evidence of who compromised the box," up|4|grabs explained. "I have legal access to a few boxes in other nations, Asia, South America and Russia, therefore making it very difficult at all to trace me."

Cowhead2000, who said he is 15 years old, claimed members of World of Hell live in the United States, South America and the Middle East.

Why Crack?

The crackers interviewed for this story seem to enjoy what they do, and perhaps that is their main motivation - but they do have other reasons.

PoizonB0xs DC said the relative ease of cracking sites keeps him coming back for more.

Other crackers see themselves performing a valuable role, though systems administrators might not agree.

"We just want to show how poorly their computers are secured," said Dawgyg. "We dont do this to cause damage or harm, which is why, in most cases, we even back up the original Web site for the admin of the site so all is not lost. The media today has given hackers/crackers a bad name. All we are doing is exploring the Internet and computers. I feel it is no different from when Columbus explored the world. We are all just trying to learn more about what we like."

This rationale is echoed by up|4|grabs. "When I hack Web sites, I usually look for big domains and will e-mail the admin when the box is compromised on how to secure it," he said.

There is also a certain amount of prestige in attacking sites, the crackers said.

"I just gain a little bit more respect from the hacker underground," said Dawgyg.

CERTs Hernan said that during his five and a half years at CERT, hes been constantly surprised at what crackers are capable of doing and how much time they devote to finding potential vulnerabilities.

"Some of the code that intruders write to exploit vulnerabilities is really quite clever," he said. "Theyve found very subtle interactions between different software components and taken advantage of those interactions to suit their purposes. They go to all this tremendous work of trying to understand just how these individual components interact and how they can best take advantage of that.

"[But] they dont generally write high-quality, robust exploits, and that sort of works to our advantage," he continued. "Most of the things that intruders use are barley beyond the proof-of-concept stage, although what theyve discovered in principle is very sophisticated. Its as if theyve spent all the effort necessary to discover time travel, and then used it to go backwards in time to get the daily [lottery] numbers to win $500. In one respect, its quite impressive to see what theyre able to figure out. In another respect, why are they bothering?"

Given the amount of time some crackers devote to their activities, it doesnt seem likely they will give up their vocation easily. Cracking will continue, and, according to its Web site, World of Hell is looking for some "experienced new members."