segunda-feira, 29 de agosto de 2011

Par didn't mean to fall in love with Theorem. It was an accident, and he couldn't have picked a worse girl to fall for. For starters, she lived in Switzerland. She was 23 and he was only seventeen. She also happened to be in a relationship — and that relationship was with Electron, one of the best Australian hackers of the late 1980s. But Par couldn't help himself. She was irresistible, even though he had never met her in person. Theorem was different. She was smart and funny, but refined, as a European woman can be.

They met on Altos in 1988.

Theorem didn't hack computers. She didn't need to, since she could connect to Altos through her old university computer account. She had first found Altos on 23 December 1986. She remembered the date for two reasons. First, she was amazed at the power of Altos — that she could have a live conversation on-line with a dozen people in different countries at the same time. Altos was a whole new world for her. Second, that was the day she met Electron.

Electron made Theorem laugh. His sardonic, irreverent humour hit a chord with her. Traditional Swiss society could be stifling and closed, but Electron was a breath of fresh air. Theorem was Swiss but she didn't always fit the mould. She hated skiing. She was six feet tall. She liked computers.

When they met on-line, the 21-year-old Theorem was at a crossroad in her youth. She had spent a year and a half at university studying mathematics. Unfortunately, the studies had not gone well. The truth be told, her second year of university was in fact the first year all over again. A classmate had introduced her to Altos on the university's computers. Not long after she struck up a relationship with Electron, she dropped out of uni all together and enrolled in a secretarial course. After that, she found a secretarial job at a financial institution.

Theorem and Electron talked on Altos for hours at a time. They talked about everything — life, family, movies, parties — but not much about what most people on Altos talked about — hacking. Eventually, Electron gathered up the courage to ask Theorem for her voice telephone number. She gave it to him happily and Electron called her at home in Lausanne. They talked. And talked. And talked. Soon they were on the telephone all the time.

Seventeen-year-old Electron had never had a girlfriend. None of the girls in his middle-class high school would give him the time of day when it came to romance. Yet here was this bright, vibrant girl — a girl who studied maths — speaking to him intimately in a melting French accent. Best of all, she genuinely liked him. A few words from his lips could send her into silvery peals of laughter.

When the phone bill arrived, it was $1000. Electron surreptitiously collected it and buried it at the bottom of a drawer in his bedroom.

When he told Theorem, she offered to help pay for it. A cheque for $700 showed up not long after. It made the task of explaining Telecom's reminder notice to his father much easier.

The romantic relationship progressed throughout 1987 and the first half of 1988. Electron and Theorem exchanged love letters and tender intimacies over 16000 kilometres of computer networks, but the long-distance relationship had some bumpy periods. Like when she had an affair over several months with Pengo. A well-known German hacker with links to the German hacking group called the Chaos Computer Club, Pengo was also a friend and mentor to Electron. Pengo was, however, only a short train ride away from Theorem. She became friends with Pengo on Altos and eventually visited him. Things progressed from there.

Theorem was honest with Electron about the affair, but there was something unspoken, something below the surface. Even after the affair ended, Theorem was sweet on Pengo the way a girl remains fond of her first love regardless of how many other men she has slept with since then.

Electron felt hurt and angry, but he swallowed his pride and forgave Theorem her dalliance. Eventually, Pengo disappeared from the scene.

Pengo had been involved with people who sold US military secrets — taken from computers — to the KGB. Although his direct involvement in the ongoing international computer espionage had been limited, he began to worry about the risks. His real interest was in hacking, not spying. The Russian connection simply enabled him to get access to bigger and better computers. Beyond that, he felt no loyalty to the Russians.

In the first half of 1988, he handed himself in to the German authorities. Under West German law at the time, a citizen-spy who surrendered himself before the state discovered the crime, and thus averted more damage to the state, acquired immunity from prosecution. Having already been busted in December 1986 for using a stolen NUI, Pengo decided that turning himself in would be his best hope of taking advantage of this legal largesse.

By the end of the year, things had become somewhat hairy for Pengo and in March 1989 the twenty-year-old from Berlin was raided again, this time with the four others involved in the spy ring. The story broke and the media exposed Pengo's real name. He didn't know if he would eventually be tried and convicted of something related to the incident. Pengo had a few things on his mind other than the six-foot Swiss girl.

With Pengo out of the way, the situation between Theorem and the Australian hacker improved. Until Par came along.

Theorem and Par began innocently enough. Being one of only a few girls in the international hacking and phreaking scene and, more particularly, on Altos, she was treated differently. She had lots of male friends on the German chat system, and the boys told her things in confidence they would never tell each other. They sought out her advice. She often felt like she wore many hats — mother, girlfriend, psychiatrist — when she spoke with the boys on Altos.

Par had been having trouble with his on-line girlfriend, Nora, and when he met Theorem he turned to her for a bit of support. He had travelled from California to meet Nora in person in New York. But when he arrived in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, without warning, her conservative Chinese parents didn't take kindly to his unannounced appearance. There were other frictions between Nora and Par. The relationship had been fine on Altos and on the phone, but things were just not clicking in person.

He already knew that virtual relationships, forged over an electronic medium which denied the importance of physical chemistry, could sometimes be disappointing.


Suelette Dreyfus — Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, 1997.