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As a child, I loved taking things apart. I was always overly precocious and immensely curious—so much so, that I was frequently disciplined for “breaking” things. Years later, as a young adult—I would find myself taking things apart again—only this time, I was a divorced mother of three and going back to college, where the taking-apart part inspired and ignited a thirst for security knowledge that has not been quenched by the passage of time.


During late September 1994, I stepped into the college computer lab for the first time—it was love at first sight. I stood in awe as I glanced at 50 plus sentinel-like mysterious boxes staring back at me. I thought to myself: “Holy mackerel . . . I want to open you up and examine your internals.”


It was no easy task to get a work-study job at the campus computer lab. During the interim, I had to take a job in the networking department manning the reception desk. Fortunately for me, the reception desk was strategically located within ear distance of the campus help desk. It was “ears on” time as I listened to client calls and student workers chatting up tech talk amongst themselves.

Overall, I put the reception desk to good use and met other student network gurus and began asking questions—myriad questions. They were all quite eager to answer my questions, demonstrate UNIX commands and share recommended readings.

It wasn’t long before I found myself working both the help desk and the hardware department. Having made friends with the network department’s most promising student network guru, I found myself traipsing through the network and fell head-over-heels in love with the bash shell.

Little did I know (back then) that 15 years into my future, I would be consulting at a startup company: Virtual World Computing (VWC) with the original author of the GNU Bash shell, Brian Fox.


Back then, my favorite scanning tools were nmap and SATAN. Discovering vulnerabilities on the campus network eventually netted me God-powers. Shortly thereafter, I was checking out networks and databases at other universities and soon upped the ante to government snooping too.

In the late 90s, security was extremely lax and rife with gaping perimeter holes. In my mind, they left the front door wide open and I accepted the invite.

Information sharing

Back then, the Internet was still young. From IRC (resplendent with hacker channels) to Usenet (cracking, hacking, and computer virus news groups), information sharing was queen of the hub.

It was a time where hackers and hacker clans would meet up in secret AOL chatrooms. Whenever the conversations ebbed (or bored me), I would peek into other chatrooms—hence, at the time, clanproggies and zeraw became three of my favorites.

That was back when rogue programs like Aohell, Fate X and HaVok generated fake credit card numbers, fake addresses and fake telephone numbers—giving hackers a month to hang out until AOL discovered that the credit card and account was a fake.

AOL was a bullseye target for hackers back in the day—from AIM-jacking to pricing plan upgrades—there was an easy hack available to hackers at any skill level.

Local crew

I belonged to a local hacker group and also maintained connections online to other hacker groups. Back in the day, our local group was never malicious (not in my circle at least)—just innately curious. Monetizing any of the information that we consumed would have earned an immediate blacklisting.

Yes, some of us were in it for ego and status, but never to exploit the information that we accessed and perused.

In our minds, it was all about stretching the boundaries to see how far we could go without getting caught. We were a small close-knit community, and as a community of hackers, we also took great care to maintain anonymity and stay under the radar.


As for myself, I loved the rush—editing log files to remove traces always pumped up my adrenalin. What if we had to make a quick exit and touched the wrong date and time? This was always a major concern for me. I also had to be cautious about the technical expertise of the system administrator—specifically when entering government territory.

The Germans

Late 1996 brought many changes to my hacking space. I made connections with German hackers and ultimately, ended up regretting it. I’ll save the German hacker story for next time…

What about you? Got an “old school” hacking story? Let us know in the comments below.


Bev RobbAbout the Author: Bev Robb is the security-technology editor at Fortscale.Bev has a BS in sociology and is a sporadic blogger at her Teksecurity blog. She can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this and other guest author articles are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.

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