Phone Master Hacks

By: Simple Nomad

Robert Riggs, the reporter for WFAA who reported the "cyber-terrorism" story cyber_terrorism_1.html, had contacted me about two weeks ago as he was preparing the story. I was requested to appear on camera and discuss how vulnerable the nation's infrastructure was. I am glad I declined, considering the FUD.

The sad thing about this story is that just talking with Riggs about what had happened was actually quite interesting, and I thought he had quite a scoop. But since his report lacked a lot of the details, here is what I know.

The Phone Masters were a group of experienced phreakers and hackers, who had been infiltrating GTE, Sprint, MCI, and several Baby Bells. They had access to pretty much everything. GTE, the Bells, and the others had no idea these guys were into their systems. They apparently had access to pretty much everything, hence they had the ability to "wreak havoc".

There have been at least 7 arrests that I am aware of, including 5 of the group and 2 private investigators in Dallas. The charges supposedly range from various computer crimes to various phone fraud felonies. I suspect there will be a conspiracy charge as well.

There appears to have been two distinct philosophies at work here, one criminal, and one VERY criminal. Part of the Phone Masters were profitting financially from the hacks, while part were just exploring the phone systems. It appears the reason they were caught is that one of the non-profitting guys became angry after learning of the guys selling information, and ratted them out. Had this not happened, they'd still be deep inside the phone systems. The Feds and the phone companies feel comfortable they have all of "them" out of the phone systems and that the nation can rest easy.

A real interesting thing with this case is that it supposedly marked the first time the FBI used taps on phone lines that allowed the Feds to view the online sessions. I wish I had more technical detail here, Riggs referred to it as an "analog" trace, but the basics seemed to be somewhat like the Shimomura "videos" of Mitnick at I'm willing to bet a certain Mr. Shimomura helped set the Feds up with this capability.

The main alleged criminal things were that several of the Phone Masters were selling credit reports and other personal info (hence the arrest of the 2 PI's, who were "information brokers"), selling of long distance access codes, and pilfering and exploitation of credit card numbers. This is probably the main area where the Feds will make their case, being that it is more "criminal" than simply gaining access and poking around, although my guess is any conspiracy charge will put all of them in jail for a long time.

At the time I spoke to Riggs, he was aware of only one time when some of these guys informed a suspected drug dealer (in Colorado, I believe) that there was a tap on his phone, apparently blowing some big DEA investigation.

My source on all this was based on my email and phone conversations with Riggs, and putting two and two together after reading the online version of the story and recalling what Riggs said.