Captain Zap
Article by Rick Leinecker, March 3, 2008

I want to start off by apologizing for my extended leave of absence. I haven't written a column for several months. I was finishing a book that I started in August of 2007. As with all book projects everyone is relaxed and optimistic about the final deadlines. But as the deadlines approach and the material arrives to editorial later and later, the tension mounts. That's when editors and authors experience their roughest moments. Now I can resume writing assignments that are more fun, such as talking to you about computer security and technical stuff.

Today I want to talk about the most famous hacker in hacking history. He is known as Captain Zap. He pulled off one of the most advanced hacks in history, and this was at a time when nobody really knew how to hack. Today you can go online and get instructions for performing almost any hack, but when Captain Zap initially went into action there was no help at all.

He did, however, find one pretty creative technique for getting information. It's called dumpster diving. Once the phone company's office was closed, he would go through the dumpsters. Fortunately, these didn't contain kitchen garbage. The dumpsters he went through contained the office garbage. In this collection of refuse were operation manuals for the phone system switches and network. Who needs the Internet when you can go directly the phone company for the official manuals?

Once he had the manuals he learned how to connect and log on to the phone company's system. The manuals even contained the password information that was necessary to get in - how convenient.

In those days, the difference in the daytime and evening rate for long distance connections was different. There still is a difference, but not to the extent that it was then. I remember the days of waiting until after 11PM to call my girlfriend so that I could get a big discount. But imagine if you switched it? Imagine if the daytime rates were low and the evening rates were high. That would mean most people would enjoy a significant discount on their long distance rates. Of course, those poor souls who waited until after 11PM would get charged the expensive rate, but this was a very small percentage of the overall long distance calls.

Here's what Captain Zap did: he added 12 hours to the system clock so that the rates were switched. During the day long distance calls were billed at the lower rate, and during the evening they were billed at the expensive rate. This meant a significant savings for almost everyone.

The scam went on for several weeks until the next set of bills went out. Then the discrepancy was discovered. And Captain Zap (surprise) disappeared for 18 months until things died down. As it turns out, he was eventually caught. But there were no laws under which he could be prosecuted. So his misdeeds went unpunished. Now, there are plenty of laws that deal with crimes of this type. And our laws are still in an ever-present state of adjustment to deal with an ever-changing technological threat.

Now that Captain Zap is famous, he turned over a new leaf. He is one of the highest paid consultants in the computer security industry. How about that for a reward!

Captain Zap is one of the most famous hackers in history; I hope you enjoyed learning a little about him.