In 1984, one of the frustrations that German computer users had was that the German telecom had a monopoly on telecommunications and charged an arm and a leg for a modem. The members of the CCC daydreamed of importing the ultra fast 1200 bps modems from America. It became a crime to connect anything besides a telephone to the telephone network. If caught, you could go to prison for 5 years for hooking up a modem without an official seal. It was felt that having a computer answer a phone was illegal.
The CCC confronted this by asking, “Would it be ok to have a cat answer the phone?” When they got a confused, but positive answer, they built a contraption made of Lego and a Fischer-Technique model sets that would lift the phone and place it on an acoustic coupler. They called it “The Cat.” The general feeling in the air was of free love, free modems, and free information transfers. Because of it’s monopoly, popular opinion stood against the telecom industry.
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Without imported modems, members of CCC started engineering a modem you could make yourself and publishing instructions. There were raids when neighbors would turn people in for having a modem. The earmuffs on the home-made acoustic coupler were made out of plumbing materials, thus earning them the name of “dataloos.” Today this term lives on at CCC camp where an impressive wireless network is spread across the camp in networked porta-potties!
In 1984 you could get a BTX machine that combined your telephone with a tv and keyboard to create a basic networked computer. In France these were very popular since for a small fee, you could opt out of getting a telephone directory and get on one of the futuristic BTX machines. Instantly, sex chats were the most popular use of these machines.
The CCC felt that they had to be part of this system and were one of the first to display pages on this telephone/television/computer directory. Quickly, they also experienced the first case of net censorship. They would put zany news stories as public service announcements on their page. One that they put up was a consumer warning against masturbating with a certain brand of vacuum due to spinning blades. The vacuum company heard about it and asked the telecom company to take it off, but after some investigation, it was found that the research was legitimate, based on authentic research and the first case of network censorship was resolved.
One of the features of the BTX machines was that you could transfer micropayments. You could pay for simple games or make donations up to 9.99 Deutsche Mark. There was a donation page for the CCC and members of the CCC deduced that the passwords for other company users could be acquired and they discovered a Hamburg bank’s password. Using the banks password, they had the bank call the donation page for the CCC donating 9.99 at a time. In the morning, following the transfer, the CCC announced the first electronic bank robbery. They gave all the money back to the bank and with this event, the word hacker came into use in Germany. There weren’t any negative connotations to the word since the public knew that CCC was exposing a vulnerability in the system without harmful intent. The press heralded them as “Electronic Robin Hoods.”
As 1984 came to a close, the first Chaos Communications Congress convened. It was the first hacker conference and it had less than 100 in attendance.
This winter, the 25th Congress will commence and it will be awesome! The CCC has just released the call for papers for the next Congress, check it out and submit a talk!
This is part two in a series of blogposts about the history of the Chaos Computer Club that I am putting together from notes from a conversation I had last year with Jens Ohlig at Chaos Computer Camp. Make sure to read the first one!