Home page logo

isn logo Information Security News mailing list archives

German Uber-Hacker Dies
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 02:32:48 -0500 (CDT)


By Boris Groendahl
Berlin Bureau Chief
July 30, 2001

The year is 1981. IBM still has to introduce its first Personal
Computer. The movie "WarGames" and Steven Levys book "Hackers," which
will make the self-description of alternative computer nerds a
household name in the U.S, are two years away.

In Western Berlin, in the offices of the left-wing daily "die
tageszeitung," fringe computer hobbyists are sitting at a conference
table, sharing their knowledge of early computers and computer

They followed the call of Wau Holland, a bearded, balding man in
dungarees who looks more like an eco-warrior than an electronics
enthusiast. The assembled group is about to found the Chaos Computer
Club (CCC) and go down in computing history.

Twenty years later, the CCC now has to continue without its honorary
president Wau Holland, also known as Herwart Holland-Moritz. Holland
suffered a stroke in late May and fell into a coma; he died Sunday
morning, age 49.

Read today, Hollands editorial that appeared in the first issue of
CCCs magazine "Datenschleuder" (roughly: "data sling") back in 1984
appears almost visionary. For him and for the CCC, the computer was
already not merely a technology but "the most important new medium."
He held that "all existing media will be increasingly networked
through computers, a networking which creates a new quality of media."

The first and foremost goal of the hackers association was to promote
this new medium, by "distributing wiring diagrams and kits for cheap
and universal modems." What should have earned the CCC a medal for the
advancement of the information society, however, got him in conflict
with the arcane German telecom law. At the time, as Holland remembered
later, "the prolongation of a telephone cable was considered worse
than setting off an atomic explosion."

Involving everybody, not just big government and big business, into
the information revolution, ways always Hollands and the CCCs main
goal. Its first famous hack was performed 1984 on Germanys first
online service Btx, an atavistic network operated by the German postal
service. The CCC found a security hole in the network, but the postal
service didnt react to the warning.

So Holland and his colleague Steffen Wernry logged in, masquerading as
a German savings bank, and downloaded their own billable Btx page all
night long. When the tab got to 134,000 deutschmarks, they stopped the
program and called German TV Btx had its first scandal only months
after its launch, and it wouldnt recover for more than a decade.

The Btx hack, as it became known later, would become a pattern for
every CCC action. Holland, in particular, was at least as media-savvy
as he as he was computer literate. Whenever the CCC hacked into
regions he wasnt supposed to see, he sought protection by seeking
public attention, and used them to warn of weak security and
insufficient data protection.

Though only a few of Waus CCC comrades shared his political background
most joined the club as regular electronics nerds he shaped the German
hackers association into a unique institution, incomparable with the
U.S. hacker scene. The CCC is different from both the
technology-oriented Homebrew Computer Club that gave birth to the PC
in the '70s, and the cracker gangs that dominated media attention in
the early '90s.

Holland taught his fellow CCCers to never hack for profit, to always
be open about what they were up to, and to fight for an open
information society. He was deeply embarrassed when some CCCers sold
their discoveries from within the U.S. military computer network to
the KGB. This incident and the subsequent discussions in the club
brought the next generation to the CCCs helm.

While the new leadership has a less strict moralistic, more postmodern
sense of hacking, it remains true to the CCCs political objectives.
Holland became the clubs honorary president. Under his stewardship,
the CCC gained considerable status in German politics, with its
speakers invited by the parliament, telecoms firms, banks and even the
secret service.

An online condolence book for Holland has over 450 entries so far.  

ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org

To unsubscribe email majordomo () attrition org with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY
of the mail.

  By Date           By Thread  

Current thread:
  • German Uber-Hacker Dies InfoSec News (Jul 31)
[ Nmap | Sec Tools | Mailing Lists | Site News | About/Contact | Advertising | Privacy ]