2600 Magazine: The Hacker Quarterly - Spring 2016
by Ghost Exodus
*Since 2009 when I sat in jail to the end of my prison sentence I sent article submissions and letters to the Editor of 2600 Magazine, several of which were for The Hacker Perspective.
My views of hacking and hacktivism at the time were pretty gaudy and glorified, which is a natural reflection generally perceived by the actors in our hacker sub-culture. Ultimately, my views matured over time. I originally wrote the following submission in 2011. They published it five years later, and send me a courtesy letter, asking me which address I wanted the check to be sent!
I had a late start when it came to computers because my adopted parents were from the early 1930’s, and so I was raised within the shadows of their reminiscence. But by 1998, I was 14 and a member of my high school’s computer club, not realizing the full potential of the Windows systems that we were playing Duke Nukem death matches on until I met a hacker.
Let’s just say I was intrigued and I was his unlucky victim. He refused to teach me a thing, save for RTFM (read the fucking manual). He would give me 1.44 MB floppies with DOS games, in which he had wrapped a trojan onto the game’s executable file so he could backdoor into my system and hijack my dial-up numbers until my ISP was calling my parents and I was grounded for something I didn't exactly understand. Soon, I became the victim of dozens of packet blasting skiddies on IRC who attacked objectivelessly without purpose or reason.
At last, I decided to make it my life’s mission to learn all that I could about computer hacking. I relentlessly pored over tutorials I discovered on old bulletin board systems, websites, and in books. I read Phrack and 2600 and conducted endless experiments on the systems I built from my local trashing missions.
In totality, I empowered myself through technological enlightenment as I rose above my misfortunes and, in turn, I empowered victims of cyber abuse. Hacking became an ideology to me as well as my beloved technoculture. To me, hacking is the ability of thinking outside the walls of conformity. It is an expression just like art, music, or dance - and expression is a form of creative thinking. We are not taught in school how to learn.
We were programmed what to learn. This is partly what The Mentor was so pissed off about when he wrote “The Hacker Manifesto” in 1986.
Hacking expanded my mind in the way I now perceive all things. Essentially, it’s thinking outside the box because the box is society's prison-like mind frame of conditioning and conformity that limits people in the ways in which they interact with the world and each other. It became my "red pill" and way of life.
Anyone who was interested in learning I freely taught so they wouldn't make the same mistakes I made, or end up in prison which is where I reside today - and I still continue to teach, because this knowledge is empowering. Hacking isn't illegal, nor is it a sin. Hacking without consent is.
I landed a job as a network security analyst and ran my own data recovery and PC repair business on the side. Network security was a dream come true because I wanted to trade my grey hat in for a clean, new white hat. I didn't have any certifications or formal training. I got miraculously hired for my demonstration of knowledge and skill from my tutorials on my MySpace profile and my YouTube videos. (Before my interview, my interviewer had Googled my email address.)
In truth, learning how to hack without learning the basic framework of networking is like shooting yourself in the foot. It's the number one way hackers and script kiddies get arrested. Number two is snitches, which is how the feds got me. We live in an insecure world that is infected with blatant vulnerabilities in the most unlikely places.
For mere shits and giggles, I would reverse telnet onto networks operated by the government and pop a shell as I enumerated workgroups and domains, trying to escalate my privileges. These internal networks are either structured by trust or plain negligence because it was no great feat to own a .gov box. most of these systems I encountered were unpatched, running obsolete and buggy OSes like Windows NT or XP and the servers were no better than the network devices used and abused by their local users. Downloading the page file off any of the boxes revealed some pretty interesting local abuse, such as one employee who installed a P2P Network which could have exposed the network to worse problems than my curiosity.
I wasn't about stealing or corrupting, nor was I about eavesdropping. I was fueled by the challenge to explore beyond my borders. But if you take a look on the web today, you will find people who are literally crying out for help, even the help that their local law enforcement chooses to ignore.
I helped one woman obtain her ex-boyfriend's bank statements because he was trying to evade his child support obligations. She used the evidence in court and a judge ordered him to provide financial support for their daughter.
One girl was being victimized by a cyberbully and about to take her own life when I confronted her tormentors on my playing field. Then I gave her the knowledge to defend herself so it would never happen again.
In June of 2009, during the Iranian presidential elections, there was the "Twitter Revolution," also known as the "Green Revolution," which was the candidacy color for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The people cried fraud when Mohammed Ahmadinejad won the presidential election, saying that the voting polls were rigged. Then came the revolution of protesters who were violently attacked with guns, pepper spray, and batons by the police and the Basij, a paramilitary group, who also killed 72 protesters, according to Mousavi.
One such victim was the young woman named Neda who we all watched die on YouTube. To conceal their actions and attempt to control the subversive masses, their government shut down cell phone networks and blocked social networking sites. Right after this, I got a PM (private message) on YouTube, which was an admonition for the hackers of the world to unite for the people of Iran, to perform distributed denial of service attacks against the servers handling the content filtering.
What I saw when I visited these servers was a legion of hackers joined together without discrimination of race, skin color, sexual orientation, or religion, united as one for the liberty of free speech. With my HTC smartphone, I logged into my IRC server and aimed my botnets in the name and under the banner of liberty, and helped to hold censorship in defeat, under the power of this worldwide packet storm.
People like Jacob Appelbaum are heroes of mine and, like him, I believe hacking and knowledge can and should be used to empower victims of repressive governments who try to keep the masses stupefied within the constructs of a “blue pill” reality, which is a defeated and powerless reality.
We are sentinels of cyberspace. Be it for salvation or retribution, we can help this world overcome the obstacles that obstruct our God-given right to freedom. And it is in this spirit that I say “weaponize knowledge.”
I tend to feel a lot safer knowing that I can defend myself with this knowledge. It is like carrying a concealed firearm. This isn’t some immoral vice I use for destruction, but rather protection and defense for when and if I have to. Responsibility is required so I don’t pervert this knowledge and become like my enemy. I know my two cents sounds kind of extreme, but sometimes it’s needed, especially when the scope of law enforcement and government can virtually get away with murder.
Call me subversive, call me a social stigma or a dissident, but I am 100 percent American and 100 percent patriotic and I love my country. Power to the people!
Shout outs to the ETA crew! Fixer, Kaz, Baljeet, John Draper, and IHM!