Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 11/7/2005There are rumours that Phrack is closing. Admittedly Phrack has said so itself, but that's never been an absolute guarantee.

Monday 11/7/2005

There are rumours that Phrack is closing. Admittedly Phrack has said so itself, but that's never been an absolute guarantee. Phrack is — or was, or will be — one of the archetypal hacker magazines, starting back in the days of 1200bps dial-up bulletin boards when ASCII graphics were fabulously cool and line noise the last rearguard action of analogue. Hacking was not exactly legal but far from being the extraditable, 70 years in jail offence it has become, and people who plugged computers into the phone system were still seen as curious, wild-eyed nutters instead of the curious, wild-eyed visionaries we have subsequently been proved to be.

You can go back to 1985 in a click if you wish, as all 62 issues are available online. This is not your faux-revolutionary publication: no messing around with 'make these nerds rock stars' and glossy paeans to cyberpunk — you'll find details of how to crash computers at a distance, make various interesting compounds, tickle apart the information on a credit card, and get as much information on the internals of the American and international telephone system as you could want. Most of it is now as relevant as a Roman centurion's dress code, but at the time it was edgy stuff indeed. This is exactly the sort of thing that gave upstanding citizens conniptions and the rest of us a vicarious thrill. It's a bit like having your grandfather's service revolver hidden at the bottom of the airing cupboard: you know it's very naughty and you'll never use it, but it feels good to have the option if something somewhere goes terribly wrong.

Somehow we survived being young, foolish and equipped to make amphetamines from cut-up nasal inhalers or to disable a DEC-10 minicomputer. Over the years, Phrack has stayed true to its countercultural soul, interspersing quotes from Chomsky with detailed recipes for exploiting Windows buffer overflows — and if you've got the stomach for it, you can pull practically a complete history of phreaking and hacking up to the present day by reading through the archives. At every point, the publication accurately reflected not just the techniques but the spirit of the hacker, even if wiser heads went equipped with a pinch of salt alongside their hexadecimal dump utility.

So thanks, Phrackers, for a good couple of decades. Out of control isn't always a bad place to be.