Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff and the Hacker

Back in the 80s I ran a bulletin board — a kind of primitive web site that you had to call and connect to over the phone. These systems had message boards, file downloads and live chat, but mine could only support one person at a time.

I come home from class one day and find my board gone — not just down, but gone. Deleted. Destroyed. Wiped off my hard drive like it never existed. I called my friends and connected to every board in town, initiating a city-wide manhunt for the jerk who took me down.

I had no proof, but I found a suspect — a small-time hacker who liked to brag about all the ways he could destroy a bulletin board. I don’t remember his handle, so I’ll just call him “RaZor.” RaZor talked big, and my friends said he was smart enough to kill a bulletin board, so I called in some favors and learned his real name.

I didn’t call. I didn’t email. I didn’t send a message through his friends. I got in the car and went to his house. I felt violated by the attack and I wanted to confront him. So I knocked on the door of this quiet suburban home and asked for the guy by name.

But he wasn’t a “guy.” He was a kid — a teenager, maybe 14 years old. I was 19 or 20 — old enough to be an adult, but not quite old enough to act like one. I didn’t go in swinging a tire iron. His mother answered the door and I calmly made my case. Someone had hacked my board, I said, and I thought her son might “have a clue who did it.”

His mom let us in and called RaZor down to the living room. He was a sweaty, pasty kid in a ball cap — obviously terrified by the presence of two older boys. I was calm. I was nice. I was even a bit charming. But I didn’t give him an inch, and I left no stone unturned. I interrogated this kid for the better part of an hour, and he swore, over and over, that he had nothing to do with it.

“All I want is an apology,” I said. “Just admit what you did and tell me how to fix it.” I was ready to strangle this kid when I got in the car, but now, looking at him, I just wanted to hear “I’m sorry” and never see his face again.

I made the case so well, the boy’s own mother said, “Just admit you did it so we can all go to bed.”

But RaZor wouldn’t budge. He defended himself against all charges and endured my questions like a mobster on “Law and Order.” Finally, I gave up. I thanked the boy and his mother and never saw them again.

News of my actions spread through the community like wildfire. I logged on to my usual hangouts and found a hundred messages, all saying essentially the same thing. “Dude, you went to his HOUSE? Nobody does that.”

My actions sent a ripple of outrage through the community. People said that even if RaZor was guilty, my crime was worse than his.

I defended myself for a day or two, continuing my not-so-subtle investigation into RaZor and hacking skills. Then I got a phone call from a friend in my circle — the friend who had helped me set up my board in the first place. He called and said, “I did it. Leave the kid alone.”

I couldn’t believe it. There was no computer crime, no miraculous hacking technique — just the guy who helped me set it up, taking me out with my own password.

He didn’t want to talk about it, but I pressed him until he told me why. “You were posting all that political stuff and getting really full of yourself,” he said. “I thought it was time to take you down.”

I haven’t seen these people in 20 years, but I think about them every time somebody insults me online. I don’t imagine a crazy person or some nefarious enemy. I see a pasty, scared kid in a baseball cap, so tied up in knots that his own mother won’t believe him.

I think of that kid and remind myself that no matter how sharp the words are, it’s just not that big a deal.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 22, 2008 at 19:54

Posted in Best Of, Culture

2 Responses

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  1. ready? J-Boy and Zippy

    happy to help 🙂


    July 23, 2008 at 13:01

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