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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 July, 2005, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Key hacker magazine faces closure
By Mark Ward
BBC News website technology correspondent

Rotary dial phone, BBC
Before the net most hackers were phreakers
The in-house magazine of the digital underground, Phrack, is closing after 20 years as its editorial team steps down.

As much manifesto as hacking handbook, the magazine was hugely influential in the early days of hacker culture.

It was very closely associated with legendary hacking groups such as the Legion of Doom that were the first serious explorers of cyberspace.

As hackers moved from dial-up bulletin boards on to the net, the magazine kept its place as a knowledgeable, and often scurrilous, source of security information.

For instance, issue 62 of Phrack contained articles about getting round Windows buffer overflow protections, advances in Windows shellcode, attacking Apache and hijacking wireless base stations.

History lessons

"Phrack is still really well known," said Ollie, current editor of the magazine. "There are a lot of security magazines but no hacking magazines."

Stan, a regular Phrack contributor, said the fact that it had survived for 20 years gave it a great deal of influence.

"There are a lot of groups that put out their own magazines and they usually last about three issues," he said.

Phone jack and plug, Eyewire
We explore and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge and you call us criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto
The Mentor, Phrack 7, phile 3
Ollie said that Phrack had evolved as hacking had changed and said that the basic skill level hackers need to build up was rising all the time.

"It's much harder to get to a point where you can actually do stuff," he said. "You have to learn much more and read many more books. The entry level of skills has been raised."

The deadline for sending in articles for the last issue is 10 July.

To commemorate Phrack's final appearance, issue 63 will be a hardback edition available at the Defcon and WhatTheHack2005 hacker conventions.

The first issue of Phrack was published on 11 November 1985 and much of the information it detailed was about phreaking - essentially hacking the phone system.

This was because in 1985 the only place hackers talked to each other was via dial-up bulletin board systems. At that time the net was almost an entirely academic, governmental and military network. Commercial use of it was prohibited.

Legal challenge

Phrack originated on a bulletin board known as Metal Shop but its issues were held by any board that wanted to consider itself part of the digital underground.

Phrack's main contributors, Taran King and Knight Lightning, boosted its popularity by writing profiles of well-known hackers, such as Erik Bloodaxe and The Mentor, and searching out articles that expanded people's knowledge of how telephone and computer networks worked.

Whether you know it or not, if you are a hacker, you are a revolutionary. Don't worry, you're on the right side.
Dr Crash, Phrack 6, phile 3
The magazine got caught up in the series of raids on hackers and hacker groups that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Phrack editor Knight Lightning, aka Craig Neidorf, was arrested, charged with fraud and tried before a grand jury for reprinting most of a confidential document, known as the E911 document, stolen from the Bell South telephone company. Bell South claimed that the confidential E911 document contained sensitive information and put its value at $80,000.

The case became a cause celebre for the digital underground and Mr Neidorf's defence was organised by the fledgling Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The case against Mr Neidorf collapsed when it was shown that the E911 paper could be ordered by phone from Bell South for only $13.

Bruce Sterling, author and digital lifestyle guru who wrote about Phrack in his 1992 book The Hacker Crackdown, thought it unlikely that the magazine would disappear for ever.

"I'd be surprised to see the thing stay dead," he told the BBC News website, "They've got no fixed address and anonymous contributors."

"Any set of unruly teenagers could start Phrack up because that's who started it in the first place."

Ollie from Phrack said that the team would be happy to hand it over to a new group that wanted to start it up again.

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14 Oct 02 |  Technology

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