May 19 1999  INTERFACE 
Hack turned tracker 
John Vranesvich was 19 when he found himself in the ultimate hide-and- seek game. It was just after the
best co-ordinated attack ever on the Pentagon's computer system, with the perpetrators still at large. 
Vranesvich's pager went off with the telephone n umber of the person everyone was looking for: on 4 March
last year, he got the first interview with Ehud Tenebaum, nicknamed 'Analyser', who claimed to "own" 400
US Defense Department systems. When he was charged with illegally accessing computer systems, the only
place to read about the hacker's reactions was on Vranesvich's Internet magazine, AntiOnline. 

"I didn't sleep a lot that week," says Vranesvich, whose website is dedicated to stories about computer
security and those who circumvent it. Hackers use the site to boast about their exploits and take pot
shots at the FBI.

Vranesvich admits that the word "hacker" has negative connotations. He prefers to call himself "a
computer security enthusiast". The risk he runs by writing about the hackers is that he glorifies them.
"There's a fine line," he says. "You have to report it because it's news. But, then again, you are
feeding hackers what they want."

[I think it fair to say you can report news without going to the extreme
JP does by giving them that sort fo press.]

Among the stories covered on the site was that of a 16-year- old boy, nicknamed - Chameleon - who broke
into an American military facility, stole some data and sold it to someone claiming to be a terrorist.
AntiOnline also reported the conclusion of the tale, when "Chameleon" was raided by the FBI.

"When these kids are sitting at home , they're not seeing the lives they could be putting in danger by
shutting down a communications system or stealing classified data," Vranesvich says. "We show kids the
reality of what they're doing." He is used to the US Department of Defence tapping him on the shoulder

[How? AntiOnline does not show kids the reality of what they are doing.
They use them for media attention and encourage their activity.]

for information. Recently, he published a story about Christopher Wiest, a 21 year old US Air Force
Academy Cadet charged with breaking into three commercial sites. Vranesvich investigated the case and
felt the cadet was not guilty. The prosecution called him after the story had been published and later
dropped one of the charges. 

Vranesvich can pinpoint the day when he discovered his niche. His headmaster had received a call from
Nasa, concerned that someone at the school had tried to break into one of the space station's sites. As
it turned out, the school had been used as a bounc epoint. "I was fascinated by how a little school was
being used by some evil third party," he says. "I'm not one of those people who used to break into sites
and then decided that was wrong," he adds. "I was always worried about how to secure a system, not how
to break into it."

[Firsthand experience hacking & Never been a hacker .. so which is it?]

However, his professors at the University of Pittsburgh took a different view. They filed charges against
Vranesvich for running AntiOnline from college. He dropped out after a year and worked on his site from
his parents' living room.

Within five months, he had secured backing from venture capitalists and Vranesvich was able to move into
an office. These days he employs one full-time and 15 freelance writers. He is passionate about his work,
which leaves him little time for playing computer games. "We'll be sitting here and a story will break -
that's a big enough rush," he says.