Hacking & Virii

TPEVirii

The first ever incarnation of The Power Empire came from the mind of it’s leader over the last 15+ years, Jebu . That will be me, the author of this article and for the first time ever I will be documenting how the first ever TPE grew, what it was supposed to be, what it grew into and why I let it die.

……….

Whats the Background?

Living in England back in 1995 wasn’t the easiest place to get internet access. This was the days of British Telecom charging you upwards of 10p a minute for using your phone line. The days when you were happy to see it click past 6pm as the charges would drop down to 1p a minute. The days when an internet connection with Pipex Dial cost you an insane amount of money each month and you had to hook it up to your 14.4kbs modem that screeched at you every time you tried to make a connection. The internet for the UK was new and exciting and I had recently got myself a 486DDX2 66mhz paid for by my parents at something like £3000 on a custom build. It really was rather strange days when it comes to computers and the internet!

So with an internet connection and windows 95 at hand I decided early that being on your own was rather boring. As such, I set about inventing a social group game in which I would try to get people to sign up and from there we would do “cool stuff” on this new internet phenomenon and all help ourselves learn new and exciting skills. I created an exceptionally badly worded text document (one which makes me cringe when reading today!) and set about posting it to every single place I could possibly find on the internet. When I say everywhere, I literally mean EVERYWHERE, regardless of how relevant it was. The main place I posted was on the usegroups, which were basically the message boards/forums of their time but with none of the fancy GUI around them. Click the link below for a transcript of the first ever TPE advertisement that was plastered literally everywhere on the net!

(First TPE Marketing Material)

Spam

Without really knowing it I had stumbled upon 2 new concepts of the internet. The first was spam. At the time I didn’t really know what this was or what it meant. I just knew it had a bad reputation on the internet so I best include it in my original post for credibility and ask people to post something relevant to the usenet before promoting TPE. How ironic that in fact I was spamming every single website and usenet group out there. With admin/moderation tools not what they are today then you kind of got away with it. I remember getting an email from an anti spam group who gave me a bit of a ticking off for my internet activity. I replied back saying I had no idea I was doing anything wrong and to be fair to them they did keep in contact for a while trying to educate me. The problem was, I was 14 and they were fully grown adults. To me it was a bit of a laugh on something new and to them it was serious, so it didn’t really hold me back but it did at least learn me a little about the internet ethics of the time.

Pyramid Marketing Recruitment

The second was a pyramid marketing scheme. My first task for all new members was to go out and find 5 new members. In doing this they gained an instant promotion out of the serf status. My sophisticated logging device was a crappy version of lotus spreadsheets in which I kept all information about all the members and how many people they had recruited into TPE. As soon as 5 members registered who referred the member as the point of contact then I issued them an email congratulating them on the promotion. Take a look at an example usenet group post from people looking to get people to sign up (more on why it became an hacking group later).

Example Member Recruitment Post

 

Did it work?

By today’s standards you are probably thinking… “surely that didn’t work?”. In fact, today about 99% of my posts and the members posts would have been deleted within minutes and they would be banned from forums. However, that simply didn’t happen and as noted there were just a few anti-spam groups out there who sought out people like me and tried to educate them. With that in mind, both my initial spam fest of posts lingered around on the internet and clearly got many people interested who were thinking the same as me… “what new skills and what cool stuff can I do on this internet?”.

In short, the answer is yes… It did work and it worked rather spectacularly. Within 2 months the group had grown to over 150 members, it then grew to about 600 members in a few months and then we decided to create sub groups with their own specialism. At its peak there was over 1000 members and a good percentage of those were active. Despite the utter school boy nature of my start-up attempt there was many people brand new to the internet that could relate to my message, no matter how crude it was put in the initial marketing material. People wanted to learn, they wanted to be part of a group and they wanted recognition. These same instincts still drive people today… look at facebook for the perfect example.

Why Hacking?

I can 100% assure you that when a 14 year old newbie fires up the internet for the first time he doesn’t plan on creating what was at the time one of the largest hacking groups on the internet. In fact, a proper hacking group would have a very small number of talented members and would keep under the public eye. However, it appeared that my initial message appealed quite significantly to those who wanted to learn the darker side of the internet. The first few months were a mixed bag of people trying to move us in that direction and those who wanted to keep it a bit more above board. As it was all about growth in the early days then this wasn’t too much of an issue. Member after member setup websites and we had a “web ring” which was basically an icon on your site that made you a part of a bigger group, and you could move from site to site by clicking through the web ring. However, as the numbers swelled it appeared the dark side took over (evil sith FTW) and we focused our member learning more in the arts of the unethical and evil (hacking, warez, virii, cracking, phreaking, etc).

Was this illegal?

You know what… I’m not exactly sure. It wasn’t like there was a massive police presence on the internet at the time and it wasn’t like our newbie members were bringing down the CIA. Instead, we were opening up virii code and looking at why it would work and we were just passing on information. Those people in the group that got a little out of hand we asked to leave so I can honestly say that in my time in the original TPE we never actually attacked any website or group. It was about the learning which ultimately was my own compromise for moving in that direction.

So what happened?

If I am being 100% honest there were 2 key reasons why I bolted from The Power Empire and passed on leadership. The first is that I started beta testing a game called Ultima Online which was my first ever move into an online MMORPG. I found in this new virtual world I could setup a TPE with a much closer level of member interaction and it freed me of the guilt of being the leader of a hacking group. The 2nd was the fact that as the internet started to become more popular and our name grew, it was fair to say that TPE wasn’t top of the elite hackers Christmas cards list. I picked up some rather influential friends on ICQ (our communication tool of choice at the time) and a number of people warned me that our rate of growth was concerning a whole different range of people. As a then 16 year old, this certainly did NOT appeal to me and I needed to get out. However, despite the risk involved I had still built a good community of people and I didn’t just want to bail. As such I hand picked a few people to take over from me and I stepped down from the group to concentrate on Ultima Online. The person I put in charge was a guy who knew exactly what I wanted to do with TPE from the get go and a guy that had skills way in advance of anyone else in the group. His name was “Spooky” and I have no idea who he was in real life. There was a group of 3 that headed up after me, they were Spooky, Arsonic and Horny Toad.

Is that it?

No, that isn’t it. When I stepped down the new leader took the decision to trim the group significantly down to a select few members and focused on learning about viruses. In essence, he stripped out the newbies and he was left with the core of the guys who actually had skills. They continued on as TPE Virii group for a short while but rightly decided to setup a new group with the core of the TPE members but under a new name. That name was codebreakers and for a number of year they went on to be the leading name in Virii across the world. Both these two groups are now well documented on the history of Viruses as shown below:

The Power Empire Virii Faction
Codebreakers

code

Surely this is made up?

I can assure you it isn’t and if you do a little searching on the internet you will find traces of the history. There are a number of interviews with the new TPE leaders which show their transition from TPE to codebreakers and then a whole host of E-Zine material from that group which tried to educate the masses as regards the VX world.

The end…?

I am not sure whether I am proud or a little disturbed by the fact something I setup to bring people together on the internet to learn new skills and be part of a community turned up laying the building blocks for future generations of virus writers. However, the bottom line is that it is our history and it is where TPE was born. Without this creation I wouldn’t have met the many people from around Europe and the rest of the world, many of whom I now consider good friends.

2 comments to Hacking & Virii

  • bitchnukka  says:

    I’d rather fuck yo bitch, bitch nukka

  • thamind  says:

    me and sp00ky were chill on irc, I actually dated ars0nic’s girl after him lol (sloppy seconds)