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Jul 122008

In 1986 German parliament decided to invent laws for computer crime. Before the field of computing had no laws on the books and it was an open game. In response to these laws, the Chaos Computer Club became a registered organization that worked as a lobby group around issues of telecommunications and data.

In the late 80’s a petty criminal with a loose association to the CCC made contact with the KGB with a list of American computers he had hacked. Driven by his cocaine habit, he had hacked into ARPA-net (now DARPA). Although ARPA’s network didn’t then have the missile launch codes, it still contained interesting information about the US infrastructure.

When this story hit the press there was a lot of discussions and interviews with people at the CCC. Shortly after the incident came to light, the addict’s body was found dead under dodgy circumstances. There is a adaptation of this story that was made into a movie called “23.”

With this event, it was as if the CCC had been driven out of paradise. Public opinion had shifted. In the media, the word hacker had become tarnished. The term had previously not been negative and some tried to explain that the people who had committed espionage weren’t hackers but criminals. Despite these attempts at defining vocabulary, the atmosphere had changed. It was at this time, shortly after this KGB scandal, that Jens joined the CCC at age 17. He remembers a general feeling of mistrust and charged emotions. Friendships were strained and the CCC went into an inactive period.

In 1989 the wall between East and West Germany came down. Behind the wall in East Germany, you had to basically be a hacker to survive and so there was a lot of innovation happening there. Technology in East Germany had been reserved for the wealthy, diplomats, and the privileged. Despite this, young pioneers in electronics had smuggled computers into East Germany. When the wall came down, all the rules were changed. Jens described a situation that a friend had been in on his motorbike in the just former East Germany. He had been driving down a one-way street the wrong way when a police officer stopped him. Jens’ friend explained that the one-way road law had changed and with everything in disarray, it wasn’t that much of a stretch for the officer to believe him. The officer let him pass. Everything was in flux.

This malleability made Berlin the perfect place for a hacker collective. Most CCC activities migrated from Hamburg to Berlin and CCC activities stepped up a notch. One of the things the community of German hackers worked on at this time was setting up electronic bulletin board systems, BBS, for communications in Sarajevo using diesel generators and a satellite link borrowed from CNN.

This is part three 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 and second blogposts too!

  2 Responses to “Paradise Lost and a Time of Flux – CCC in the late 80’s”

Comments (2)
  1. If you want to read more about the hack, try Clifford Stoll’s great book “The Cuckoo’s Egg”. Great story, wonderfully written.

  2. Well, now I am waiting for the 90s and, of course, today. 🙂

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