoot, I might have worried that I’d roused him out of bed — for this space was Nightfall as well as home for Hulton and Huynh. (In fact, like many hackers, Huynh usually did work in the quiet of the night, he told me. A few weeks later, he answered an e-mail at 7:00 a.m. The time raised a question. Had his hours changed? No: he had sent the message just before turning in.)

The ceilings in this building are double-high, and the floor plan is open. (The square footage is 1450, according to the building’s management, which refers to these spaces, including the basement ones, as “lofts.”) There were apparently times for work and for play at Nightfall. At one end of the space was a pool table, elaborately leveled with magazines. At the other, a Ping-Pong table, similarly sturdied. On a wall, a dart board. On another wall, a corporate touch: a shiny white wallboard and notations in felt-tipped pen. In the middle of everything, on a raised platform, many, many computers. Huynh offered me a seat in the “office” — three La-Z-Boys arranged in a circle.

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