What a Lovely Gesture

by J.D. Tuccille
August 20, 1996

On rare occasion, some small thing moves me to say a hearty “Well done!” and order drinks all around. So it is with the unknown hacker who penetrated Department of Justice security (which supposedly shields the computer systems of the folks who assure us that of course they’ll keep our escrowed encryption keys in a safe place) and made a few pointed editorial changes to the official Web site of U.S. justice.

Unfortunately, piecing together the exact nature of the alteration takes a bit of digging. Some news organizations seem to have closed ranks with the feds to put an official spin on this embarassing bit of mischief. The latest news reports have characterized the hacker’s changes as “a hate-filled diatribe” — hate crimes having replaced communist tendencies as the bogeyman of the current era. These stories emphasized the use of swastikas, obscenities, and a picture of Adolph Hitler. They also attribute the hacker’s motivation to “anger over the growth and commercialization of the Internet.”

Uh huh. So we have a technically skilled neo-nazi who’s pissed off over cyber-shopping. Then he decides to raid the feds. Hmmm.

But, by reading several stories — especially the early coverage, it becomes apparent that the hacked changes had little in common with skinheads, or with resentment over the growth of the Net. The altered site’s content criticized the Communications Decency Act, gun control, and the major party candidates for president. The photo of Adolph Hitler was identified as the Attorney General (what does Jackboot Janet see when she looks in the mirror?), and the Department of Justice overall was closely identified with ... ummm ... a certain longing for the grand old days of 1930s Germany when the national will was not so lightly defied.

Add in a topless shot of one of my favorite TV actresses (I love the digital age) — guaranteed to put the Department’s own site in violation of the CDA — and nothing was done to which I can raise an objection. Actually, I’d like to see that shot.

If it accomplished nothing else, this harmless little prank — for nothing was harmed but some government lawyers’ pride — punctured a nice, neat little hole in the DOJ’s sanctimonious cloak of invulnerability. It reminded the intrusive gnomes at Justice that they can be got to. This time, just the site; next time ... maybe Reno’s credit rating. As hacks go this was a warning shot across the bow intended to result in nothing more than news stories and red faces.

And what a nice start.

This is exactly the sort of thing we should be seeing more of, the sort of thing I’ve called for in the past. Gestures like this keep government officials unbalanced and waiting for the perpetrator to come crashing in through an office window or crawling through a bank statement with the next move in the game. Maybe something nastier comes along, maybe it doesn’t. We’ll never tell. Tell? Hell, we don’t know because this sort of resistance to the overgrown hall monitors of the state isn’t coordinated in any way. And that’s the best part. Because once the ball gets rolling it’s look-over-your-shoulder time if you draw a federal paycheck. BOO!

Once again, my congratulations, you hacker you, whoever you are. Someday you’ll have to tell me your favorite brand, and we’ll hoist a pint.

From the Notebook

To date, I have received exactly no notes regarding either the Republican or Reform Party conventions. Unless interest suddenly surges for next week’s tense, long-anticipated, larf-a-minute reunion of the the Democratic Party and the windy city (hey! concussions all around!), I’m gonna have to assume that everybody’s expending their energy on less lofty callings.

Tut, tut. Such a dearth of public spirit.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

On another note, as some of you know, I’m in the process of moving back to New York City. Next week promises to be a tad harried, so Full Automatic may or may not appear on time.

But I will be back.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 1996 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.