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Guide to (mostly) Harmless Hacking

Vol. 6 Real Hackers

No. 2: Harold Fubison

        Harold Fubison (Fatal Error) is famous within the hacker scene nowadays for two things.  He doesn't have a computer science degree.  He gained his education for the most part from the hacker culture.  With this street education, however, he has become the senior network engineer for the AGIS Internet backbone.  This is an enterprise valued at over $1 billion.  Since taking over as head engineer with AGIS, he has fixed security weaknesses that allowed attackers to shut parts or all of AGIS down four times in 1997. In addition, when Fubison took over, spammers had been plaguing AGIS. He since has tracked down and kicked off so many spammers that AGIS is now one of the most spam-free Internet backbones.

        Fubison is also famed because, like all true hackers, he donates his services to good causes.  Last October, he helped a small Internet service provider, Succeed.net, fight off a group of persistent attackers who were intent on driving Bronc Buster (http://www.showdown.org) off the Internet. Then this March he pitched in with logging software to help Rt66 Internet fight off a barrage of attacks focused on shutting down the Happy Hacker web site (http://www.happyhacker.org).

        Fubison has pioneered a path that many hackers could follow.  However, it's a path that calls for hard work and a burning desire.

        Fubison began hacking in 1979.  Back then he was a 12-year-old Detroit kid playing with the keypad of his phone.  In 1983 he got his first computer -- a Timex Sinclair which used a tape recorder instead of a disk drive to hold programs.  With it he began teaching himself the Basic programming language. That year his cousin got a Commodore 64 computer with a 300 baud modem. Later that year Fubison built his own IBM PC. He was to go on to build hundreds of low-cost computers for his friends.

        Fubison and his cousin parlayed this primitive equipment into a hacker group and, through the bulletin boards of the 80's, began sharing knowledge with hackers around the US.  They also joined the 2600 club (nowadays reachable at http://www.2600.org).

        Fubison's own local hacker group grew, and began holding meetings at a local pizza parlor.  His group included many young women -- as unusual then as it is today.  As Fubison puts it, "I used my computer to meet girls." It was at those pizza nights that he met the woman he would later marry.  (They now are the parents of four.)

        Fubison soon made a name for himself by writing text files on how to generate valid calling card numbers and by pirating voice mail systems for his friends.  He blue boxed long distance calls and found his way around Telenet, an early network that had six-digit addresses for its hosts.  (The far larger Internet uses twelve-digit addresses.) 

        In August 1985, a visit from an FBI agent sidetracked Fubison's hacker career.  Fubison had just turned 18, so he knew he could now get in serious trouble.  During this visit the agent asked Fubison if he knew what a PIN register was. Fubison knew all too well that meant the FBI had been recording the destinations of phone calls made from his home.

        The agent pulled out a 30 page printout.  "In the month of February 1995, you made 3200 calls to this MCI 800 number.  Why?"

        Fubison pointed out to the agent that it is legal to call 800 numbers. Fubison wouldn't tell the agent what he did after getting on that 800 number, however. 

        The agent then pointed to one number, 40 digits long.  "Can you tell me what you were doing with that number?"

        Fubison burst out laughing.  "That's 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' sir."

        The agent let Fubison know that they were close to getting enough on him to make a bust.  The two worked out a deal.  The next day Fubison enlisted in the US Army.

        Fubison was able to turn his Army stint to his advantage.  He went  to electronics school at Ft. Jackson and became a multi-channel radio operator with the Patriot missile defense batteries.  

        He also discovered ARPAnet.

        ARPAnet was the US military network that was eventually to evolve  into today's Internet.  Life was slow in the Patriot batteries.  Fubison recalls he typically "spent all day on ARPAnet... When you ran into people on ARPAnet, they were mostly people who shouldn't be there."  

        That was back when few people would abuse their ARPAnet access.  The military tolerated hackers because they often contributed free software and technical assistance.  For example, within the first year of ARPAnet (1969), hackers had already been the first to invent email.

        After the Army, Fubison settled into eight years of work as a computer programmer at a Detroit Mazda factory.  On the side he ran a bulletin board. Eventually he was running 64 phone lines of access for hundreds of paying customers.  Ultimately he even provided them with Internet access.

        The Internet was to be what killed Fubison's bulletin board.  While working a full-time job, it was too hard to compete with the other Internet access providers that sprung up around 1994-5. 

        Around then Fubison made an extremely bad decision.  He used his hacking talents to make some big, quick bucks.  He figured it would be a one-time stunt. 

More about Harold Fubison--->>


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