NEWS: Hacker collective goes legit with $10M in backing

From Steven Green <>
Date Tue, 4 Apr 2000 19:34:26 -0400 ()

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"Hacker collective goes legit with $10M in backing"
Cult of the Dead Cow: L0pht members start security firm @Stake
by David Akin
Financial Post 

Photo by: Dana Smith, Black Star of:
The L0pht boys, from left: Silicosis; Brian Oblivion; John Tan; Mudge;
Kingpin, standing; Space rogue, front; Weld pond; and Dildog.
Vilified last summer as a threat to the security of computer systems
everywhere, members of the hacker think-tank L0pht Heavy Industries have
transformed themselves into a legitimate computer security firm backed by
$10-million in venture capital. 

L0pht officially shut its clubhouse doors on the weekend and its members
were absorbed into @Stake, which aims to be a mainstream Internet security

L0pht -- it's pronounced loft and the second character in the name is a
zero -- has been closely affiliated with the Cult of the Dead Cow, the
elite hacker collective that has been publishing and writing about
computer geek culture since 1984. Some members of L0pht are also members
of the invitation-only crew that is Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc. L0pht has
focused more on the technical ins and outs of computers,
telecommunications networks and security, while cDc has been more
interested in vision, strategy, education and description. 

It has been cDc's success in fulfilling that role that has made it the
Montreal Canadiens of the hacking underground and, to the non-hacking
community, helped foster the public awareness that has helped L0pht and
other hackers become respected and sought-after sources for computer

"The cDc has always been a leader in the hacking community," said Oxblood
Ruffin, cDc's minister of information and the group's only Canadian
member. "Its membership from day one has always been a who's who of the
hacker community." 

L0pht's move into the mainstream began in February. 

The world's most popular Web sites were under attack from one or more
vandals. Yahoo, then eBay, then CNN and others went offline for several
hours at a time, crushed under the weight of a flood of meaningless
packets of data. The FBI was quickly called in, the alarms were sounded,
and politicians and the press were soon talking about cyberterrorists as
if the vandals were wielding guns and bombs instead of some computer
source code widely and freely available on the Web. 

Bill Clinton, the U.S. president, convened a computer security summit and
invited representatives from the U.S. defence establishment, the most
prestigious academic computer science departments, and the top companies
in the Internet and software industries. 

To this august collection of experts, one other person was summoned. He is
Mudge, a long-haired hacker who happens to be a member of cDc and L0pht
and is one of the world's top experts on hacker attacks. 

Mudge's inclusion at this White House roundtable was an encouraging sign
for members of L0pht, cDc and other hacker groups who have complained for
years, but with little success, that they have been misunderstood by the
public. It has been their claim, spelled out in text files posted at
electronic bulletin board services, that they are explorers and
discoverers, aiding the cause of safe and secure computing by probing for
weaknesses and flaws. 

This week in Toronto, hundreds of academics, hackers, visionaries and
activists from around the world will convene at the Computers, Freedom and
Privacy conference, where the protection of privacy and individual rights
tops the agenda. Members of several hacker collectives are also likely to
be in Toronto for the conference, although it's unclear if anyone from cDc
will be on hand. 

Mudge, who declined an interview, probably will stay in Boston where he is
now vice-president of research and development for @Stake. 

Executives from Montreal's Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc., maker of a
software tool that gives consumers the ability to protect their privacy
online, will be prominent players at the Toronto conference. Neal
Stephenson, who fills his fiction works like Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash
with hacker heroes, will deliver a speech. Whitfield Diffie, who
practically invented public key cryptography, will discuss encryption and

But while L0pht is finished, cDc continues to thrive. 

Its co-founders are Grandmaster Ratte and Franken Gibe, who, like every
cDc member, prefer to protect their real identities. Some will allow their
photographs to be taken but none are keen to let you know who they really
are. Some are worried about threats to their physical safety; others have
"legitimate" jobs for top Silicon Valley firms and worry their employer
may not see the value of employing a cDc member. Still others just think
it's cool to be known only by a hacker handle. 

Many of cDc's members have day jobs with computer companies but many
don't. One is a professional soccer player, another is a Harvard
University professor and another is a graphics artist. 

Grandmaster Ratte, who will turn 30 this year, has a day job as a hip-hop
producer. A white kid from Lubbock, Tex., he just moved to Harlem in New
York City where he lives in an almost all-black neighbourhood. At DefCon,
he played emcee for the B02K event. And with his long brown hair hanging
down under a baseball cap and his aggressive, DefJam style of rapping, he
looked and sounded more than a little like rap superstar Kid Rock. 

Grandmaster Ratte and Franken were teenage outsiders growing up in Lubbock
in 1984. They would spend some of their offline time goofing around in, or
so the legend goes, an old abandoned abattoir



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