I'll never forget the day I wrote my first bit of code. The program itself was instantly forgettable--a digital egg timer that ran on the Timex Sinclair--but I felt like it had granted me membership in a clerisy of great hackers. But when Grandma DuBaud heard me bragging about my programming triumph, she severed the phone line to my bedroom, muttering something about not harboring "any hackers or communists in my house."
Like most people, Grandma DuBaud thinks of hackers as malicious Mitnick-types, tunneling through the telephone wires to snatch her credit card number and listen in on her calls. But, if I may do my William Safire impression, a hacker does not a cracker make. In the lingo of hackerdom, crackers are, of course, the bad guys, the ones who break into phone switches and intercept your email. Hackers, on the other hand, are no more evil than your average, overworked geek.
Was it a hacker or a cracker that broke into GeoCities' home page yesterday? That depends on who you talk to. For an undetermined period of time, the site bore the graffito "Hacked by Frolic," along with a cryptic blurb: "Sorry dudes, the era of free email is over."
The blurb piqued my interest so I had one of my lackeys call up GeoCities, which offers a free home page and email account to Net surfers, to see if there was any truth to it. "We've announced no changes nor do we have any plans to change," said David Bohnett, the head cheese at GeoCities. "All we're planning to offer is more free email."
Bohnett didn't want to speculate on who the culprits were, nor did my tipsters. However, GeoCities made a few enemies recently when it informed a volunteer corps of community leaders that they would have to include a special navigational ad banner on their own home pages. Bohnett denied that the banners were ever mandatory, but a handful of GeoCities "homesteaders" told me they got a different message from the company.
While hackers were getting busy, the crypto honchos were getting dissed in D.C. Apparently, a group of bigwigs, including Louis Freeh of the FBI, William Crowell of NSA, Peter Neumann of SRI, and Ray Ozzie of Lotus, flew all the way out to the nation's capital for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on cryptography, only to be informed 20 minutes before the meeting that it had been canceled. Grumbling ensued as the various participants stormed back to Dulles airport. The meeting may pick up after the July 4 recess. There's no recess for me from rumormongering. Email me your best gossip and I won't cancel at the last minute.