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This public relations trouble is caused in part by the disproportionate amount of media attention bestowed on hackers like Tenebaum and Kevin Mitnick, who has been in jail since 1995 awaiting trial on charges of stealing 20,000 credit-card numbers and who will be portrayed by Skeet Ulrich in a forthcoming Miramax film.
Many of the traditional cadre of hackers have complained that the media like to focus on people like Mitnick and "clump us together with those guys," says Hosaka, founder of r00t, another hacker crew. "R00t doesn't do things like that. We don't 'hack' in that way. All we're about is hanging out, exchanging information, and teaching each other new things. If you want to break something, go out and buy it, then break it. Don't break other people's work."
These sentiments, shared by many of the hacking world's sizable old guard, have increased the tension over the already contentious Mitnick issue, which many hackers point to as evidence of fragmentation. Although just about everyone agrees Mitnick has been held in jail for too long without a trial, many think he should face the consequences. "He did do bad things and break the law," says Tom Jackiewicz, a/k/a invalid, of UPT, an old hacker BBS. "He should pay for his crimes." But Goldstein disagrees, and has campaigned heavily for a speedy trial. "Mitnick is not someone who belongs in prison," he claims.
The recent hack of the New York Times Web site where the words "Free Kevin" were graffitied by a crew calling itself Hacking For Girlies (HFG) has also become a point of contention.
"It was wrong," says Hosaka. "On the Internet you have the ability to display what you want, so put up your own site."
Still, some think it was "pulled off pretty well," according to Deth Veggie. "My impression is that it was done more to send a message than just to say, 'Look, we hacked a Web page!' which is what [these types of hacks are] mostly about."
The Times is considering the incident a criminal act and the FBI is investigating. Although Web page hacks are usually within the purview of newbie hackers, one hacker source says he knows that "this was done by a hacker from the old guard."
Perhaps it was not simply a statement about the Mitnick case but a call for the old guard to reclaim media attention, showing everyone that they still exist.
One of five articles in our Cyber feature.