24Jun98 UK: HACKERS FIGHT NET MONSTERS. By Adam Barnard. A new breed of hackers who use their codebreaking skills to crack down on paedophiles and child pornographers on the Internet could help those campaigning to make the Net safe for children. Hackers were once the scourge of the computing world, reviled as anarchists on a trail of wanton electronic destruction. Now they are joining forces and forming secret societies to combat the people they accuse of posting child pornography on the Web and trying to procure youths in chat rooms. A reputation propogated by the media, now used conveniently to help his story. StRyKe (as he is known) is typical. By day an electronic systems specialist in Cumbria, the 25-year-old hacker spends evenings and weekends furthering the cause of his Internet Combat Group (ICG). Formed last year, the group's 15 members are united in two areas - their skills with the keyboard, and their hatred of people who exploit children. "It makes me sick," says StRyKe, his Lakeland tones giving way to an angry snarl. "These people are animals. They commit the worst sort of evil. There is no such thing as a good paedophile." The ICG is the first group of its kind to emerge in the UK, following a series of similar groups in America who report that only by breaking into the computer systems of alleged paedophiles can their locations be traced and their activities stopped. Although the processes involved are usually illegal, police in America accept information passed on to them on a "no questions asked" basis. Scotland Yard also says it will act on any information - no matter where it comes from. Suddenly hackers, who once occupied themselves with distributing pirated software, breaking into bank accounts and lifting classified information from defence networks, are taking on new ethical responsibilities. One American group has gone so far as to christen itself Ethical Hackers Against Paedophilia. "I do think of myself as moral," says StRyKe. "The traditional image of a hacker is no longer a valid one. I don't attack anyone who doesn't deserve it. We are talking about people who deliberately harm minors." The problems are well known. Paedophiles, rejected by society, have found sanctuary in the anonymity of the online world, where users can disguise their name, age and location. The Internet Watch Foundation, Britain's Internet watchdog, reports a trade of tens of thousands of pictures on the Web and on newsgroups, some of children as young as seven involved in sexual acts. Others use e-mail and chat rooms to lure children into the open, a practice known as "enticement". The difficulty facing police is that it is often impossible to trace people who post pictures and talk to children because the Internet makes it so easy for users to disguise themselves in layers of networks and routers. Child pornographers and child abusers have been able to communicate freely. But hackers like StRyKe hope they may finally reverse the trend. By using a host of advanced code-cracking techniques they are waging war against paedophiles, tracing their identities, attacking their computers and removing the pictures they post. And where is the evidence of any of this? EHAP has a single recorded incident of them helping as far as I have seen. It came about after they turned info over to the authorities, not from their own hacking skills. Like EHAP, we should question these claims as there is no proof this group or others have done what they claim. "Advanced code-cracking techniques", yet he lists stuff like 'finger' and 'ping', and even something like 'winnuke'. These are far from advanced tools. StRyKe says he started his crusade after stumbling on a link to a child porn site in a hacking newsgroup. "It was an Amsterdam site which offered pictures of little boys and girls," he says. "It was pretty horrendous." He reported the website to the service provider who carried its files, but "they didn't care. Those people never do anything." Shocked into action by what he had seen and frustrated by the apa thy of others, he turned to hacking. "I am fully aware that what I do is illegal," he says. "But I'm careful, and if I think I can get away with something I'll do it. I risk being banned from computers, fined and sent to jail, but if people are using a computer for something illegal it is indefensible. If you don't break the law, you don't get the results." StRyKe's first goal is to identify and locate suspected paedophiles. "There are ways of pinning down where they are working from, even if they have tried to disguise their identity," he says. He uses techniques with names such as "pinging" and "fingering" to trace users back to their original Internet service provider. "Once you have traced the path they take, you can use search engines and other methods to find a person's e-mail address and then learn their real name and address." Another option is to attack suspected paedophiles' computers to discourage them from logging on. "You can 'bomb' them, and there is a flaw in Windows 95 which you can take advantage of to lock up their system. You can knock them off-line." One reboot and they are back online. This does not stop them at all. An Australian hacking friend wrote a virus - appropriately named Codebreaker - for StRyKe and his colleagues. "It will wipe a computer clean," says StRyKe with palpable excitement. "It will take over the hard disk and destroy all the pictures. And this virus is like thousands before it. The trick is still getting the target to run the program in order for it to work. "Anything is possible. You can delete pictures posted on newsgroups and change what's on a website. You can take over a chat room and then ban everyone from it. You can even shut down an entire system. It's all a question of knowing how. "I'll do anything if I think it will ultimately help to protect children." Critics of StRyKe's tactics claim that legal methods work just as well. David Kerr, chief executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, which has the support of the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, argues that there are things his organisation can do that hackers cannot. "While we sympathise with their motives we can't condone what hackers do," he says. "We have a general brief against illegal activity on the Net and that includes hacking. There are legal ways of dealing with the problem, even if these methods can seem laborious and slow. Hackers may be able to do more damage but they are not as well connected to the police, which is ultimately what matters." It is often hard for hackers to find out whether their information has helped police. But American groups such as the Ethical Hackers Against Paedophilia insist they are already making a difference, and the FBI has gone on record supporting the practice. They claim that.. so where is the quote from the FBI? But even StRyKe concedes that hackers may never entirely rid the Internet of child abuse. "It is almost an impossible battle," he admits. "But if you stop one person from harming one child then it's been worth it. Additional comments from: "Peter A. DeNitto"
Excuse me while I rant. I do not condone child pornography. But I despise someone like this being seen in the eyes of the world as a, how does IBM put it, "Ethical Hacker?" This StRyKe is just like every 14 year old computer jock on IRC with their latest mIRC war scripts. He is just as malevolent as someone who does it to take down an ISP, or hack the DoJ website and put anti-semetic drivel up. It's the clueless media that puts fools like this on a pedestal. The media in it's lack of skill into anything technical, see someone like this as a real "do-gooder" and "really knows their 'hacking'" make me want to puke. Anybody can go to rootshell, download some binaries, and become just as big a hacker as StRyKe is. I'd wish they'd stop glorifying these people. They hack clueless sites set up by people like those in the media who don't know much but want to make money, (Isn't that what the internet is for???) and get lauded for their actions. They are not "Ethical Hackers" but "Vigilante Hackers", and the media seems to approve of and encourage more and more of this. Next, someone is going to say "I don't like people who run Pro-Choice sites," or "I don't like people who run gay & lesbian sites," or "I don't like people who run H/P/V/C sites" and these people find themselves flooded under a barrage of smurf pings, land/nestea/winnuke, spam/mailbombs until they can no longer deal with the "Vigilante Hackers" and are forced to remove their sites. Egging the Vigilante hackers on will just lead to a type of net justice not sought after by anyone but these hackers. It hurts everyone when someone is able to force someone else to remove their ideas and information from the net. The opressors should not be viewed any differently no matter what or whom their war is against. As everything we read here, the media makes the news what they want it to be. --Pete