Phrack Goes 404

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The notorious magazine that spanned years of covering the underground hacker community turns ‘rm -rf’ on itself.

Has it been twenty years already?

After starting in November 1985, Phrack became probably the first magazine with electronic distribution, and that was via dial-up connections to a BBS (bulletin-board system).

For readers who have never experienced the Internet at less than 56 kbps, ancient fossils in their 30s and older used to connect via 300 baud modems. A 2400 baud modem was an expensive and huge technological advancement

They covered phone phreaking, including the notorious Captain Crunch, John Draper; he was so named after discovering a cereal box toy whistle could duplicate the 2600 hz tones AT&T used to facilitate long-distance dialing.

Reputedly, Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were fans of the early issues of Phrack, and phreaks as well.

Over time, the phone company replaced its hardware, and then became a whole bunch of phone companies after AT&T broke up. Phrack moved on to other computer security topics, but an in-depth discussion of the inner workings of Enhanced 911 service earned the publishers an unpleasant visit from the Secret Service in 1990.

Author Bruce Sterling built his 15 minutes of fame upon his retelling of the Secret Service Operation Sundevil raids in his book, The Hacker Crackdown. That text likely brought the word ‘hacker’ into the mainstream, even though it existed earlier.

Although the original meaning of ‘hacker’ is that of someone curious about the inner workings of technology, the modern media has corrupted it to mean the same thing as ‘cracker’, which is a malicious computer user.

Phrack has put out its usual call for papers on the topics nearest and dearest to its publishers: spying, cryptography, anarchy, and world news among other topics. On its web site, the possibility of Phrack’s return in 2007 is mentioned as a rumor that “can be neither confirmed nor denied.”

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business. Email him here.

Phrack Goes 404
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