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This Guide was written in 1996 when the Internet was young. Things that have changed since then are:

*You probably won't find UUCP protocol on the Internet today.

*Most Internet communications go on a more or less static route over commercial backbones instead of being relayed from one little computer to the next all over the place (at least in the developed world).


Vol. 2 Number 1

Internet for Dummies -- skip this if you are a Unix wizard. But if you read on you’ll get some more kewl hacking instructions.

The six Guides to (mostly) Harmless Hacking of Vol. 1 jumped immediately into how-to hacking tricks. But if you are like me, all those details of probing ports and playing with hypotheses and pinging down hosts gets a little dizzying.

So how about catching our breath, standing back and reviewing what the heck it is that we are playing with? Once we get the basics under control, we then can move on to serious hacking.

Also, I have been wrestling with my conscience over whether to start giving you step-by-step instructions on how to gain root access to other peoples’ computers. The little angel on my right shoulder whispers, “Gaining root without permission on other people’s computers is not nice. So don’t tell people how to do it.” The little devil on my left shoulder says, “Carolyn, all these hackers think you don’t know nothin’! PROOVE to them you know how to crack!” The little angel says, “If anyone reading Guide to (mostly) Harmless Hacking tries out this trick, you might get in trouble with the law for conspiracy to damage other peoples’ computers.” The little devil says, “But, Carolyn, tell people how to crack into root and they will think you are KEWL!”

So here’s the deal. In this and the next few issues of Guide to (mostly) Harmless Hacking I’ll tell you several ways to get logged on as the superuser in the root account of some Internet host computers. But the instructions will leave a thing or two to the imagination.

My theory is that if you are willing to wade through all this, you probably aren’t one of those cheap thrills hacker wannabes who would use this knowledge to do something destructive that would land you in jail.

Technical tip: If you wish to become a *serious* hacker, you’ll need Linux (a freeware variety of Unix) on your PC. One reason is that then you can crack into root legally all you want -- on your own computer. It sure beats struggling around on someone else’s computer only to discover that what you thought was root was a cleverly set trap and the sysadmin and FBI laugh at you all the way to jail.

Linux can be installed on a PC with as little as a 386 CPU, only 2 Mb RAM and as little as 20 MB of hard disk. You will need to reformat your hard disk. While some people have successfully installed Linux without trashing their DOS/Windows stuff, don’t count on getting away with it. Backup, backup, backup!
You can go to jail warning: Crack into root on someone else’s computer and the slammer becomes a definite possibility. Think about this: when you see a news story about some hacker getting busted, how often do you recognize the name? How often is the latest bust being done to someone famous, like Dark Tangent or se7en or Emmanuel Goldstein? How about, like, never! That’s because really good hackers figure out how to not do stupid stuff. They learn how to crack into computers for the intellectual challenge and to figure out how to make computers safe from intruders. They don’t bull their way into root and make a mess of things, which tends to inspire sysadmins to call the cops.

Exciting notice: Is it too boring to just hack into your own Linux machine? Hang in there. Ira Winkler of the National Computer Security Association, Dean Garlick of the Space Dynamics Lab of Utah State University and I are working on setting up hack.net, a place where it will be legal to break into computers. Not only that, we’re looking for sponsors who will give cash awards and scholarships to those who show the greatest hacking skills. Now does that sound like more phun than jail?
So, let’s jump into our hacking basics tutorial with a look at the wondrous anarchy that is the Internet.

Note that these Guides to (mostly) Harmless Hacking focus on the Internet. That is because there are many legal ways to hack on the Internet. Also, there are over 10 million of these readily hackable computers on the Internet, and the number grows every day.

Internet Basics

No one owns the Internet. No one runs it. It was never planned to be what it is today. It just happened, the mutant outgrowth of a 1969 US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency experiment.

This anarchic system remains tied together because its users voluntarily obey some basic rules. These rules can be summed up in two words: Unix and TCP/IP (with a nod to UUCP). If you understand, truly understand Unix and TCP/IP (and UUCP), you will become a fish swimming in the sea of cyberspace, an Uberhacker among hacker wannabes, a master of the Internet universe.

To get technical, the Internet is a world-wide distributed computer/communications network held together by a common communications standard, Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and a bit of UUCP. These standards allow anyone to hook up a computer to the Internet, which then becomes another node in this network of the Internet. All that is needed is to get an Internet address assigned to the new computer, which is then known as an Internet "host," and tie into an Internet communications link. These links are now available in almost all parts of the world.

If you use an on-line service from your personal computer, you, too, can temporarily become part of the Internet. There are two main ways to hook up to an on-line service.

There is the cybercouch potato connection that every newbie uses. It requires either a point-to-point (PPP) or SLIPconnection, which allows you to run pretty pictures with your Web browser. If you got some sort of packaged software from your ISP, it automatically gives you this sort of connection.

Or you can connect with a terminal emulator to an Internet host. This program may be something as simple as the Windows 3.1 “Terminal” program under the “Accessories” icon. Once you have dialed in and connected you are just another terminal on this host machine. It won’t give you pretty pictures. This connection will be similar to what you get on an old-fashioned BBS. But if you know how to use this kind of connection, it could even give you root access to that host.

But how is the host computer you use attached to the Internet? It will be running some variety of the Unix operating system. Since Unix is so easy to adapt to almost any computer, this means that almost any computer may become an Internet host.

For example, I sometimes enter the Internet through a host which is a Silicon Graphics Indigo computer at Utah State University. Its Internet address is fantasia.idec.sdl.usu.edu. This is a computer optimized for computer animation work, but it can also operate as an Internet host. On other occasions the entry point used may be pegasus.unm.edu, which is an IBM RS 6000 Model 370. This is a computer optimized for research at the University of New Mexico.

Any computer which can run the necessary software -- which is basically the Unix operating system -- has a modem, and is tied to an Internet communications link, may become an Internet node. Even a PC may become an Internet host by running one of the Linux flavors of Unix. After setting it up with Linux you can arrange with the ISP of your choice to link it permanently to the Internet.

More Internet for Dummies --->

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