AMATEUR HACKERS TRIPPED UP
By Danna Dykstra Coy
This article appeared in the Telegram-Tribune Newspaper, San Luis Obispo, CA.
March 23, 1991. Permission to electronically reproduce this article was given
by the newspaper's senior editor.
San Luis Obispo police have cracked a case of computer hacking. Now they've
Friday linked to a rare case of computer tampering that involved at least four
The hackers were obvious amateurs, according to police. They were caught
unknowingly tapping into the computer system in the office of two local
cracked the system's entry code, was patient billing records.
committed. Police believe the tampering was all in fun, though at the expense
of the skin doctors who spent money and time fixing glitches caused by the
"Maybe it was a game for the suspects, but you have to look at the bigger
crime." Because the case is rare in this county, police are learning as they
Office," said Nemeth. "They can decide whether we've got enough of a case to
Earlier this month San Luis dermatologists James Longabaugh and Jeffrey Herten
told police they suspected somebody was trying to access the computer in the
office they share at 15 Santa Rosa St. The system, which contains patient
unable to access their patients' records, said Nemeth, and paid a computer
technician at least $1,500 to re-program their modem.
The modem is a device that allows computers to communicate through telephone
lines. It can only be accessed when an operator "dials" its designated number
by punching the numbers on a computer keyboard. The "calling" computer then
asks the operator to punch in a password to enter the system. If the operator
fails to type in the correct password, the system may ask the caller to try
again or simply hang up. Because the doctors' modem has a built-in security
The technician who suspected the problems were more than mechanical, advised
the doctors to call the police. "We ordered a telephone tap on the line, which
Obispo and one was from Santa Margarita. From there police went to work.
"A lot of times I think police just tell somebody in a situation like that to
these doctors were really worried. They were afraid someone really wanted to
know what they had in their files. They wondered if it was happening to them,
maybe it was happening to others. I was intrigued."
Nemeth, whose training is in police work and not computer crimes, was soon
breaking new ground for the department. "Here we had the addresses, but no
computer tampering case." A security investigator for Pacific Bell gave Nemeth
the information he needed: disks, computer equipment, stereos and telephones,
anything that could be used in a computer crime.
Search warrants were served at the San Luis Obispo houses Thursday and Friday.
Residents at the Santa Margarita house have yet to be served. But police are
certain they've already cracked the case. At all three residences that were
the key to a program called "Cygnus XI". "It was a fluke," said Nemeth.
"These people didn't know each other, and yet they all had this same program".
Apparently when the suspects failed to gain access, they made a game of trying
to crack the password, he said. "They didn't know whose computer was hooked up
to the phone number the program gave them," said Nemeth. "So they tried to
over to a federal law enforcement agency, said Nemeth.
s when I heard my officers talk in briefings this week. It was like `I need
more information for the database'." "To think 20 years ago when cops sat
around and talked all you heard about was `211' cases and dope dealers."
Downloaded From P-80 International Information Systems 304-744-2253