How the USSR first encountered hackers - and did not understand why they are needed
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Individuum publishes a book by Meduza special correspondent Daniil Turovsky, Invasion. A brief history of Russian hackers. " The book tells about a generation of teenagers from the countries of the former USSR who in the 1990s faced the Internet and for whom the Network became a window into a big world - full of opportunities and much more interesting than the gloomy world of post-Soviet cities. Turovsky describes how from an early subculture of hackers, for whom hacking was a bit of a hobby, new ones arose - for which hacking became an opportunity to earn big money. At the same time, this is the history of the emergence of Russian cyber-military forces - a new generation of hackers who have appeared in the service of the state. Medusa publishes the head of The KGB Bear - it tells how teenagers from East Germany hacked American networks and sold USSR data - where, apparently, they simply did not understand what opportunities hackers could provide.
On June 3, 1989, a burned body of an unknown man was found in a forest near Hanover in Germany. It lay near an abandoned and dusty car that looked as if it had stood in this forest for several years; nearby lay an empty gas canister. There were no shoes on the man - she was never found afterwards.
Soon, police reported that the deceased was a 24-year-old resident of Hanover, Karl Koch. Koch’s boss reported that he had disappeared when his subordinate did not return to work after lunch. The police considered death a suicide - and it would hardly have attracted the attention of journalists if it were not for the fact that Koch was a defendant in a high-profile trial. He was suspected of working for the KGB.
Koch was a member of a hacker group that has cracked the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and other U.S. agencies for years. They downloaded documents from hacked computers, and they and their access to systems were sold to KGB officers in East Berlin for money and drugs.
When Koch was in school, he read the book trilogy “The Illuminatus!” - in it a fascinating fantastic plot was tied to conspiracy theories about a world conspiracy. After becoming a computer scientist, he took the nickname Captain Hubard in honor of one of the heroes of these novels. Koch was convinced that computer networks are also a trap for the Illuminati who secretly rule the world, and aliens are watching him, like Khabard.
Both Koch and his friends became the first generation to start using both the first personal computers and the Internet, which was already beginning to resemble the current one. In the early 1980s, computers began to be used not only for military or programmatic needs, but simply at home: for example, for study, maintaining a family budget and, of course, video games like Space Invaders or Arkanoid. In 1981, IBM released the first PC; Apple released the first Macintosh. There were also cheaper computers like the ZX Spectrum, on which you could just start programming. In the same years, the TCP / IP data exchange protocol and the DNS domain distribution system and the WWW distributed system were all components of the current Internet.
Then not only the first hackers, but also associations began to appear. In 1981, in Germany, some of them joined together in the Chaos Computer Club - its members were going to change society with the help of new digital technologies.
At some point, Koch began to talk a lot with people from the Chaos Computer Club. He told one of his new acquaintances that he had come up with this method of suicide: to build an atomic bomb, climb one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York and explode.
In those same years, in the mid-1980s, Koch composed a manifesto in which he predicted that information wars would begin in the near future using “soft bombs” - computer viruses. At parties, he often told strangers that he was the most serious and talented hacker of our time.
Soon, Koch met Pengo, a teenager who had been a fan of William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel, The Neuromancer, whose hero steals information from computer networks. In 1984, the sixteen-year-old Pengo stopped paying attention to studying and his friends, quit his job in the video games salon and began to spend all his time with his computer and modem.
In the last years of the Cold War, many foresaw the imminent changes, but formally the United States and NATO countries remained enemies of the USSR. In 1986, Koch, Pengo and their friends thought about making money from hacks - and decided to do computer spying for the countries of the Eastern Bloc. They called their group Equalizer, bearing in mind that by selling military and scientific information to the Soviet authorities, they equalize the chances of their confrontation with Western countries, which means they strengthen world peace.
In September 1986, one of the members of the group, Peter Karl, arrived in the building of the Soviet Embassy on Unter den Linden Street in East Berlin. At the entrance, he told the security guard that he would like to talk about one case with someone from the KGB. The guard offered to wait, after half an hour a mu went out to the hacker
Hackers transferred to the KGB access to the Pentagon and NASA databases, the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory, as well as materials about the space and nuclear infrastructure of West Germany, France, Japan, and Great Britain. Among other things, the group hacked into the systems of the CERN nuclear research center in Geneva. For the transfer of KGB data, they received several hundred thousand dollars.
In 1988, US intelligence agencies, together with programmer Clifford Stoll, who was the first to notice a penetration into the computer system of the American University library in which he worked, discovered that hackers had access to 30 computers in the military. They went on the trail of crackers, and soon the special services of Germany detained hackers in several German cities. They were not placed under arrest for the duration of the trial.
Despite the mysterious death of Koch, the trial passed quietly. The main witness was one of the members of the group - Pengo. He gave detailed evidence and made a deal with the investigation. The teenager was amnestied, other hackers received suspended sentences and fines. Considering the case, the judge noted that the Soviet intelligence services, apparently, simply did not understand what opportunities the hackers could provide them. Nevertheless, the German television channel ARD rated the actions of hackers as the most serious case of espionage since 1974, when it was discovered that the assistant chancellor of Germany was an East German spy.
Koch's acquaintances did not consider his death to be suicide: some were surprised that the grass around the body burned in a neat circle; for others, the hacker generally drove a gas canister into the woods 70 kilometers from home, rather than committing suicide in a simpler way.
Over time, the story of Koch turned into a kind of hacker legend - in forums he is sometimes called the “great warrior”. The story of a German group in the early 1990s was told by John Markoff in his book Cyberpunk. It was one of the few books about hackers that was translated into Russian and distributed on the Internet in the middle to the end of that decade. Any cyber-underground worker of that time, who was thinking about cooperation with the state, probably knew this story.