Craig was seven when he discovered the catacombs.” His parents had taken him on a family visit to his uncle, and while the adults sat in the kitchen discussing the prices of sofas and local politics, young Craig Neidorf–whom the authorities would eventually prosecute as a dangerous, subversive hacker–found one of the first portals to Cyberia: a video game called Adventure. Like a child who wanders away from his parents during a tour of the Vatican to explore the ancient, secret passages beneath the public walkways, Craig had embarked on his own video-driven visionquest.
As he made his way through the game’s many screens and collected magical objects, Craig learned that he could use those objects to see portions of the game that no one else could. Even though he had completed whatever tasks were necessary in the earlier parts of the game, he was drawn back to explore them with his new vision. Craig was no longer interested in just winning the game–he could do that effortlessly. Now he wanted to get inside it. “I was able to walk through a wall into a room that did not exist,” Craig explains to me late one night over questionably accessed phone lines. “It was not in the instructions. It was not part of the game. And in that room was a message. It was a message from the creator of the game, flashing in black and gold…” Craig’s voice trails off. Hugh, my assistant and link-artist to the telephone net, adjusts his headset, checks a meter, then acknowledges with a nod that the conversation is still being recorded satisfactorily. Craig would not share with me what the message said–only that it motivated his career as a cyberian. This process–finding something that wasn’t written about, discovering something that I wasn’t supposed to know–it got me very interested. I searched in various other games and tried everything I could think of–even jiggling the power cord or the game cartridge just to see what would happen. That’s where my interest in playing with that kind of thing began … but then I got an Apple.”
At that point, Cyberia, which had previously been limited to the other side of the television screen, expanded to become the other side of the computer screen. With the help of a telephone connection called a modem, Craig was linked to a worldwide system of computers and communications. Now, instead of exploring the inner workings of a packaged video game, Craig was roaming the secret passages of the datasphere. By the time he was a teenager, Craig Neidorf had been arrested. Serving as the editor of an on-line magazine” (passed over phone lines from computer to computer) called _Phrack_, he was charged with publishing (legally, “transporting”) a dangerous, $79,000 program document detailing the workings of Bell South’s emergency 911 telephone system (specifically, the feature that allows them to trace incoming calls). At Neidorf’s trial, a Bell South employee eventually revealed that the program was actually a three-page memo available to Bell South customers for less than $30. Neidorf was put on a kind of probation for a year, but he is still raising money to cover his $100,000 legal expenses. But the authorities and, for most part, adult society are missing the point here. Craig and his compatriots are not interested in obtaining and selling valuable documents. These kids are not stealing information–they are surfing data. In Cyberia, the computer serves as a metaphor as much as a tool; to hack through one system to another and yet another is to discover the secret rooms and passageways where no one has ever traveled before. The web of interconnected computer networks provides the ultimate electronic neural extension for the growing mind. To reckon with this technological frontier of human consciousness means to reevaluate the very nature of information, creativity, property and human relations.
January 18, 1990, University of Missouri pre-law student Craig Neidorf was visited by a U.S. Secret Service agent and a BellSouth Security representative. This visit concerned an E911 (Enhanced 911) emergency system, which appeared heavily revised in Issue 24 of _Phrack_. _Phrack_ is an electronic magazine which Neidorf published. During this visit Neidorf was quick to cooperate and answered all the question that they presented. The next day, the same visitors returned, confronting him with a search warrant.
January 29, 1990, Neidorf and his attorney ventured into the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago. A more broader line of questioning commenced and once again he willingly answered.
February 1, 1990 a grand jury indicted Neidorf with six counts including wire fraud, computer fraud, and transportation of stolen property worth over $5,000.
June, 1990, the grand jury dropped the computer fraud charges and added more wire fraud charges. Neidorf now faced ten felony charge. The maximum penalty totaled to 65 years in prison.
July 23, 1990, the trial began in Chicago’s District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The arsenal of “truth” the prosecution had withheld included witnesses, the Secret Service agent, Robert Riggs (who was a friend of Neidorf being accused of conspiring with Neidorf), and many employees of BellSouth. The prosecution’s four main pieces of evidence included the E911 file that appeared in _Phrack_, that was supposed to be hackinginstructions, a Trojan Horse program, and an announcement in _Phrack_ of “The Phoenix Project”, which included a statement saying, “Knowledge is the key to the future and is FREE”(Denning 616)
When presented in court, it became clear, that Phrack version of E911 file was not presented in a way that could be useful for hacking. It was also shown, through Robert Rigg’s testimony, that BellSouth cared little enough about protecting this file far it to be considered very sensitive. Riggs used an account without a password to “break-ins” to their system.
The three articles appearing in Phrack which were considered threatening enough to motivate one count of indictment, for conspiring to steal property and Publish stolen documents, were also disproves by Riggs testimony.
The Trojan Horse Login Program evidence approached by the prosecution was also disproves. Not only did Neidorf follow acceptable procedures of inquiry on the file, his ownership of this program provided no intent of criminal activity, and his programing is commonly understood, as far as construction and usage within the computer science realm.
Finally, “The Phoenix Project,” which the government believed to be a large conspiracy of publishing stolen info. was provided to be no longer a danger. At a Summer Conference in 1988, in St. Louis, where the “new age” was supposed to begin. The Secret Service observed the meeting with about 15 hours video tape and discovered nothing significant, concerning security intrusion.
On the Friday, of the week, of the trial, the government declared a mistrial, undoubtedly for fear of public humiliation. Craig Neidorf unfortunately was left with a $100,000 court bill.