11) Denial


I kept the kids deliberately oblivious to the war. I never told them of my trials and tribulations. To them it would just be ancient history. And there never seemed to be any point.

In the suburbs, you don’t take needless chances with your children. You don’t brag about skipping school or going drinking with your friends. You don’t wax poetic about marijuana or promiscuity. And you certainly don’t drone on about pirates, war dialing entire phone exchanges or using WATS lines and PBXs to obfuscate exploration into random computer systems with lax security. You just keep your mouth shut and act like a responsible dad.

But ignoring the war doesn’t mean the scars don’t ache. I felt a stabbing pain each time the feds busted another 16 year old hacker. Another geek’s future down the drain. At least it’s not Libby’s.

When the news reported, “Millions of dollars of stolen software found on busted teen’s BBS!” I felt sick to my stomach. But thank god it wasn’t Gary.

When I heard the Secret Service had confiscated Loyd’s role playing book I thought the war couldn’t get any stupider. They’d come for William Gibson next. Better him than Christopher.


Two months later it got stupider. In fact all hell broke loose. In May local police and 150 Secret Service agents came down, like storm-troopers, in the suburbs of thirteen different cities. Executing 27 search warrants, they confiscated 42 computers, 23 thousand floppy disks, and 25 bulletin board systems.

They called it Operation Sun Devil. It hit the front page of every newspaper. Hacking led every newscast. It was now official. Hackers were evil and anyone with a computer was suspect.

Today, the Secret Service is sending a clear message to those computer hackers who have decided to violate the laws of this nation in the mistaken belief that they can successfully avoid detection by hiding behind the relative anonymity of their computer terminals.

I was a computer geek so everyone felt compelled to asked me what I thought. But like with the VCR, they didn’t really want my opinion. They just wanted expert confirmation of what they’d seen on TV.

I quickly gave up trying to explain that no one was actually arrested for hacking. Or that the feds had shutdown a teenager’s magazine and a company who published game books. Or that the secret 911 emergency documents were publicly available for $13. Those kinds of comments just got people agitated. “Yes, I was surprised too!” I said instead.

What I really wanted to say was, “You fucking idiot! I’m a hacker! Hacker’s built the computer industry and changed your life. These people are not evil, they’re my friends and collegues. The feds are cluelessly crippling the young people busy inventing your future!” But I didn’t, so my kids could keep their friends.

Early summer there was talk of a counter strike. A team of old school hackers was forming a legal team to defend the young. I cheered a quiet, guilty sort of cheer at the announcement of the Electronic Freedom Foundation. At least someone would publicly stand up to for Loyd—even if I’d only send a check.

After Christmas there was open rebellion. The country’s hackers both elite and noob came together publicly in my very backyard. The feds got a personal invitation just to show no one was “hiding”. I felt deeply disloyal for ducking the meet. But after being queazy for days, I decided not to risk Janet and the kid’s future just to play with fire. Gallivanting around with adolescent hackers taunting federal agents could open up a serious can worms. NASA hadn’t asked about my previous troubles. I hadn’t volunteered them.

By the end of the decade hackers were screaming “Free Kevin”, L0pht was testifying before congress, a Super Bowl ad showed hackers launching nuclear missiles and the news was reporting, “China sentences hackers to death!”

“Just stay out of it!” A disembodied voice shouted through my head. It pounded in my temples at every evil hacker news story for more than a decade.

The war had long been lost. I’d known that from the beginning. Yet that didn’t mean the fighting would ever end. It didn’t make the winners right, the losers wrong, nor extinguish the angry fire that burned in my soul.

But no amount of personal angst would ever, ever, make me sacrifice my family to the perpetual war!

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