Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why I am not a warlock, for Domi.

In the early 1990s, I knew enough about computers to write a batch file, get a directory listing, or make a simple game in QBASIC. In other words, I was powerful enough to overwhelm the security of every computer network in town. I was 13.

"This is too much power for one person."

My first exploit was in the computer lab. Ms. Keel's class. Eighth grade. I shut down the network and got class cancelled.

My second great triumph involved running a password cracker on the Novell network in my freshman keyboarding class. I deleted a student from the network. He couldn't log in and do his classwork. To my surprise and horror, the teacher freaked out and screamed at the student, and he cried. It was his fault, she said, and he had somehow "deleted himself." Poor kid. I still resent the half-literate and emotionally two-years-old hicks that people trust their children to in that town. Teachers can suck.

Later I started doing websites. I'd look around on web servers for unprotected directories with encrypted password files and run CRACKERJACK.EXE on them with a 300,000-word wordlist I'd gotten from usenet. It took all night. I actually took root permissions on established silicon valley companies. Shockingly, people's work was often on the same network as the company website. I had everything. I got caught (genius elite hacker I was, I defaced a website by adding Weezer lyrics to the boilerplate), and got a talking-to, and held off on the high crime for a while.

In college, in the early 2000s, I did make a sort of reprise. Actually, that's a lie. I tried, but my cousin pulled it off. The cult I was a part of was having big splits and an internal civil war over child molestation and stuff like that. My dad (a higher-up in the cult) was a kind of whistle-blower, and he got royally shit on by the cadre of leaders. People were also being mean to me about my wikipedia edits about the stuff. Priests were calling me and saying I shouldn't talk about sexual improprieties in the denomination because I should have some sort of "family pride." I was pissed. I wanted into all their email accounts (by this time lots of people had email addresses). I tried some stuff and failed. Then my cousin (and perpetual co-conspirator) pulled it off. He hacked's (a big national internet provider and issuer of email addresses at the time) email passwords. All of them, in fact.

There was a moment, then, when an amazing amount of power was available to me. We had millions of people's email addresses. How many insider trading tips did we have? How many church secrets? How many politicians could we ruin?

This time, and later, I said "no."

It wasn't about the law. I was completely out of my mind, and thought I could get away with just about anything.

It was about not wanting to cry all the time.

From Macbeth to Faust to Dorian Grey, we have all of these parables about devil's bargains and selling your soul for power in messing with the occult. Me and Levi liked that metaphor for what we might become as hackers. We called our all-knowing hypothetical selves "warlocks" (a term that probably makes most people think of role playing games, but as a kids whose parents told them that those nighttime noises might just in fact be being made be demons, had a totally different, terrifying, sold-your-soul connotation).

I was afraid of what the information would do to me.

Anyone who's broken into an ex girlfriend's email account knows pain. People are horrible, yourself probably included.

("I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. " -  Blaise Pascal)

I knew my teenage mind couldn't handle the truth. I did suspect that the polite world was a fiction, and that the truth of people's thoughts would be so existentially gut-wrenching as to make one question if Goodness and Love themselves were myths, but I wanted this to remain only a suspicion. The hope that things are not so makes life worth living.

So I backed off.

I have an awesome friend who wants to become a warlock now. I understand her motivations.

 I warn you, but I bless your endeavor.

Just don't tell me what you find over there.

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