"Because of vague wording and unfounded comments, journalists often imply that because a Web page was defaced, an entire network was compromised. Most of the time these kids couldn't touch the internal network." To Martin, the public should be more worried about people with the skills of the Phonemasters."The level of knowledge they possess about computer systems, phone systems in particular, is amazing.But how about stories of intelligent hackers who download calling card numbers straight out of the data banks of giant phone companies in order to use or resell them, download and resell credit reports or have the ability to reroute or even take down entire telephone networks at will? A group of crackers called the Phonemasters, for example, stole tens of thousands of phone card numbers, found and called private White House telephone lines and rooted around in high-security FBI computer files in the mid-1990s. agents busted the group, the last of three ringleaders now awaits sentencing in federal court. The self-proclaimed "Gatsby" faces sentencing on March 2.But the gang behind ones of the largest hacks ever failed to see their names on one FBI list, a request to tap their lines. Jonathon Bosanac pleaded guilty to two counts of computer-related fraud in a U. Two other reputed ringleaders were sentenced in September.Frequently, in an attempt to show no actual malice toward the site administrators, the hacker saves a copy of the original home page on the server or even leaves a text file containing a blueprint of how the hacker got access.In its most common form, Web site defacement causes very little actual damage when compared to a large-scale intrusion like the ones made by the Phonemasters.If you 'own' the phone system, you have the keys to the kingdom: you can listen to anyone you want to, call forward, switch numbers and route calls," said Matthew Yarbrough, the assistant U. attorney in Dallas who served as lead prosecutor in the case. They could listen in on phone calls, alter secure databases and penetrate computer systems of credit report company Equifax and the FBI's National Crime Information Center.
The Phonemasters, a name coined by authorities, even sold for hundreds of dollars copies of personal credit reports, state motor-vehicle records and addresses or phone numbers of celebrities like Madonna and Danny Bonaduce.
Sure, there's malignant code like the Melissa virus which struck computers earlier this year, but so many viruses rely on users to knowingly or unknowingly pass them on until they finally strike.
When they do strike, they usually just wipe out the user's hard drive - not so horrible, on a global scale.
That's not only a shame, say some computer crime observers, but it's also very dangerous.
"The web graffiti kids really affect public perception," says Brian Martin, administrator of the site, which logs and comments on computer hacks.
It's understandable if you haven't heard of the Phonemasters.