'Innocent' hackers want their computers back

时间:2019-03-02 09:05:01166网络整理admin

By DAN CHARLES in SAN FRANCISCO Operation Sun Devil, a highly publicised raid two years ago on computer hackers in the US, has so far yielded little evidence of serious computer crime. Yet law enforcement officials are refusing to return 40 computers and 23 000 discs that were seized. The raids took place exactly two years ago, on 8 May 1990. Some 150 federal agents and hundreds of state and local police took part in raids in 14 cities across the US. The operation got its name from the local folklore of Arizona, the southwestern state where federal and state officials organised the raid. Sports teams at Arizona State University in Phoenix are known as the ‘Sun Devils’ and their uniforms carry images of sun-baked gremlins with horns and pitchforks. Law enforcement officials said at the time that the raids were the culmination of a two-year investigation into cases of credit card and computer fraud that resulted in $50 million worth of damage. They called the hackers a ‘frightening threat’. But the results from Operation Sun Devil have been meagre. Three hackers have been charged with crimes as a result of the raid, and pleaded guilty rather than face trial. Two were sentenced to probation, and the third still awaits sentencing. Gail Thackeray, a prosecutor in Arizona who helped to organise the raids, says that the investigation will produce a series of indictments. She says it has simply taken a long time to wade through the ‘incredible volume’ of evidence. Thackeray no longer has direct responsibility for Operation Sun Devil cases, because they have been turned over to federal prosecutors in Washington. David Sobel of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), a pressure group, says that the raids may have uncovered far less evidence of fraud than expected. He says that law enforcement officials sometimes overstate the dangers posed by hackers, who are often teenagers engaging in electronic vandalism rather than systematic fraud. CPSR has gone to court to force the government to release documents that describe the evidence behind Operation Sun Devil. This evidence is contained in affidavits that law enforcement officials must submit to a judge in order to obtain a search warrant. Such affidavits are normally made public when a case is tried, but the government refuses to release any Operation Sun Devil documents because this would interfere with ongoing investigations. Sobel suspects that there was little justification for many of the raids. CPSR believes that the government confiscated equipment that had nothing to do with any crimes, such as computers for bulletin board systems that act as a meeting place for hackers. Such bulletin boards are computers connected to phone lines. People can use their own computers to call in, leave messages, and read the latest news. One of the best-known of these bulletin boards, called RIPCO, was shut down by Operation Sun Devil. Bruce Esquibel, who managed RIPCO, says that hackers rarely used his board to trade swap information, such as credit card numbers. He says that when such information did show up, he deleted it. Esquibel, who goes by the name Dr Ripco in hacker circles, is still waiting for several computers and a laser printer to be released from legal custody. In January 1991, the government affidavit on which the RIPCO search warrant was based became public. Hackers located it in the library of a Chicago court and published it in an electronic journal called the Computer Underground Digest. The affidavit reveals that much of the evidence for this search came from an ‘underground bulletin board system’ that was set up by law enforcement agents to infiltrate the hacker scene. Hackers say that the operator of the underground bulletin board, who called himself ‘The Dictator’, often sent messages recruiting other hackers to join the discussions he moderated. They say The Dictator tried to get people to incriminate themselves by steering the discussion toward sensitive information,