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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

White House reveals Mudge's true identity

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Wednesday, 1 March 2000

"THE PRESIDENT IS expecting me. My hacker nickname is Mudge."

How on Earth did Mudge get invited to the White House for a missa cantata? Who pulled strings so he could sneak past the Secret Service detail? Did staffers change all the pass­words before Mudge's arrival?

You're a hacker? (Presses a crisis button.)

"Yes. Mudge. Emm-You-Dee-Gee-Eee. I'm participating in today's Internet security summit."

Sir, the meeting you speak of is for captains of industry. It's not for hackers. I'll have to ask you to leave.

"Look at your guest list. The Press Secretary's office invited me. I'm expected at the meeting."

And how exactly did the Press Secretary's office invite you?

"They sent an email to mudge@l0pht.com. That's l0pht with a zero, not an oh."

Look, Mr. Mudge, a zero has nothi—

"Call me Mudge. Just Mudge. I'm expected. Please look on your roster."

You already told me you're with the band. I told you today's meeting is not for hackers. Especially not one who walks in off the street wearing his father's business sui-- Ahh, Sergeant Winston, would you show this 'hacker' to the nearest exit?

White House mum on Mudge

"Lady, you're not getting the point. I'm invited."

You Mudge?


Sorry about the mix-up. We usually only invite people with, um, real names. (Pushes button for elevator.) The press secretary ordered us to make an exception this time. Something about you being a big celebrity.

"I seem to have 'the look.' "

You, like, infect computers with viruses?

"Only by accident."

Yeah, it's always an accident when White House people break laws. So! How should we introduce you to Mr. Clinton?

"Call me Mudge. Just Mudge..."

REPORTERS AT THE Associated Press and Los Angeles Times did the unthinkable last month — they revealed Mudge's true identity. Even worse: the White House disclosed it to them.

"He works in the com­pany as Mudge, and not even the CEO knows his name," an @Stake spokes­woman con­firmed. "On the invi­ta­tion list that the White House put out, it says 'Mudge.' "

What gives? The government and the media used to obey Mudge's desire to remain a mystery. The Senate, for example, invited him to testify without disclosing his alter ego. @Stake made him a VP without knowing his true identity. "He works in the company as Mudge, and not even the CEO knows his name," a spokeswoman confirmed.

Suddenly, the average L.A. resident knows more about @Stake's VP than the CEO @ @Stake.

This leads me to ask two important questions. First, why don't reporters pry into the lives of hackers like they do politicians? I tell you, Mudge practically begs for a rectal exam. Second, how can you bond somebody as an officer of the firm if he won't even tell you his name?

Do I fault Mudge for using the White House, the U.S. Senate, an Internet security firm, and the worldwide media as stage props? No. I put him in the same category with Jodie Foster and John F. Kennedy and Metallica. Each made a lasting contribution to his/her craft and each leveraged their own publicity as a marketing tool.

But let's face the honest truth. "Mudge" exists because computer security gave birth to a thriving media circus — and Clinton Bros. & Reno & Freeh staged a three-ring show for everyone last month.

Wow, Timmy, did you see it? Dozens of antivirus firms spilled out of a clown car, each honking a press release horn. CIA lion tamers cracked the whip at a hungry Russian cyberbear and a snarling Chinese cybertiger. The Amazing Mudge wowed audiences with his magic tricks. Funny The Clown told jokes about a 15yr-old "former hacker."

The Clinton Bros. & Reno & Freeh Circus came to town last month. Dozens of anti­virus firms spilled out of a clown car, each honking a press release horn. CIA lion tamers cracked the whip at a hungry Russian cyber­bear and a snarling Chinese cyber­tiger... and The Amazing Mudge wowed audiences with his magic tricks.

Ha ha ha, the kid retired on stock options before he could drive. Tell us another one, Mr. Funny.

HOW DOES MUDGE fit into the big picture, then? He's definitely not one of the clowns. You could describe him as a "former hacker," but then again you could describe Queen Elizabeth as a "government official." Even "hacker celebrity" seems a bit small for Mudge these days.

Admit it: he's a full-blown media magnet. He shows up, he makes news. He speaks, he makes news. Mudge can upstage presidents and attorneys general. Groupies fawn all over him. Computer security stories include details about his hair & wardrobe. He'd make the cover of Tiger Beat if just ten years younger.

Some people believe Mudge contribu-- hey, waitaminit! Why do computer security stories tell us about some guy's attire? (Agh, let's not digress.)

Some people believe Mudge contributes to the circus atmosphere. Yes, he coined himself from the magnetic ore of computer security — but the international press shaped him into the media magnet you see today. The same people who made John McAfee a household name now bring you Mudge.

And tomorrow they'll bring you someone else. It doesn't take much to change the polarity of a media magnet. Just ask Gary Hart, the Spice Girls, Ross Perot, John McAfee... (McAfee knows more about bipolar magnetism than anyone else in computer security today.)

These things happen when the media makes you a star. It will almost certainly happen to Mudge. He'll get the boot when reporters discover a new teenage hacking sensation out there. Someone who wears a Versace jacket & pinky ring instead of a t-shirt & nose ring. Someone who can make the cover of Tiger Beat.

Then again, tomorrow's rising star might not be a hacker. Last month's attacks struck two major news empires: CNN and Ziff-Davis. Christiane Amanpour relies more on Internet-based news submission systems than you might suspect. Hackers can thank their lucky stars CNN didn't take the attack personally this time.

Some­body tar­geted CNN's domain? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Do hackers want the media to start treating them like guns & ciga­rettes & poli­ticians?

A proverbial snowball may roll downhill if attacks continue against news sites. Hackers do not want reporters to start treating them like guns & cigarettes & politicians.

We know Mudge will kick back with a pot of gold when the spotlight fades. A strong personality usually prefers fame over fortune; I think he'll resent the dwindling publicity. After all, who really wants to go from a presidential hobnobber to a convention-touring autograph signer?

The media created today's romantic image of geeky teenage geniuses. They turned Mudge into a hacking sensation. Reporters can easily destroy what they create — and they'll do it with glee if someone punches a hole in their wallets.

If I could give hackers one piece of advice, I'd say: "don't bite the hand that feeds you." It could change the polarity of your media magnet. And Mudge's with it.