But the genuine roots of the modern hacker underground can probably be traced most successfully to a now much-obscured hippie anarchist movement known as the Yippies. The Yippies, who took their name from the largely fictional "Youth International Party," carried out a loud and lively policy of surrealistic subversion and outrageous political mischief. Their basic tenets were flagrant sexual promiscuity, open and copious drug use, the political overthrow of any powermonger over thirty years of age, and an immediate end to the war in Vietnam, by any means necessary, including the psychic levitation of the Pentagon. The two most visible Yippies were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Rubin eventually became a Wall Street broker. Hoffman, ardently sought by federal authorities, went into hiding for seven years, in Mexico, France, and the United States. While on the lam, Hoffman continued to write and publish, with help from sympathizers in the American anarcho-leftist underground. Mostly, Hoffman survived through false ID and odd jobs. Eventually he underwent facial plastic surgery and adopted an entirely new identity as one "Barry Freed." After surrendering himself to authorities in 1980, Hoffman spent a year in prison on a cocaine conviction.
Hoffman's worldview grew much darker as the glory days of the 1960s faded. In 1989, he purportedly committed suicide, under odd and, to some, rather suspicious circumstances.
Abbie Hoffman is said to have caused the Federal Bureau of Investigation to amass the single largest investigation file ever opened on an individual American citizen. (If this is true, it is still questionable whether the FBI regarded Abbie Hoffman a serious public threat -quite possibly, his file was enormous simply because Hoffman left colorful legendry wherever he went). He was a gifted publicist, who regarded electronic media as both playground and weapon. He actively enjoyed manipulating network TV and other gullible, imagehungry media, with various weird lies, mindboggling rumors, impersonation scams, and other sinister distortions, all absolutely guaranteed to upset cops, Presidential candidates, and federal judges. Hoffman's most famous work was a book self-reflexively known as Steal This Book, which publicized a number of methods by which young, penniless hippie agitators might live off the fat of a system supported by humorless drones. Steal This Book, whose title urged readers to damage the very means of distribution which had put it into their hands, might be described as a spiritual ancestor of a computer virus.
Hoffman, like many a later conspirator, made extensive use of pay- phones for his agitation work -- in his case, generally through the use of cheap brass washers as coin-slugs.
During the Vietnam War, there was a federal surtax imposed on telephone service; Hoffman and his cohorts could, and did, argue that in systematically stealing phone service they were engaging in civil disobedience: virtuously denying tax funds to an illegal and immoral war. But this thin veil of decency was soon dropped entirely. Ripping-off the System found its own justification in deep alienation and a basic outlaw contempt for conventional bourgeois values. Ingenious, vaguely politicized varieties of rip-off, which might be described as "anarchy by convenience," became very popular in Yippie circles, and because rip-off was so useful, it was to survive the Yippie movement itself. In the early 1970s, it required fairly limited expertise and ingenuity to cheat payphones, to divert "free" electricity and gas service, or to rob vending machines and parking meters for handy pocket change. It also required a conspiracy to spread this knowledge, and the gall and nerve actually to commit petty theft, but the Yippies had these qualifications in plenty. In June 1971, Abbie Hoffman and a telephone enthusiast sarcastically known as "Al Bell" began publishing a newsletter called Youth International Party Line. This newsletter was dedicated to collating and spreading Yippie rip-off techniques, especially of phones, to the joy of the freewheeling underground and the insensate rage of all straight people.
As a political tactic, phone-service theft ensured that Yippie advocates would always have ready access to the long-distance telephone as a medium, despite the Yippies' chronic lack of organization, discipline, money, or even a steady home address.
Party Line was run out of Greenwich Village for a couple of years, then "Al Bell" more or less defected from the faltering ranks of Yippiedom, changing the newsletter's name to TAP or Technical Assistance Program. After the Vietnam War ended, the steam began leaking rapidly out of American radical dissent. But by this time, "Bell" and his dozen or so core contributors had the bit between their teeth, and had begun to derive tremendous gut-level satisfaction from the sensation of pure technical power.
TAP articles, once highly politicized, became pitilessly jargonized and technical, in homage or parody to the Bell System's own technical documents, which TAP studied closely, gutted, and reproduced without permission. The TAP elite revelled in gloating possession of the specialized knowledge necessary to beat the system.
"Al Bell" dropped out of the game by the late 70s, and "Tom Edison" took over; TAP readers (some 1400 of them, all told) now began to show more interest in telex switches and the growing phenomenon of computer systems. In 1983, "Tom Edison" had his computer stolen and his house set on fire by an arsonist. This was an eventually mortal blow to TAP (though the legendary name was to be resurrected in 1990 by a young Kentuckian computeroutlaw named "Predat0r.")
Ever since telephones began to make money, there have been people willing to rob and defraud phone companies. The legions of petty phone thieves vastly outnumber those "phone phreaks" who "explore the system" for the sake of the intellectual challenge. The New York metropolitan area (long in the vanguard of American crime) claims over 150,000 physical attacks on pay telephones every year! Studied carefully, a modern payphone reveals itself as a little fortress, carefully designed and redesigned over generations, to resist coinslugs, zaps of electricity, chunks of coin-shaped ice, prybars, magnets, lockpicks, blasting caps. Public pay- phones must survive in a world of unfriendly, greedy people, and a modern payphone is as exquisitely evolved as a cactus.
Because the phone network pre-dates the computer network, the scofflaws known as "phone phreaks" pre-date the scofflaws known as "computer hackers." In practice, today, the line between "phreaking" and "hacking" is very blurred, just as the distinction between telephones and computers has blurred. The phone system has been digitized, and computers have learned to "talk" over phone-lines. What's worse -- and this was the point of the Mr. Jenkins of the Secret Service -- some hackers have learned to steal, and some thieves have learned to hack.
Despite the blurring, one can still draw a few useful behavioral distinctions between "phreaks" and "hackers." Hackers are intensely interested in the "system" per se, and enjoy relating to machines. "Phreaks" are more social, manipulating the system in a rough-and-ready fashion in order to get through to other human beings, fast, cheap and under the table.
Phone phreaks love nothing so much as "bridges," illegal conference calls of ten or twelve chatting conspirators, seaboard to seaboard, lasting for many hours -- and running, of course, on somebody else's tab, preferably a large corporation's. As phone-phreak conferences wear on, people drop out (or simply leave the phone off the hook, while they sashay off to work or school or babysitting), and new people are phoned up and invited to join in, from some other continent, if possible. Technical trivia, boasts, brags, lies, head-trip deceptions, weird rumors, and cruel gossip are all freely exchanged. The lowest rung of phone- phreaking is the theft of telephone access codes. Charging a phone call to somebody else's stolen number is, of course, a pig-easy way of stealing phone service, requiring practically no technical expertise. This practice has been very widespread, especially among lonely people without much money who are far from home. Code theft has flourished especially in college dorms, military bases, and, notoriously, among roadies for rock bands. Of late, code theft has spread very rapidly among Third Worlders in the US, who pile up enormous unpaid long-distance bills to the Caribbean, South America, and Pakistan.
The simplest way to steal phone-codes is simply to look over a victim's shoulder as he punches-in his own code-number on a public payphone. This technique is known as "shoulder-surfing," and is especially common in airports, bus terminals, and train stations. The code is then sold by the thief for a few dollars. The buyer abusing the code has no computer expertise, but calls his Mom in New York, Kingston or Caracas and runs up a huge bill with impunity. The losses from this primitive phreaking activity are far, far greater than the monetary losses caused by computer-intruding hackers. In the mid-to-late 1980s, until the introduction of sterner telco security measures, computerized code theft worked like a charm, and was virtually omnipresent throughout the digital underground, among phreaks and hackers alike. This was accomplished through programming one's computer to try random code numbers over the telephone until one of them worked. Simple programs to do this were widely available in the underground; a computer running all night was likely to come up with a dozen or so useful hits. This could be repeated week after week until one had a large library of stolen codes.