EVERY DAY, hundreds of people in front of personal computers
try to sneak into corporate and government computer networks.
Sometimes they just look around, sometimes they destroy data and
sometimes they steal personal and classified information.
In a case that began in 1992, the federal government indicted
and charged five hackers in New York who were the main members of a
group called the Masters of Deception. The young men were accused
of breaking into some of the nation's most sensitive networks,
including Tymnet, the huge data network that connects thousands of
computers used by banks and the government. They also broke into
computers that control every regional telephone company and AT & T.
Two weeks ago, law enforcement officials charged an Argentine,
21, with using the Internet to illegally break into computer
networks at Department of Defense installations, the NASA, Los
Alamos National Laboratory and several universities. The Justice
Department is now seeking Julio Cesar Ardita, who accessed
confidential research files on aircraft design, radar technology
and satellite engineering.
And Chris Schanot, 19, from High Ridge, was in court in St.
Louis last week on charges of hacking. Schanot, who fled to
Pennsylvania from St. Louis after graduating from Vianney High
School last May, is accused in a five-count indictment of breaking
into the computers of Southwestern Bell, Bell Communications
Research, Sprint and SRI International, a research and development
contractor with government contracts. His trial is set for June 10.
As hackers try to get into government and corporate computers,
government and corporations try just as hard to keep them out. This
is the computer era's power struggle - the fight over control of
Schanot, like other hackers, likely became addicted to the
feeling of power that cracking into a private computer network
brings, said St. Louis County Police Sgt. Thomas Lasater, who has
been investigating computer crime for seven years.
"Normally these young hackers do not use the computers for
financial gain," Lasater said. "It's just a challenge for them to
see what they can conquer."
Lasater agrees with the FBI that Schanot is a computer genius
capable of entering almost any computer system. But Lorrie Cranor,
a Washington University graduate student who teaches a course on
computers and society, argues that Schanot may just have taken
advantage of available high-tech burglar tools.
"There are a lot of hacker tools that are readily available on
the Internet, and one need not be an advanced hacker to use them,"
said Cranor, who is studying engineering and policy, along with
computer science. "There are probe programs that can be used to
probe other systems. Someone who has access to these and an
enormous amount of free time can just keep running these programs."
And available on the Internet are at least 10 programs that
generate calling-card and credit-card numbers, said Joe Seanor, a
former Justice Department employee who now heads a company that
investigates computer crimes.
In addition, there are probably 10 to 20 programs available
that are capable of discovering passwords that will give a person
access to a private network, he said. …