Samurai Hackers

Voice Card  -  Volume 22  -  Paul Card Number 5  -  Thu, Oct 31, 1991 9:44 PM

A new breed of hacker has been finding a niche in the corporate world in the last two years. These hackers are hired by white-collar professionals at ad agencies, law firms, newspapers and investment houses who want to steal co-workers' ideas and clients or pillage supervisors' computer files for marketing strategies, performance evaluations and managerial gossip.

A seventy-five-dollar hourly fee to hack is certainly an incentive, but money isn't the primary attraction. They like to fancy themselves as young guns for hire - Samurai Hackers.

The first "samurai" reference in 2600, the hackers' trade journal came in an anonymous letter last winter from a hacker who had been employed by a New Jersey GOP staffer by the name of Jeffrey Land. In 1990, Land hired hackers to break into the state Democrats' computer system and copy its files, including the party's 1991 campaign strategy. "The Land case," wrote the hacker, "illustrates how the computer expert is becoming the samurai of these petty lords, particularly those experts who stand on 'the edge.'"

Teen samurai have a name for the well-paid professionals they work for and spy on. They're known as the Stupids. "Hey, they really are stupid," one hacker insists. "I know! I've scoped their PCs, read their E-Mail, listened to their voicemail. They say stupid things, laugh at stupid jokes. They things they want are stupid. The people they like are stupid. But they have money - and I need something to do."

When laptops and PCs replaced notebooks and file cabinets, managers found they now had a clandestine way to gauge productivity, efficiency and loyalty of white-collar creative types by using computer-monitoring software. Samurai believe they're merely leveling the playing field, making the computer perform for the monitored as it does for those who are monitoring.

A small ad agency just outside New York had to cut staff, so the director split his creative department into two teams and assigned both of them the same account. Losers would get pink slips. The ad agency's system allowed the director to read E-Mail and personal files at his leisure. The A team, his pets, were designing predictable spots. The B team had the makings of an unforgettable campaign. The B team discovered it had been betrayed when the A team started asking the company's stylist for the same items they needed; the B team turned to a samurai in a panic. After the hacker retrieved the evidence, the B captain returned to the agency and got into a fistfight with his boss.

Four New York City lawyers were contending for a partnership in their firm. One of them learned that the partners were monitoring all computer activity and keeping notes about it on their computers. He hired a hacker. Of all the partners' comments, the only negative remarks about the lawyer noted that he was a slimy, unfeeling back stabber. "He took it like a compliment," remembers the hacker.