Date: Sun, 15 Jun 1997 14:17:01 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jim Thomas
Subject: File 5-- Hacker Vows 'Terror' for Child Pornographers
Cu Digest WWW site at: URL: http://www.soci.niu.edu/~cudigest/
by Steve Silberman
Source - WIRED News (reprinted here with permission by the author
Copyright 1993-97 Wired Ventures, Inc. and affiliated companies
After 17 years in the hacker underground, Christian Valor - well known among old-school hackers and phone phreaks as "Se7en" - was convinced that most of what gets written in the papers about computers and hacking is sensationalistic jive. For years, Valor says, he sneered at reports of the incidence of child pornography on the Net as “exaggerated/over-hyped/fear mongered/bullshit."
Now making his living as a lecturer on computer security, Se7en claims he combed the Net for child pornography for eight weeks last year without finding a single image.
That changed a couple of weeks ago, he says, when a JPEG mailed by an anonymous prankster sent him on an odyssey through a different kind of underground: IRC chat rooms with names like #littlegirlsex, ftp directories crammed with filenames like 6yoanal.jpg and 8&dad.jpg, and newsgroups like alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.pre-teen. The anonymous file, he says, contained a "very graphic" image of a girl "no older than 4 years old."
On 8 June, Se7en vowed on a hacker's mailing list to deliver a dose of “genuine hacker terror" to those who upload and distribute such images on the Net. The debate over his methods has stirred up tough questions among his peers about civil liberties, property rights, and the ethics of vigilante justice.
A declaration of war
What Se7en tapped into, he says, was a "very paranoid" network of traders of preteen erotica. In his declaration of "public war" -posted to a mailing list devoted to an annual hacker's convention called DefCon - Se7en explains that the protocol on most child-porn servers is to upload selections from your own stash, in exchange for credits for more images.
What he saw on those servers made him physically sick, he says. "For someone who took a virtual tour of the kiddie-porn world for only one day," he writes, "I had the opportunity to fully max out an Iomega100-MB Zip disc."
Se7en's plan to "eradicate" child-porn traders from the Net is “advocating malicious, destructive hacking against these people." He has enlisted the expertise of two fellow hackers for the first wave of attacks, which are under way.
Se7en feels confident that legal authorities will look the other way when the victims of hacks are child pornographers - and he claims that a Secret Service agent told him so explicitly. Referring to a command to wipe out a hard drive by remote access, Se7en boasted, "Who are they going to run to? The police? 'They hacked my kiddie-porn server and rm -rf'd my computer!' Right."
Se7en claims to have already "taken down" a "major player" - an employee of Southwestern Bell who Se7en says was "posting ads all over the place." Se7en told Wired News that he covertly watched the man’s activities for days, gathering evidence that he emailed to the president of Southwestern Bell. Pseudonymous remailers likehotmail.com and juno.com, Se7en insists, provide no security blanket for traders against hackers uncovering their true identities by cracking server logs. Se7en admits the process of gaining access to the logs is time consuming, however. Even with three hackers on the case, it "can take two or three days. We don't want to hit the wrong person."
A couple of days after submitting message headers and logs to the president and network administrators of Southwestern Bell, Se7en says, he got a letter saying the employee was "no longer on the payroll."
The hacker search for acceptance
Se7en's declaration of war received support on the original mailing list. "I am all for freedom of speech/expression," wrote one poster, “but there are some things that are just wrong.... I feel a certain moral obligation to the human race to do my part in cleaning up the evil."
Federal crackdowns targeting child pornographers are ineffective, many argued. In April, FBI director Louis Freeh testified to the Senate that the bureau operation dubbed "Innocent Images" had gathered the names of nearly 4,000 suspected child-porn traffickers into its database. Freeh admitted, however, that only 83 of those cases resulted in convictions. (The Washington Times reports that there have also been two suicides.)
The director's plan? Ask for more federal money to fight the "dark side of the Internet" - US$10 million.
Pitching in to assist the Feds just isn't the hacker way. As one poster to the DefCon list put it, "The government can't enforce laws on the Internet. We all know that. We can enforce laws on the Internet. We all know that too."
The DefCon list was not a unanimous chorus of praise for Se7en's plan to give the pornographers a taste of hacker terror, however. The most vocal dissenter has been Declan McCullagh, Washington correspondent for the Netly News. McCullagh is an outspoken champion of constitutional rights, and a former hacker himself. He says he was disturbed by hackers on the list affirming the validity of laws against child porn that he condemns as blatantly unconstitutional.
"Few people seem to realize that the long-standing federal child-porn law outlawed pictures of dancing girls wearing leotards," McCullagh wrote - alluding to the conviction of Stephen Knox, a graduate student sentenced to five years in prison for possession of three videotapes of young girls in bathing suits. The camera, the US attorney general pointed out, lingered on the girls' genitals, though they remained clothed. "The sexual implications of certain modes of dress, posture, or movement may readily put the genitals on exhibition in a lascivious manner, without revealing them in a nude display," the Feds argued -and won.
It's decisions like Knox v. US, and a law criminalizing completely synthetic digital images "presented as" child porn, McCullagh says, that are making the definition of child pornography unacceptably broad: a "thought crime."
The menace of child porn is being exploited by "censor-happy “legislators to "rein in this unruly cyberspace," McCullagh says. The rush to revile child porn on the DefCon list, McCullagh told Wired News, reminded him of the "loyalty oaths" of the McCarthy era.
"These are hackers in need of social acceptance," he says. "They’ve been marginalized for so long, they want to be embraced for stamping out a social evil." McCullagh knows his position is a difficult one to put across to an audience of hackers. In arguing that hackers respect the property rights of pornographers, and ponder the constitutionality of the laws they're affirming, McCullagh says, "I'm trying to convince hackers to respect the rule of law, when hacking systems is the opposite of that."
But McCullagh is not alone. As the debate over Se7en's declaration spread to the cypherpunks mailing list and alt.cypherpunks -frequented by an older crowd than the DefCon list - others expressed similar reservations over Se7en's plan.
"Basically, we're talking about a Dirty Harry attitude," one network technician/cypherpunk told Wired News. Though he senses "real feeling “behind Se7en's battle cry, he feels that the best way to deal with pornographers is to "turn the police loose on them." Another participant in the discussion says that while he condemns child porn as "terrible, intrinsically a crime against innocence," he questions the effectiveness of Se7en's strategy.
"Killing their computer isn't going to do anything," he says, cautioning that the vigilante approach could be taken up by others. “What happens if you have somebody who doesn't like abortion? At what point are you supposed to be enforcing your personal beliefs?"
Raising the paranoia level
Se7en's loathing for aficionados of newsgroups likealt.sex.pedophilia.swaps runs deeper than "belief." "I myself was abused when I was a kid," Se7en told Wired News. "Luckily, I wasn't a victim of child pornography, but I know what these kids are going through."
With just a few hackers working independently to crack server logs, sniff IP addresses, and sound the alarm to network administrators, he says, "We can take out one or two people a week ... and get the paranoia level up," so that "casual traders" will be frightened away from IRC rooms like "#100%preteensexfuckpics."
It's not JPEGs of clothed ballerinas that raise his ire, Se7en says. It’s "the 4-year-olds being raped, the 6-year-old forced to have oral sex with cum running down themselves." Such images, Se7en admits, are very rare - even in online spaces dedicated to trading sexual imagery of children.
"I know what I'm doing is wrong. I'm trampling on the rights of these guys," he says. "But somewhere in the chain, someone is putting these images on paper before they get uploaded. Your freedom ends when you start hurting other people."
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