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Misshapen identity: Unmasking Fox's Unahacker

Could it be? Media mogul Murdoch wanted me to do some real private eye work!

Returning late last night from New York, I found the following message headers in my in-box:

"From: Rupert Murdoch
"Date: 02:24 AM 12/14/97
"Subject: Who the hell is Heike"

The body copy read this way:
"DuBaud: Like your column. Challenge for you: Fox site was hacked this week. Hacker said couldn't love Scully from our X-Files show because he loves Heike. Who the hell is Heike?!? Who the hell hacked my site?!? Find out and I'll let you direct an episode of Melrose Place. Cheers, RM"

Could it be? Media mogul Murdoch wanted me to do some real private eye work! I would have to pass on Sam and Cokie trading their usual Washington witticisms. I made myself a nice bowl of muesli and got down to business.

After looking again at the now-famous "Heike" quote that had been left on the Fox site, I hit the search engines, finding dozens of female Netizens with the name "Heike," mostly in Northern Europe. There were Web designers, eccentric-looking scientists from Germany, med students from Sweden, theoretical physicists and artists from Austria, and even a dust researcher --true!--here in California. Was our smitten hacker enamored with one of these obviously intelligent, go-getter-type Heikes? Or was it something more sinister?

Someone named Queen Freeze sent me a JPEG from a "fantasy site" in Sweden that depicted what looked like a Satanic ritual. In the foreground of the image was a woman, who--despite her pointed ears and the dead chicken in her hands--was kinda cute. The name of the image? "Heike.jpg." Coincidence? Was our hacker in league with the artist formerly known as the Prince of Darkness?

None of the above! Heike, I suddenly realized, wouldn't be a scientist, an artist, or even a devotee of the Big Nasty. She would be a TV star, just like the real-life Scully, Gillian Anderson. I sniffed around some German TV/media sites, and there she was, the most likely candidate yet: Heike Makatsch, the beautiful young hostess of the German show Bravo TV, sort of a Soledad Von Brien, with fan pages in both Germany and Japan. Was this the Heike that had captured the heart of our young hacker? My Skinny sense tingled with possibility.

As Christmas approaches, rumors abound that the Santa Claus who is supposed to bring a little online community cheer to AOL needs some new helpers.

First up, a reader said she emailed "SantaClaus@aol.com" to say that "Santa is sooooo fake." Two responses came back: "You too can believe in Santa" and "You may be on Santa's good list." But then one of Santa's elves wrote back, accusing the reader of "trying to ruin the Christmas spirit for everyone" and saying that she "should not be emailing Santa if you don't believe in him!" Yet another example of AOL's tradition of customer service excellence.

One more email to "SantaClaus@aol.com" cast doubt upon St. Nick's attention span. "Dear Santa," wrote a frustrated AOL subscriber, "While you're at Steve Case's house this Christmas Eve, would you mind beating him about the head and neck with a blunt instrument, then tell him that help is currently unavailable and to try back later? Thanks."

He could have asked for AOL to hire 1,000 more service reps, but that wouldn't have been as much fun. Here's Santa's reply: "Thanks for letting me know what you want this year! I always find getting letters like yours extremely helpful, since it helps to give me a better idea of what you and other kids just like you want for Christmas."

Speaking of naughty and nice, more Internet World tidbits: We still may not know who Santa Claus or Heike really is, but I had no doubts who sat in front of me on the plane ride back East: Thomas Dolby, 80s pop whiz and current code wonk with his own digital audio company, Headspace. He ambled on rather late in a Java hat and obligatory goatee and chatted up a Symantec "technical evangelist" for the uneventful flight, filling my napping brain with fragments of Java classes and virtual machine comparisons.

Once we touched down, celebs were everywhere. Alas, Internet World could only muster up the cut-rate duo of Ivana Trump, ex-wife of The Donald, and Brent Spiner, who plays a pasty android of one of those boring Star Trek shows.

After a week of chasing rumors and faded stars, I spent the weekend in Gotham in search of something a bit more fabulous. I came closest with an evening at Click and Drag, a transvestite club that explores both sexual and technological fetishisms. I checked my semiotics dissertation at the door, whipped out my latex Fedora, and boogied down with the, um, girls! Now that I'm back by the Bay, life will be a real drag if you don't send me your rumors. As always, your true identity is safe with me.