[THere is a chance this article was removed because of the legal threats made by John Vranesevich against
the Ottawa Citizen. It is preserved here for posterity.]
The Ottawa Citizen Online Business Page
Monday 19 July 1999
Spy vs. spy in the hacker underworld
Network security expert is under investigation for attacks on U.S. government Web sites
The Ottawa Citizen
In the murky world of hackers and crackers, appearances can be deceptive. "White hat" good guys,
working for software or security firms, have occasionally been caught moonlighting as "black hat"
Such appears to be the case with John Vranesevich, a network security expert and founder of top-rated
hacker Web site AntiOnline. Mr. Vranesevich is currently under investigation by the FBI with regard
to recent attacks on U.S. government Web sites. It is alleged that he may have employed hackers to
target high profile sites in order to scoop the rest of the media with exclusive reporting.
Mr. Vranesevich has denied the allegations.
Brian Martin, also under FBI investigation for hacking, recently released a report on his Web site
details a series of links between Mr. Vranesevich and an
alleged member of the hacker group Masters of Downloading, which claimed responsibility for the U.S.
Senate Web site hack earlier this month.
Mr. Martin, who researches hacker culture through his Web site, claims to have been tracking
questionable AntiOnline reporting over the past year.
Mr. Vranesevich, 20, has over the past couple of years become one of the most widely quoted and
authoritative sources on hacking and security-related information.╩Begun in late 1994 as a 5-megabyte
high school hobby Web site, AntiOnline has since grown into a multi-domain business venture.
ABC News has described it as a "Rick's Cafe in the Casablanca world of hacking."╩Besides reporting on
hacking news, the site offers a downloadable library of hacking software tools, archives of several
hacker newsletters and journals, and copies of some of the hacked pages featured in reported stories.
While growing increasingly popular with the mainstream media, however, Mr. Vranesevich has slowly
built up a number of enemies among the hacker underground.
Spurred, perhaps, by an extensive FBI and U.S. Department of Justice hacker crackdown, which resulted
in raids on 20 suspected hackers across six states, Mr. Vranesevich declared a dramatic change of
stance, distancing himself from the subjects he covers.
In a "Change in Mission" notice posted on his Web site, Mr. Vranesevich said: "Unfortunately, I've
found myself looking in the mirror with disgust these past few months. Looking back, I've seen myself
talking with people who have broken into hundreds of governmental servers, stolen sensitive data from
military sites, broken into atomic research centres, and yes, people who have even attempted to sell
data to individuals that presented themselves as being foreign terrorists ╔ Many times, I knew about
these instances before hand, and could have stopped them."
He also claimed to have been secretly working with the U.S. Airforce to develop a "profile of a
hacker" for use in fighting "CyberCrime".
Mr. Vranesevich's message concluded with a note to the thousands of hackers who read his site: "You
yell and scream about freedom of speech, yet you destroy sites which have information that disagree
with your opinions.╩You yell and scream about privacy, yet you install trojans into others' systems,
and read their personal email and files. You truly are hypocrites.╩All of these grand manifestos that
you develop are little more than excuses that you make up to justify your actions to yourself."
Mr. Martin, on the other hand, alleges that many of the reports from AntiOnline, and subsequent
follow-on reporting in other media outlets, have been exaggerated and sensationalized.
"Not only had AntiOnline driven the media hype behind the stories, they put various government and
Department of Defense organizations on full alert preparing for the fallout these attacks would
cause," he states on his own Web site.
In detailing the relationship between Mr. Vranesevich and the alleged hacker in questions, Mr. Martin
notes that "the typical journalist/contact relationship did not exist, and in fact, AntiOnline may
have been responsible for creating some of the news to report on ╔ he pays people to break into sites
in order to report on it as an exclusive."